Buyers Guide: Mac, iPhone, iPad

This un-official Buyer's Guide was created to provide our best recommendations regarding current product cycles, and to provide a summary of currently available rumors for each model. This page is based on news, rumors and speculation, so please make your own decisions.
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MacReviewer.com features detailed reviews of the most popular Apple iPads, MacBook Laptops, iMac Desktops, and iPhones, featuring expertly written articles, tests, opinions and more. We've owned and extensively used every model to come out of Cupertino and we are happy to share our reviews with you for free.

We have written this Buyer’s Guide to help you to make the best decision when it comes time to buy or upgrade Mac or Apple systems.


Step 1: New or Used?

Buying a Mac is a fairly easy experience given the relatively limited range of models (compared to buying a PC), but there are still quite a lot of options out there (with regards to customization possibilities and which model to choose). So for those of you planning to purchase your first Mac computer, here is my advice on how to go about it.


There's no point beating around the bush here: Macs are relatively expensive. Even when compared to a PC with similar specs, you are often paying nearly double for the privilege of owning one, but there are a couple of options to make your purchase more bearable for your bank account.

ImageI would personally recommend buying a certified used Mac from a reputable re-seller (www.qualitymacs.com being one of the best out there), as with such an expensive NEW MSRP, you can usually save almost half off the original sticker price with a nearly new device that have nearly all of the features of the current new models! Also, you can rest easy knowing want that if something does go wrong, you've always have the option to contact Apple technical telephone support for after-sales support to fall back on. Also, nearly all of the certified used models for sale have a 30-day money back guarantee and available extended warranty through 3rd party vendors. Many of the Macs for sale at qualitymacs.com are currently still covered under the Apple Manufacturer’s Warranty! Buying used also means you can find your nearly new Mac with the best specifications for your needs, especially if you buy it from www.qualitymacs.com!

You can find a range of models currently on www.qualitymacs.com and with a little searching, you can snag a great bargain!

Personally I wouldn't recommend buying a used Mac, especially from places such as Craigslist or local swapsheets. You don't know how it has been treated and whether or not the specifications stated are entirely true. That’s why certified re-sellers such as QualityMacs.com, who have been AAA+ rated by the Better Business Bureau and over 1,000 Positive reviews, are truly the best option for those individuals who want the best blend of price and high quality!

Step 2: Which Model?

This is the question that begs many potential Mac owners - which model should I get? As I mentioned before, there is far less choice with Macs (only Apple manufactures them, as supposed to PCs where there are thousands of manufacturers). However, having said that, there are still several things to bear in mind when choosing a model.

The range of Macs currently on offer (the new Retina MacBook Pro isn't shown) The most important piece of advice is to limit yourself! A top-of-the-range MacBook Pro with all the extra trimmings can set you back an eye-watering $3,800, and that's without extras such as external disk drives and a mouse. Remember to choose the model that is within your budget - don't go overboard all at once with loads of fancy extras as you'll probably find that they are wasted on you.

Let's have a look at Apple's current selection and how they all compare to one another:

  • Mac Mini: This model is great as an entry-level Mac, especially if you're switching from a PC and have already got a monitor and keyboard on hand (as these are not provided with a Mac Mini). The specifications are pretty good and they bode well against the more expensive iMac. Note that if you haven't got an external display and/or keyboard, it is probably going to be about the same price to buy an iMac. There you get a monitor, keyboard and mouse thrown in at a comparable price.
  • iMac: Apple's flagship product is a great choice for a desktop computer, and it really does look the works - I'd be hard-pressed to find a sexier piece of kit for your office. The specs are good and suit pretty much every situation you're going to use your new Mac for and the screen is nice and big (the standard model has a 21.5 inch screen). You've got a wide range of customization possibilities with it as well.
  • MacBook Air: This laptop is really useful if you plan to travel around a lot as they are extremely light and hardly take up any space in bags, meaning you're not carting around a couple of house bricks in your satchel. However, the specs of the Air mean that they are mostly suitable for light usage, such as web browsing and listening to music. If you plan to use your Mac for more high-end stuff, such as gaming, graphic design or video editing then you're best going for the Pro range.
  • MacBook Pro: Ever since the white MacBook died a timely death last year, the Pro has become Apple's flagship laptop. It's a great machine with some good specs and plenty of customization options. If you fancy shelling out an extra $500, you can grab yourself the Retina version with what is likely the best laptop display out there (I've seen it and it is simply amazing) and flash-based storage (more on this later).
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Step 3: Customization

Once you've chosen your ideal Mac model you can customize it to exactly your requirements. If you buy it from the official Apple Store then you can beef it up with a more powerful processor, a bigger RAM offering, more storage space and so on. The changes are made directly in the factory too.

Processors

Don't be surprised if Macs have "slower" processors than what you're used to on a PC. As they are UNIX systems, they run differently to Windows computers and therefore do not require as much processing power.

The Mac range of laptops has recently been kitted out with Intel's new Ivy Bridge quad-core processors and feature something called "Turbo Boost", which selectively ups the processing power of your new Mac when required.

The entire MacBook range of laptops is equipped with Intel's new range of quad-core Ivy Bridge processors, with the iMac hopefully following suite later this year For a standard Mac that is going to be used as your main computer, I would recommend a processor speed of around 2 GHz. Obviously, if you are planning to use your Mac for more high-end projects (video editing, graphic design and so on), then you may benefit from a slightly faster processor. But remember: upgrading the processor in your Mac can be horribly expensive and you are often better off spending your dough on a RAM upgrade instead.

RAM

RAM, for those of you who don't know, is sort of like the pages in a notebook. The more RAM you've got, the more data your Mac can theoretically write to it and the more processes it can simultaneously run. I would strongly recommend upgrading the RAM on your Mac if it hasn't got a decent offering already. Shoot for at least 8 GB, as you will notice the difference immensely. Even my 2-year old MacBook with 4 GB is struggling slightly now when it comes to running several applications at once, and sometimes freezes or throws a hissy fit when I try to open a few programs simultaneously.

Upgrading the RAM in your MacBook Pro is relatively painless. If you want a MacBook Pro and don't fancy spending any money on letting Apple do your RAM upgrade then you can often do it yourself (and Apple even provideinstructions on how to do it!). Make sure you check how much RAM your Mac theoretically supports (some models unofficially support higher RAM offerings) and that you buy the correct memory for your model (the type is listed on Apple's support website).

Tip: Some MacBooks feature RAM that has been soldered into place and is therefore not upgradeable after your initial purchase. Check this guide for more info.

Storage

Storage is very important to consider as you'll soon find that once you start installing your favorite programs and downloading songs and videos off iTunes, your hard disk space will diminish rapidly! There are a couple of options available when it comes to storage on your new Mac:

  • Serial ATA: these are your standard hard drives, available in two speeds (5,400 and 7,200 rpm). Unless you're going to be writing a lot of data to the disk at once (e.g. video recording and editing), then get the slower version!
  • Solid State Drives: these drives have no moving parts and are therefore quieter, faster more reliable. They come at a price though - a 128 GB SSD will cost you an extra $100 going up to an extra $900 for the 512 GB version!
  • Flash Storage: this storage is only available on the MacBook Air and Pro with Retina display. It's up to four times faster than a conventional hard disk drive and, like the SSD, is quieter and more reliable (and, unfortunately, just as expensive).

I personally would recommend getting around 500 GB of storage space in conventional format or, if it's the MacBook Pro with Retina you're after, 256 GB in flash storage.

Although they don't look as cool, external hard disk drives are extremely cheap these days and now the entire MacBook range comes with USB 3, meaning faster read and write speeds.

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Step 4: Accessories and After-Sales Support

We're at the final step here - accessories! The Apple Store has a load of great accessories, but unfortunately they tend to be a little on the expensive side and you can often get the same thing cheaper elsewhere.

If you're getting a laptop then I would recommend a good case or sleeve and a decent bag to transport it round in (I personally use a Neoprene sleeve to protect my MacBook from knocks). A mouse is also a great accessory (and probably the only one you're going to need) as you'll soon get sick of scooting around the trackpad constantly. There are obviously loads of specialist accessories that you can also get so just use your judgement when it comes around to buying them. If I were you however, I'd spend a fair bit on a good bag or case and a mouse.

Apple's Magic Trackpad, a great accessory to take advantage of the multitouch features in Lion.

The final thing we're going to cover in this piece is after-sales support and whether or not it is worth it. I personally wouldn't recommend One to One (why buy it when you've got MacTuts+ here for free?) as you are paying a lot of the money for the privilege of someone setting up your Mac for you, which isn't difficult at all.

AppleCare extends your default warranty by 2 years, giving you 3 years of coverage should anything go wrong (unfortunately this only covers manufacturing defects and faults - it doesn't insure your Mac against, say, dropping it or spilling coffee over it).

Conclusion

So, there we have it people - the definitive guide to buying your first Mac. You'll soon realize after you've purchased it that you've made a great investment and that your computer experience will become a whole lot simpler. I hope that this guide helps you decipher the possibilities out there on the market!

Below are our current recommendations on buying:
 

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