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What to Know When Buying an Apple MacBook

If you are thinking of buying a laptop then the first key decision you must make is whether you choose to purchase a PC or a Mac.

Should you decide to go with an Apple MacBook then the latest models, recently announced by Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, offer more power and features than ever before.

The flagship 15 inch model even boasts a Retina Display that produces crisper images than seen on a high-definition television.

So to help you choose which Apple MacBook is best for your needs, here are some questions to ask when purchasing one and also some key points to know.

Should I buy a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro?

When choosing which Apple MacBook to buy, the initial decision to make is between the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. One simple way to choose is to be clear what screen size you are after, how much power you will need and where it will be used.

The Air comes with either a 11.6 inch or 13.3 inch screen while the Pro has 13.3 inch or 15.4 inch displays.

The MacBook Air is designed mainly for portability and working on the move with an ultra-thin form while the MacBook Pro is more of a replacement for a desktop computer to use mostly at home, but is still light enough to carry around less frequently.

What are the main differences between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro?

The crucial difference between these two computers is the Air does not have an optical disc drive for CDs and DVDs. This ensures it can be thin and light at just 1.7cm thick and 1.08kg for the 11 inch version and 1.35kg for the 13 inch.

That’s not to say the Pro is a big beast that will break your back but it is chunkier than the Air at 2.41cm and also the 15 inch version weighs nearly double that of the MacBook Air.

The Pro machines do though have faster processors and more RAM memory. This makes them more capable of handling many different tasks at once and they can cope better with power-hungry applications such as graphic design and video-editing.

This doesn’t mean the Air won’t hold its own simpler photo editing jobs and shorter movie making on the move. It just won’t zip through these tasks as effortlessly.

Both machines will do all the usual day-to-day tasks such as email, word processing and web surfing and each one comes with a 720p FaceTime HD camera built-in for making video calls.

What operating system does it run?

All Mac computers currently use an operating system called OS X. It is then split into different versions, the latest being Lion which comes pre-installed on all new MacBooks.

It was released in summer 2011 and many experts say Macs are more simple to set up, less complicated and far easier to use and much more intuitive to learn as you go along than Windows rivals.

But in July 2012 a new version of the OS X software will be released called Mountain Lion. It will cost £13.99 to download for existing Mac users but any MacBook bought between now and its release will be given a free download option.

Mountain Lion works with Apple’s iCloud to keep messages, contacts, documents and notes all in sync whether you carry out an action on your Mac, iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. Each change you make is instantly updated through iCloud onto all of your Apple devices.

Other Mountain Lion improvements see iMessage come to the Mac allowing you to send text-style messages from an iPhone to a MacBook for example. You can even use it to send photos and videos.

A new Notification Center, similar to that found on iPhones and iPads is also going to be included while voice dictation will also be built in, letting users talk rather than type.

There will also be updates to Apple’s homegrown Safari internet browser to make it smarter and faster and to share web pages looked at on Apple’s mobile devices. The new Power Nap feature also updates your MacBook even when it is put to sleep.

What about battery life and storage space?

Due to its thinner size, on the 11 inch MacBook Air there is a battery life of five hours. This compares to up to seven on the 13 inch model and the same on the MacBook Pro.

However, the MacBook Air can be left in standby for up to 30 days and by leaving it in this mode it can instantly wake or turn on in seconds if shutdown. The MacBook Pro takes longer to start up once it has been shutdown.

The MacBook Air also uses a different style of hard drive. It uses a Solid State Drive (SSD) in only 64GB (11inch) or 128GB (13 inch) sizes. These allow for the faster boot-up times and are less power and memory hungry, so perfect for the more portable machine. They are also less likely to break down over time or should the machine be dropped.

The MacBook Pro uses a traditional hard drive with either 500GB or 750GB. Therefore, if you have a large collection of digital files including masses of music, movies and photos to store on your computer and take around with you then a Pro may be a better option.

Are there any other things to know?

The latest MacBooks all have a full size keyboard, even on the MacBook Air, plus a Multi-Touch trackpad to control what happens on screen using your fingers. These offer lots of touch-based controls to carry out different functions and tasks depending on how you swipe your fingers or even how many fingers you use.

The newest MacBooks also have the most current version of Bluetooth wireless technology, stereo speakers and a microphone.

Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro include what is known as a Thunderbolt port, as well as two USB 3 ports for plugging in peripherals. Accessories such as hard drives with a Thunderbolt port can work much faster when transferring data as these connections are capable of double the speed of USB 3.

You will also find an SD memory card slot on the MacBook Air 13 inch and all of the MacBook Pro machines for sharing images taken on a digital camera for example.

The Pro also has Audio line in/out and an Ethernet port should you need to plug it directly into an internet router using a cable. You can though buy an adaptor separately for the MacBook Air to connect via Ethernet.

What software will I get on board?

As well as OSX Lion or Mountain Lion, you get Apple’s Mail for email, which will work with all major messaging services plus FaceTime for video calling, iTunes and Time Machine for back-ups. You also get Apple’s iLife suite which includes iPhoto for image storage and editing, iMovie to create or edit videos and GarageBand for mixing music.

All MacBooks also have the Apple App Store on-board, packed with thousands of pieces of software to download, both free and paid-for. You will find many big-name programs in the App Store available for instant download rather than having to buy from a shop and install via disc. This is very useful on the MacBook Air as it doesn’t have a disc drive.

Software can be purchased through the App Store using the same Apple account you use in iTunes for an iPhone or iPad.

If you are moving from a PC computer to a MacBook then you will need new software that is Mac-compatible to install on it.

Which is better for graphics and gaming?

Due to the greater speed and memory plus more powerful and dedicated graphics cards, the MacBook Pro is more useful as a gaming machine when compared to the MacBook Air.

What’s different about the new Retina Display MacBook?

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a whole new category of MacBook, only just released.

If features what Apple says is the world’s highest-resolution notebook display boasting more pixels – the invisible dots making up the picture – than found on a high-definition TV. This ensures crisper and sharper images compared to other MacBook screens.

It also offers less glare and has 29% more contrast with a wide 178 degree viewing angle.

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display has all the best bits of the powerful Pro. You get the best-performing graphics for gaming and photo/video production as well as the fastest Intel i7 processors, 256GB or 512GB SSD hard drives and a seven hour battery life.

But it also has the best aspects of the ultra-portable Air too being just 1.8cm thin and weighing only 2.02kg.

You will also get all the important connections and USB 3/Thunderbolt ports, plus an HDMI port to hook it to a television, and there are dual microphones to reduce background noise when speaking online as well as a backlit keyboard for use in low-light.

How much do they cost?

MacBooks are traditionally more expensive than Windows-based PC laptops and range from £849 for the 11 inch MacBook Air to £2,299 for the top-range MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The basic MacBook Pro costs £999.

But with so many combinations and variations, MacBooks work just as well for newbie less technology-minded owners as they do for students, designers, mobile workers and those looking for as much power as they can muster.

Here’s some more guides you might like:


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