On a recent Clockwise podcast, a thought experiment got my attention. The question: If you had to pick just one computer to use — laptop, desktop, tablet, whatever you want — what is your top choice? It seems simple, but the single device you select is the one you’re stuck with. Such a restriction helps the mind prioritize things. Note: the one computer you choose is in addition to a smartphone (thankfully).
I’m fortunate to enjoy multiple tech gadgets and often grab the “right tool for the job.” For example, when I want to relax and watch YouTube, I often grab my iPad. Tablets — ideally sized, lightweight, simple, and touch-first — are great for easily consuming content. The iPad in particular has also grown more capable over the years for productivity. Sometimes considered a “laptop replacement,” it has become a better tool.
That said, while I’ve used my iPad as my computer, it has never lived up to a “real” laptop or desktop — even though I wanted it to. “True” computers can of course playback your favorite YouTube videos like tablets will, though they might be less than ideal for binge watching Disney+ or Netflix. But they remain better for more productive uses than a tablet like working in spreadsheets or CAD software.
So back to the big question. As of right now, if money/cost wasn’t an issue, what one tablet, laptop, or desktop would I run out, buy, and live with until it became obsolete?
My pick was easy because, as it happens, I already have it and use it daily: the 2020 M1 MacBook Air. Paired with my iPhone, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
I won’t dive into all the things I like about the MacBook Air now since I reviewed it recently. But here are the key reasons why I still choose it today, despite being released in late 2020 and with the M2 version now available.
- It’s portable
- It has a “full” OS
- It’s the best hardware
- It’s the Apple ecosystem
Let me unpack those a bit.
A big ol’ desktop computer is stationary. While there are advantages to such a setup, they often don’t outweigh the overall benefit of being able to compute pretty much anywhere with a laptop. I prefer such location flexibility. But since a tablet is more mobile than a laptop, why not choose that?
Tablets run on simplified (watered-down) operating systems. So, for example, despite the iPad now having “Desktop-class” browsing among other more advanced capabilities, it is still fundamentally restricted, lacking a traditional “desktop” operating system. I want the whole enchilada, without restrictions or compromises.
Modern laptops not only comfortably run file mangers alongside Adobe Premiere for video editing, they also have improved battery life and weight — think “ultrabook.” So they’re sometimes nearly as portable as a tablet plus keyboard case.
Essentially, laptops are an ideal mix of desktop and tablet computer.
Speaking of a keyboard, another reason I choose a laptop over a tablet is for its archaic yet necessary input method. A keyboard, for better or worse, is vital for typing stuff — it’s indispensable for a blogger. Laptops come with keyboards built-in while tablets don’t. So…dealbreaker. And while Steve Jobs espoused the iPad’s on-screen keyboard for pecking out short emails, he also introduced the first-ever hardware keyboard for the iPad at the same time — to write a novel like War and Peace.
I choose the M1 MacBook Air in particular because, as detailed in my review, its display, trackpad, battery, speakers, and overall CPU performance are excellent. The only thing close or better would be Apple’s more expensive “Pro” MacBooks, which are overkill for my uses. And yes, the newer M2 version is technically a little better.
Maybe I’m an Apple fanboy. I simply prefer and enjoy how well Apple hardware and software work together, both in a single device like the MacBook and also across multiple devices. My AirPods, iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook all integrate nicely with synergistic features.
But even if my iPhone and MacBook were the only two Apple devices I could own as in this thought experiment, I’d still be a fan. And I’d still choose the M1 MacBook Air. By itself, it’s a fantastic laptop. And with my iPhone and iCloud, all my files sync between the phone and laptop. My Apple Music playlists and history also sync across the two devices. The little ease of use and quality of life features make the Apple ecosystem a pleasure to have.
What is the one desktop, laptop, or tablet computer you would choose? Maybe a water-cooled top-line gaming rig with RGB lighting? Perhaps a 2-in-1 Windows Surface PC?
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