I’ve finally been forced into arranging the keyboard replacement I’ve been deferring forever, and that has led me to think about my next Mac. But let’s start at the beginning…
My 2016 MacBook Pro has long been suffering from the infamous butterfly keyboard glitches. I get double-characters for B and P, and both spacebar and CMD keys are unreliable.
These things would have long since driven me nuts but for two factors…
First, I use an external keyboard when working. My home office setup is MacBook Pro off to the side, serving as a second monitor, with my now elderly 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display as my primary monitor. A Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad serve as my input devices.
I only use the built-in keyboard when traveling, when mobile, and when using the Mac in another room.
That would still have been enough to drive me to despair but for the second factor: Unshaky, a Mac utility that fixes double-presses. The CMD key and spacebar problems were less frequent, so I was fixing them with occasional hammering at them and less frequent compressed air treatment.
I still have wanted to get it fixed, of course, but kept deferring it because being without my machine for the best part of a week would be such a pain.
I called an Apple Store, and they told me they’d need it for about five days, and that’s a much bigger deal. I tried an Authorized Apple Reseller, expecting them to be more flexible (diagnose the issue on one visit, then let me take it away and call me when they have the keyboard in so they can do the swap on a same-day basis), but nope. They too wanted it for a week.
It’s not that it’s impossible to be without it – I managed before – but it is a major hassle. I have my key work apps and bookmarks set up on my MacBook Air, but I know from that experience that there are a zillion small things that will drive me nuts in the week I’m without the machine.
But last week a new fault occurred which left me no choice: a major battery problem.
The first symptom was the machine shutting down instantly, without any warning, when the battery was low. That quickly worsened to shutting down at 20%. And within a day of that, the battery started swelling.
The earliest available Apple Store appointment I could get was last night. By that time the machine wasn’t working on battery at all, and the swelling was worse.
There were two pieces of good news. First, the battery problem occurred exactly one day before my AppleCare warranty expired!
Now, I could and would have made a claim under EU legislation, which states that products must be covered by warranty for ‘a reasonable period of up to six years.’ That phrase has no definition in law but is interpreted as dependant on the nature of the product and its cost. Buy a cheap smartphone and you’re probably out of luck after a couple of years. Buy an expensive laptop, however, and I’d be arguing that it should remain fault-free for longer than two years.
There was, though, a second piece of good news. Because the keyboard was covered by the extended quality program, and because that means replacing the entire top case (which includes the battery), then it wasn’t even technically an AppleCare claim. This means that if the warranty had expired, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
So the machine has been booked in under the keyboard quality program, the store confirmed it has the part in stock, and I should get the machine back on Tuesday evening.
MacBook Air to the rescue
As last time, when my 17-inch MacBook Pro needed a new logic board (also under an extended quality program), that leaves me using my old MacBook Air in the meantime.
It’s a mid-2013 model, so some six years old now. My girlfriend inherited it, so it has been regularly used, which has probably helped, but the last time I logged into my own account was back in 2015. Which meant there was quite some updating to do, so I wasn’t wrong about this bit:
There are a zillion small things that will drive me nuts.
I had to update apps, retrieve new passwords and install apps that I hadn’t used back in 2015, like TextExpander.
At that time, Apple’s Mail app had been driving me nuts, so I was using Postbox. But I’d later switched back to Mail on my current machine, which meant I needed to set up my accounts again in that.
Well, I won’t bore you with chapter-and-verse, but it was many hours of work.
As before, however, the MacBook Air has been perfectly capable of picking up the slack. I do notice some performance differences, of course. Opening apps is significantly slower, and there are small but noticeable delays in things like switching desktops. But my day-to-day work usage is undemanding – browsers, RSS reader, mail, a little Photoshop – so none of this is an issue.
Chrome does have the fans spinning up on the Air. To assist with windows-management, I use different browsers for different purposes, and Chrome is my WordPress browser, so the slightly annoying whine from the fan is something I have to live with.
More on performance in a moment.
Resisting the 16-inch machine!
I did ask Apple about a loan machine, without any expectation that one would be available, and no, only Joint Venture customers get those. That’s way too expensive for a single machine.
However, the technician did point out I could buy one and then return it for a full refund within the 14-day no-questions-asked period when I collected my machine.
I was briefly tempted to do this with the new 16-inch MacBook Pro, but in the end decided that was too dangerous. I can’t justify an upgrade at this point. From a brief play with the 16-inch machine in-store, I don’t think I would decide I had to have it now, but you never know…
But a change of policy for my next Mac
I’ve so far taken a future-proofing approach to my Macs. I tend to max them out on the basis that a top-spec machine at the time of purchase will still be a decent spec in years four and five, which is generally when I replace them.
With my current MacBook Pro, I did wonder whether I was going overboard, especially given the eye-watering price of maxing it out, but I decided to do it in the expectation I’d be doing 4K video work within the lifetime of the machine. This would be the one time when machine performance would make a significant difference.
The reality, however, is that my video work has been extremely limited. I’ve created the occasional video for work, as well as a few personal ones, but way fewer than expected. For those rather rare times, I could live with slower performance given it would likely only be noticeable when rendering.
Considering how undemanding my normal usage is, I do think that next time I’ll abandon my policy of maxing-out the machine. I do like having lots of on-board storage for convenience, but where CPU, GPU, and RAM are concerned, my needs are simple and I’ll have my next specs reflect that.
Which does mean my next Mac will be more affordable. For example, if I specced-up a 16-inch MacBook Pro today…
The maximum spec would come in at a cool £5,769 including VAT (sales tax). However, even I, with my love of on-board storage, would admit that 8TB is over the top! So if I went for 4TB and maxed out the rest, I’d be looking at £4,689 ($6,043 including sales tax).
But if I stick to the base-level CPU and GPU, and only spec up the RAM to 32GB and SSD to 4TB, then it comes out at £3,839 ($4,948 including sales tax). Now, that’s still a lot of money. But if I assume I sell for roughly half in four years, that’s £480 ($618) per year.
Of course, as an expert at justifying expensive gadgets to myself, I could argue that the maxed-out (but 4TB) version costs £560 a year, which is only an extra £7 per month. But the more sensible side of me wouldn’t be fooled by the old ‘express the cost in monthly, weekly, or daily terms’ trick, and would also observe that maxed-out machines are harder to sell (you can get their true value from people who appreciate the difference, but those people are rarer than those happy with base spec).
So I think the plan for my next Mac will be a modestly-specced 16-incher next year, hopefully with ultrafast SSD prices continuing their fall.
Would I regret this? Please share your own thoughts in the comments.
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