New Macs: Deciding between a desktop or a powerful portable
“Oh, iMac, I’ve missed you. I thought I could replace you with a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and 27-inch LG Ultrafine display,” Dennis Sellers writes for Apple World Today. “Actually, I did for seven months, but the entire experience just wasn’t as smooth. Plus, the Apple all-in-one’s display is so much more elegant than LG’s monitor.”
I wrote at length last year over my never-ending dilemma whether to run two Macs — desktop and lightweight portable — or go for the compromise solution of one high-specified MacBook Pro with a monitor for use at the desk or a powerful iMac. I'm glad I sat on the sidelines at the time, not least because both the portables and the iMac have received upgrades this month, primarily to incorporate the new Kaby Lake family of Intel processors.
While still tempted to make do with one wonderful, all-bells-and-whistles MacBook Pro — specced up to the high heavens, of course — I am wavering. For one thing, I just cannot wean myself off the tiny and light MacBook for travelling. My original version has very definite speed problems and Lightroom processing, in particular, is a leisurely stroll when I am stuck in some hotel room far from home. But, on balance, I know I can put up with this in return for not having to carry around one heavier all-purpose laptop. In fact, the MacBook is so light and thin that I see it as a viable alternative to an iPad. It preserves my MacOS working environment (which I still prefer to iOS) and adds very little weight over the iPad. For carrying purposes it is much thinner than an iPad Pro and keyboard, therefore easier to handle.
The main deciding factor, however, is how Apple develops the iMac range. The latest updates to the iMac turn it into a great desktop computer. Faster, with a vastly improved screen, the new 27in iMac is now perfect for my desktop use. The desk is where I spend most of my computing time, after all, so why not have the best? Interestingly, too, it is the newly announced iMac Pro, which will not arrive until the end of the year, that has sealed the deal for me. While I don't think I need this Pro version — although I wouldn't say no to its new space-grey body on a lesser iMac — a high-spec standard iMac from the new range is likely to be my choice. It's simply that the presence of the iMac Pro underlines Apple'e commitment to the iMac range.
The decision, long in the making, has how been made. But I am not worrying too much at the moment. My late 2014 (gosh, is it that long ago?) 27in iMac is still going strong. I specced it highly at the time, so it is not as far behind as it could have been had I gone for the base model. But at least now I know that I have a firm upgrade policy. As an aside, I always believe in going for a high specification on a new computer, especially putting in as much RAM as possible, because I know that after three years or so it will still be a viable tool when base models from the same range will be decidedly past their shelf life.
On the portable front, it's a head and heart thing. Head says that a basic 13in MacBook Pro is a much better and more cost-effective solution than the expensive-for-what-it-is magical MacBook. I've read a number of articles making this point: Buy the MacBook Pro and enjoy all that extra performance and put up with the extra weight.
Of course, everyone's circumstances differ. Those who spend a lot of time away from the desk and need ultimate portable processing power will undoubtedly be happier with the MacBook Pro. But when size and weight are a major consideration, as they are with me, then I think the MacBook offers the better solution. I don't do as much travelling as I did even a year ago, so the MacBook is my choice. Again, though, as with the iMac I'm not rushing to update. I'll take my time and continue to enjoy the original MacBook for its main strengths, lightness and tiny footprint.
This choice between using two computers or one — desktop and ultra portable or the all-in-one solution of a fast laptop and a monitor back at base — is something that can never be answered simply. There are personal preferences and circumstances to be taken into account, for one thing. From a practical point of view, also, there are pros and cons. Two computers means ensuring all your data is always fully up to date. This is now much easier than it used to be, with iCloud drive, synchronised desktops and a myriad of cloud solutions (did I mention Dropbox?). But you still need to keep your eye on things if you are not going to be caught out in foreign climes, perhaps missing some vital file or folder.
On the other hand, relying on just one computer brings other problems. If you lose your laptop or it gets stolen while you are travelling, there is no fall-back iMac on a desk back at the office or at home. These days, provided you have backup routines (which become ever more easy) losing a computer isn't as great a disaster as it once was. Just buy a new one, connect to your cloud services and, with luck, you will be at the status quo ante in a trice. With luck. And, of course, everything depends on how savvy you are in the backup department.
There's also the possibility of breakdown causing mayhem if you have just one computer. A few months ago I had a nasty experience when my main iMac wouldn't boot up. I spent a lot of time on the telephone with Apple Support and it took over a day to resolve the issue (actually, it just resolved itself in the end, and the unknown problem hasn't recurred). On that day, though, my little MacBook was a lifesaver. I was able to continue working smoothly and, even if I had had to send the iMac away for repair, I could have managed.
For all these reasons, I have now come to the conclusion that the two-computer solution is both more efficient and much safer, all things considered. When you take the need for an expensive monitor into account, it isn't even that much more expensive. I've been harbouring such thoughts for a long time, but I was encouraged to read this article by Dennis Sellers at AppleWorld.Today. He has had exactly my dilemma but, unlike me, he actually made a decision. He bought the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar as his main computer, eschewing the iMac, and has had seven months to get used to the idea. Turns out he didn't like it and his conclusions are identical to mine. He's now sitting before a high-spec iMac which he describes as the best all-in-one yet, as well as the best Mac ever.