We're still in a recession...Don't buy an Apple (the free iPod isn't worth it)

We're still in a recession...Don't buy an Apple (the free iPod isn't worth it)

Summary: I own an Apple. It's a MacBook and it's about a year and a half old.

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

I own an Apple. It's a MacBook and it's about a year and a half old. The little 13" bit of polycarbonate has served me well and it's been a reliable companion. I bought it when I had a bit of extra money in a student loan while I was working on my masters degree. Since I had some extra cash and the loans were deferred anyway, I figured "What the heck?" Most people wouldn't argue that OS X does a nice job with multimedia and my kids still arm wrestle me (figuratively speaking) to use it when they want to edit video.

Guess what? Now I'm paying back those student loans, the economy remains in recession (I don't care what the Fed says about "signs of recovery" - the economy still stinks), and I'm paying three times what I have in years past for health care and medications. For those of you looking for back-to-school computing, this is not the year for an Apple. And the free iPod? Not worth it. Since everyone and their brother already has an MP3 player of some sort, the iPod is akin to a car dealer selling you undercoating or running boards for your new minivan.

I suppose I shouldn't compare a Mac to a minivan. Let me try that again. The free iPod is akin to a car dealer selling you undercoating or running boards for your new Lotus. You don't need undercoating since you won't drive it on slushy, salt-covered highways; you clearly don't need running boards for it; and you're still buying a bloody $60,000 car when a $13,000 Kia will get you to work quite handily every morning.

I read Sam Diaz' post with interest yesterday since he came to a similar conclusion but still ended up buying a Mac. Continuing my car analogy, though, he made a bold step for a geek (the moral equivalent of a motorhead) and went to a "used car lot" (Mac-Pro in the electronics wonderland of Silicon Valley). He found a used Lotus on the lot, skipped the undercoat and running boards, and scored himself a pretty good deal. Although the refurbished Mac he chose lacked the iPod, as Sam said, "[the free iPod] just felt like we'd be spending money today that we really didn't want to spend."

I understand this approach. I recently bought a very used, immaculately clean 2000 Volvo V70 for a great price. 130,000 highway miles from a single owner in Vermont and it looks like I must have a job in the private sector instead of public education. Unfortunately, it's in the repair shop after an accident, but it took a blow like a tank and should be good as new next week. For the same price, I could have purchased a much lower-mileage used Kia, but I fell in love with the Volvo and it protected my son and me well in that accident.

So what's my point with all these analogies lately? Well, with this particular analogy, it should be pretty clear: Macs are not cheap. Some people, like Sam, find a lot of value in them (so much that they would rather have a used Mac than a new HP). Most students, though, don't have Sam Diaz for a dad. Most students are going to swing out and buy something new and there aren't many reasons for that "something new" to be a Mac.

Sure, Apple dropped it's prices recently. So did Mercedes. You can now buy an entry-level 2010 E-class for just over $48,000 and a loaded model with a 5.5 Liter V8 is $5400 cheaper than last year's E550. I'm afraid that's still a little steep for my used-Volvo-buying middle-class budget.

And this is why my next PC, when I pass on the MacBook to replace the aging family computer, will be from some major OEM, purchased on sale at Best Buy (or wherever) and will meet my needs (and those of whichever family member gets it as a hand-me-down) just fine for the next three or four years.

Headed back to school? Rationalize purchasing a Mac in the talkbacks below when Windows 7 is just around the corner and Ubuntu is mature, stable, and more immune to malware than the increasingly-targeted OS X. Your reasons better not include the free iPod.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Very solid advice

    Thanks for preaching common sense. It is sorely lacking these days (but coming back in fashion with the recession). PEOPLE... PLEASE ask yourself REALLY for what you will use your computer. Typically web surfing, term paper writing, some basic audio video (which you can accomplish quite nicely with a $500 laptop from best buy). That's it for %95 of the population. Much like the car analogy, you DO NOT NEED a Hummer(for pretty much anything). Even people who live in the back woods of Maine and Vermont drive sensible 25 mpg Subarus. Pick the right tool/right price for the job at hand.
    • Imagine

      Imagine "Car & Driver" magazine suggesting its readers think twice
      before buying a Toyota and perhaps buy a Kia, Hyundai, or even a Yugo
  • I have better advice

    If you can afford it, a Mac is still a great computer, if not,
    there are less costly alternatives available.

    This "don't buy a Mac because my student loan payments are
    high" is a stupid argument.
    • Then explain why.

      [i]This "don't buy a Mac because my student loan payments are high" is a stupid argument. [/i]

      Then explain why.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • ARGH!

        So the cheapest computer is **the best**? How moronic is this? If this
        argument was true then "don't buy a computer" is even better advice!

        So you NEED a computer as a student, right? (I'll assume you said
        "yes") So you want a reliable system that will see you through your
        course (what 3/4 years)? Isn't that about the limit of reasonable life
        expectancy for a computer? (Yes it is) So does it REALLY make sense
        to buy the cheapest that probably won't make that timeframe? (No,
        REALLY?!) Forget Mac vs PC, does this make sense? Lets act like adults
        and think about TCO and not listen to this idiot and it moronic "Mini-
        van fixation".

        So does a Mac make sense? Well that's all going to depend isn't it? Do
        you have large amounts of software already that you want to run? Is
        that Mac or Windows? Does some aspect of your course mean that one
        will be more applicable than the other? (Remember Macs can run
        Microsoft Office - natively) If you're doing something "creative" (new
        media for example) then probably a Mac is simply "the right choice". If
        you're doing something with lots of Windows software, it probably
        isn't. MacBook Pros are wonderful machines, but don't make any sense
        if you're running Windows more than 50% of the time one them.

        For most courses either machine is OK, consider battery life this is
        very important at University where you're likely to need to work for
        extended periods away from mains power. Macs do well here, but if
        you do want a PC you can get them with good battery life (you'll pay
        more, but it's worth it). Also get something robust (again Unibody
        Macs are excellent, but you can get robust PCs too). If you're doing
        computer science, you probably want a Mac, the ability to run
        Windows/Linux/Mac OS X on one system is a killer combination,
        clearly if the course is all Windows this makes no sense (but you
        might want to look for a better course!)

        Whatever you decide, the cheapest probably isn't the right choice. Oh
        and have a great time, it really is the best time of your life!
    • stupid argument?

      "This "don't buy a Mac because my student loan payments are high" is a stupid argument."

      That's what Chris probably thought, until the loans came due - that's what a LOT of people thought about spending and borrowing frivolously until reality set it. But go ahead, keep forking out the big bucks for a logo and a pretty case, the economy needs more fools.
    • you are right

      the real reason not to buy a Mac is because it is made my one of the whorst company in human history: Apple
      • U R write

        the real season not to bye a Mc is becuz it is made mine 1 of the worsest
        cumpanties in humane his story: Appel

        WOW, again!
    • I agree, it's a silly argument

      he shouldn't have said "don't buy a Mac because my student loan payments are high", He should have worded it more to the issue, like: "don't buy a Mac as you won't be getting the best bang for you buck, and you'll painfully regret it when the bill comes due"

      That's more in line with the truth.
      John Zern
      • Still off center

        The argument isn't on just the machine itself - it's on the application of
        the machine. I would never purchase the Gateway to be the center of my
        music setup. I write and transpose my music, capture it straight from the
        USB piano keyboard, mic my sax with it, and put it all together as I want.
        I sure you could do this with a Gateway, but why attempt surgery with a
        butter knife. Yes, it can be done, but boy is it painful!

        If all you're going to do is surf the web, work email, post to Facebook,
        and write a couple of papers here and there, then get a netbook for less
        than $200. This is not rocket science, but then again if it was, you'd want
        to use a Mac.
        • Point being

          Big market that, rocket scientists. Apples must be rubbing their hands with glee.

          Probably not, I imagine a rocket scientist would use Linux.

        • Incorrect assuptions

          The tools for composing music in Windows are available. I went from the Apple Macintosh years ago because Windows was easier to use. I have been trying to figure out why anybody would want to purchase a Macintosh, and after 20 years, I can't come up with a good reason. After all it is just a computer, a tool for what you feel that a computer should be useful for. I record TV shows to watch later, I listen to music, write programs, and even dable in music composition, and I do it all in Microsoft Windows. What he was saying with all the retoric opinions aside, don't base your decision to purchase a computer on the free junk they provide you, but your requirements, and preferences.
    • compare

      ok, let's have a look:

      1. upfront price
      (mac: maybe 20-30% more expensive than a comparable pc)

      2. maintenance, service, support
      pc: 40$ a year for good antivirus protection, expansive support hotlines
      mac: no antivirus costs, free service at the genius bar

      3. resale value (after 3-4 years)
      pc: $0
      mac: 25-30% of sticker price

      4. misc
      mac: high quality builds and materials (aluminium, glass), lots of
      innovation (7-8 hours battery life, clickpad, multitouch, illuminated
      keyboards, magsafe etc.), highest satisfaction ratings

      so how is a mac more exoensive over its lifetime than a pc? ever heard of
      total cost of ownership? buying a mac is the only reasonable decision for
      anyone who can look beyond the sticker price.
      • Yes, let's compare...

        Considering you pulled numbers out of your arse with no proof, I'll provide ACTUAL models currently being sold for comparison using your categories.

        1. upfront price
        Gateway FX P-7805u 17" laptop with Core2Duo 320GB hard drive 4GB RAM NVidia 9800GTS graphics $1089.99 at BestBuy.com
        MacBook Pro 17" laptop with Core2Duo 500GB hard drive 4GB RAM NVidia 9600GT graphics $2499.
        Smaller hard drive on the Gateway but much faster graphics card.
        Apparently you need a math class if you think that's a 20-30% difference in price. It costs more than twice as much.

        2. maintenance, service, support
        $40 for anti-virus for EITHER machine since the Mac is getting viruses all the time now - read the news
        For the $1400 difference in price, you could buy TWO Gateways and have $300 left over to buy a 3 year on site warranty.

        3. resale value
        Gateway: There are 3 year old Gateway FX P-6860 laptops being sold right now for $700 on eBay. That's about 63% resale value, not 0.
        MacBook Pro 17" Mostly seemed to be $1499 range. That's about 59% so it's comparable resale, sorry.

        4. misc
        mac: high quality build ... I agree because I really like the unibody aluminum structure
        lots of innovation... illuminated keyboards have been in use on PC laptops for years and the jury is out on whether the non-removable but larger battery is a plus or minus
        highest satisfaction ratings go hand in hand with the highest level of zealotry in the industry - everyone is afraid to talk about the kernel panics, incompatible hardware, and easy hack-ability of the Mac's browser for fear they won't be able to recruit to "the cause" as easily

        How is the Mac more expensive? Well, considering I can buy TWO equivalent Gateways for the same price and still have $300 left over. I think that speaks for itself.

        You're right - there is only one reasonable purchase decision... but it's not the Mac.
        • Bill, That Gateway is Da Bomb!!!

          [i]Gateway FX P-7805u 17" laptop with Core2Duo[/i] You forgot to
          mention it is only a 2.26 GHz with 3MB L2 compare to a 2.8GHz with
          6MB L2. The Gateway is so much better, the end user does not need
          the higher spec processor.

          How about that 17" High-Definition Widescreen WXGA+ Display (1440
          x 900)? Does it compare favorably to that overpriced Mac, with it's
          measly 17-inch (diagonal) high-resolution LED-backlit glossy
          widescreen display 1920 by 1200?

          How about that spectacular batter in the wonderful Gateway? 9-Cell
          Lithium Ion 86.58 -watt-hour. Surly the Mac with it' lame Built-in 95-
          watt-hour lithium-polymer battery won't give you the same run time.

          Okay, so the gateway only weighs 2.5 pound more that that cheesy
          Mac. What idiot would prefer an aluminum laptop, over that wonderful
          plastic that is so eco-friendly.

          As we all know Gateway build such high quality computers the Mac is
          so grossly overpriced. The best part is the Gateway has all that
          wonderful pre-installed software that a Mac doesn't have.

          It's so great that we are not stuck using those crapples, with their
          inferior hardware, isn't it?
          • Especially since I can buy TWO for the price of the closest Mac

            Ah, the CPU IS slower and the graphics card is twice as fast. To me, it's a wash and having used BOTH, there was no noticeable difference.

            The 1920x1200 display is still only 17" which means for most users the UI text in a lot of the programs will be too small to read. I have verified this personally when I saw it running Final Cut at the Apple store on one of my many visits while shopping for a laptop for my niece. There was no way to change the size of the UI text in Final Cut. The guy at the Apple store tried and tried.

            I should also point out that the Gateway originally HAD the 1920x1200 screen. They reverted to 1440x900 because some text was too small to see and people were complaining. Personally, I'd rather have the 1440x900 screen, especially because of the extremely SHINY Apple screen where you see your own reflection all day. I've SEEN both in person.

            The battery loses 9.4 watts but it's removable which means you could carry TWO of them. What happens when the Mac battery runs dead and you are nowhere near an outlet? Like I said, that bigger battery is of debatable value.

            I'm sorry, but I still don't see $1400 worth of advantage in the MacBook Pro. You obviously do, but you will never convince most people who live in the real world and have to pay kids' tuition, dental bills, and the mortgage.
          • What world do you live in?

            [i]I'm sorry, but I still don't see $1400 worth of advantage in the
            MacBook Pro. You obviously do, but you will never convince most
            people who live in the real world and have to pay kids' tuition, dental
            bills, and the mortgage.[/i]

            So are you saying that i do not have four children? That's really news
            to me, I wonder who those four small people are running around my
            house? Wait you are also saying I do not live in a house. Okay, then
            why do I send the mortgage company a check each month? Who
            knows, maybe I am just a figment of your imagination? I am sure you
            time is not worth anything? With the maintenance that windows
            requires. No one seems to want to add in that cost. The average
            windows user spend quite a bit having their computer serviced. What
            does "Geek Squad" charge an hour? So I must be imaginary as well as
            clueless as you claim.

            Just because you personally like cheap, does not mean it is the best. I
            was able to afford to buy a MacBook Pro paying cash for it (bonus
            check from work and student discount), The biggest reason for my
            purchase was OS X. I prefer it to windows, oh wait I do not exist, so I
            can prefer anything, right?
          • You've been lemmingized

            So much passion for a piece of hardware. It is awesome :)
          • Exactly like I said...

            I said, "you will never convince MOST people who live in the real world."

            Considering the ratio of Windows PCs being sold to Macs being sold is 9 to 1, the word MOST seems to definitely apply, arguing the math seems pointless. I'm not sure how 4 kids is relevant to the argument that MOST people don't choose your viewpoint, but I'm happy for you. Kids are great.

            My 6 PCs have been zero maintenance for the past 10 years on both XP Pro and Vista. So adding in that cost and dividing by 10 I get... ZERO. Multiply that times the Geek Squad rate and I get... oh yeah STILL ZERO. If you set them up right from the start, and treat them well, you never have troubles.

            The moral? I guess it would be, don't believe everything you read about the PC on MacWorld.com or MacInsider.com. I read both and it's obvious they cater to the JDF crowd with really creative editing.

            My main PC is an overclocked, water cooled, Intel 965EE machine with two NVidia GTX285s in SLI, and 8 terabytes of drive storage, so I don't think my taste runs cheap at all. It cost me three times as much as the Mac Pro I bought. I couldn't build any Mac that comes close to the graphics performance of my rig. And mine isn't even the fastest out there.

            I'm happy you could buy a Macbook Pro paying cash. I bought two brand new Acura's (MDX and TL) paying cash. I bought my Mac Pro and all of my other computers paying cash. It's nice not paying finance charges isn't it? It gives you more usable money in the long run. I'm still not sure what this has to do with this topic, but it's nice sharing with one another. Are we imaginary friends now?

            There is no "best" computer. It's a myth. I know of people with every OS and every computer who have had trouble. I also know people with every OS and computer who have had zero trouble. I believe having zero trouble mostly comes down to 4 things. 1. blind luck, 2. setting them up right at the start, 3. responsible computing, and 4. treating your machines respectfully.

            Where the Mac does excel over any PC is on Industrial Design and on integrating their own software fully with their own systems.
          • Define "cheap"

            [i]Just because you personally like cheap, does not mean it is the best[/i].

            And just because you like expensive does not indicate it is the best.