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The college Macbook & iPhone
Old 09-01-2009, 05:09 PM   #1
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The college Macbook & iPhone

I've learned that in the last couple years that colleges are much more networked. For example, campus Wi-Fi is everywhere. Textbooks are starting to migrate to Kindles. iPhones have dozens of college-specific apps. Carnegie-Mellon's washers & dryers can even be set up to ring your cell phone when your laundry is finished. Although college IT departments used to be very specific about what computers & phones would mate with the network, these days they just seem to specify the minimum. And their minimum is probably beyond my old laptop's maximum specs.

Now that both my spouse and I are finally free of military software, I've been leisurely moving back toward a Mac-- but I don't really know the equipment. The process has been accelerated by our kid, who's leaving for college in just 348 days. She does fine with her iPod Touch but she makes the very good point that she should be fully proficient with a new iPhone and Macbook before she shows up at the college, and what better way to practice than during her senior year of high school. I don't disagree but I'd like her to avoid becoming a beta-tester for bleeding-edge software and a target for theft.

Here's what her top two college choices specify:
* Go for the most power currently available and in your budget
* Intel based Mac
* 2 GB RAM or higher
* 80 GB (or more) hard drive space total with at least 10 GB free
* Firewire 800 ports preferred, but not required
* Drive spin speed minimum 5400 rpm if you plan to edit video or audio files
* Apple Protection Plan for 3 years

Now that Snow Leopard is out and more iPhones are coming, I can see that prices might start dropping. If you were planning to spend a grand or two of your kid's college fund at the Apple Store in the next couple months, what would you buy and why? Any particular bargains or websites or months to take advantage of a sale?
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Old 09-01-2009, 05:20 PM   #2
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My son gave me a Mac Book OS X as a Christmas present almost three years ago. He spent about 20 minutes showing me how to use it and setting up my e-mail and Firefox. I'm know I don't use ninety percent of its functions. But I can recommend it highly because it seems to update itself, no one else has tweaked it in all this time and even I have not been able to bring the thing crashing down. I have no idea about the iPhone, don't have one and have no need for one.
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Old 09-01-2009, 05:38 PM   #3
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..... I have no idea about the iPhone, don't have one and have no need for one.
You just dunno - the gal has an iphone 3g and has substantially cut back on her computer time. GPS, google most anywhere, email ditto, games toys movies, use it as a level or a sonic measuring device, camera, recording device, accelerometer can be used in all sorts of ways including racing applications to measure acceleration and extrapolate torque, cornering forces. Song identification. musical instrument. hammer. ok, not hammer. We bought 4 extra chargers on the bay so she is usually not running on the battery. Probably the best electronic dollars we've ever spent - and that includes the AT&T monthly service fees.
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Old 09-01-2009, 06:38 PM   #4
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Nords, think the best time to get a deal on the iPhone is when the newest model is released. I believe they only do one release a year, and that is in June.

I am a total Mac fan, so I can not give an unbiased opinion. I have an iPhone and love it. Before the iPhone I hardly ever even sent text messages but this phone makes it so easy. I love having all the Apps that are available in the store. What the weather going to be like in Paris tomorrow - takes me a minute to check. We also use it for directions when we are out travelling. Went to Santa Cruz a while back, didn't know where we were but our trusty iPhone did.

We have Mac desktops so have no experience of the laptops. However, the Mac system is so much more stable than Windows and the blue screen of death. Snow Leopard is getting rave reviews.

Once again I am not certain that you will ever get a bargain on a Macbook like you will on a PC compatible piece of equipment. Their products are so popular they do not need to discount to sell.
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Old 09-01-2009, 07:04 PM   #5
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We got DD a MacBook a few months back. She loves it. 2GB memory, I think it is 160 GB hard drive Microsoft Office for Mac. It was one down from top of the line. She loves it. It has fewer problems than any of our Windows based PCs (5 of them, plus one Mac, not counting the business PCs). And so far there aren't any viruses that affect Macs. The dude who sold us the PC at BestBuy told us not even to bother with antivirus software as it was a waste of time and money. We got the 3 year plan for her.

She also has an iPod Touch. We won't be getting an iPhone for her. She can have that when she is ready to pay the monthly charges. Until then, she will have a cheap prepaid phone.

Oh, did I mention that she loves it? When it is time for me to pull the plug, I am leaning towards a Mac for myself because she is having such a good experience with it, but with 4 perfectly good PCs in the house, plus an old one, I don't want to spend the money on it right now.

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Old 09-01-2009, 07:32 PM   #6
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I bought a MacBook Pro for about $1200 (after rebates) from MacMall. I bought the previous model just as the new ones came out so that with the rebates saved me about $600. I didn't have any problems but I have heard that MacMall can be a little shady with the rebates, though.

It's a great computer and very slick. The graphics on it are outstanding...we hook Hulu up to our 50" tv and it looks very good.

It seems odd that a college would require a Mac and require the protection plan. Make sure your daughter isn't trying to pull a fast one on you I think Apple offers student discounts and you might be able to get a discount if you buy it through the college.
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Old 09-01-2009, 07:58 PM   #7
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You just dunno - the gal has an iphone 3g and has substantially cut back on her computer time. GPS, google most anywhere, email ditto, games toys movies, use it as a level or a sonic measuring device, camera, recording device, accelerometer can be used in all sorts of ways including racing applications to measure acceleration and extrapolate torque, cornering forces. Song identification. musical instrument. hammer. ok, not hammer. We bought 4 extra chargers on the bay so she is usually not running on the battery. Probably the best electronic dollars we've ever spent - and that includes the AT&T monthly service fees.
I second that, the iPhone is the best gadget ever iMHO. Used it this morning to post on this forum while flying at 500 mph 38,000 ft above the Grand Canyon. I am using it now from my hotel room in San Francisco and will use it tomorrow to navigate my puny rental car through the meander of downtown SF. This thing does it all, I don't even take my laptop with me on trips anymore. I do everthing on the iPhone: phone, email, text, movies, music, FTP, word, excel, PowerPoint presentations, image editing, photo albums, file sharing, GPS navigation, etc... I can't say enough good things about the iPhone!
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Old 09-01-2009, 08:10 PM   #8
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Big Mac fan here. Your criteria seem sound to me. Only advice is to not skimp on RAM - 4 gb sounds high but should be fine -- kids love to multi-task, programs are memory-hungry, and the darn operating system is so stable that it's easy to leave 4 or 5 programs up and running for weeks.

Time Machine should be used for backup which may call for an external hard drive - best backup program I have ever seen. Buck up, reach deep into your wallet, and tell yourself what a great dad you are.
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Old 09-01-2009, 08:11 PM   #9
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I don't know the iPhone will have a discount, but there is a college student discount of a couple hundred dollars on the Macbook. Someone in our family just this summer got one through a university program; software too is discounted. Was able to show proof of admittance to get the computer and software before school started (no student ID yet when the items needed to be purchased so family member could learn the software by the time school started):

Student Discount - Apple Store (U.S.)
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Old 09-01-2009, 09:45 PM   #10
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DW and I got I phones last month. DW loves hers but I turned mine in and got a flip phone as I don't need all the things the I phone can do.

We have a Mac desk top that's works great. I use a Gateway laptop that just crashed and we are in need of a new one. I'm thinking of getting the Mac but the price is high. The one thing I like is that it doesn't get hot on your lap as the PC's do.
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Old 09-01-2009, 11:33 PM   #11
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The low end aluminum body has more than enough power for school use. DW just got one, $999 edu prices and a full rebate on an iPod Touch (the iPhone w.o the phone - very impressive unit).

College kid #1 is still using his G4 MacBook purchased in 2004; DD is using her Intel MacBook (the white plastic model) from 2007. They have had no issues for school use. The UNIX underpinnings in OSX actually were advantageous for the computer class she took. Fire up the Terminal and follow the book.

I'll probably wait until winter break to upgrade the Intel models to Snow Leopard.

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Old 09-02-2009, 08:13 AM   #12
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Big Mac fan here. Your criteria seem sound to me. Only advice is to not skimp on RAM - 4 gb sounds high but should be fine -- kids love to multi-task, programs are memory-hungry, and the darn operating system is so stable that it's easy to leave 4 or 5 programs up and running for weeks.

Time Machine should be used for backup which may call for an external hard drive - best backup program I have ever seen. Buck up, reach deep into your wallet, and tell yourself what a great dad you are.
I strongly second the need for Time Machine. I've done a total restore twice from my external drive and it was flawless each time

Nords - There are Mac stores online that have cheaper prices than the Apple Store for the same stuff. I printed an ad from an online store, brought it to the Apple Store, and told the salesman that I heard that the store would match online prices. They did match the price. You may be able to save a few hundred on $2k worth of stuff
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Old 09-02-2009, 08:20 PM   #13
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Nords - I've asked my husband, John, who is a Mac and Apple aficionado to take a stab at replying to your query. Here is his answer:

You can get the student discount by ordering the equipment through this link:
Back to School: Buy a Mac, get free iPod touch - Apple Store (U.S.)

Buy a new Mac through September 8, you can get a free iPod touch.

Most important choice is screen size: 13-inch MacBook or 13, 15, or 17-inch MacBook Pro. How big of a computer does the student want to lug around?

The plastic MacBook starts with 2GB Memory and 160GB hard drive.
Weight lbs 5
Width inches 12.78
Width pixels 1280

The aluminum MacBook Pro starts with 4GB Memory and 250GB hard drive.
13-inch 15-inch 17-inch
Weight lbs 4.5 5.5 6.6
Width inches 12.78 14.35 15.47
Width pixels 1280 1440 1920

Even the least expensive of each screen size has enough CPU speed, memory, and hard drive to work well for a student.

If the student plans to work on video then you may want to add a larger hard drive option.

Some options are inexpensive. For example on the MacBook Pro 13-inch, doubling memory to 4GB adds $90; doubling the hard drive to 320 GB adds $90; iWork '09 preinstalled adds $41.

For Time Machine backup, consider getting a Firewire 800 external drive for MacBook Pro (Firewire 400 for MacBook) such as the OWC Mercury On-The-Go Pro. Firewire was designed for connecting disk drives and has much better real-world performance than USB which was designed for connecting a mouse and keyboard.
OWC Mercury On-The-Go Bus Powered FireWire, Bus Powered USB 2.0, and eSATA Portable Hard Drive Solutions

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I would add that I have custom ordered my last two Macs. It's seems to take about a week to get them custom built in Shanghai and then shipped express right to you!

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Old 09-02-2009, 09:21 PM   #14
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How much money do you want to spend? I had my employer buy me a MacBook Pro with 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB memory, 250 Gbyte hard drive. The thing is solid and can take much more abuse than the Dell laptop I used to have.

To make sure it worked with corporate stuff, I got VMWare and just cloned my old Windows machine into my Mac. So I'm running Windows XP and Office 2003 and Office 2007. I do software development for robot control, process control and hard-core scientific number crunching and data processing.

But the reality is that folks only need
1. Web browsing with ability to view videos and listen to musics
2. A document editor like Word
3. Something like Powerpoint, but not really for students because they probably give very few presentations
4. Something to deal with e-mail, but most students use gmail via a web browser and not something like Outlook
5. A spreadsheet app like Excel.
6. Decent battery life.

Any old laptop whether Mac or PC will do these 6 things with aplomb. You'll save more than $1000 by not buying a Mac.

New Macs are coming out Sept 9th, hence the free deal until Sept 8th.
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Old 09-02-2009, 10:04 PM   #15
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My father (computer neophyte) just got his first real computer, and I steered him towards the lowest end 15" macbook pro. For a college student, it might make sense to go with a 14" for portability.

I second the vote for time machine: seems like the first backup program that "just works". And drat that reminds me I'm overdue to manually back up my windows PC
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Old 09-03-2009, 01:30 AM   #16
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I think you should wait for the Mactini. She'll be the envy of all the kids lugging around their bulky Macbook Airs, and iPhones.

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Old 09-03-2009, 07:23 AM   #17
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Any old laptop whether Mac or PC will do these 6 things with aplomb. You'll save more than $1000 by not buying a Mac.
It would be a little tough to save that much considering that the 13-inch MacBook which meets his specs retails for only $999.

And I don't think older laptops do much with "aplomb" - they are dead slow, even if all you are doing is using the internet.

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Old 09-03-2009, 07:59 AM   #18
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Big Mac fan here.
Me too. Man I love those Big Macs. I'm a little confused though since everyone is talking about spending hundreds on these things, and I've never paid over $3 at the local Golden Arches (what you guys must be referring to as "Mac" stores). I thought we were all LBYM here?
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Old 09-03-2009, 12:57 PM   #19
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I'm eagerly anticipating the Mactini too!

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How much money do you want to spend?
You'll save more than $1000 by not buying a Mac.
New Macs are coming out Sept 9th, hence the free deal until Sept 8th.
I think this buying spree is going to start in early November or possibly after Black Friday.

She's very generous with our money, especially when it comes to magic fairy dust spending extra to look cool to be able to handle whatever college throws at her...

Thanks for getting me up to speed on the options. We'll have to see what she comes up with and how much value she gets out of it. There'll be a point where the extra cool features will be determined not by what we're willing to pay, but whether she's willing to pay out of her own savings.
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Old 01-10-2010, 02:10 PM   #20
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Here's the update to this thread:

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Buck up, reach deep into your wallet, and tell yourself what a great dad you are.
We parents went back & forth on this for weeks, trying to decide the appropriate level of affluenza entitlement indulgence financial support. She didn't have to pay for it, but she sure had to work for it. Since she's going NROTC we decided to pay for the gear out of the college fund, and her spending choices would affect her profit-sharing from what's left of the fund after she gets her degree.

Given a birthday/Christmas choice, she went for the iPhone first. (Her pay-as-you-go cell phone bill had been creeping up over the last year.) She had to compare it against 3-4 other models and decide what features/plans she liked and why. We kept asking useability questions that would send her back to the drawing board and she kept finding problems with different stories between the Apple Store and the AT&T Store.

She was also encountering new trends. Peter Lynch used to pick stocks for Fidelity Magellan based on his teen's shopping preferences, and our kid turned out to be riding the crest of the recent ascendancy of texting over actual voice calls. Oahu's ridges/valleys make for crappy cell phone reception anyway, and 200 texts/month has turned out to be not enough for her posse's communications habits.

When she was ready to buy she went to the local AT&T store (instead of "all the way downtown" to the Ala Moana Apple Store), which turned out to be a good thing. AT&T sent her back home because they needed Mommy or Daddy to sign the contract for those under age 18. When I showed up we learned they were running a military discount (the 25th Infantry had just returned from Iraq) so we got a 15% credit and a bunch of rollovers.

The iPhone has tremendously enhanced her productivity. She can get a lot of homework done between classes (without having to chase down a computer or an Internet connection) and she shops much more aggressively for bargains. (Scan the barcode, take a photo, and get online.) She doesn't get lost on the road anymore (or, more accurately, she's finding her own way home). We pay the first $90/month of her bill (she pays for going over 200 texts/month) so she's not skimping on connectivity and missing study groups or other classmate texts. She spends a lot of time testing out the App Store's college products, so she'll have that thing tweaked and ready by the time she shows up for class.

Her Macbook choice was a bit of a disappointment to me, however she played by the rules despite letting marketing triumph over specs. She had a chance to test-drive the Mac alongside a bunch of PC laptops but she was totally enthralled by the Mac's magic fairy dust. I put her through feature-comparison hell but she stuck with it. Student discounts weren't available last week so she paid full price for a 13" with 4GB of RAM instead of going for something like a Sony VAIO. If we'd limited our subsidy to $800 then she might have made a different (better?) decision but she's certainly attached to the Mac and she's probably taking better care of it because she made her own decisions.

The upside of the Mac (despite the cost) is that "it just works" right out of the box. I've had to do absolutely no computer support with her or with the Mac. It came up on our wireless network with zero Dad support, and it flawlessly supports her Netflix account over the Web. ITunes ported over with no problems. (Gee, I thought a college laptop was for academics!) She did her own damn printer wireless networking & configuring, and the first I knew about it was when the printer fired up on its own and started puking out homework. The graphics chip on the 13" machines is the weakest of the bunch but it does OK with Google Sketchup and, after years of dominance, AutoCAD is apparently on the way out. (She wants to study civil engineering and she takes drafting/design classes.) Another "benefit" of the Mac is that she admitted "I told you so" about software support. Quicken's last Mac version is 2007, although they're coming out with a new Mac version next month. OpenOffice ran OK but she was put off by the prices of MS Office. After some research she learned that Office for Macs has three user licenses/product keys instead of just one, so she got a copy from a friend. She's still agonizing over the differences between BootCamp and Parallels, but that's not my problem. She thought she should buy herself a Mac external drive (ouch) so I was finally able to get her to pay attention to my talk on flash drives, backups, images, file copies, and archives. Now she's actually reading her own "how to" computer books for shortcuts and advanced techniques. I think she'll do much better on software & peripherals once she's actually in college and surrounded by geeks closer to her own age.

Our five-year-old Dell laptops are lookin' pretty sick by comparison. Now that she has her own laptop I have little/no need for more than the desktop PC, and I can have my Mac Mini back to play with. I have to admit, though, that the Macbook's backlit keyboard is cool. Not much functional use, but cool...
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