Settling My Setup

The past year has been a computer smorgasbord. Last summer, my main computer was a nice Chromebook, but it gave way to an iPad. It’s more computer-like than ever, and I enjoyed making it my primary device. That said, I hesitated to publish a post — in draft for months — about switching up my setup. Why? Because I wanted to be sure I was going to stick with the iPad and that it would work long-term for me. Things were going well until a Windows PC gaming laptop entered the mix and I slowly gravitated to it. Now I believe I’ve settled my setup with one of Apple’s best devices yet: the M1 MacBook Air.

Wait, what? Yeah, not the iPad. And not the PC.

The iPad was designed to be an excellent tablet, which it certainly is. Not long ago, Apple added features to make it more like a full computer, greatly improving its functionality. Those additions were native mouse/trackpad cursor support and desktop-class browsing. Combined, this meant that — at long last — one could hover a pointer over a web link or button to access a site’s features. It also allowed for better text manipulation; no longer would you be challenged to precisely select words with the fat tip of a fumbling finger. Despite these handy non-touch advances, using the iPad as my main computer was still lacking.

The iPad multitasking menu.

Though my productivity needs mostly center on simply typing words, I find iPad’s multitasking misses the mark; it’d be better labeled as bi-tasking or maybe tri-tasking. The Apple tablet’s Split View feature is nicer than ever, thanks to iPadOS 15’s new controls, and Slide Over — with multiple apps in a stack — is both slick and useful. At most, though, you can have a total of only two apps visible at a time, with a third iPhone-sized app somewhat in the mix. These innovative features are implemented fastidiously, but using iPad with a bluetooth-tethered mouse and keyboard, acting like a full-computer, begs the question: why not just use an actual laptop?

The clamshell form-factor of a notebook computer, like the MacBook, along with a traditional operating system is best for productivity. I say this as one who truly relied on an iPad (and a Chromebook…) as my main computer for a long time; I really wanted the iPad to work for me. I love the iPad with its simple software and superb hardware; it’s fantastic…as a tablet. However, given its shortcomings, I finally bought — dare I say it — a “real” computer (or let’s say a full computer).

iPad with attached keyboard looks like a laptop.

Switching away from the iPad as my daily device was an interesting process that required compromise. Had circumstances been different, I would likely still be relying on the iPad — it was good enough, or close enough to a full computer for most of my needs.

Therein lies the rub, as some of my needs (and wants) could only be met with the recent PC gaming laptop my family bought. With it, I gained true multitasking and multi-windowing for superior productivity. I also gained access to PC games and a particular app for creativity: RPG Maker MZ. While the Windows laptop’s robust multitasking reminded me of what the iPad lacks, it didn’t play nice with my Apple paradise, which led to trying a handful of cross-platform apps and services. As a result, I cautiously embraced a multi-device setup: iPad plus Windows laptop as needed. The combo seemed to work, but it was less than ideal.

Preferring to use my own personal laptop, I shopped for a mid-range Windows machine. This was partly led also by my family’s need for yet another traditional computer since my wife and I have five (5) kids that we homeschool. As I shopped for “the perfect” Windows PC, I felt most were compromised in some way. Finally, after my budget increased, I snapped up the MacBook from Apple’s refurbished store — it’s like-new. I’ll share it with one of my sons for some of his school work, but otherwise I get to claim the MacBook as my personal device. It makes the most sense for me since I can compute comfortably from within Apple’s walled-garden.

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MacBook Air with floating app windows.

I’ll probably have more to say about the MacBook itself in a future post, but in case I don’t, let me share my first impression here and now: I love it! So far, so good. It’s only been three days since I started using the M1 MacBook Air — it’s still kind of surprising. The last time I owned a Mac of any kind was about ten years ago. It was a late ’09 MacBook running OS X Mountain Lion on an Intel Core 2 Duo.

Overall, I think my setup is settled now, which is a relief. In just the past few days of acclimating to macOS, I already feel unrestricted, like anything I need to do is no problem. I’ve installed x86 or intel-based apps (Discord, RPG Maker MZ, and GIMP for example) and they’re all running normally through Rosetta without issues so far. Using a mouse or trackpad with the MacBook feels more natural than with the iPad. And macOS is a great experience. It’s simple, elegant, and refined like all of Apple’s products.

The iPad and the MacBook are both computers, no doubt. Each one provides a unique experience, a “think different” approach to computing. Whichever one’s “different” computing is the same as your needs or wants, that’s the one to use.

Published by

Jason McFadden

Jason McFadden blogs about computing, gaming, and more. He also writes editorials for RPGamer.

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