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Are MacBooks worth the money?

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Apple products are generally considered one of the most well-designed products, and as such, their electronic gadgets come with a premium price tag. Are consumer electronic critics correct, though? Are MacBooks worth the money? Let’s discuss that.

It’s no secret that the tech community loves Apple’s products. They are typically heralded as one of the best original equipment manufacturers out there. That doesn’t mean that Apple products come without criticism, though. If you ask any PC fan, they will typically say that Apple products are overpriced.

Over-priced

I’d like to take a moment to define that term here – over-priced. Over-priced is a very subjective term. If something is over-priced, that either means that you can’t afford it, or it doesn’t hold enough perceived value for its cost. We need to try and make this article more objective, so we are going to eliminate that first argument. If you can’t afford something, it’s always going to be over-priced. So, instead, let’s focus on that second part. Do MacBook’s have enough perceived value to justify their cost?

Operating System

Let’s talk about the OS, or operating system, first. It’s true that Mac OS typically has fewer bugs than Windows OS. It’s also true that Mac OS can operate on slower hardware than Windows OS can. That makes sense, though. Apple controls the entire hardware pipeline for Macintosh computers whereas Windows doesn’t. That is the key difference.

Hardware

Apple has a very strict set of hardware that functions with Mac OS. This is smart. Apple is controlling the variables that can make a computer not work. Microsoft, on the other hand, cannot control these variables. Instead, Windows is programmed to be as broadly compatible as possible.

Windows 10

Microsoft has started to do a better job of controlling the hardware landscape as of late. Windows 10 no longer supports processors over a certain age. Likewise, Windows users must upgrade within a two-year timespan now, or they will no longer receive OS updates. Microsoft is starting to push device manufacturers to a more limited hardware profile. This is something Apple has been doing for years.

Mac OS

Because Apple controls its hardware landscape tightly, it can highly optimize Mac OS to it. This is the reason why something like the MacBook Air was able to achieve such great battery life. It’s the same reason that the new MacBook (not the Pro model) can run so well on such low powered hardware.

Design

Let’s look at the design quality next. Apple has long held design quality above anything else when making the Mac computer. There is a reason why every critic compared other laptops trackpads and screens to the ones that came equipped in the MacBook devices. Most Microsoft Windows PCs that are in the same price class as the MacBook have caught up, though. Apple computers might boast a Retina display and a large, comfortable glass trackpad, but many PCs also include high-resolution displays with a wide color gamut and a large, responsive trackpad now.

Keyboard

With all that said, we need to talk about the keyboard. Apple introduced a new keyboard a few years back with a butterfly clip design. This new design allowed Apple to create a thinner keyboard with a shorter keystroke. That new keyboard was met with a lot of criticism. Once again, critics compared every other PC keyboard to the new Apple keyboard, but this time the verbiage was, “…at least it’s not as bad as the keyboard on the new MacBooks.” It was recently announced that the new MacBook Pros would be moving away from this design due to the constant issues and complaints Apple received from customers.

Competition

All of this is good, but are Apple laptops worth the price? I’m not sure that they are. If you compare a base model MacBook Pro with a base model HP Omen laptop, that HP Omen laptop is almost a full $1000 less with beefier hardware. That means the HP Omen will be able to do more work quicker.

When comparing hardware in the $1000 price point, we see the same trend. Ultrabooks produced by various OEMs include faster processors, more ram, and equivalent displays to the MacBook and MacBook Air. These newer Ultrabooks also pack more features into the devices like Windows Hello compatible cameras, more USB ports, Thunderbolt ports, etc…

Applications

One might argue that the applications on the Mac OS platform are superior to the app suites provided on Windows. This seems to be an argument held over from the days when Apple was using RISC based processors. Back in those days, it was indeed the case that the Apple computer was more capable than a Windows PC. That train has long since left the station, though, and professional-grade applications have long since released products on both Mac and Windows.

Given that Apple has de-emphasized Final Cut Pro with its last iteration of the Mac Pro desktop PC (not the latest 2019 version known as the “Cheesegrater”, but the “trash can” design prior) and forced many media producers to move to the Windows platform, Apple seems to have lost most of its cache’ with artists. Many studios have moved to other products and Windows-based workstation PCs.

It doesn’t help Apple that its free, cheap application suite, like Garageband, do not work very well. Talking with support agents from various companies, these agents are often forced explaining to customers that they should move away from applications like Garageband or iMovie due to their poor quality and non-standard media encoders. Many of these support agents have helped their customers move to free, cross-platform applications like Audacity, Gimp, Krita, etc.. due to increased reliability.

Limited Cooling

We should note one last criticism with MacBook computers. As much as Apple creates a beautiful, well-designed device, they very much follow a form over function mantra. The hardware cooling systems in Apple laptops are subpar. Professional benchmarkers have proven this time and time again. Modern Intel processors depend on being able to hit and maintain boost clock speeds for an extended period for heavy workloads. Unfortunately, it has been found that Apple’s cooling systems cannot handle boost clock speeds for more than a very short time (i.e. 10-40 seconds). After an Intel processor reaches critical temperatures, it will start reducing performance to lower heat output and prevent damage to itself. Rendering times tend to be longer on Apple laptops because of this.

Wrapping Up

Let’s not make this article all doom and gloom for MacBooks, though. There is one key feature that Apple computers have that no other PC does – Mac OS. Though this may be completely subjective, Mac OS is simply a joy to use. The OS is well thought out. It looks nice. Workflows are great. Apple simply nailed the user experience in Mac OS X.

Objectively, the hardware included in the MacBook is not better than a similarly priced PC. Apple has several flaws that are hard to overlook at that price point. Whether a MacBook is worth the price becomes completely subjective when you consider the user experience, though. In many cases, the user experience should be as paramount in the buying decision as the objective build quality of the device. After all, a laptop can have the best build quality in the industry, but if it sucks to use you aren’t going to use it.