Something interesting happened on the way to the review, and I became aware that I didn’t want what I had previously wanted, and that I understood why I wanted something new. But old! So here’s my review of the 2012 MacBook Air.
In March this year, 2019, a friend was seriously ill. Just before that happened, he bought a second-hand 2015 MacBook Pro based on my recommendation, over getting a new MacBook Air: better screen, better processor, nicer design. I was annoyed, however, as I had tried to buy that laptop but was rejected as I have no credit rating. He bought my computer!
As a consolation prize, I gave him my PlayStation 4, the games for which I hate as they all require expensive monthly subscription payments and went back to PS3. He gave me his old 2011 MBP in exchange. I still think I got the better deal.
It needed a very good clean inside and out, the battery had expanded and was pressing up against the trackpad, so no clicks there. It had a small SSD and the optical drive, and only 4GB of RAM. The USB and Thunderbolt ports were also randomly functioning.
I upgraded it to 1.5TB dual storage, upgraded the Bluetooth to 4.0, replaced the speakers and the battery of course, and gave it a jolly good clean. It now runs like a dream! Having the MBP next to the 2015 iPad Pro provided me with the best of both worlds!
Apple’s AX SoC’s are a stunning feat of engineering, and the screen and sound system are second to none. The iPadOS is obviously leading MacOS in terms of design and user interactions, and iOS is the benchmark for all operating systems currently in use.
However, there are a couple of caveats: the grey zone between ‘tablet’ and ‘laptop’ is not so clear as before, and the laptop-style usage scenarios being implemented with iPadOS are a shambles. This has greatly annoyed me as, for me, iPad is the best in computing platforms.
Steve Jobs very clearly positioned the iPad as better at both an iPhone an a Mac at those specific usage scenarios aimed at portability, but as the iPad has been enlarged and empowered to easily out-class Intel CPU-driven laptops, they are not any more portable than a MacBook. At the same time, MacBooks have become as light and thin as an iPad with a keyboard case.
At The Moment
Last Saturday week, a different friend bought a new MacBook Pro, and gave me his 2012 MacBook Air. It was also a little dilapidated, but with a thorough clean inside and out, a new battery and new supporting foam for the trackpad, and a reinstall brought it up to scratch. It’s now as good as new.
And so this is where I had a very good chance to experience the differences in these three machines: 2011 MacBook Pro, 2012 MacBook Air, and 2015 iPad Pro with Zagg Bluetooth Keyboard.
- The iPad has the most beautiful screen. Every Retina Macintosh has the same clarity, so if you are thinking of buying a laptop, I strongly recommend anything with Retina.
- The iPad has the most wonderful sound system – quad sound emerging from behind the screen is immersive. There is no dissonance between vision and sound at all, to the point where it is mesmerising. I dearly hope Apple implements this with Macintoshes.
- The iPad has a better mobile format, but the 12.9 is too enormously huge to be portable. It therefore lost its advantage as being better than a Mac at some things, and an iPhone at others. For me, the iPad mini is the best mobile computing device in history, with the 9.7 – 10.5 the best for when one needs to do a LOT of mobile typing.
- The iPad has the worst keyboard. Zagg has been the best of the lot, but even so, it malfunctions from time to time, and although has minimal lag, it really needs to be instant. Apple’s Magic Keyboard had no more or less malfunctions than a cheap Bluetooth keyboard, shockingly, and soured my esteem of Apple.
- The Macs have the best trackpad interaction. Many use a mouse, but I hate them – they are only one step above having to lift one’s entire arm to touch the screen. Trackpads ensure best ergonomic interactions with the device. The advantage of smaller iPads is that they do not require as much arm-lifting. Also, the trackpad-esque function as implemented by Apple for iPadOS is just plain awful. NO: iPad is NOT a laptop replacement in this fundamental regard.
Light and Airy Quality
But let us now focus on the Air! despite only being one year apart, the 2012 Air represents a significant and noticeable improvement over the 2011 Pro:
- The Air has a much better keyboard with slightly less yet firmer key travel
- The Air has much better backlighting – the Pro’s backlights are too bright and the individual LEDs glare from beneath the keys in irregular patterns. It certainly makes the Pro look shabby. The Air’s are muted and smooth, but there oughtn’t be any under-key leakage at all.
- The Air has better graphics – Intel HD 4000, rather than the Pro’s 3000. Not much difference, but enough to render the Air upgradeable to Catalina. Sadly, my effort to do so resulted in a machine not functioning so well to the point of being unusable.
- The Air can now be upgraded to 1TB SSD m.2 for not so much money, whereas the Pro can be upgraded to 4TB SSD SATA for the same amount with a dual-harddrive bay for the same, but the Air is MUCH thinner and more portable.
- The Air is not as portable as it may seem. I took it on a trial excursion to work – almost 2hrs one way – carrying it for a 30min walk. Hard and sharp edges bite into flesh and cut blood flow. The larger iPads have the same issues. All these 13” devices need a carry bag.
- The Air is not as quiet as the iPads, naturally, but when the fan does spin up, it is noticeable quieter than the Pro. The asymmetrical fan is one of Apple’s least noted innovations.
- The Air has the best design of the three, being so thin. With the Zagg keyboard, the iPad becomes thicker and heavier than the Pro, and looks tacky and cheap. The Air is what I’d rather be seen carrying about, as it has the classic style and is the most useable.
Moving On and Forward
I have given my huge iPad to the same friend who gave me the Air. He is now exploring the new functions of Catalina and SideCar, and seems to be having a ball. I am using the Air and Pro side-by-side, with the 2016 iPad Pro as my mobile computing device when significant typing is involved, and iMax (iPhone 11 Pro Max – not typing THAT out every time!) when not.
But now that I have these devices, I must reminisce…
I first was offered the Air in 2013, yet hated the operating system and the total lack of upgradeability. At that time, I was building my own Windows 7 systems and exploring Ubuntu: the Air represented a total end to my then-current hobby.
After buying a 2011 Mac mini in 2015, and upgrading it with 16GB RAM and dual-harddrives to 2.5TB, Apple also began planting OSX with iOS sensibilities. I began to – finally – like OSX. Over the years, OSX has become MacOS, a much more useable and beautiful operating system, and much more like my beloved iPads.
Yet this journey has revealed to me that my desktop computing, served by MacBook Air and Pro, is trackpad-based. My reason for giving my iPad away was the absolutely awful keyboard and trackpad experience.
I’m convinced through this that iPad must be mobile-first, and that as it becomes a ‘real’ computer, that realness will only be determined by the ability of iPadOS to simulate – to exactitude – the usability of any Macintosh. Mac laptops are eminently mobile, and require a carry bag for that, but Macs function so much better once the mobile ends.
For my money, if I had to sell all my computing devices and only choose one, I would choose the smallest, thinnest MacBook with a retina display and make do. I don’t play games or have professional graphics needs so I don’t require a lot of processing power. I need something that is fast, quiet and light, with a great keyboard for typing in the dark.
Let’s break this down!
The iMax is too large for one-handed use, so I go with the smaller iPhones; iPad is best as a mobile computing device, so I go with my favourite for that – the iPad mini BUT the 5 still does not have quad speakers. Grrrr! So the smaller, older iPad Pros are better. For the desktop and carry-bag mobile computing, smaller and lighter with Retina is better, but I also recommend any model which has the asymmetrical exhaust fans.
My main beef with the iPad Pro with add-on keyboard and trackpad and mouse is that they are added on: they are not integrated and do not work well. To a lesser extent, I have the same issue with Mac mini, and to a small extent, the MacBooks: not integrated means not reliable, not instant, and not always functional. Waiting for the trackpad to wake up on iPad was infuriating. The useless and incessant keystroke errors of Bluetooth keyboards = NO. The tinny, nasty sounds emitted by MacBook Air and Pro are awful – yet easily solved with cheap USB speakers and Boom 2 software.
So my conclusions are as follows:
- Integrated beats assembled
- Bluetooth is still awful
- Upgradeability is advantageous
- Silence is golden – except where the speakers are concerned, then quads mounted behind the screen are best!
- An old MacBook is much better than a new iPad for typing
- An iPad is the only option for touchscreen
- I am very annoyed that iPad is so awful with basic user interactions
- I am very confident Apple will improve this within the next few years.