Buying a Macbook Air, first time Apple buyer
November 26, 2015 10:45 AM   Subscribe

We are buying a MacBook Air for our A+++ student. Is there anything to know besides the $100 student discount? Are there ever any sales prices tied to holiday buying? Is the AppleCare Protection plan worth it?

We may buy as early as tomorrow, but this is a combined birthday/xmas gift so we have some time to consider options.
posted by readery to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have pretty much never regretted an Apple Care purchase for my laptops. Macs are pretty robust, but when I've had things go wrong, EVERYTHING has gone wrong. Like, even the CPU. As just one example, last year my nearly-3-year-old Air suddenly developed display issues, and when those got fixed, while verifying the fix at the Genius Bar a bunch of other issues started appearing. 20 minutes later I walked out with a brand new 2014 Air. A+++ would (and did) buy Apple Care again.
posted by olinerd at 10:55 AM on November 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Applecare is worth it.

This page has some discounts. On Apple gear, discounts don't usually accumulate, though, so it may be a question of accepting the student discount or the Black Friday discount.

Another option is checking if there is a discount through your employer if your employer is a large corporation. I freelanced at CBS for a while and scored a sweet discount at a local Apple Store just by showing my studio lot entry photo badge. I believe the program is called the Apple EPP (Employee Purchase Program).
posted by infinitewindow at 10:56 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

AppleCare is definitely worth it. I've only regretted it when not buying it. However, if you do decide to forgo it, make sure you buy the laptop with a credit card that will double the warranty. That way when the hard drive dies 2 months after the warranty expires, you're not out $700. In general though, if the device is something that gets carried everywhere (laptops, phones) AppleCare is worth the price.

I've also gotten employer discounts, but they've never been any better than the student discounts, and they don't stack.
posted by cgg at 11:23 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never bought applecare for a laptop and have only once had an issue that might have been covered. (I do like applecare for phones, though, since they lead hard lives.) If you carry your computer everywhere I'd get it, though, since that raises the risk of someone spilling a latte on it.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:26 AM on November 26, 2015

Yes to AppleCare. And maybe think about a cheap hard drive for backups.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:30 AM on November 26, 2015

Get a refurb machine, if your A+++ student doesn't need the 11/25/2015 model. The device will still be spotless, the only way you'd know you got a refurb is you'll get it in brown matte cardboard rather than a white glossy cardboard box. This is coming from a former Apple programmer. You will get great deals buying refurb and bonus, any hardware issues that particular machine EVER had have been resolved. Same 1 year warrantee. No student discount, but as I mentioned, as long as you're not purchasing the absolute newest model on the market, you'll get a better discount. Also buy Applecare. Always, every time.
posted by arnicae at 11:31 AM on November 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Definitely get AppleCare. Totally, totally worth it.
And the month before it expires, have him take it into Apple and let them fix every single itsy bitsy thing that is wrong with it. Scratches, loose keys, whatever. They'll tune it right up.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:30 PM on November 26, 2015

Once upon a time Apple gave out free ipods and free printers with student purchases, but, sadly, nor more.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:32 PM on November 26, 2015

i'd like to go refurbished but my daughter's dad refuses. He prefers new and his 50% is dependent on purchasing new.

Thanks for all the answers so far.
posted by readery at 12:43 PM on November 26, 2015

I've had my Macbook for at least three years now, didn't purchase Apple Care and never would have used it had I purchased it. But I am fastidious about looking after that thing. It probably is worth it when you're buying a computer for a (I assume) teenager.

Please note that liquid damage is not covered under any warranties or under Applecare. So you'll be SOL if someone spills a bottle of water or a cup of coffee on it. I never put my Macbook and water in the same bag.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:51 PM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

N'thing the applecare. Even if you don't use it yourself having it will measurably improve that laptop's resale value if you decide to replace it in < 36months
posted by mce at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The internals are no longer user-upgradable, so it's worth it to max out the RAM.
posted by grobstein at 2:16 PM on November 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you want to save a few more dollars, you can purchase Applecare through Amazon.
posted by cazoo at 2:41 PM on November 26, 2015

Applecare is worth it! I've had my Macbook Air mid-2012 cycle for a while now, and it's still as good as new. I had to get my cords replaced, and my battery had a major malfunction that I stalled as long as possible since it was still usable, it just radically cut the battery life to 30 minutes. Both of them were fully covered underneath the warranty.

I would have to make four recommendations though:
Buy Sugru for reinforcing the Applegear
Don't pay more for the permanent storage, that's how they make money through their upsells. Go for these three hacks to upgrade storage space instead.
Don't upgrade to the newest OS. I have not upgraded from OSX Mavericks, because I firmly believe Apple designs the software so that it ruins user experience for older laptops, and causes them to slow down. And downgrading is too tricky to want it otherwise. Other people could take issue with me, but because I don't tend to use Mac apps, it doesn't bother me too much, and Mavericks is still widely supported for many uses.
Get a case if you are concerned about dents around the corners, which do happen with use.

I know you are planning on a Macbook Air, but also I wanted to share that I've also heard that the new Macbook (without Air or Pro) has an incredibly shallow keyboard, and it is incredibly uncomfortable for use. I'm still waiting on a Macbook Air with Retina, and will probably upgrade once this laptop dies. I doubt it will for another few years though.
posted by yueliang at 2:43 PM on November 26, 2015

Buy a hardshell case. Aluminium's soft.
posted by Leon at 3:36 PM on November 26, 2015

Skip AppleCare; the cost is totally insane at ~25% of the cost of the laptop. Remember, extended warranty is about making the company money, not saving you money. (The laptop will be ~$1000 & AppleCare is ~$250).

Get at least 256gb storage. 128gb is really not enough. It's pretty easy to fill up 128gb with photos, music, and video. You can upgrade the storage later (but if you do, don't buy it from Apple). Do get 8gb of ram. It's not possible to upgrade ram on the Air.

Get some kind of backup solution for the laptop. I really like BackBlaze because you don't have to connect a hard drive and make backups, it just happens automatically in the background.
posted by gregr at 4:51 PM on November 26, 2015

gregr: You can upgrade the storage later (but if you do, don't buy it from Apple).

AFAIK, there are is no third party SSD upgrade for the 2015 Macbook Air (aka Macbook Air 7,2) as they moved to a PCIe 2.0 x4 interface and OWC/other places haven't caught up yet. (I could be mistaken about this.) In any case, I agree that getting 256GB from Apple from the start is a good bet.

Do get 8gb of ram.

As a Macbook Air owner, I've been fine with 4GB of RAM. I'd argue the average Macbook Air user isn't going to run into too many circumstances where they're limited by RAM. If they are (video rendering and such) a Macbook Air might not be the best computer for them to begin with. So if you're choosing between system RAM and storage, I'd go with the storage, as that is something that I have found limiting.

cazoo: If you want to save a few more dollars, you can purchase Applecare through Amazon.

The last time I checked it's cheaper at B&H Photo by about $50. Just so you know, a new computer automatically comes with one year of Applecare from Apple, and you can buy the Applecare two year extension at any point during that first year, as long as it's applied to account before the day the first year expires.
posted by bluecore at 5:20 PM on November 26, 2015

You want AppleCare. It will very very likely pay for itself. I got a free pair of Beats headphones with my student discount Air a few months ago. They're ok, not great, but who cares they were free.
posted by Cygnet at 5:49 PM on November 26, 2015

another "get the AppleCare" vote.

I have a 2009 MacBook Pro. 2 month before the extended warranty expired the HD died a horrible death. Apple replaced it with a new, larger HD, no charge.

I've replaced 2 ipads and one iPod for no extra charge. These were not hard-used devices. I'm 65, retired, and travel maybe 2 or three times a year. One iPad replacement happened when i was out of town, across the country from home. The wifi died. The other time the speaker died.

AppleCare is the one exception I make to the don't-buy-the-extended-waranty rule.

I suggest getting a large (2-3 terabyte) external usb drive, and set it up as the Time Machine backup. Costco has Western Digital drives for about $150 I think. You definitely want some sort of external backup, and A+++ student can plug it in when she gets home for the night and unplug it when she leaves in the morning. It's painless.

Also, first thing to do after the laptop is set up is to turn on the disk encryption. Laptops get lost (and stolen) all the time, especially at that age, and encryption means no one will be able to read any of her private stuff. Same thing with the external drive. When you set up TimeMachine, turn on encryption. Having the external backup also helps tremendously if/when the laptop goes walkabout.

Get the 8GB RAM. It will increase resale value down the road.

I've been a Mac owner/user since 1986. I had to use Windows at work (IT professional) for almost as long, until I retired. God I hated supporting Windows. At one time we had 8 people supporting 180 Windows users, and I was the sole support for 30 Mac users, in addition to doing my share of the 180. I spent 90% of my time fixing Windows problems. But I digress.
posted by qurlyjoe at 6:18 PM on November 26, 2015

Appears I'm in the minority here but I always pass on Applecare, both for personal purchases and purchases made on behalf of work. I do, however, buy the (not cheap) protective padded sleeves or a padded laptop back pack for my laptops, and a quality phone case.

One big vote for the 8 GB memory, this is not an area I will skimp on, given the option, and I do not consider myself a "power" user in terms of applications.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 6:27 PM on November 26, 2015

I agree with 8gb ram. I have a five year old Air, and it is in perfect, like new condition. Except it only has 4gb of RAM, which ground it to a bleeding halt about 2 OS updates ago. I am almost always pegged on memory, and I'm trying to hold out for a matter of weeks until I replace it, but with more RAM, I'd be fine. Get as much as you can.
posted by instamatic at 7:05 PM on November 26, 2015

gregr: There are a bunch of SSDs that fit the bill.

Per the iFixIt teardown, apparently Apple used a proprietary connector which looks like mSATA but isn't, so I don't think there's a guarantee those would work.
posted by bluecore at 8:40 PM on November 26, 2015

Low end Mac = Skip the AppleCare.

(For example, if you're buying the $899 11" MBA model, save the $249 and use it towards buying your next Mac. If the first one dies after 3.6 years, you're a winner!)

High end Mac = Buy the AppleCare.

(For example, if you're buying the $3199 15" MBp modelwith all the fixings, spend the $349. If it dies before 9.1 years, you're a winner! (* Note: AC only lasts 3 years, timeframe for comparison purposes only.))
posted by fairmettle at 3:19 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love Apple laptops. That said, I would never buy one without AppleCare.

She’s a student, so she probably won't have a lot of spare income kicking around if...
...the week before finals her laptop goes on the fritz and she's quoted $318 (and a few days) for a repair.

MacBook Airs are tiny, all the internals crammed together, getting hot... AppleCare will have you daughter’s back should something go wrong.
posted by blueberry at 6:56 AM on November 27, 2015

Do get the AppleCare. Unlike most extended warranties, it's worthwhile.

Do run all the OS updates. If you start down the path of not upgrading because you don't like change, you'll wake up one day and find yourself years behind and unable to upgrade when you actually want to. (The sole exception: if your work is dependent on a third-party app that might be broken by a new OS, hold off on upgrading until you can confirm that app has been patched. But this is a delay, not a "never upgrade at all".)

Whatever else you do or don't do -- please, please do buy an external HD and run Time Machine backups. In fact, if at all possible, buy two, do redundant backups, and keep one in a separate location (one at home and one at school/work, or one at your house and one at dad's house, etc.)

My internal hard drive died three months before my Ph.D. defense (thanks to my cat who tried to snuggle with my nice warm laptop and knocked it onto the floor). Because I had dual backups, I lost only half a day's work and had everything back up and running by that evening. (Because I didn't have AppleCare, I was delayed by a few extra hours having to research and buy a replacement drive and then having to research how to install it. I really wish I'd bought AppleCare on that machine.)

Another Ph.D. candidate in my department had both his computer and backup drive stolen (they were in the same bag). He was offering $5000 for the return of either one, no questions asked. I'm not sure if he ever got them back -- or if he ever graduated. Yes, that's an extreme case, but I still slept better at night knowing I had a second backup in another location in case something drastic happened.

But even if you can't do two backups, please at least do one.
posted by snowmentality at 9:06 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thank you all, I gained so much information from all of you. I went with the "Free Apple SuperDrive (SD) & 65% of AppleCare (AC) with these 13" MacBook Airs" that Fleebnork linked to. $1,277.00 for the 13", 4GB/256GB. This is what she wanted. Actually more than she expected, but her dad is very happy to pay for the Applecare as she will be away at school.
posted by readery at 7:57 AM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great, glad to help! Just this past weekend my mom took her Macbook Pro to the Apple Store for ongoing issues. They had previously replaced the entire logic board. Since she's had so many problems with it, they handed her a new laptop. Definitely got her money's worth out of AppleCare.
posted by Fleebnork at 11:14 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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