MacBook air Review Part 4: Productivity, and iPad Comparison

Listen to MacBook Air Review Part 4: Productivity, and iPad Comparison  


In the fourth and final part of our MacBook Air review, I am joined by Jamie Pauls, Patrick Perdue, and Lisa Salinger. When I started evaluating portable solutions, I looked at both the MacBook Air and the iPad. They are similar in size, for all intents and purposes. Of course the iPad has built-in 3G, which is a factor, but not a big one for me personally, since I can use my phone as a hotspot. So I’ve come to the conclusion that for a blind person, the MacBook Air is the more productive tool. Apple has really gone out of its way to make sure that the iPad is a viable alternative to a netbook or laptop for a sighted person. I am not faulting Apple because programs like Pages are not totally accessible on the iPad. Everything takes it’s time, and we will get there eventually. However, the fact that you can’t produce everything on the iPad that you can on the computer makes it more of an entertainment device for me, and I can get that from my iPhone. As a totally blind person, screen size really doesn’t matter to me, so there’s no compelling reason for me to use an iPad. I performed my test with the Sena Leather Case with Bluetooth Keyboard. It’s a great case and a great companion. If you’re going to just be doing email, notes, or some primitive document creation, the iPad would be fine, but if I could only take one device with me on the road, I would have to leave it at home, and would take the MacBook Air instead.

Lisa had a chance to play with the iPad, and stresses the fact that it has more screen real estate. However, this can present difficulties for someone who is blind. For example, dragging an app to a specific location and going in a straight line can be more difficult, because there is more area to cover. You do have more of a spatial view of a web page, so the experience is a subjective one, and what may be workable for one person may not suit the needs of another.

Patrick had extensive testing with an iPad 1. The extra real estate handled things like columns nicely, although finding and navigating them was a challenge. He was looking to buy an iPad primarily to work with a piece of sound editing software, but it was not accessible.

When I’m on the road, I need access to production-quality tools, and programs like Garage Band were not accessible on the iPad. My next priority was email, which I don’t really like on the iOS devices, although email with Siri on the iPhone 4S is great. I still feel much more comfortable using SAMNet email or Outlook. Next, I looked at the ability to write letters or review spreadsheets, and could not find any compelling reasons to do these tasks on the iPad. Even entertainment-related apps are often barely accessible on the iPad. On the MacBook Air, I can run Windows, either through VMWare or BootCamp, and I can run Lion. This is very important to me because I can run Windows on a Mac, but I can’t run Mac on anything else.

Lisa is of the opinion that the iPad might be inconvenient for some because a Bluetooth keyboard would be a needed accessory for increased productivity, but would just be an additional item to carry. She also observes that all of the iPad discussion is from the point of view of those who used an iPhone or iPod Touch first, and says that even though the iPad is different, it might involve less of a learning curve, especially for someone who has never used an iOS device. While Lisa contends that the smaller devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch are a better choice for someone with little or no usable vision, I feel that the iPad is “the way to go” because it is so versatile and it does have many options for peripherals. If someone already has his or her phone needs met, or doesn’t want the expense of not only the iPhone but the monthly charges, I feel that the iPad is a better choice than the iPod Touch because the extra space makes the learning curve that much less steep. Also, with the iPad, you can turn 3G on and off, and you don’t need a contract in many cases. So, you could use 3G for a month, maybe while traveling, and not use it for the next few months.

Patrick observes that the concepts learned on the iPad transfer more easily to the smaller iOS devices, but that it is harder to go from the smaller devices to the iPad. I love the fact that Apple has implemented the same gestures into the track pads on their desktop and laptop computers, so that your knowledge is transferable. As a blind consumer, I would like to continue to buy from Apple because they have met my needs. And the MacBook Air configuration I reviewed in  Part One is, in particular, an awesome device.

Lisa got this same configuration about two weeks ago, and describes the initial, out-of-box experience, beginning to learn Lion, and ultimately, the transfer of information to Windows:

She says: “When I first unpacked the MacBook Air, I was in awe of how small and light it is. But then I opened it up and was not sure which was the power button. The Escape, Function keys, and Power button run in a single unbroken row across the top. There’s really no space to label often used keys. Of course, I can count, but that is a little slower. Also, my previous experience with a portable computer was a netbook. Men and those with larger hands will find the MacBook Air is easier to type on because the keyboard is nearly full-sized.

“I found the setup to be fairly easy, but not without problems. When I was asked for a password, it did not click every time I entered a key. I understand this is a security feature, but as a new user, I thought that all key presses were not being registered. Using it was and is a bit of a challenge. I wouldn’t say it is harder or easier than Windows. It’s just a different way of thinking, interacting, and doing. Part of the reason I decided to get a MacBook Air is that the OS is becoming more popular, and I wanted to learn more about the world of Apple so I was better informed. I’ve decided my approach will be to try comparable Mac apps first, and to only use Windows on that machine if the Mac apps, for whatever reason, are not meeting my needs.

”Currently, I’m liking Mac Mail a lot better than Outlook. So for work, I’m running Windows 7 under VMWare Fusion, and I’m using IE and SAMNet. And then, I’m using Lion for mail and Twitter with Yorufukurou, commonly referred to as the Japanese Swear Word Twitter Client. It has many nice features, and with the possibility that the Qwitter client for Windows may not undergo any further development, this is an excellent solution. I don’t feel like I have to be tied down to using exclusively Mac or Windows. I can just use whatever works best to get the job done. (End comment).

Jamie asks about a comment I made in Part One, and it still stands. I have never found Lion or Leopard to be productive for me. I don’t want to paint with a broad brush and state that it is not productive, but for me, I have not found it to be the case. What I am waiting for is the merger of iOS and Lion, or whatever the Mac OS is at that time. Then, I will be able to use my MacBook Air the same way I would use an iPad, an iPhone, or an iPod, but with the strength and features of a computer behind it. When I want to get work done, I don’t use it on the Mac side. But I do use it in the studio. I’m not a Mac person per se, but I love the hardware and the fact that it works with both platforms.

Patrick weighs in on the productivity aspects of the Mac: “I’m more of an audio guy, and I do as little of the typical office productivity stuff as I can. I use a program called Reaper for editing. I’ve used it in Windows, but wanted to try it on the Mac. It is accessible, but it’s not laid out in such a way that it is productive. I use the Mac for everyday tasks like email, Twitter, and the web. If I really want to get any work done though, it’s definitely Windows. I was using a MacBook Pro, and now I have a Mac mini. I also ordered a MacBook Air which is on its way. One thing I do have to say is that when you transfer from one Mac to another, the migration process is really awesome, and I wish it were that simple in Windows.” (End comment)

Jamie summarizes the issue of productivity: “In visiting with a lot of people who use both Mac and Windows, I hear very consistently that mail, Twitter, and in some cases browsing, is very pleasant. But when it comes to productivity, most of those people go back to Windows.” (End comment)

Maybe this is elementary to those of you who are using this feature on your iPhones, but I believe that a company that takes the time to vocalize how many faces are visible in the camera app on a cell phone so that a blind person can enjoy taking pictures like anyone else, will ultimately fix whatever is wrong as long as we advocate properly. I think Apple does care about us as a consumer group, and they have demonstrated it beyond the shadow of a doubt. It goes far beyond anything that they would be constrained to do, and shows an incredible attention to details. I have no fear in saying that I know that Apple will ultimately fix whatever is not working properly, which is why I will continue to be a very satisfied Apple customer. It’s priceless to me that my wife can just hand me her iPhone, and I can turn on VoiceOver and fix whatever is wrong with it.

Before closing, I’d like us to discuss accessories, to find out what you are using, and how it is working for you.

Lisa begins: I like the sound of the Verbatim hard drive Mike covered in the last segment. I may also get a USB card reader. I have a Victor Stream, and even though I can use the cord for transfers, I’m very accustomed to using the SD card. The one thing I felt was a priority was to get a case. I was looking for something a bit more in my price range. Because I don’t travel extensively, I don’t need something that is quite as rugged as some of the bags that have been discussed. But finding a case took quite a bit of time. I looked at approximately 120 cases which ranged from decorative skins, to books, to neoprene sleeves. I wanted something I could carry separately, and after much searching, I found the rooCASE Netbook Carrying Bag for Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch Laptop. This looks like a miniature laptop case with the standard handles and shoulder strap. There are some features I like, and some which I feel could be improved. I especially like the way the handles felt in my hand. I feel they are nicely shaped, and neither too large or too small. The inside is padded, and there is a compartment with a velcro closure into which you slide the MacBook Air. The bag has more of a briefcase feel, with defined borders, which means that it is difficult to put much more in it than is essential. The Mac adapter will fit inside, as will a pair of small headphones. There are compartments on the front which can be accessed with a zipper. The compartments are lined up in a row so that your equipment is organized and that streamlined look is maintained. One compartment fits the iPhone exactly, so you may have trouble if you have it in a bulky case. I was surprised by the compartment which is meant to hold an MP3 player. Since the bag is designed in part for the MacBookI did not understand why they did not make that compartment slightly larger. It did not fit the iPhone, nor would it fit an iPod Touch, and roughly an inch was all that was lacking. However, this pocket has some interesting features in that it can be accessed via a magnetic flap on the front of the case. It also has a port for attaching earbuds, but since it does not fit my iPhone, I will probably store my tissues in that quick-access compartment. I bought this case for about $35, and although it is not as feature-rich as some, it is more than adequate, especially if you do not travel extensively.” (End comment)

Patrick weighs in on accessories: “I’m probably going to get the Waterfield Designs case mentioned in Part Two. I need an external drive larger than 640 gb. What I just bought is a Toshiba Canvio 1.0 TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive – HDTC610XK3B1 (Black), and it’s $99. The verbatim drive is beautiful, and I looked to see if there was a 1TB version of the Verbatim drive. I chose the Toshiba because I needed a larger capacity drive. I also got the Duracell inverter mentioned in Part Three.” (end comment)

One of the things I would like to do but haven’t yet is to see if I can pair the MacBook with my Bluetooth headset. The camera is also very nice and can be used for Skype. This machine is extremely useful, and is going to be with me until it doesn’t work anymore. It is a great balance between price, power, and productivity.

I encourage you to go to our website and read the other parts of this review to get the big picture and fully understand all that we have discussed. You are welcome to send email to, leave a comment on the Blab Line, at (866) 997-blab or 2522, or send us an iReport on iBlink Radio.


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