Head’s up: I’m a pretty thorough person who likes to give context, so I tend to be an essayist rather than a short post writer. If you want to skip the context stuff, head to Pulling the Trigger on a MacBook Pro. The beginning does provide a lot of reassurance for people who, like me, didn’t hate Windows growing up and do consider all options each time they upgrade. Please comment if you have any unanswered questions and I’ll try to respond quickly.
My Windows Indoctrination
I’ve been a die-hard Windows fan since 1989, when my dad constructed his first PC and I learned to kind of navigate DOS at the tender age of three. The following year, Windows 3.0 launched and made using a PC so much easier for a four year old, although I’ll admit that I mostly remember using DOS to launch my favorite games on five-inch floppies and eventually on the smaller floppy disks I’d use all the way until my senior year of high school in 2004, when USB 1.0 finally took hold in our slice of America and I began backing up my files on CD-Rs and emailing myself files as I went on to college.
It’s funny how this seems both completely foreign and completely natural. We’ve never been a family with a bunch of money, but my dad was an early PC enthusiast so he would scrape things together to build his own machines for many years, which meant that unlike my friends, I grew up with a huge array of technology – including the knowledge of how to take my machine completely apart and replace broken or outdated parts. Something that wasn’t part of our household, though, was anything Apple. Sure, my elementary school had a grant for a Macintosh lab (we’re talking pre-iMac, folks), but Apple sold packaged computer systems, which for our family that upgraded things little-by-little and who was accustomed to DOS just didn’t work. Maybe it was my dad’s preference that I latched on to, who knows? Apple just never became part of our ecosystem.
The weird thing about growing up in between Gen X and Millennials is that I have tendencies and memories colored by both points of view. I remember when all my friends got those prepaid Nokia brick phones and texts cost $0.10 each (while minimum wage was $4.65), and I remember many of my friends buying the first iPhones at my private, liberal arts college while they just weren’t an option for me, financially. But as time wore on, I became more and more immersed into the Windows ecosystem: 95, ME, XP, Vista, and 7. I’m a power user who knows all of my favorite customizations and hotkeys and cannot STAND to operate outside of the Office Suite unless it’s a quick, throw-away Google Doc. Enter the iPhone 5.
A Taste of Apple’s Sophisticated Simplicity
We finally made the switch to iPhone because our upgrades coincided with the 5 release, and while they were good phones when upgrade time came around two years later, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 looked so much better, with its fancy pen and better customization. Two years and seven (!) OEM replacement batteries between the two of us later (that battery swelling problem arose way sooner than Samsung let on…), the iPhone 7 Plus looked pretty daggone good again, so we switched back along with my husband snagging an iPad to use in his classroom and at home. What the iPhone 7 Plus lacked in customization, it made up for in terms of reliability, quality, size, and durability. I swear I dropped that phone — HARD — multiple times a day for the 3+ years we owned them, and while I contribute the durability partially to our accidentally-discovered love of Caseology cases and amFilm screen protectors, I was able to trade it in, in nearly perfect condition with a decent battery life and honestly begrudgingly because I didn’t want to lose my physical home button, for the full amount offered. I think we probably would’ve kept those phones even longer if my husband’s phone hadn’t suffered the fatal iOS update problem that burned out the firmware so that his microphone never worked in any situation, ever again. For once, our phone upgrade was a no-brainer: iPhone 11 Pro Max (with maximum storage capacity for later trade in value) for the win.
Now firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem with two iPhones, two Apple watches, an old iPad 2 and an iPad (2018) for our son (more about how the parental controls factored in below), three various versions of Apple TVs, and a fairly easy and stable integration with Alexa Echo/Echo Dots and Phillips Hue lighting, we started to realize that we were hooked on the genius of simplicity behind Apple’s designs. And thus began our major quandry: our nine year old laptops had been dying for awhile and we had been saving for new laptops — essential equipment for teachers, especially in today’s day and age — but were we really going to consider MacBooks, especially given the high cost?
The Stakes: What We Considered
Yes, I said nine year old laptops. J’s laptop wasn’t functioning well, but mine did fine after starting up. Sure, it got hot easily and screamed if I didn’t fix the switchable graphics immediately when booting up, and sure it was missing many plastic pieces from drops (both self- and kids-induced), had several screen replacements, a hard drive replacement after a bios error corrupted the startup process irreversibly, and most recently the track pad finally went all the way out so that I had to always use a USB mouse (which I prefer anyway). But it was a hell of an HP powerhouse, and somehow I had snagged 1TB hard drive, 16 GB RAM, the first generation, brand new quad core I7 processor, Beats audio that can still fill a decent size room with sound, a 17″ HD screen (well, the first screen was HD; the three subsequent replacements were not), a built-in blu-ray player/DVD burner which actually comes in handy a lot as a French teacher since most DVDs don’t have a French language track (but blu-rays do!), four USB ports of various types, a card reader, both HDMI and VGA ports (again, important as a teacher and as a conference presenter), dual headphone jacks… this laptop still runs better than my new-ish school-provided desktop and laptop to the point that I was bringing it to work each day despite some cosmetic or minor annoyance problems. The biggest kicker, though: I had been smart enough to roll it back to Windows 7 within 30 days of upgrading to Windows 10, so I wasn’t locked into that nightmare of an operating system. I had snagged this beauty for $1100 including tax back in 2011 which was a pretty hefty price tag at the time, but it definitely earned its keep.
The problem came up in trying to find a suitable replacement.
First, there was Windows 10 to consider, which is riddled with problems and quite frankly, annoying as hell. I still have to use Windows 10 on my work machines, but not having my administrative permissions to install the factory-provided blu-ray player’s drivers on my personal machine, or to have my factory-installed graphics cards’ drivers routinely uninstalled without my permission, or having zero control over my update and restart schedule (which they did ultimately fix, but not in the year my husband hung in there before finally backing up his files and resetting to factory to go back to Windows 8.2) – those were huge pet peeves for me and I was determined to buy a machine with Windows 10 Enterprise that included downgrade rights to Windows 7. And then Microsoft announced that they would no longer be providing support or updates to the operating system, and I began to question my sanity in sticking with Windows: could I really live with the constant glitches and life-interrupting updates? Was it worth avoiding learning the macOS ecosystem?
Thus I began searching for my perfect PC, despite the Windows 10 problem. It needed 1TB of storage, or I could deal with 512GB to get an SSD but really, for long-term usage, the more storage, the better. Only 16 GB of RAM was a deal breaker; yes, RAM has improved greatly and 16GB does a lot more now than it did on my old laptop, but if that wasn’t a single DDR2 card with a fully open spot to upgrade to 32GB (and preferably with the capability of upgrading to 64GB as time went on), out the window it went. After all, I did my research nine years ago and look what I got out of it! Nothing on the market matched the sound quality of my current laptop since Beats was acquired by Apple, and while the newest versions of I7 quad core processors are indeed much better than mine, even fancy I5s just don’t match the quality of what I already had, as my school desktop had proven. It had to have a large screen, partially because I had gotten used to it and partially because that extra room allowed for a dedicated 10-key number pad, something I use all the time entering grades and doing our budget spreadsheets. The graphics needed to be decent, but because I no longer use Photoshop all the time especially running concurrently with Silhouette Studio (and I’m not a PC gamer – that’s what my XBOX One is for), I didn’t need a pimped-out NTI Radeon like my old laptop; I just didn’t want to deal with the relentless frustration of switchable graphics between a nicer graphics card and a lesser graphics card. Oh, and the biggest feature of all: warranty be damned, I could take it apart myself if needed and completely fix or upgrade the machine. USB port goes out? No problem! Dropped it too many times and the keyboard ribbon wiggled loose? One minute fix! Kid knocks it off the table and shatters the screen? $50-100 and an hour of work later, and I’ve completely replaced it, even if I needed to fix the wiring all the way through the bezels into the motherboard.
But here’s the deal, guys: with the ridiculously HUGE number of PC-based laptops on the market even within a single manufacturer, even in customizing a laptop it was nearly impossible to find something that fit my parameters well, and if it did, it was around $1800-2000 if I wanted it to last for years to come. Keep in mind that we were in the market for TWO laptops at the same time, and they didn’t have to be the same laptops at all (my husband doesn’t feel the need for the massive screen like I do, for example), but the realization that we were creeping up to $4000 and beyond set in hard. Why would I settle for anything less than amazing if I were going to pay that much???
Pulling the Trigger on a MacBook Pro
J decided much earlier than me that he was more than willing to switch to Mac. I held out until literally a few days before we were able to order, quite frankly, and was willing to hold out longer if needed, even going into another school year with my trusty old (falling apart but functioning!) laptop. The price tag hurt, especially when ordering two at the same time and adding in a Thunderbolt to USB-A dongle and a Magic Mouse for each of us, plus some cheap cases to protect our investment. All-in-all, $5k later and we both received our machines last week.
Ultimately, for us, it came down to a few key selling features. First, compatibility with Macs has never been higher. A lot of people who switch treat a Mac like an iPad and assume they can only install apps on the AppStore, but forget that just like PC, you can purchase software/apps from outside vendors right from your browser. Of course, it needs to be someone trustworthy, but I haven’t really noticed any gaps in software that frustrate me at all. As for my Microsoft Office obsession, I get a free download of fully-functioning Office as part of my institutional account, and from what I’ve seen all the advanced features I routinely use are there. For my hotkey-loving power user self, finding out that most of the hotkeys just subbed CTRL for Command was a big sigh of relief. Since I’m constantly typing in French, I was relieved that I could just hold down whatever accented letter I need, as I never bothered to learn the ALT key commands and instead learned to type on the Swiss French keyboard (the closest to QWERTY I’ve found, with a few things that Windows had a hard time recognizing but mostly fully functioning) and have been since college; that was something I missed dearly from typing on my phone. The main draw, of course, was the durability and resell value, especially purchasing just before WWDC and the possibility of an ARM chip drastically changing/upgrading MacBook Pro in the span of a year — if we have buyer’s remorse when the new models come out, at least these laptops hold their value and have a dedicated resell market, unlike PCs.
Ultimately, we decided on the base model MacBook Pro 16 (2019 model), and here’s why: with our (very small) educator’s discount, it wasn’t much more than the best MacBook Pro 13 (2020) model offered but the changes of having a much better processor without paying more and having dual fans (fans always seems to be an issue for every laptop I’ve ever owned) was a huge draw. We were also intrigued by the huge touchpad and the highly-controversial touch bar. Were we bummed about losing the 10-key and that there are STILL no touchscreen offerings? Sure. Am I still very, very concerned that I cannot EVER upgrade my RAM even if I contracted an authorized professional because its soldered to the motherboard? Or do any physical work to my machine at all? I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. But I still maintain that overall, when considering all the factors and how long of a life these machines will have (likely becoming the first real laptops our sons receive when we upgrade instead of trading in for a discount), we stand by our choice.
What You Really Want to Know: How We Feel a Week Later
We’re on summer break (a.k.a. unpaid work time) so our machines aren’t getting the same kind of use they normally will, although I’d argue that we’re using more of the power and graphics than we normally will as we test out our new machines. I know J loves his, but since I’m the person writing this review, I’m going to detail my personal feelings and learnings over the past week.
While I’m vaguely familiar with the operating system thanks to some exposure in college in the Mac Lab for theatre design and renderings as well as friends that own Macs, I’ve been surprised at how intuitive most things are. The big difference was that once I committed to going Apple, I watched several YouTube videos geared towards things I knew might be issues for me so once I unboxed, I hit the ground running. Also, I read every setting closely (as I do with any major Windows OS upgrade) to make sure things were fine tuned to what I like for now. I’m sure that will change over time. A minor annoyance is that there’s no backspace key, just delete, and the function is reversed; I’m used to using both buttons frequently while typing and not looking at my keyboard, so that’s been a tad frustrating, but I’ll manage.
I immediately installed outside software like Office, OneDrive for Business Sync, Chrome, and VLC Media Player that I knew would be crucial and honestly, I’ve found macOS to be incredibly easy to learn. I’m still getting used to the top bar being app-related despite the size of the app window, which surprisingly brings back memories of Windows 3.0, but it’s getting easier every day and I’m no longer frustrated by 99% of my interactions. In fact, I’d say that more often than not, J and I are swapping stories and tips about cool things that we can’t believe we have ever lived without like All My Files – how much easier is it to find duplicate files and delete them without putting them all into one ridiculous, giant folder??? Even connecting to wi-fi is easier – within seconds of turning on my MacBook at my parents’ house, it was already connected as it used the settings from my phone via Keychain. The convenience of not bothering my dad to find wherever he stashed the piece of paper with the wi-fi password months ago was so comforting.
Ooh, and the TouchID sensor actually works, and does so very very quickly, which is something I’ve never found to be useful on any other laptop, in any brand, ever. Why every fingerprint sensor on laptops suck despite having good fingerprint sensors on the majority of phones regardless of manufacturer is beyond me. Usually, the smaller the technology, the harder to design and manufacture, so I’m stumped as to why they can’t seem to get this right. Apple, however, does – I barely lay my finger on the TouchID pad and it’s unlocked and ready to go! This feature is especially important with AppStore downloads and ScreenTime.
Each time I find a quirk I don’t love, I also find a solution that oftentimes has been considered by Apple and already incorporated as a setting. And let’s not mention the fact that System Control is just so, so much easier than Control Panel, even for someone like me who switches to Classic View and reviews every.single.setting. The one major pet peeve I have is the inability to automatically alphabetize Launch Pad, and the fact that all of my folders and icons moved placed when I installed an update. That’s one thing Apple could stand to learn from the Microsoft and Android ecosystems on all of their devices. I like a clean desktop (so the dock actually drives me a little crazy at the moment, but I’m getting used to it), and I wish I had the ability to hide all my apps behind Launch Pad on macOS or in one place on iOS – it’s literally the only feature I actually miss from Android. (ETA: I’m watching the WWDC keynote as I’m finishing this post and that is now an option on iOS! Hopefully they’ll announce the same thing for macOS in this keynote as well.)
One thing that is incredibly disappointing is the camera quality. Quite frankly, it’s too awful for me to use to record my lessons if we aren’t able to resume in-person teaching in the fall, or if we have to use a blended model. Guess I’ll either break out my old laptop, or I’ll record on my iPhone and then edit on my MacBook. The worst part is that there’s really absolutely NO reason for this – it costs just a few dollars to upgrade the webcam nowadays, and the fact that Apple won’t do this standard for every single one of their devices automatically is ludicrous.
And not to beat a dead horse, but why is there still no 10 key, especially on the 16 inch model? Luckily, I have a good cheap bluetooth 10 key pad that I use with my school-provided laptop that only has two USB ports, and that seems to work really well with this MacBook. J’s going to get the same thing before school goes back in session. I’d rather have it physically incorporated, but this actually works decently well. However, it’s yet another thing I have to carry with me if I want to work on the go or use my MacBook both at home and at work.
Finally, the sound quality is worth mentioning because it’s freaking AMAZING. People are always astonished with the quality and volume of the Beats speaker bar on my old laptop, but these speakers are even a huge improvement on those. Considering that I never hear speakers touted as something users love, I was super impressed. I even spent an entire day binging my Nashville rewatch on my MacBook because the sound was better than the nice TV we have in our master bedroom, which is important for a show that’s like 30% singing.
Touch Bar – Apple Fanatics Need to Realize How Good They Have It
Now for a little bit of controversy: the infamous Touch Bar. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But do hardcore Apple users understand just how whiny they sound when they complain about it? Probably not, because coming from a PC laptop, we think it’s magic! If for nothing else, the Touch Bar incorporates the sliders we’ve so gotten used to on our phones, regardless of OS preference, that that feature alone makes my daily workflow so much smoother, and makes me much more likely to pull out my laptop instead of turning to my phone for as many things as possible. Combined with an actually-fantastic, huge multi-touch touch pad and I feel like I’ve got a whole different device in my hands, from pinch zooming to intuitive two finger scrolling (that even extends to my Magic Mouse! Huzzah!). I actually don’t even miss the touch screen capabilities that I have on my school-provided laptop because it’s so intuitive; the only thing missing is the ability to use an Apple Pencil paired to the touch pad, and then they’d have everything covered. Keep in mind that the new version has a physical ESC key, so I don’t have that complaint.
If I could change anything, it would be the ability to have a happy medium between app-specific touch bar controls and the expanded control strip. Four icons just isn’t enough for me, but I don’t like the expanded control strip to hide app-specific controls – I want something in between. After trying a bunch of different configurations (including Expanded Control Strip only), I ultimately went back to the standard non-expanded configuration with the exception of switching the Siri button for a Sleep button. I also solved a future issue – playing songs in my classroom – by pairing my Apple Watch using the Remote app so I can skip between songs because depending on what apps you’re using and how you open Apple Music, controls don’t always pop up, and I do miss the skip forward/skip backward/pause/play buttons from my previous laptop. I would love the ability to customize the non-expanded control strip so that you could add more buttons, and still be able to see some of the buttons from app-specific controls. Since we know the sizing of the icons can change when they squeeze the Apple Music button in there, I can’t see why adding a fifth or sixth icon and doing a combo of shrinking buttons/expanding the tray slightly would be a problem — that would be just enough to vastly improve the usefulness of the TouchBar for me.
Where We’re Headed with Apple and How ScreenTime Plays a Large Role
You’ve read this entire essay, and you’re considering making the bold leap to macOS: my advice is to take the plunge. We will never be a fully-Apple household (Hello, expensive HomePods! We’re teachers living on a budget, so please learn to play more nicely with Alexa!) and we will always re-evaluate all the option each time we upgrade any of our devices, so while there is a chance that we may switch back in the future, it is highly unlikely. Macs are so much more intuitive than they seemed to be in the past, especially if you already use an iPhone or iPad, and the durability combined with the fact that they hold their value over time says a lot. It’s enough to assuage my fear of not being able to crack open my machine for the first time in my life to fix or upgrade something, and that’s a LOT of control for someone like me to let go of without significant reassurance. I can’t believe that it took me this long to switch, although pricing was a significant factor for us in the past and has only recently become feasible for our family, but going forward we will likely continue to upgrade only to MacBooks.
The final thing I’d like to touch on is the reassurance and control ScreenTime gives us as parents, and one of the absolute best selling features for families considering which ecosystem to adopt. Our sons are about 10 and 7; they just finished 4th and 1st grades. As teachers, we are often aware of things going on in kids’ lives (in general) that other parents might not realize. I’ve taught all grades and am currently teaching high school; J has taught high school and is currently teaching middle school. We hear a lot more than we let on, and a lot of it is incredibly disturbing (although if we are honest, I think we can all look back at those same times in our childhood and see that we were just as curious about the same topics as kids are today). J and I were both lucky to just miss the social media age as texts didn’t yet have unlimited plans, media messages didn’t exist, cameras didn’t come as standard phone equipment, and AIM and the beginnings of MySpace were for those people who could afford both a computer and a decent internet connection since dial up was still the standard for most people in our area due to lack of infrastructure.
That is NOT the world our kids live in today, and we see both the good and bad that comes from this all the time. Each parent/guardian/set of parents/etc. has different priorities as to what they want their children to have access to and what they don’t. For us (and we aren’t judging other parents who choose differently), we aren’t as concerned about explicit language and even certain types of violence (think Marvel movies – violent in a very different way than Call of Duty). I curse way too much at home in front of my own children, which is of course very different than how I speak at school in a professional capacity. We are concerned, however, about sexual content, equity and equality (eliminating sources of systemic racism, homophobia/transphobia, etc.), explicit language that is sexual and/or violent, and violence that is realistic or traumatic as well as other things that I’m sure I’m forgetting.
We don’t want our children to be sheltered; we want our children to ask us about things they see and to have conversations, which we do have often, but we don’t want to expose them to things that could be traumatizing or damaging. For years, our kids were young enough that we could hand them an iPad and just use Guided Access to keep them within an app and out of things we didn’t want them to access, even blocking out the ability to change the volume, etc. As our kids got older, however, they were able to have more autonomy and I am all for independence and autonomy, but with that came dozens of cans of worms that turned out to be cans of snakes when opened. As we got closer to considering a device for our older son for Christmas 2018, parental controls came to the forefront of our deliberations when we overheard something disturbing: our son was watching YouTube on my mom’s Kindle Fire during a visit, and he was harmlessly searching for Mario videos. We were in the room and could hear everything, but all of a sudden it became apparent that he had clicked on a very sexualized Mario cartoon that didn’t physically show sexual content but was audibly horrifying. All of a sudden, we realized that his innocence wasn’t what we needed to be most concerned about; predators literally bury horrible things in videos meant for kids so that unless a parent is actively watching and paying attention to what’s going on, kids can be exposed to some seriously damaging content that seems innocent on the surface.
Parental controls are just as much about keeping creepy people out as they are about keeping our kids from accessing inappropriate content. We looked in depth at Kindle, Android, Chrome, Windows, and iOS. Just before purchasing, iOS 13 significantly expanded ScreenTime – their parental control function, and that’s what ultimately convinced us to purchase an iPad for our son. We can control just about everything he does, and while we don’t feel the need to do so in certain areas, it’s nice to have instantaneous control. His Apple ID is connected to us and he is listed as a child by default until he is 13, based on privacy laws, and beyond if we choose. He can request more time for specific apps, specific app categories, etc. or he can have continuous access to certain apps. If we choose to do so, we can see every word he types into any app or message or search and even set up alerts for specific words if needed. YouTube Kids still scares us a bit (as all you have to do is mark the video as safe for kids, which anyone can do when they upload the video) but when we look at Apple Music, we don’t have to worry because everything is filtered appropriately, and he’s automatically part of our family subscription.
While setting up my MacBook, I noticed immediately that those ScreenTime settings I had set for myself applied and could be customized to differentiate between specific devices, as well as displaying all the controls for my sons. That means that as he grows, the ScreenTime settings we set up will automatically apply to an iPhone or MacBook, etc. This means that when we choose to upgrade his technology, we will almost certainly continue to purchase Apple products because they give us the piece of mind that is unparalleled in other ecosystems. Granted, they’ll likely receive our old devices when we upgrade, but that’s another positive – Apple’s support of devices is much better as time goes on because there aren’t a million variations to account for when designing updates, so they’ll have more longevity.
Okay, you’ve read this book of a post and hopefully, you’ve found information that helps you make your decision. If there are still some things that you just aren’t sure about, feel free to ask in the comments below! I know that it was sometimes frustrating for me while research because I had specific questions but couldn’t easily find answers to these questions; most posts focused on the same types of issues and many didn’t truly consider what would be important for users switching from Windows to macOS. I’d love to help!
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