Going to the Dark Side

Photo by Laurenz Heymann on Unsplash

What Have I Got Against iPhones Anyway?

There’s a few things. iMessage for a start. Apple had an opportunity for it’s customers to benefit from iMessage functionality when sending messages to Android users. But it might mean your kids buy an Android. So they killed it.

Time for a refresh

So after a couple of good years of service from my Pixel 3, I’ve been looking at replacements. I’ve been delighted with the Pixel experience so far and to be honest it was just a case of either getting a Pixel 5 or waiting for the Pixel 6. The Pixel 6 promises some more advanced tech than the Pixel line has been known for recently, so I’ve been waiting to see what that’s like. The Pixel 5 however has a nice design that probably means it could handle being ‘caseless’ — I’ve not had a phone that I’ve dared do that with since… the iPhone 4S actually.

The Computers are Quite Good Though

Clearly I have no problem with the Apple line of computers. My Macbook Pro has been going since 2012 and aside from replacing the hard drive with an SSD, has had no issues in that time. I cannot imagine a Dell / HP / whatever lasting that well. So that was the thinking when I replaced my Windows desktop a couple of years ago with a Mac Mini. Two years in, that’s doing well on the most part, though not faultless I’d say. The underpowered GPU and subsequent heat generated on occasion isn’t great, not to mention various bluetooth dropouts. But it’s working well for what it is — a WFH station with some occasional coding or iMovie stuff.

Picking The Right Option

Firstly, my requirements — they’re fairly straightforward:

  • It’s mostly going to be used for video conferences during the working day. So needs to be able to support all the standard conferencing apps and have a good camera and microphone (not as easy to find info on as you’d expect).
  • Like a lot of people, I don’t anticipate being sat at a desk in an office 5 days a week any more. I’ll be in the office less frequently, and when I’m there the work is more likely to be collaborative — talking through ideas with people, taking down some notes in a meeting etc. And because I’ll be there less frequently, I might choose a different form of transport — such as cycling. So the device needs to be portable, a touch interface would be useful, as would supporting a stylus. But I’ll still need proper keyboard input at times .
  • It would actually need to support the apps that I need for work (essentially the microsoft office 365 stack) via native apps or in a browser.
  • Sunday evenings September through January involve watching an NFL game, while also keeping up with RedZone, and also monitoring my various dynasty and redraft fantasy leagues. A tablet or 2-in-1 type device would be perfect here.

Get a new Macbook

There was no consideration of the Pro this time. The basic M1 Air seems absurdly powerful, and even with the base 8GB memory would probably be enough for the limited amount of work I’ll be asking of it. In terms of my requirements:

  • It clearly will do a good job for video conferencing, though I was slightly surprised to see it doesn’t look like the webcam or microphone have been significantly upgraded over my aging 2012 model. The fact that it’s fanless would be a an improvement in itself though.
  • It’s small and light so ticks the portable box. Lack of touch / stylus interface is a bit of a drawback though.
  • Supports all apps natively and via browser. No worries here.
  • I’m not typing much on a Sunday night (other than abuse in league chats but I can do that on my phone) so the keyboard is wasted. Ideally I’d want a touch interface to occasionally flick through apps.

Chromebook

To be clear, I’m specifically talking about the 2-in-1 Chromebooks, and the premium level ones at that. This pretty much meant one of the latest Acer or Asus flip models and at this time I reckon the upcoming Asus CX5400 (or flip CX5 depending on where you are) is the one to go for. It’s similar to a Macbook Air in size and style and has the 11th gen i3 / i5 / i7 processor so plenty powerful enough, particularly for a Chromebook. The big benefit (for me) is being able to flip into full tablet mode and make use of the touchscreen interface. So how does this stack up overall then?

  • In terms of video conferencing support for Android, my take is functionality goes something like this: Windows/Mac > iOS > Android. All of the main video conferencing apps are supported in browser though, and that’s kind of where you want to be on a Chromebook so wouldn’t anticipate too many issues here. This model has some capable speakers and I would anticipate the microphone being decent at this price range.
  • It’s as portable as a Macbook Air and also has the tablet mode with a built-in stylus.
  • Here’s where things get a little bit dicey — Android apps are a bit of a no no at work so I wouldn’t be able to use them for the core Microsoft apps. Whether that would be a good experience in any case is open to debate though. So it would be browser only, which isn’t a show-stopper as WiFi is likely and there’s always mobile tethering but I expect it could become an annoyance.
  • On the couch with the NFL on a Sunday? Perfect.

Go Ultra-Portable

The options above are fairly portable, but they’re still laptops basically. What if I went further? Clearly, a smaller Chromebook would be one option, but, aside from the drawbacks of lack of Android app support at work, there isn’t really a premium device in this range so I’d be stuck with something that’s potentially a bit crap in terms of build quality and longevity. So that’s when I started looking at iPads. In particular, the iPad Pro 11", which everyone says is pointless getting because the 11" Air has pretty much everything that the Pro does, except for:

  • Better speakers
  • Better microphone
  • Extra RAM
  • M1 chip
  • Video conferencing support for iOS certainly appears to be better than Android, and the browser on the iPad is supposedly ‘desktop class’ so in theory, this shouldn’t be too far behind a Macbook Air. The hardware though is superior though — better camera and microphone plus centre-stage auto-tracking for video calls.
  • Absolutely portable — could easily chuck this in my cycle bag, prop it up on a counter or holding standing up in meetings. It also seems to be by far the best note-taking experience with a stylus. Clear winner in this category.
  • iOS apps are supported at work so should be OK on that front.
  • Smaller screen than a Chromebook 2-in-1 but more comfortable to drag round the house / have on the lap.
  • No key-chain — I’ll be sticking with BitWarden in case I need to get my passwords back out again)
  • No iCloud — I have a Google One subscription and most of the stuff I create outside of work goes in Drive. I’ll keep Google Photos as well — it’s just really, really good.
  • No Keynote, Numbers, Pages — the G Suite stuff does all I need, it’s cloud native and it’s easy to share.
  • No iTunes. Is iTunes even a thing any more? Anyway, I have Spotify and Youtube subscriptions which cover all bases really.

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