My unreserved message to anyone with decent money and few demands is and has been that Apple devices will be the most reliable, easiest to use, and most durable computers on the market.
I've used a Mac as my primary computer for eleven years and an iPhone as my primary phone for about seven years. I loved them. Yet I've recently switched from an iPhone and a Mac to an Android phone and a Linux PC. Why did I switch?
It was only a small bit about cost. Let me tell you the full story.
How my iPhone died
The battery life on my iPhone 5S was totally unacceptible. I bought it used in Thailand from someone who seemed reputable, but the phone completely bricked after two days of working normally.
There was no Apple store in Thailand, and none of the certified resellers would fix my phone, so I had a new battery put in. I was shocked that the phone only had a 1500 mAh battery. Even after having a new battery installed it only lasted two to three hours between charges and discharged itself rapidly even in airplane mode. I kept the phone plugged into an external battery at all times.
I bought a mini Lightning cable in Thailand to make it easier to charge the phone in my pocket and was disgusted when the iPhone refused to charge from an "unauthorized" cable. When I got to Beijing I tried to buy the cheapest short Lightning cable that the Apple store offered, but it was almost $40. It wasn't worth cutting a day off my trip to charge the phone in my pocket.
When I got to New York I immediately took my phone to an Apple Store. At the Apple Store the Genius couldn't get iPhone battery diagnostic software running over the slow store WiFi (words the Genius actually used). The report ran on my phone, but the file was too big to transfer1.
The Genius didn't seem to believe my claims that the phone had battery issues, but agreed to charge me $270 for an out of warranty replacement. He said I could try coming in another day when the WiFi was faster so that they could diagnose my battery issues. I needed a working phone and agreed to pay the fee on the spot, but Apple insisted on replacing it with a special international model iPhone 5S that wasn't in stock. By the time the new phone arrived I was already on a flight out of the country.
Heading to the airport for a flight to India, I couldn't bring myself to buy another iPhone for $650 when a perfectly suitable Android phone with a comparable camera, a larger and higher resolution screen and longer battery life could be bought for half of the cost. So I picked up an LG G2 for around $350 at B&H in New York. The phone has worked out great, and it is good enough to replace a phone, a point and shoot camera, a Kindle, and a tablet.
Android is not as nice to use as iOS, but it's very close. The main distinction I can see is that Android largely competes on functionality instead of visual design. The functionality is remarkable and the visual design is adequate. I actually like the break from some of the overly visually designed but less functional iPhone apps. It can be nice to feel like you're looking at a computer and not a piece of art.
Practically, I like Android's launcher far more than the iPhone. I don't like how iOS forces every app into a space on the home screen. I have a lot of apps and my iPhone got cluttered. I also like how Android allows deep linking into Dropbox and Gmail folders from the home screen. Those shortcuts make it way easier to keep my photo portfolio and reference emails quickly available. Both Android and iOS force useless apps into their software, but only Android lets me completely hide them from view.
I also find that Android's access to the filesystem and inter-app data sharing make it a much more useful OS for general tasks than iOS. Android feels more like a full computer in my pocket, whereas in iOS data is siloed between apps. Apps for iOS can really only share data through the cloud, and that really sucks over a 5k/sec internet connection. Android apps do a better job collaborating without using the Internet a crutch.
In practical use the LG G2 is closer to an iPhone 6 than an iPhone 5S. It has a bigger, higher resolution screen than the iPhone 6 in a case that's smaller in all dimensons but thickness (which is close). It has an optically stabilized camera and phenomenal battery life. It lasts all day for me, and I normally charge phones twice. I love it.
Buying a PC
Similar issues recently came up for me with laptops. I keep most of my gear on my back at all times, and was growing tired of lugging around a 1.6 kilogram 13 inch Retina Macbook Pro. The only appreciably lighter Mac is the 11 inch Air which has an unusably bad screen and only weighs 500 grams less. Having switched to Android I was also frustrated that Mac laptops refused to charge my phone at more than 0.5 amps. A Mac will charge an iPhone quickly, but seems to spitefully limit the current it gives Android phones.
It turns out that for the same cost as a 13 inch Macbook Pro I can buy an equivalent laptop from NEC that's half the weight of the MacBook (795 grams). It has the same resolution, a faster processor, and about 5-7 hours of battery life. It's lighter than the Macbook Pro and both Macbook Airs, with a much beautiful matee screen at a far higher resolution than any Macbook Air. I remain blown away by how light this NEC laptop is — it feels like holding an empty plastic case. All Apple laptops, even the 11 inch Air, feel like bricks now.
The computer I'm talking about is a NEC Lavie, only sold in Japan, and introduced to me by Tynan's gear list. I decided to seek it out when I got to Japan and found that it was cheap enough to buy and resell in the US for a profit. So I bought one and carried it for two weeks and fell in love. My bag feels a lot better carrying 800 fewer grams of weight with the NEC, not carrying a separate USB phone charger, and not carrying Apple's heavy 65 watt power brick.
I've been using the NEC LaVie full time for a week and like it enough to keep it. The screen is gorgeous, the keyboard is fine, and the trackpad is a little annoying but bearable. The weight is phenomenal. I can't rationalize going back to a heavier and worse-screen Macbook Air now, or a Macbook Pro that's twice the weight with an annoying glossy screen and no ability to charge my phone.
My NEC computer came with Japanese language Windows 8.1. Windows looks really good now, and I actually like the Windows 8.1 interface, but Linux has gotten good as well. I know how to use Linux and trust it much more than I trust Windows, so I installed Linux Mint on this machine.
I used a lot of Mac software and most of it was beautiful and highly functional, but if any time is a good one to experiment with new machine setups it's while I'm working for myself.
The Mac software I miss the most is Lightroom (which I run in a Windows 7 VM) and OmniFocus. Linux is a bit rough around the edges, particularly in it's support for retina screens, but over time I've tweaked my setup so that it's not much different than what I had on the Mac. I used Linux for five years in high school and was already comfortable with it when I made the switch. I find that I just spend about twice as much time in the terminal on Linux as I did on the Mac. I think I'm 80% as productive and will approach 100% in a few weeks.
I've found good alternatives for Notational Velocity (NvPy), Byword (UberWriter), and Safari (I'm using Firefox and Chromium). I'm still digging for a great replacement for Sparrow and a way to run Adobe Lightroom without a virtual machine.
With that story out of the way, a few things have come up with Apple that I now find very frustrating. These were easy to rationalize when I used and could easily afford Apple products, now I see them in a different light. Let me talk about those.
- Lightning cables. If you lose one or break it on the road they cost $29-$40 to replace. It's hard to find a legitimate one and if you use a "counterfeit" your iPhone refuses to charge, which is bullshit. Mico USB cables cost $2 everywhere and charge every Android phone.
- My used iPhone was most likely dying early because it had counterfeit parts. I think that if Apple is smart enough to make a charging cable warn me about counterfeit parts they can be smart enough to make the phone know when it's guts have gone bad. It should be possible to diagnose a used iPhone for hardware issues before buying it.
- Apple (spitefully?) doesn't let other devices charge at full speed from their laptops. MacBooks charge iPhones even when they are sleeping and charge them at about 2 amps. They refuse to charge Android phones at more than 0.5 amps, and often refuse to charge them when sleeping. It's really frustrating that a computer I pay Apple more than $1,000 for can't charge something as fast as a $300 PC.
- Apple computers no longer come with matte screens. I forgot how good they look. My God.
Final Notes of a Switcher
Apple lets product lines stagnate until they can fully redesign them. I'd love a MacBook Air update, but can't wait another six months until Intel's Broadwell chips come out to have a usable light computer. The 13 inch MacBook Air is embarrassingly heavy compared to PC alternatives and it's screen has been out of date for at least two years.
Part of the reason I've switched, as mentioned above, is that I've got less money now to buy Apple devices. Their base model laptops are well priced compared to competitors, but their top of the line machines are much higher priced. Apple's phones are about twice the price of similar phones from competitors. The alternatives have become too high quality and inexpensive to ignore.
A last reason that I switched is that it's kind of cool. I like using, testing, and giving feedback on Linux software. Much of the world deserves to have free operating systems, hardware that they control, and well designed software to use every day. If I can help Linux grow as a user and a tester that's kind of a cool way to use my time. Maybe I'll jump in as a developer too.
Apple should fix this. Even better, they could offer a way to diagnose your own hardware issues remotely. ↩