2018 Apple MacBook Air, Real World Review

2018 Apple MacBook Air, Real World Review

It seems as though I purchase and use a laptop, specifically Apple laptops, for about 6 years before getting a new one. My very first Apple computer was a 2006 MacBook Pro which was one of the early Intel powered MacBooks where Apple was transitioning away from the PowerPC chips. I used that MacBook Pro until 2012 when I bought a new one, a non-Retina 15″ MacBook Pro. Here we are 6 years later again, in 2018 and I decided to buy a new MacBook, this time the just announced Air.

I always wanted the Pro models so I could have the necessary power I wanted to be able to edit some video when I used to go to church. I also liked to run virtual machines which required a substantial amount of resources as well. The two Pro’s I had always did everything I wanted them to do. However, this time around I wanted to go in a different direction; lightweight portability.

I’ve considered the MacBook Air’s in the past but the big turn off’s of the older models were a lack of real power, the big ugly and silver bezels and no Retina screens. So I never bought one. Now with Apple’s new update to the line they remedied those things and made me very interested in it.

My life and work has changed considerably over the last six years in that I’ve left church and religion behind which means I no longer edit audio and video. I’ve also received a promotion at work which means I’m now an executive administrator and no longer a systems administrator dealing with enterprise class hardware and software. Now my skills and abilities are put to use by my words, not by the systems I can build.

With those major changes in mind, I knew that I no longer needed the power of the MacBook Pro. My new job entails many meetings, travel and a lot of writing and reading. The new MacBook Air fits the bill perfectly for me and my current needs. It is lightweight, ultra portable and has a very long lasting battery. So far I’m getting better than 15 hours of usage from it on a single charge. At 2.75 pounds it’s much easier to carry around than the old MacBook Pro which was larger and weighed a lot more. The smaller design of the Air also means I don’t need as big of a bag to carry it and a few things around with me. I also really like the tapered design of the Air and it just makes it feel even more portable and easier to open up.

I know a lot of people have been complaining about Apple’s new butterfly keyboard style for the past 3 years on the MacBook Pro’s. Apparently the 2018 MacBook Air has a 3rd generation version of the keyboard. This is my first experience with this keyboard and I quite like it. So far I haven’t had any problems with it. On the past Pro’s apparently people were getting numerous typos’s, repeated letters or letters that wouldn’t register when pressed. But so far so good for me on this new Air. I actually feel like I can type faster on this style than other more traditional keyboards and my typo’s aren’t any worse than before either.

In fact, I’ve been using it at work and on the road at meetings a lot since I received it on launch day. I’ve been writing and working on policies, letters and reports with it as well as picking up work on my book again. To date I still haven’t had any issues with the keyboard.

As for the screen, this is my first experience with a Retina screen. It is very nice and with the slimmer and black bezels it is so much better than the older generation Airs. There are however complaints about screen brightness. Apparently it only goes up to 300 nits. I agree it could be a tad brighter, but I’m not really complaining about it. Its plenty bright enough for my needs and most of the time I don’t even have it at full brightness anyhow. I assume that the 300 nits was a battery cost saving measure by Apple. The brighter they make the screen capable of, the shorter the battery life will be. But that’s just a guess on my part.

Another thing I really like about this laptop is that I can actually use it as a laptop. For instance, right now as I am typing this, the Air is on my lap with a blanket between it and my legs. With my older MacBook Pro even just typing a simple blog post and doing no other tasks, having it in a position like this would get my legs, and the laptop very hot. It required a good amount of airspace around it to stay cool and keep the fans from spinning up. What I would do with the Pro is either keep it on a table or I had bought a laptop tray thing to keep it on so it wasn’t in direct contact with me and had some air flow around it. This MacBook Air does not do what the Pro did and stays nice and cool, or at least just room temperature. I’ve not yet heard a fan spin up once on this machine.

Now for some people the lack of ports on this new Air can be a problem. It only has a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the right and two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports on the left, either of which can be used for charging. For me this minimal port offering is not an issue. I rarely plug anything into my laptops anymore and do everything online or over my local WiFi LAN. I did buy a USB-C to USB-A cable and a USB-C to Lightning cable just in case I might need them.

Apple boasted a little bit about the speakers in this model compared to the previous model. I don’t normally listen to music or much of anything on the laptop. I’m a bit of an audiophile and listen to lossless music on a DAP (digital audio player) or on the Mac mini which has an external amplifier and DAC (digital to analog converter) setup with some very nice Sennheiser headphones. But with that said, I did listen to some music on the Tidal app with the lossless music subscription and the speakers sounded decent enough for what they are. They are small, thin and narrow and in an ultra portable laptop. They sounded ok and didn’t make my ears bleed or anything.

A couple of other things that I like are the force touch trackpad which has a larger area than my old MacBook Pro. Having the ability to click or tap anywhere on the pad is very nice compared to the older one where you had to click/tap only on the bottom. Another thing that is valuable is the Touch ID built into it. Having that is huge as far as convenience goes and double so when used in conjunction with Apple Pay on websites that support it. That combination is so much more secure and safe for your PII (personally identifiable information).

The other specifications of my 2018 MacBook Air are that I went with the optional Space Gray color,  16 GB of RAM and went with the 512 GB SSD. I don’t normally buy the AppleCare support on products and I haven’t done so with this either. But given this is a big update to the Air and the known history with the butterfly keyboard on the Pro’s, I’m considering buying the AppleCare+ just in case. I still have a month to decide before I am ineligible to buy it anymore.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the 2018 Apple MacBook Air. I recommend it to anyone who needs a general purpose laptop for the basic things such as web browsing, email, writing and the sort of casual use one might use a computer for. If you are into very intensive tasks such as audio and video editing, or photo editing, doing lots of other high CPU usage tasks, this might not be the right choice for you. The MacBook Air excels at everyday general use which is probably what most people do anyhow.

I’m looking forward to another 6 years before I need or decide to buy a new laptop.


Apple Watch Series 2 Review

Apple Watch Series 2 Review

About two and a half weeks ago I went to the Apple Store and bought an Apple Watch. I bought it with the full intention of using it on a trial basis during the two week return window allowed. If I didn’t like it I was going to return it.

After trying it out for the two weeks I decided that I like it enough to keep it. In the past I always considered the AW but declined to pursue it for two reasons. Most of what it can do I can do on the iPhone and aesthetically, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I do the round face watches, like my Skagens. Point number two still stands however. I still do like the round faces on watches over the square ones, but it’s a minor thing overall.

I went with a series 2, aluminum in space gray. I also bought an extra band, the Nike green and black one. I didn’t buy the Nike edition watch however as I’m not a runner and didn’t need the subscription that came with it; I just liked the band design.

After a while of figuring out the settings and how I wanted them to work between notifications and other functions, I think I have it all settled.

Some of the things I do enjoy, and enjoy more than I had previously thought I would, are the text and email notifications. With the AW I can easily see what is coming in and decide to or decide not to pick up the phone to look at it, or can get a preview of it on the AW. It is rather convenient.

I find that I use Siri a little more than I used to, and it’s mostly to set timers when I’m cooking or doing laundry and for use with my Philips Hue lighting system and HomeKit. I often feel like David Hasslehoff as Michael Knight in Knight Rider from the 1980’s when I hold my arm up with the AW to “hey Siri..” with it.

I’ve used the native workout app for outdoor walking and outdoor cycling and it’s pretty easy to use and works well. My gym also recently came out with a new app that has a lot of workouts and pre-built programs to choose from and it’s very well done and elegantly designed. It also has an AW app and I’ve been using that at the gym to track things and see what’s up next. I can do my whole session without having to pickup and unlock my phone like I used to do after each exercise and set.

Regarding the Activity app, Apple takes a very different approach to goals than Fitbit does. Fitbit makes steps per day the main focus of activity and for achieving personal goals. Apple’s approach is totally different with the idea of closing the rings of stand, move and exercise. Your steps are still tracked and shown at the very bottom of the app, but they’re not a focus of anything in particular. It seems as if they’re philosophy is more about just being active regardless of what you’re doing. With the Move ring its dynamic and adjusts each weeks active calorie goals based on the previous week’s numbers and will try to keep it attainable and challenging at the same time. My gym app integrates with Activity so all of that gets logged automatically. I like how the AW will remind me to stand at 50 minutes past the hour if I haven’t been up yet; this is something neither of my Fitbit’s had, although I think some of their newer models now have it.

One thing the AW doesn’t do is track floors climbed and relies on the iPhone to track that. I find this to be a bit odd that Apple didn’t incorporate this feature into it. With all the things it can do, up to and including swimming, why can’t it sense air pressure so it can measure floors climbed like a Fitbit? But at the same time, steps taken and floors climbed aren’t considered a focus of the Activity app and it’s goals.

The Breath app is nice too and I use that as well. It’s helpful to calm down at times and reset the mind when needed.

I like the integration with the Health app as well and my gym’s app also integrates with it so I can track a lot of health data in one spot. I still have and use the Fitbit Aria smart scale which measures weight and body fat percentage. That integrates with the Fitbit app obviously, but not with Apple’s Health or Activity apps. So I downloaded the third-party Workflow app and set up a workflow on the iPhone and AW app so I can punch in those two metrics on the AW and log them into the Health app quickly as I’m standing on the scale looking at the day’s measurements.

The comfort of the AW and band is superb, especially compared to the FitBit Surge. I get up at 4am each day and put the AW on and wear it all day until about 9pm, save for a few minutes in the shower when I take it off. (I know, it’s water resistant and could wear it in the shower, but I don’t). With the Fitbit Surge by the time I’d get home from work, maybe wearing it for 10 to 12 hours, I couldn’t wait to take it off as it was irritating me something awful. The LED sensors for measuring the heart rate protrude from the Surge in a more abrupt and narrow fashion which digs into my arm throughout the day. The LED’s on the AW are more spread out and tapered which do not dig into me at all and I have no problem wearing it for up to 17 or 18 hours.

So far at the end of each day I’ve been averaging 30% battery usage which is better than I was expecting. Of course it all depends on personal habits and usage too. I could probably get two days out of a charge but I’ve not tried to yet. The Fitbit Surge would give me 5 to 7 days on a charge, but it doesn’t do a quarter of what the AW does, nor does it have a nice display. That’s just some of the tradeoffs you have to consider between the devices.

So I suppose I like the AW better than I thought I would, but I still do love my traditional Skagen watches design a lot better.

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