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  1. #1
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    Minimalist MacBook Air

    Lately, I have been checking out Apple's direct refurbished gear pages for pricing on refurb hardware. Of special interest to me have been the MacBook Air pages.

    I have not been a laptop owner since March, 2013, when my 2007-vintage 15-inch MacBook Pro died suddenly. Due to budget constraints, the departed MacBook Pro had to be replaced with a refurbished late-2012 slimline iMac. While I also use an iPad Mini, I have essentially been a desktop computer user since March, 2013. My computer use is very broad, including simple tasks such as word processing and internet and business use such as bookkeeping, desktop publishing (in Pages and InDesign), document/photo scanning, contract writing, and complex project report writing, to heavy lifting like Photoshopping, video editing in Final Cut Pro and DVD authoring in DVD Studio Pro. Possible future uses include databases and maybe installing Windows for Win apps.

    It is very likely that my iMac will remain a primary workstation. I find some tasks are demanding enough that a desktop machine with a large video display are essential.

    BUT...

    I plan on starting work in the real estate business soon. According to the brokers I spoke with, work on computers tends to be cloud-based these days. There may be some Microsoft Office files involved. There may be some forms to fill out online. If you take photos and/or video of a house or building for sale, you will have to submit them online to push to various realty sites for promotion. I'm sure the iMac can facilitate at least some of this, but a mobile workstation may be necessary, especially if one has to stop off at the broker's office to take care of business. One agent uses an iPad. A broker is seen with an older Surface Pro. Another broker's admin asst. was seen with a newer Surface tab-top/whatever. They seem to all have iPhones.

    This loops me back around to the refurbished MacBook Air. This is what I found for Apple's current bargain-basement refurb deal:

    Refurbished 11.6-inch MacBook Air 1.6GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5
    Originally released March 2015
    11.6-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors
    
4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory
    
128GB PCIe-based flash storage
    
720p FaceTime HD Camera
    
Intel HD Graphics 6000
    Cost: $759

    My iMac has 8 GB of RAM, which I consider minimal. Obviously, the iMac would remain my primary machine. Also, in this day and age, hard drive space and a built-in SD card slot are precious while on the road. Still, the RAM concerns me the most.

    Is a "cheap" MacBook Air with only 4 GB of RAM going to be seriously degraded in performance? How much can you get done with a machine like this?

    I'd like to hear other peoples' thoughts on this...
    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  2. #2
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    Well I am typing this on my 11" MBA and mine is one of the very first they sold with just 2g of Ram!
    I was reluctant to get it at the time mostly due to the small ram number but oddly enough it has not been an issue for me at all,ever.
    Mine was cheap back when they were new so I jumped on it for the form factor alone to use while on the road. I also have a 13" and 17" MBP for heavy work but I will usually grab the little one if I can for the obvious advantage for carrying it alone.

    Because of this I have had to use it for the things I would not choose to but it is the machine that I have when I need one and it has yet to let me down.

    I have not done any video editing on mine but I do photo stuff with it sometimes and again no issue at all.
    I also work with music files a lot and have used mine as a server for Automation systems for huge residences and boardrooms to help troubleshoot bigger Mac systems on the job.Again a surprising lack of trouble and very minimal spinning beach balls too!

    I mostly am on the internet with it and do general office things and it is an ideal machine as long as you can see the screen which I do have to remove my glasses to use,I also have to do that with about every portable that I own or work on so take my experience as a personal issue maybe?

    The way the hardware is all integrated on a Mac is so much different than a PC that even with tiny Ram and small drives the performance is still pretty zippy overall and the build quality and feel of even to tiny no travel KB is amazing considering how small the machine is overall.

    The instant on is also amazing and mine has crazy battery life too!
    The 13" air has the best battery life of any macbook somehow?

    So I am sure you will love it especially once you really see how small it is for carry in day to day use,you just never consider leaving it behind.
    I have a lot of computers and this is the only one I would replace the same day if it died!

  3. #3
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    I know its a lot more expensive but I really prefer my 12" macbook to the 11" air I used to have. Mostly due to retina display where I had trouble on the 11" I'm good on the MacBook screen. Other little things like the USB C charger being smaller etc.

    Before you get the refurb 11" from Apple double check what the holiday deals are at the other stores. I saw new ones within $50 of your price and some places were giving free Apple Care (check B&H and Best Buy).

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by tebnewyork View Post
    I know its a lot more expensive but I really prefer my 12" macbook to the 11" air I used to have. Mostly due to retina display where I had trouble on the 11" I'm good on the MacBook screen. Other little things like the USB C charger being smaller etc.

    Before you get the refurb 11" from Apple double check what the holiday deals are at the other stores. I saw new ones within $50 of your price and some places were giving free Apple Care (check B&H and Best Buy).
    I am curious exactly what you mean by "trouble" with the air screen?
    I know for me in general the higher the resolution the tougher it is for me to use a screen as the pixel size gets smaller and the text size usually gets smaller and harder to read instead of easier to read.

    I feel like the higher res. screens are mainly for the younger buyers and those who might need the enhanced res. for other work but not for my more mainstream use with aging eyes.

    YMMV obviously.

    Also the refurb stock can change many times a day and it is always good to check more than is convenient to get the best deal.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by AVService View Post
    I am curious exactly what you mean by "trouble" with the air screen?
    I know for me in general the higher the resolution the tougher it is for me to use a screen as the pixel size gets smaller and the text size usually gets smaller and harder to read instead of easier to read.

    I feel like the higher res. screens are mainly for the younger buyers and those who might need the enhanced res. for other work but not for my more mainstream use with aging eyes.

    YMMV obviously.

    Also the refurb stock can change many times a day and it is always good to check more than is convenient to get the best deal.
    Actually that's exactly the problem with the MacBook Air 11"' if you compare how the fonts show up in email vs. the 13" they appear really small to me on the 11". So, 11" vs 13" the larger screen was better on the eyes....on the 11" it is not simply a smaller screen. The 11" is packed with pixels but no real scaling so everything from email to webpages are harder to read.

    On the 12" MacBook that changes the fonts are crisper, and I'm not sure exactly what they've done with the scaling but very easy to read.

  6. #6
    Forum Member PaulT00's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tebnewyork View Post
    On the 12" MacBook that changes the fonts are crisper, and I'm not sure exactly what they've done with the scaling but very easy to read.
    The thing with the 12" macbook is that the native resolution of the screen is 2304x1440 at 226 pixels per inch. However, the scaling is done such that it behaves as if it has an effective resolution of 1280x800. The fonts are crisper because instead of having to antialias them (i.e. fuzz the edges to shades of grey in strategic spots to make them look smoother from a distance) based on a physical resolution of 1280x800, the characters are scaled to that effective size but rendered at native resolution. So, instead of having slightly fuzzy edges based on a pixel density of say 120 per inch, the fuzzies may still be there but the pixels which are fuzzed are a quarter of the size and (almost) invisible to the naked eye. I can really see the difference with my 12" macbook plugged into an external non-retina monitor - side by side the 'normal' screen looks quite fuzzy by comparison.

    Hope that makes sense!
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  7. #7
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    Can't you simply adjust the video resolution in the Displays control panel in System Preferences to make text easier to read? Either that or do Command-+ to make text bigger.
    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by MtnMan View Post
    Can't you simply adjust the video resolution in the Displays control panel in System Preferences to make text easier to read? Either that or do Command-+ to make text bigger.
    Yes, you can, but there's a difference in the image quality of the enlarged text depending on whether you have one of the Macs with retina display. It's very clear when I do this on my 13" Retina MacBook Pro. When I do this on a MacBook Air, you can see the pixelation in the images and text.

    Incidentally, one of the annoyances of the later Mac OS operating system versions is that they keep removing or hiding useful options. All the useful options for configuring your display resolution (for exterior monitors, or mirroring, or doing a "detect displays") and putting that in your menu bar went away. While you can use keyboard shortcuts to make it faster to bring up your Display preferences, it's annoying that now you have to hold down the Option key to even be able to view the button that you can press to find these "Advanced" options. Fortunately, someone made a free, Display Menu app that you'll be able to find in the Mac App Store once you buy a new Mac laptop that sits in the menu bar and gives you fast access to all of those options. I assume that you'll want to give presentations that might need to be projected, and will want easy access to this. Or you can navigate the slow way and learn to hold down the Option key to reveal buttons, and take the extra steps to find what you need to configure.

    moriond

  9. #9
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    MthMan:

    I think you will be able to do everything you need with the 11" MacBook Air. I take mine on long research trips as my only computer and get along fine---except for one thing: I have a 128GB model, and storage is tight. (I have to take an external hard drive all the time).

    Granted, i am a digital packrat, and my work means I use gigs and gigs of files all the time. Your mileage may vary, and there are a variety of ways to increase the storage if necessary, ranging from a simple small usb drive, to replacement of the storage module.

    It sounds, though, like you might be better off with a tablet. So ask yourself: will you be writing text with a keyboard, or filling in forms (maybe with a stylus, hence a tablet)? will you be reading and showing pictures to others? For my work I write, so I need a laptop, but for reading and some internet surfing, I like a tablet. Just something to think about. Good luck!

  10. #10
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    First of all, I want to thank everyone who has participated in this thread for sharing your views and experiences. Your insights are valuable to me as I weigh what I'm going to do. I'm of the view that it's better to ask other peoples' views ahead of time and have some idea what to look for well in advance.

    As of this moment, I'm not in the market for anything. I'm just checking out those refurb pages because my outlook may be changing in the months ahead. I'm just curious at this moment because I see those refurb prices and I wonder if a sub-notebook like that would be useful. I'm not ruling out a higher-spec unit, maybe even beyond the 11-inch Airs. But at this moment, I'm curious about what it would be like to have a (relatively) cheap, low-spec Air as a supplementary machine. I am definitely not looking at this as a desktop replacement. I look at the Air, and I see the price, the lack of moving parts that could go bad (no spinning hard drive) and the extremely light weight and compactness, and it makes me think down the road.

    I also haven't ruled out trying to do real estate work on a tablet instead. We'll just have to see what's the most practical and go from there.

    Moriond's and bbcamp's comments are especially interesting to me. I will be very sensitive about establishing a minimal packing arrangement (as in backpacking) to keep it simple and lightweight for maximum mobility between project sites. I've been told by a local broker that this kind of minimalist arrangement boosts your mobility and comes in very handy. It's a K.I.S.S. philosophy.

    The most valuable equipment, as I've been told by the broker, is a good smartphone that can do texting, photos, video, and of course phone calls and internet. We'll have to see if/how a laptop fits in with this business.

    Thanks again, everyone.
    Owner of: Brain Bag backpack (Black), Field Journal Notebook (Blue), Snake Charmer (Small, Orange), Super Ego briefcase (Black / Indigo / Steel) with Reflective Strip, Brain Cell (Steel), Horizontal Freudian Slip, various Organizer Pouches and Key Straps, and a Side Effect (Black / Wassabi) worn as a belt-style hip-pack.

  11. #11
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    I have a 13" MBA with 4GB memory from around 2011 and it is still very usable. I used to do programming related work with it ten months ago with no major hassles.

  12. #12
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    I sold my Macbook Pro and gave my iMac to my girlfriend to use. Now I'm working on a basic 13 Macbook Air, 4 GB and 128 GB space.

    The only thing I don't do on this machine that I used to do on the iMac or Pro is graphic intensive video games, which I didn't spend much time with anyways.

    I've been happily surprised how well 4 GB of RAM handles everything I've thrown at it. The memory management in current operating systems is really excellent. I'll wager that using an SSD drive has more of an impact on performance than the memory limitations at this point.

    The video editing you mentioned in your original post I can't speak to. Everything else you mentioned handles fine. From other mac specific forums I gather that video editing is doable on a 4GB Air, but that is where you'd likely see the limitations the most.

    The limited space hasn't been an issue, but I do keep all my photos and music on an external hard drive, and swap things over when I need them. I'm not much of a digital packrat, and if I don't use a program I tend to delete it.

    As to just using a phone or tablet, there are only three things you need to consider, in my opinion:

    1. Do your required programs have iOS versions, or reasonably easy to implement alternatives?
    2. Do you require easy access to a file system on your machine and lots of locally stored files --- if yes you'll either need a laptop or a lighting-to-usb converter and a large thumb drive.
    3. If you need to do a lot of writing, are you comfortable typing on the screen or on a small bluetooth keyboard?


    The writing question is the biggest issue for me. I'm getting comfortable enough with bluetooth keyboards that using an iPad is a reasonable alternative for me, but typing on a laptop is still much more convenient. Everything else I've found is easy enough to work around on a tablet.

    Photos, unless you need the file in a RAW format or need to do lots of high-end post processing of the photo, are easier to deal with directly on a phone or tablet (taking photos with a tablet is a bit awkward, but very doable).

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