This is in response to a question sent to me on the Facebook, by somebody who accidentally put a boot through their Macbook’s screen and now has Best Buy trying to extort them for repairs to the tune of about nine hundred dollars. My friend thinks that this is ridiculous, which is true, and that they should buy a new laptop, which may or may not be true, instead of dealing with Best Buy, which is a false dichotomy. Facebook insists that my response is about three thousand characters too long, so forget that, and my friend’s initial question was should I buy one of a Dell, a Dell, a Sony Vaio or another Macbook, with the understanding that her faith in Apple has been somewhat shaken.
I’ll flesh it out with some links a little later, but for now feel free to fill your tubes with the googles.
While I sympathize with your situation, anonymous friend, going to Best Buy for service is a rookie mistake and $900 to replace an LCD is clearly criminal. Those nine bills will get you a three hundred dollar part and some monkey in a blue shirt spending twenty minutes installing it; you should be able to find and price out the part number with a little investigation, and if you’re not comfortable with the repairs (possible!) or don’t own a bunch of tiny torx wrenches (likely!), I can certainly do that for you. You might also price out the repairs at some local small Mac dealerships, and find much more satisfying results.
Don’t buy a VAIO, are you insane? Sony sells glossy lifestyle products, and unless everything else you own comes from Sony the interoperability problems are a nightmare. You’ll be buying that pretty champagne color at significant expense. VAIO’s don’t age well at all, and you can be sure that repairs and upgrades will cost you a fortune, and if you buy it for the colour you sure as hell won’t be buying it for longevity, durability or ease of use.
If you expect to have this laptop until you finish your M.A, don’t buy a Dell. Their consumer-grade products are flimsy, and do not wear well at all; the ones that last tend to do so because they are being used mostly as substitute desktops, and aren’t subjected to the routine abuses of mobility. You can expect them to be basically disposable after their first year of hard use. I’ve been quite happy with their business line, the Latitudes, but they’re bought-by-companies-only pricy, and the Inspiron line they sell to consumers just aren’t worth it.
So, before I go over the rest of what I have to say, let me get my core argument out of the way: If your time has value, get a Mac.
That’s it. You will pay less for other machines, but over the course of their lifetime that is guaranteed to be a false savings; you are paying four hundred dollars more up front, true! But over the course of that laptop’s life (two to four years, more if you treat it well?) that will amount to approximately two to four dollars a week, and in return you get the best hardware integration, the best power management and the best build quality that money can buy in a consumer laptop. No other manufacturer pays as much attention to the experience of using their product as Apple does.
Having said that, you have a lot more good options now than you did three years ago. The claim made in your Facebook thread, that “the problem with pricing of some laptops is that you’ll never find one that is medium ground” is nowhere near right – until recently, unless you were willing to spend an absurd amount of money or carry around a laptop the size of a small suitcase, all laptops had pretty similar specifications – hard drives in a small range of relatively similar sizes, screens in a small range of similar sizes, universally shitty speakers, and so forth. Your big differentiators were build and screen quality, and unless you were willing to spend a bunch more money for an business or executive-grade laptop (light! tiny! superexpensive!) or lug around one of those Toshiba Qosmio monsters (Harman Kardon Speakers! HDTV! Weighs 20 pounds!) then your options were pretty limited.
Then Asus came along about a year ago now and released a machine called the “Eee”, a cheap, tiny little machine with a smallish screen, a smallish keyboard and a smallish hard drive, but with an entire suite of not-Windows-but-totally-functional applications (word processing, web browsing, etc) built in, and sold approximately a trillion of them.
Have you seen these things? They’re really small, about the size and weight of a middling hardcover book, and they’re responsible for a whole new market segment of cheap subnotebooks. The current (as far as I can tell) winning bids in that area are the EeePC 900 and the MSI Wind – they don’t look like much, but for your day-to-day thesis-writin’, web-browserin’, instant-messagin’ needs, they’re simple, cheap, and all solid-state (no spinning hard drive!) so it’s hard to feel bad about abusing them a little. And they cost a third what your more expensive, mainstream laptops cost. Not perfect, by any means, and try before you buy to see how you feel about things like tactile feel and responsiveness, for sure. But if you’ve got a desktop at home and all you want from a laptop is a screen with a keyboard attached that you can carry around without dislocating your shoulder, this might be the way to go. Or, if you just want something really light and really cheap; these things make great “second car” laptops.
So, there you go. To sum up, in your situation I would:
- Try to get somebody who isn’t Best Buy to fix your current machine because, you know, holy crap.
- Shop around a little bit for these mini subnotebooks, to see what you think. They key here is to do a little bit of shopping-in-stores, to see how they look and feel, and then to go home and shop online for price.
- Consider buying a Mac, as compared to buying any of those. If you intend the laptop you buy to be your primary or only computer I would lean heavily towards the Macbook, but if it’s not, I would have to think pretty hard.