Let me state right up front, this turned out to be a much longer post than I had anticipated. My apologies for those accustomed to short-form, non-rambling blog posts.
If there was any doubt that I am truly not anti-Apple, I think that can now be laid to rest. As of yesterday (around 1 pm to be exact), I took the plunge and purchased not one, but two Apple computers. I know people jokingly say “Come to the Dark Side,” but that always sounded so/too nefarious to me. I’ll just say that after doing a considerable amount of research, I actually went against my initial instinct and decided on Apple. I’ll get to what I picked up in a moment, but I feel that last sentence needs to be fleshed out a little.
Ever since 1999, my closest friend, Dotch, has been an Apple guy. I have fond memories of him clearing (and cleaning) space on his dorm desk in unbridled excitement and anticipation of the placement of his new Mac. I, too, was excited about a computer. My dad bought me a laptop from Radio Shack. I don’t recall the model number, but it was a Tandy. It had no hard drive — just two floppy 3.5″ disk drives — and a monochromatic blue/grey screen. It must have weighed about 12 pounds. I loved it. Not because it was some early marker of my affinity for Microsoft products. It was just what I had, and it worked for me. (Along with my fancy dot matrix printer.)
Fast forward 21 years, and I’ve primarily used Windows-based computers at work and home, notwithstanding a two-year stint with a firm that surprisingly pushed for the use of Macs. Though I’ve always been a bit of a gadget guy, I would say in the last six years or so, I’ve become very interested and in tune with technology–both personal computing and mobile devices. Add to that, in the last five years I have taken a deep dive with photography. So much so, that I am actively working on making photography my full-time vocation. Now, be it the general technology arena or in the creative fields (including photography), one cannot escape the rather acute division between those who use Windows versus those who use and Apples. I pretty much have held the opinion that the Mac camp has been the vocal (read obnoxious) camp, never missing an opportunity to trash a Windows-based computer as being unstable, and those who used them are akin to those living in the Matrix. I think, over time, Windows users got rather prickly and defensive and started to retort that Mac users were cult members that needed a computer dumbed-down. I think most of you know all the various barbs tossed one way or another, so I won’t bother to rehash them all here. I will admit, though, that the Mac evangelists/zealots plucked my nerves. I don’t like arrogance, and so often Mac users would approach me with a rather holier-than-though vibe. I cannot say that my interest or openness in considering Apple for my personal computing needs was not impacted by this aversion for what felt like incessant self-aggrandizement. It’s even more palpable in the photography world, where a Windows computer user is often met with barely disguised eye rolls and incredulity of skill or talent. I kid you not.
Now that you have that context or back story on angst about computer operating systems and hardware, here’s the rest of the story. For the better part of 2010, I’ve been in denial about the sad state of my Toshiba 17″ Satellite laptop. The computer runs well enough. I upgraded the laptop to Windows 7 earlier and the year. Where I was having problems was when I attempted to process my digital images. I shoot with Nikon DSLRs and use Nikon’s processing software, Capture NX2. Probably since the early summer, I have been pulling my hair out as I waited for one simple edit to process. Sometimes the circle would spin for several minutes. Other times, the program would time out and force me to exit. When I was able to stay in the program and perform edits, I would spend as much as 30 – 40 minutes making adjustments to an image. All that effort, though, would be negated when I would go to save the file and be informed that my system was out of memory. In chat and text parlance, WTF?!?! I initially assumed that the problem was simply that the files were so large that it was taxing the system’s resources. I also blamed the software. I’ve heard from fellow photographers that their experience with Capture NX2 was not that great. Finally, I wised up and checked the RAM on my laptop. A paltry two gigabytes running Windows 7 and everything else. How did I miss that? Shrug. Well, the last straw as when I purchased four gigabytes of RAM, but discovering that the system (32 bit Windows) would only accept, or recognize, three of the four gigabytes of RAM. Sigh. It took everything I had not to ascend to the attic and give that Toshiba a good heave-ho out of the window. Fortunately, my wife’s cooler head prevailed and she suggested that it was time to upgrade to a new computer. Having the green light from your spouse for technology purchases is always a good thing.
After thinking about the optimal system or setup, I decided that I’d like to have a desktop setup dedicated for my photography and a laptop for everything (but powerful enough to do some image processing on the fly). Perhaps another piece of context is needed here. I am frugal. Not cheap, but frugal. I really hate making large purchases, even when needed. I am capable of eventually pulling the trigger on a large purchase, but in what can only be explained as a calming exercise, I think about and research the item to death. Accordingly, I started in on my research about what would be the best setup for me.
It didn’t take long for the elephant in the room to appear — Apple. The question was simple. Was I willing to throw Apple into the mix? The frugality in me spoke first. No! They’re too expensive. I quickly started combing through websites trying to figure out what were the highest-rated Windows-based laptops and desktops. Sony VAIOs looked attractive, but I’ll be damned! They’re just as expensive as Macs. In fact, once I set the minimum specifications for my new computers, the price of pretty much every desktop — by any manufacturer — started become level with Macs. Windows laptops were still less expensive, so I wrapped my mind around the idea that I could still get more bang for the buck with a Windows desktop and laptop. I hadn’t decided on a desktop, but I did hone in on a laptop. As late as Monday evening, I was convinced that my next laptop would be the HP Envy 14 Beats Edition.
This laptop is rated very highly by just about every reputable tech publication and website. I read and read about this computer until my contacts went dry. I scanned for videos about the HP Envy and any comparisons to other comparable laptops. Interestingly enough, almost every side-by-side comparison was with the Apple MacBook Pro. I wasn’t really focused on something beating the MacBook Pro, though. I just wanted confirmation that this was a solid laptop.
Funnily enough, on Monday I joined some co-workers who wanted to run to a mall near our office for lunch. I specifically joined them so I could wander into the Apple store. I don’t really know why, because I’ve had my hands on MacBooks and iMacs plenty of times. There was really not much any of the in-store geniuses could tell me that I either didn’t know, or hadn’t heard before. I think there must have been some part of me that was almost looking for an excuse to nix Apple from the debate. The price tags alone can scare most people away. There is definitely a hefty price for admission into the Apple club. I walked away from the store unmoved. Or so I thought. After work, I went to the local MicroCenter store to check out the HP Envy 14. The website indicated that there were five HP Envy 14 Beats Edition laptops on hand. That’s it! I’m going to get my computer.
A quick sidebar about retail experiences. One thing the Apple Store and MicroCenter have in common is that both places are always packed. However, Apple stores are light and sleek, so the crowds are a little easier to manage and navigate. MicroCenter, on the other hand, is like shopping at a bazaar. The store is large, but it somewhat dark, packed to the gills with products (including the center aisle littered with boxes of desktops and monitors on sale).
I walked over to the Windows laptop area and made my way first to the Sony VAIOs. Did I mention these Jimmy’s are expensive?Dayum! I walked around to the next area to find the HP laptops. Though I didn’t see the HP Envy 14 Beats Edition, there was an HP Envy 14 on display. It is essentially the same laptop, physically other than color. I gave the Envy 14 my usually once-over, including typing some nonsense to get a feel for the keyboard. I didn’t like, or appreciate, that MicroCenter has acrylic bars across the laptop that prevent you from picking them up or even closing the screen so you can gauge the dimensions of the unit. I was saddened that I was disappointed with the Envy. It was nice, but just seemed a little…umm…cheap, which was a bit ridiculous since the computer costs $1200. After glossing over some other brands, I made my way over to the Apple section of the store. Though a bit cramped, every model was available to experience and try out. I moved from the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro 15″ and 17″ models. I turned the corner and put my hands on the MacBook Pro 13,” which was on sale for $200 below list price, before making my way to the iMacs. If you haven’t seen a 27″ iMac before, good luck walking by it without gazing. It’s pretty amazing. The screen is brilliant and HUGE. After taking that lure hook out of my cheek, I walked around to check out the 21 1/2″ iMac.
For the next 45 minutes, I walked back-and-forth between the Windows computer area and the Apple section. Exhausted after the better part an hour circling two departments, I came home. Looking back, I think my mind was made up when I left the store, but I wanted to talk to my wife about options and do a little more research. (Obsessive, I know.)
Yesterday, joined by a colleague from my office, I went back to MicroCenter and strode directly to the Apple section. I saw the same woman from the previous day, Veronica Garcia, who offered to help me. I asked a few questions about the differences between the Core 2 Duo processor and the new Core i3 processor in the iMacs. I then told her what I wanted:
All that was left to clarify was that I wanted AppleCare for both computers and 4GB of additional RAM for the iMac. The funny thing about me is, once I’ve decided, that’s it! The decision has been made. Don’t try to up-sell me. I’m polite, but I don’t like to make small talk as if I’m still deliberating. If the salesperson needs to inform me about use and care, that’s cool. Otherwise, wrap it up please.
I am pleased with my purchases. I have yet to take the iMac out of the box, because I want to set up the office space for it first. I did open the MacBook Pro last night. I was so excited, it felt like being a kid on Christmas. My cheeks were tight because I was grinning so widely and my heart was racing. I’m a manual reader, so I didn’t turn on the computer for probably 30 minutes after unboxing. I did eventually turn it on, though, and played around with it for a couple of hours. The computer is definitely high quality. Everything feels solid and well-designed. The screen is bright, though it will take some adjustment using a 13.3″ screen after using a 17″ laptop for three years. (Not to mention, I have two 22″ monitors on my desk at work.) The only thing that kind of tripped me up was the touchpad. I’m familiar with the pinch and zoom gesture, but I found that I kept pinching or zooming my screen. That was a little frustrating, but I’m sure that issue will disappear after using the laptop for a while. I intend to write a more substantive impressions piece about the MacBook Pro and the iMac after I’ve used them for a little while. I did write this entire piece on the MacBook Pro, and it was a comfortable experience, intermittent touchpad zooming notwithstanding.
Who woulda thunk it, even a week ago? I’m a Mac guy now. Huge thanks to my wife for all her support. Thanks also to my friends for putting up with endless questions about Apple over the last few days (and, undoubtedly, going forward). Finally, thanks to all of you for sacrificing your eyesight to get this far down in the post.
I leave you with this plea or admonishment. If any of you ever catch me going off the deep end about the greatness of Macs or poo-pooing Windows computers, please shake me! It’s still just a tool. The only reason that I may become emotionally involved with my Macs is because of the hefty ransom that I handed over to get them.