As the resident geek I’m often asked what kind of computer is best for families to use at home. After years of tinkering around and rebuilding old x86 PCs (which I enjoy) the MacBook line of products are nice because sometimes you just want to flip open the laptop and look something up, work on a project, watch a movie, or listen to music.
Many people in our circles have iPhones and we also have an Apple TV for AirPlay and Bluetooth for A2DP music streaming. This also works best with a newer model Apple MacBook as AirPlay needs a recent OS X release version.
With that said there are a few considerations:
– all-in-one laptop such as MacBook Air
– Upgradable laptop such as MacBook or MacBook Pro
– New or refurbished from Apple Store or Mail Order
– used from Craigslist or eBay
I personally prefer the MacBook Air line of laptops as they pack the most power into the smallest package. Sure they are underpowered compared to other models but they do 99% of what I need and I have a lot of other computers available to carry out more demanding tasks. For example: Since the Air has a smaller hard drive if I take a lot of pictures on a trip I have to process them and upload within a week or so then delete them from my hard drive before my next trip. I also watch movies and listen to music when I’m traveling. It takes time up front to tweak the exact set of files I think I’m going to want with me on the limited disk space. I also have a slew of other mobile devices to keep me busy when I run out of battery or media on my MacBook Air. I use an 11″ Air but there is also a newer model with a 13″ screen. Get one with a back lit keyboard and as much RAM and Disk space as you can afford. The newest models have a faster PCI hard drive and longer battery life.
If you don’t mind a little more weight and appreciate the extra battery life and hard disk space you can go with a MacBook or MacBook Pro. Demending on your budget there are many options with better screens, more RAM, and different disk drive sizes and speeds. I typically look for someone selling one on Craigslist for around $1000. I like the ones with the best screens but not maxed out on memory or disk. With these laptops you can easily get upgraded memory (8 or 16 GB RAM is cheap and easy to upgrade) and hard drives which are bigger, faster, and cheaper. For less than $200 you want to get a 500 GB SSD hard drive. You can either transfer the data from your old drive to the new one or just install the OS from scratch if you have the OS installation media.
If you buy on Craigslist you can meet the seller at a coffee shop. When you go to test it out make sure to turn it on and use the wifi to run software update and make sure it’s on the latest OS. Who ever is selling it to you should have no problem with this. Also check out the Bluetooth, Keyboard, and Battery Charge cycles.
eBay’s also an option if you are planning ahead and have time to make sure everything’s right. Be sure to check out the seller’s score – it should be above 99% and not be very new – read the negative feedback to figure out the seller’s history. You can shop with confidence as they now offer “Buyer Protection” on most purchases but it can take time to work through this. I got a great deal on a used xbox once but it took a couple months before Igot the wireless working on it. The seller ended up shipping me a new wireless module and I had to figure out how to take it apart and replace it.