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New Zealanders pay almost the same price as everyone else for Apple computers. That’s not the case with PCs. That changes the way some of us think about buying and choosing devices. 

Writing at The Guardian, Jack Schofield tells a UK reader an Apple MacBook is an expensive choice for working from home.

It is. He says:

“The cheapest Windows 10 laptops cost around £130, which compares with £749 for the cheapest MacBook Air.”

Apple computer customers pay a premium. That’s universal. We know that.

Yet the size of the Apple premium over other brands depends on where you live. In New Zealand, the price gap between Apple and its rivals is lower.

Lenovo, HP less expensive

Schofield names the Lenovo Ideapad 100s and the HP Stream 11 as two of the least expensive Windows laptops in the UK.

When a Stream 11 or Ideapad 100s is £130 and a MacBook Air is £749, the British can buy almost six of the low-cost Windows laptops for the same price as one MacBook.

In New Zealand the ratio between Apple and low-cost Windows laptops is lower.

New Zealand PC prices

At NZ$1600, Apple’s cheapest MacBook Air still costs much more than a basic Windows laptop. You can buy an HP Stream 11 here for NZ$500 — the price is now higher than when I reviewed it. Shop around and you’ll find Lenovo Ideapad 100s prices start at NZ$450.

Which means a New Zealand buyer can get 3.2 low-cost HP Stream 11 laptops for the price of a MacBook Air. Or 3.5 Lenovo Ideapads.

In both cases the New Zealand ratio is more favourable to Apple than the UK example in The Guardian.

The Guardian story points out bargain basement Windows laptops are not a good idea for most people.

Mark-up

Schofield goes on to mention other, more suitable Windows laptops. Not all of them are on sale in New Zealand. Yet in every case where you can compare, New Zealanders pay a lower premium if they choose to buy a MacBook Air instead.

By the time you get to the upmarket Windows laptops Schofield mentions in his The Guardian story, some sell for more in New Zealand than the cost of a MacBook Air.

So while Apple Macs are expensive choices sold at a premium price in New Zealand, the premium we pay for Apple product is not as high here as it is overseas. [1]

Perception, reality

This alters our perception. What we see as a bit more expensive is a lot more expensive in the UK.

There is an unpleasant side to this. In an ideal world we could write about computers without worrying about snob value. Human nature makes that impossible.

In the UK, someone paying five times as much for an Apple laptop gets to flaunt their wealth more than a New Zealander paying three times as much. This nonsense matters to some people.

And that’s where this leads us: perception and reality. New Zealand computer buyers see the Apple MacBook in a different light to UK buyers because, when it comes to PC prices, we live in a different reality.


  1. This hasn’t always been the case. In the past New Zealanders had to pay many times the US price for some Mac models.  ↩

ipad pro apple pencil

While the iPad Pro and the 2015 MacBook have much in common, you’d choose one over the other for quite different reasons.

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

So which would you choose?1

In the end it comes down to whether you want a touch screen or not, your taste in keyboards and whether you can find the apps you need. Let’s look closer:

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.

Here we’re talking about full-blown computers with a half-decent keyboard2, 12-inch screen, desktop operating system and all the things that collective potted spec list implies.

Despite its 12-inch display, the 2015 MacBook is dwarfed by the 13-inch MacBook Air. It looks just as tiny next to the iPad Pro.

It is slim, light and silent. So slim, light and silent you might easily forget it is there. In fact I often did. Only last week I left home with the MacBook in a briefcase only to stop after a few minutes to check I hadn’t left it behind.

Unlike the MacBook Air, no fan starts humming when you push the processor too hard. Indeed, the 2015 MacBook barely warms up in use. You can rest it on your lap without burning your thighs.

For a while the MacBook felt like the future of personal computing. That was before I used the iPad Pro.

Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

It may be an iPad, but when you add the keyboard case, it starts to feel a lot like a laptop.

Apple wasn’t first to realise the barriers between the classes of device are breaking down. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is now in its fourth generation and represents a credible alternative to both the MacBook and the iPad Pro.

The key to the iPad Pro is that it is far more powerful than the 2015 MacBook3. This is noticeable when running video or audio editing apps. It handles HD movie editing with aplomb. Complex graphics and photography jobs are a cinch. Add the Apple Pencil to this and you have a superb design tool.

My feeling is this is where developers will focus on the iPad Pro. I’ve seen demonstrations of architectural and medicine apps that push the graphics beyond anything you would find on a conventional laptop. The touch-screen interactivity takes this to a new level.

So which one?

If you want grunt, graphics or work with any creative apps, the iPad Pro stands head and shoulders above the MacBook in terms of raw capability. However, it runs iOS and that operating system still lacks the level of software support you will find in the OS X world. Some creative types may need to wait for their software developers to come up with iOS versions of their favourite apps.

If portability trumps everything, then the MacBook will be your first choice. The keyboard is better than the iPad Pro’s keyboard cover. Unlike the iPad Pro, it has a touch pad. This means you don’t need to constantly  lift your fingers from the keys and touch the screen4.

It’s early days for the iPad Pro, I’ve only had it in my hands for 24 hours, but I’m starting to think It could be my main portable device. That will depend on how I get on with the keyboard. All my important work apps are there and I find the bigger screen improves my overall productivity.

Which means it’s possible I may not need a new OS X computer. For the moment there are a few non-work apps that don’t exist in iOS. I’m due for a technology refresh in the middle of next year, right now I’m not sure which way I’m going to leap. But my next computer might not be a computer in the traditional sense.

For more recent thoughts read about the time I should have had more faith in my iPad Pro.


  1. I’m sure some Geekzone readers will answer the question with “none of the above”.
  2. This is controversial in some circles. Not everyone likes the 2015 MacBook keyboard. I’m a touch typist and I’ve used it for the last three months. During that time I have written around 100,000 paid words without a hitch. I never thought the keyboard was a problem. On the other hand, I’m writing this post using my MacBook Air and typing feels more comfortable. So maybe the critics have a point.
  3. In terms of raw processing power the MacBook is quite modest by 2015 standards. You wouldn’t choose one to run demanding applications.
  4. Since this was written I’ve changed my view about this. The point still applies, but apart from the need to touch the screen, the keyboard functions as well as the MacBook keyboard. See iPad Pro, 2015 MacBook, MacBook Air productivity.

Lenmar ChugPlug MacBook AirWhen Apple updated the MacBook Air in 2013 it went for extended battery life in a big way. At a pinch you can get 12 hours from a single charge.

While that’s enough power to get through a long working day, there are always times when you need more. That’s the thinking behind Lenmar’s ChugPlug.

The NZ$180 ChugPlug is an integrated backup battery that gives you up to four hours more battery life.

Integrated back-up power

By integrated I mean when charging it slips smoothly into the power chain between a wall plug and the MacBook’s Magsafe power socket. Each end slots directly into the pull-apart power unit. Lights tell you when there is a full charge.

Later, when you’re out with your MacBook Air away from power outlets, it connects to the computer to boost the battery.

In round numbers it delivers about one-third of a full charge to the computer — that’s about four hours in normal use.

There are lights to tell you if it is fully charged and a button turns it off to save power when the back-up battery isn’t in use.

ChugPlug not plug-ugly

ChugPlug is nicely designed. It doesn’t look out-of-place with the official Apple hardware. I’ve seen back-up batteries that look like they belong in a steampunk laboratory.

It’s a handy and elegant way of solving a problem facing mobile MacBook Air owners.

I didn’t see any problems with the ChugPlug, in testing it worked exactly as promised.

I took the ChugPlug on a recent overnight trip to Sydney. On the way the airport security staff gave it a double take — clearly they hadn’t seen one before — another passenger asked me where I got it, so chalk that up as an indication there’s a real demand for this kind of hardware.

Carry that load

The only real drawback is the ChugPlug is big and heavy compared to the Air. It weighs 500g, my 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg, so it adds about 40 percent to the weight.

It measures 225 x 72 x 27 mm. I often carry my laptop in a lightweight leather case. The ChugPlug is too big for this bag and its a challenge for my leather satchel. I ended up needing to use the backpack when taking it out for the day.

ChugPlug is simple idea, well-executed. If your work or lifestyle means you spend long stretches of time away from power sockets, the size and weight is a small price to pay for the convenience of more power.

Apple Macbook AirLast June I switched from a Windows 8 desktop, without a touch screen, to an Apple MacBook Air.

Four reasons prompted the move:

  • For the first time in ages I needed portability and my older Windows laptop was too long in the tooth.
  • After looking at and test-driving UltraBooks I saw Apple’s 2013 MacBook Air cost the same as a comparable Windows 8 PC. In the event I picked up a 13-inch Apple MacBook Air with a 256 GB solid state drive for NZ$1700.
  • I’d been using an Apple iPad for a year and an iPhone for a few months. It was clear Apple’s technology stack suits the way I work.
  • The MacBook Air’s thin, light design was important but more than anything I couldn’t go past its claimed 12-hour battery life

How did it work out?

Portability

Although I didn’t work away from home as often as expected, when I did, the MacBook Air’s thin, light design  was everything I hoped for. It did service at four or five away from home conferences and many client offices around Auckland. I also used it on planes and in cafes.

Because I’m a journalist, I need a decent keyboard and a good, readable screen. Windows UltraBooks offer  similar hardware, to date no-one has improved on the six-year-old MacBook Air format.

MacBook Air all-day battery

Battery life isn’t what it was. A year ago I could work more than ten hours on a single charge. Today there’s still enough juice to last a whole day away from home. I get about eight hours out of the MacBook Air now.

I rarely feel the need to pack a power supply when I’m working in someone’s office which means I can slip the computer into a neat leather case.

In part the shorter time is because battery life declines over time. However, I’ve changed the settings and now crank up the screen brightness which drains power faster. I also tend to leave Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on even when I’m not using them.

Even  so, I’d say Apple delivered on its battery life promise.

Keyboard, screen

I worried about ergonomic problems when I moved from a Windows desktop with full keyboard to the MacBook Air. There were none. Even when I ran into serious eye problems earlier this year, the MacBook and its ability to zoom was just fine.

Some complain the MacBook Air doesn’t have the high-resolution Retina display found on the iPad Air or the MacBook Pro. Presumably a big increase in pixels would push the battery harder — I prefer to stick with the existing display.

One other point, the MacBook Air’s 3:4 format screen is better for writing than the thinner postbox-shaped displays found elsewhere.

OS X, applications

Moving from Windows to OS X didn’t present any serious problems. A year on I still have to look up how to do obscure, rarely performed tasks on the Macintosh operating system. But I didn’t experience any hiccups. OS X is stable, I can go a long time between reboots and I’m not always sure they are necessary anyway.

Microsoft makes it easy to switch from Windows to OS X. My Office 365 subscription means I have to put up with out-of-date Office apps.

When I wrote Two months with the MacBook Air I said:

The 2011 Mac version of Microsoft Office is a disappointment after the 2013 Windows version. I find myself using it less and less preferring other tools. Unless Microsoft fixes this, I won’t renew my Office 365 subscription when it lapses early next year.

That didn’t happen because my Office 365 licence is shared with the other computers at home and my iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone. Damn it, Office 365 is too good a deal. And anyway Microsoft says a refresh is due soon. Maybe. In the meantime, I’ve been using Apple’s iWorks software.

What happened since buying the MacBook Air?

Microsoft’s first generation Surface devices were on sale when I bought my MacBook Air. I passed over these because the original RT Surface was underpowered and the first generation Surface Pro was both a touch underpowered and overpriced.

Although Chromebooks are not ideal tools for journalists and professional writers, their throwaway price and ridiculously low management overheads make them worth thinking about. OK. I’ve stopped thinking about them. The keyboards, screens and writing software are not up to the job. Let’s move on.

To me the Surface sits somewhere between the MacBook Air and the iPad. It’s a tablet, but the letter box-shaped Window means it’s not so comfortable switching between portrait and landscape modes. It’s a tablet, but I bet few Surface owners choose not to buy the optional keyboard.

Microsoft Surface

In practice Surface feels more like a touch screen laptop. I’ve nothing against touch screens. They have their place, but when you bang out words for a living, you don’t want to move your fingers too often from the keyboard to the screen. When I spent time with a Surface I ended up with horrible wrist pains from that action.

Despite all that, second generation Surface devices — and more recently the Surface Pro 3 — are fine alternatives to the MacBook Air. Surface would be my second choice behind a new MacBook Air.

Three things give the MacBook Air an edge:

  • A better, squarer display is important for writing. I need to see more lines of text and not a greater width of text. Incidentally, it’s harder to proofread across a wide measure. And the 13-inch screen makes for better writing productivity.
  • Microsoft’s newer Type Cover 2 keyboards are better than most tablet add-ons, but they are not as good for my kind of bashing out words typing style as the MacBook’s keyboard. Also, having the keyboard as an add-on means there’s something that conceivably could get left behind. I can’t risk that.
  • Microsoft’s Surface makes the MacBook Air look inexpensive. A 2014 MacBook Air with 13-inch screen and 256GB storage costs NZ$1650. A Surface Pro 3 with the same storage and a typewriter style keyboard is 25 percent more expensive at NZ$2077.

One year on

So far I’ve not mentioned what is perhaps the most important aspect of owning any work computer: productivity.

Life with the MacBook Air is more straightforward than my time with Windows. I doubt I’ve spent more than an hour or two doing anything resembling maintenance since I got the computer. In contrast I spent a couple of hours last week fixing a minor problem on my daughter’s Windows laptop.

The hours I’ve regained are more than worth the price of the computer.

At the same time, OS X does better at getting out-of-the-way than Windows. There’s a better focus on the user interface and that leads to greater productivity. On the flip side, there’s less flexibility, but that’s not what I look for in a work tool.

After one year I’m still convinced I made the right decision with the MacBook Air. I’d certainly buy another, perhaps after the next refresh or the one after that.

Apple OS X Dock showing Word, Parallels and Windows Word pmMicrosoft says a new Mac version of Word is coming later this year. Hopefully, it will be more like  Windows Word 2013 than OS X Word: 2011.

When I switched to a MacBook last year, the thing I missed most was writing longer features in the Windows version of Microsoft Word. It does a great job of staying out-of-the-way and hiding complexity.

The Mac Word 2011 version has a few annoyances. I still struggle with them. Not least the way the most naked screen option resets the moment you switch focus to a different window.

Microsoft Word, Bootcamp

Recently I ran Word 2013 on my Mac in a Windows 8 partition using Bootcamp.

There are minor keyboard weirdnesses, but otherwise, it works well. The problem is that switching between OS X, which is more productive for other tasks and Windows requires a reboot. That’s not an efficient way of working. I don’t want to do that too often.

This week I’m running the Parallels Desktop 9 trial.

Parallels Desktop sets up Windows 8 in a virtual machine. You can configure Parallels to make Windows invisible and integrate Windows apps, like Word, with OS X. In effect this means I can run Word 2013 as if it were an OS X app.

OS X, Parallels Desktop 9

Parallels works fine, up to a point. I’ve tested a handful of Windows-only apps and the integration is first class. There are a handful of minor keyboard niggles — oddly not the same as those when running Windows Word in Bootcamp.

Perhaps the oddest behaviour is how the screen scrolling sometimes goes one way and sometimes goes another. A downstroke on the touchpad moves down screen while at other times that downstroke scrolls the screen up. It’s possible that’s a confusion between OS X and Windows over which OS is running the show.

I’m also not entirely comfortable that my Command-S keystrokes are saving the document — there’s nothing visible or audible to show anything has happened.

Parallels Desktop 9 good software but pricey

Parallels is expensive. A licence costs US$80, that’s around NZ$100. I’m told each new version requires a new licence, Parallels doesn’t sell updates. That seems expensive by 2014 software standards. I paid NZ$40 for Windows 8 and nothing to upgrade OS X from 10.8 to 10.9.

To be fair, Parallels is a sweet piece of software. It does a difficult job with panache. I’m impressed with how smoothly it works. You could forget it was there if it were not for the nagware message that continually pops up telling me to pay for a full licence.

However, I can’t reasonably justify spending 100 on that having a slightly nicer Word experience, especially when my Office 365 licence means I’ve already paid for a Word upgrade that could be just weeks away. So for now I buy that licence.

Update: I forgot to mention that I’ve round-tripping between Windows Word, iPad Word and Mac Word for a week or so and have yet to see a hiccup.