Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: I’m finally changing my laptop after nine years. It’s served me well, but my MacBook Pro’s battery and screen are just fading now. Should I stick with Apple or is there anything else out there that I should look at? I use it for work and increasingly a lot of Netflix, web browsing and social media.
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If you can afford a new MacBook Pro, you won’t really go wrong, although there is a very divided opinion on whether the ‘touch bar’ on the top-end model is worth it.
What I’d say is that if you want a machine that will be capable for the things you say you do, you’ll get away with the entry level 13-inch model (€1,500) for at least three or four years. If you want the kind of future-proof timeline that your last laptop gave you, however, you’ll probably need to spend closer to €2,000 on it because I’d strongly advise getting more storage than the basic 128GB and I would also recommend 16GB of Ram memory (instead of the 8GB basic option) for a future-ready machine.
Alas, Apple is pretty good at charging a premium for those add-ons, which cost around €250 extra (each).
With Apple’s product range, you have another option. Apple only updated its MacBook Air a few months ago. It’s now quite a powerful, high-spec machine. It comes with a higher-specification screen than the MacBook Pro (important for watching movies and Netflix) and it also has a ‘Touch ID’ fingerprint reader for security, unlike the MacBook Pro. Where you’ll notice a lower specification is on the connection ports – it only has two ‘Thunderbolt’ ports (the same shape as USB-C for new Android phones). But my guess is that this won’t bother many people, as ports are used less and less in this wireless era.
Once again, though, the base €1,379 model comes with just 128GB of storage and 8GB of Ram memory. That’s completely fine to be getting on with for the moment. But in a few years’ time, it will seem quite basic.
This is especially so with the storage memory. For anyone who uses Netflix or Sky on their laptop, it’s now quite common to download a series or a few movies to watch when you’re not in a good Wi-Fi area. This takes up storage on your laptop. 128GB isn’t really very much, especially when up to half of that can now be taken up by ‘system’ apps or other programs you use.
For that reason, if the budget allows, I would add an extra 128GB of storage (€240) and an additional 8GB of Ram memory (€250). Right now, that seems like the best package for someone with your long-lasting requirements.
As for alternative laptops altogether, I’d say it really depends on how ‘good’ a machine you want.
If it’s a MacBook Pro equivalent with Windows, you’re looking at options such as Dell’s XPS 13 or HP’s ProBook series. Both start at around €1,300. Of the two, I’d go for Dell’s XPS as I prefer its design.
Just in case you’re wondering what’s available on the budget side, HP’s 14-ck0517sa (€479 from Currys) is a decent 14-inch budget laptop with reasonable specifications (Core i5 chip, 4GB of Ram and 256GB of storage) for the money. However, it’s not designed to last seven or eight years but three or four.
Any new laptop, even a budget model, will play video fairly well. (When you say you’re watching movies, I assume you mean that you’re streaming them through Netflix or Sky or Amazon or iTunes).
That said, there are some differences that, for those focused on a laptop that excels at showing video, are important to note.
High resolution is important for larger laptops (13 inches and over) but less important for smaller ones (11 inches and under). In general, it’s good to aim for a HD-resolution screen of at least 1920 by 1080 pixels. However, for a smaller model (12 inches or under), you can get away with 1280 by 720 pixels. I wouldn’t worry too much about a ‘4K’ screen on a laptop – it’s quite hard to tell the difference between that and HD on a screen of that size.
As important as the number of pixels is, so is the colour gamut and what they call the ‘dynamic range’ of the screen. This basically means the screen’s ability to show you a wide, deep range of colours and to render things that should be black as close to black as possible (instead of a washed-out grey). In general, this follows the pricing scale quite faithfully: pricier laptops almost always have more precise displays.
Recommendation: Apple MacBook Air (€1,869 with 256GB storage, 16GB Ram)
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