Earlier this week Apple announced three updates to their line-up: the new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini. Apple’s announcement was a sigh of relief for many fans of their computing lines, coming after months of speculation on the future of the MacBook Air and Mac Mini lines, the latter of which hadn’t seen an update since 2014. There were some wins and losses for the Apple faithful, here’s our take on the refreshed line up.
Mac mini 2018 (specs)
First things first, the Mac mini has been in need of lots of attention for nearly half a decade. That’s an entire ice age in the tech world. This latest update is a huge look for a product line that was being rumored to be seeing its end of life.
The new Mac mini comes in two base variants: a 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD storage or a 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD to get things started. While nowhere near as powerful as its larger iMac counterpart, the mini remains an entry-point for those looking for a Mac OS desktop experience. While its spec sheet may seem anemic, it’s still a much-needed bump up from the 2014 model.
What we like
The addition of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, upgraded graphics support via Intel’s UHD 630 and HDMI port allows the mini to connect to up to three displays supporting DCI 4K resolution. The addition of Apple’s T2 chip gives the mini the processing boost needed to work with a variety of video codecs including those extra large, cinema 4K files. On a purely aesthetic level, we’re digging the new “Space Grey” enclosure – it’ll sit comfortably with your home theater set up as it would on your desk.
Not so hot
When the Mac mini was first introduced, it was intended as a low-cost option for people who wanted the Mac experience without having to shell out too much cash. Unfortunately, the spec sheet wasn’t the only thing got a big bump up – the price did as well. Jokes about the Apple Tax aside, starting at $799 there are a lot of desktop options that are similarly specced at much lower price points. This jump in price reflects a 60% increase in the entry model alone, and that may be enough to make you steer clear.
MacBook Air 2018 (specs)
The first big announcement for most was the introduction of the new MacBook Air. While the MacBook Air (MBA) saw some minor changes over the last couple of years, this year brought us the features we’ve been demanding of the MBA, specifically an all-new 13.3-inch Retina Display. The new MBA also brings Touch ID to the line as well as the 3rd-generation “Butterfly” keyboard, Force Touch trackpad, an 8th-generation Core i5 processor, faster SSD storage, 16GB of RAM, Apple’s T2 chip, USB-C ports, and improved speakers.
What we like
The 13.3-inch MacBook Air is arguably the pinnacle of laptop design, and this one is no different. If you’ve been putting off upgrading to a MacBook Pro (because money doesn’t grow on trees) and the MacBook was too underpowered for your needs, the MBA comes through in that perfect Goldie Locks Zone in the Apple lineup. The improved internals means that you’ll be able to do more graphics intensive work without sacrificing on the portability that made the MBA, well the MBA. Thanks to the USB-C/Thunderbolt3 ports and the new Intel UHD Graphics 617 video support, you can now pump out DCI 4K to two external displays.
Not so hot
While there are benefits to Apple’s T2 security chip, we can’t help but be troubled by one of the other “features” it brings – namely prevents third-party vendors from performing repairs. While Apple is far from the only company to make independent repairs and upgrades on their devices difficult, this continues to push a perilous precedent with respects to consumer rights. (We highly recommend checking out the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Repair Association for more on this.) We’re also less than thrilled at the omission of the SD card reader in the previous model – guess it’s more of Tim Cook’s courage showing.
iPad Pro 2018 (specs)
If you’ve been considering leaving behind traditional computing in the 2000’s, the newest iPad Pro may very well be the tipping point in changing what we think of a PC. This year’s iPad Pro gets rid of all its bezels, the Home button and replaces both with an edge-to-edge Liquid Retina Display and FaceID. The iPad Pro comes in an 11-inch and 12.9-inch model and is powered by Apple’s new A12X Bionic processor that features 8-cores: 4 cores dedicated to performance and 4 to maximize efficiency. According to Apple, this allows for the iPad Pro to have console-level graphics and the ability to run processing power intensive programs like full-fledged Photoshop without missing a beat.
What we like
While Geek Bench benchmarking results don’t necessarily correlate to real-world use, it’s hard not to be impressed with the iPad Pro’s numbers. What Apple has been able to accomplish with the A12X processor sends a clear message to those doubting that there’s a future beyond Intel’s X86 processor architecture. The mere fact that a (starting at) $799 device is close outperforming their flagship, nearly $3k laptop with only a “mobile” processor should have Intel shook. We’re also excited to see Apple using a standard connection port, USB-C, in the new iPad Pro. This makes it the first iOS device to be readily compatible with a host of other devices from cameras to musical instruments to 5K displays.
Not so hot
Peripherals, dongles, and a more expensive Pencil. Sure, each of these helps provide some backward compatibility and additional functionality but it all adds up quickly. The keyboard and Pencil alone add $300 to your purchase. Also, while we’re approaching a kind of mobile OS-desktop OS singularity, the truth is you’ll still be tied down to an app-only ecosystem, making this a companion device if you need advanced features like XCode functionality.
For the true believers, Apple reaffirmed their commitment to offering a Mac experience across a spectrum of use-cases and budgets. While there’s still plenty of legitimate Apple Tax criticism to throw around, Apple’s newest products offer more to users than incremental spec bumps. While we can appreciate the T2 chip’s security-minded focus, there is a fine line that we may cross and ultimately end up sacrificing choice for security. All in all, Apple did not disappoint; the only thing left to ask, are you ready to only use an iPad from here on out?