These days I write very little on the subject of technology, despite the “Mac” clue in the title of this blog. My original objective in staring Macfilos was to cover Apple’s computing products. It was just about at the time when Apple was moving from a rather nerdy, computer-enthusiast-oriented company into the mainstream. The iPod had started the trend while the iPhone and iPad led directly to the Apple behemoth we know today.
Nonetheless, I retain a keen interest in technology and a careful eye on developments, particularly in the world of Apple. I tend to be spurred into action at times of change, such as outlined in the recent article on installing a Synology Disk Station to handle the growing Macfilos photo library.
This week, however, something rather disturbing and wholly unexpected caused me to make some changes that deserve recording.
One more thing
It all started with last week’s “One More Thing” presentation in Cupertino. Apple’s own silicon, the much anticipated ARM-based M1 processor, was launched and is already off to a remarkably good start. All the indications are that expectations have been well exceeded and the usual naysayers have been confounded. The humble, fully integrated M1, has startled the Mac world because of its performance which outpaces all but the higher-end Intel setups. I was interested, of course, but not motivated enough to do anything.
Until Monday of this week when I discovered, quite by chance, that my high-spec 2018 15in MacBook Pro just rocks. It had started moving around a little on the desktop some weeks ago and I was thinking of buying a rubber mat to keep it anchored (although I had never thought this necessary before). Then I realised pressed a corner of the keyboard and the whole computer wobbled on what turned out to be a bulge underneath the case. It isn’t visible (yet) but quite noticeable.
UPDATE: This article resulted in several comments cautioning care over the possibility of an expanding battery leading to fire or explosion. While this doesn’t seem to be an extreme case, a barely noticeable distension of the case bottom, I made a second call to Apple Support, mentioning these extreme possibilities. The result is that they are collecting the computer by courier and say that they will have it repaired and back to me within a week.
This can mean only one thing: A swollen battery. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on an old iPhone, but never with a laptop. With the case distorted so much, I’m not even sure that a replacement battery will put the device back to “as new”.
Apple Support was as helpful as ever. They agreed with my diagnosis and said the MacBook Pro would have to go to the repair centre. Fortunately, on this occasion, I had purchased the Apple Care package, which extends to this time next year.
If I hadn’t taken this precaution, I would have been just out of warranty and would have had to rely on Apple’s goodwill for a free repair. But there is still one big snag, linked to Covid, which I will explain later.
Back in 2018, I went through an agonising decision process in deciding to pension off my old iMac and return to a portable-cum-desktop solution. It’s something I’ve dabbled wth over the years and can never decide if it is a good option.
However, the 15in MBP was the result. I had gone for the all-in-one solution. The computer has been reliable and speedy, but it has not lived up to its destiny as a portable computer. I cannot remember a single occasion when I took it away from my office desk, where it has been sitting for two years, hooked up to a second monitor and aided by Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The current year of Covidity and lockdown hasn’t furthered this computer’s credentials as a go-anywhere device.
Because of the laptop has been desk-bound for its entire existence, I haven’t really experienced the charms of having a combined computer for office and travel. Indeed, I haven’t even used the keyboard much. The controversial Touch Bar hasn’t even been an issue. I haven’t used it. But the fingerprint ID button has been a boon, and I have become addicted.
In general use, though, apart from a continuing problem with wobbly USB-C ports, an issue Apple failed to acknowledge, I have been quite content with the MacBook Pro. I must admit, though, that during 2020 I began to seriously question the decision to employ a laptop for desk use.
The arrival of the three M1-chipped computers, MacBook Air, 13in MacBook Pro and Apple Mini, was a point of great interest and the Mini, in particular, set my thoughts churning. But it was academic interest because my current MBP is only two years old, still in Apple Care warranty, and still doing a good job. Or so I thought.
The appearance of the bulge on the bottom of the MacBook Pro was a moment for reflection. If I could have had the computer repaired and ready for action within the week, I would have probably resisted change.
But Apple Support had some bad news for me. With all Apple Stores closed again because of the second UK lockdown, there’s no chance of getting the MacBook Pro in for repair until December 2 at the very earliest. Nor is Apple arranging for courier collections.
Enter the new super Mini
All this has prompted me to order one of the new Mac Minis. It’s a chance to try out the lauded M1 processor, but also an opportunity to clean up the desk, tuck the computer out of sight and work with just a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, because of the huge demand for this new model, I have to wait three weeks for delivery. I think it will be worth waiting for.
As for the MacBook Pro, I’ll get it repaired (maybe they’ll even give me a new one…) and put it up for sale. I am just hoping that that swollen battery doesn’t burst its breeches before the Mini arrives in the middle of December.
The Mini, by all accounts, is the fastest of the three M1-chipped newcomers. There’s a bit more space around the components, helping to keep the heat down. And, while the processor in all three machines is identical, benchmarks show the Mini to be just ahead, probably because of the lack of compromise to achieve the most compact architecture.
Choosing the Mini, though, isn’t without compromises. For starters, you need a wired keyboard and mouse, not the Bluetooth devices you probably own, to start the installation process. Until Bluetooth is available, it’s a direct-wired connection you need. Fortunately, I have an old keyboard. But I don’t have a mouse. I’ll probably have to buy a £5 Amazon Basics rodent just to set up the Mini.
Once set up, though, the Mini has two other main drawbacks. There is no fingerprint touch ID, so it’s a case of reverting to the password for power-up and authorisations. This is something I’ve entirely forgotten about, and I’m not looking forward to returning to keying in passwords. Of course, I can use my Apple Watch to unlock the Mini, but it isn’t quite the same.
The second issue is the lack of a webcam, making an external device essential if you do a lot of Zooming. I don’t (and my LG Monitor doesn’t have one built-in), so I’m happy to use the iPad instead of the computer whenever a camera is needed.
Apart from that, the Mini has the advantage of being extremely small and compact. It can be hidden under the desk or on a shelf. And, although it has other ports, all you really need is one USB-C Thunderbolt cable to connect to the monitor or hub. So it’s a pretty minimalist setup which should keep me happy.
The next month, then, will see big changes on the computing front here at Macfilos, occasioned by that swelling battery. Perhaps it’s fate, but this is something I will find out only when the Mini is up and running. Long-distance travel seems a distant prospect at the moment, so I am unlikely to miss having a portable. Increasingly, in any case, I have relied on the iPad when travelling (within the country, as it happens). We will see what transpires when the Mini arrives.
Will it live up to its reputation. Will I be satisfied? More in December.