By Harry McCracken | Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 11:38 pm
If my math is right, I said that the machines are at PARITY in six of the categories we’ve reviewed. The MacBook has an ADVANTAGE in thirteen categories, the Dell in nine, the Lenovo and Sony in eight apiece, and the white MacBook in seven.
As before, I’m not going to weight the importance of the categories. And please note that in most instances, the differences between laptops aren’t gigantic. For these reasons, I don’t think the fact that I gave the MacBook the advantage in more categories than any other laptop here represents a stunning victory for it…especially since there are a few features it’s missing that many folks will really, really want, such as memory card slots, FireWire, and a standard VGA connector.
Okay, wanna discuss price? Here’s the cost of all five machines as I configured them at the Web sites of the manufacturers. (Like many PCs sold direct by their manufacturers, the Dell and Lenovo involve discounts that are good for an unspecified period, but I’ll judge them at the on-sale prices listed as of when I write this.)
Dell Inspiron 13: $819 (after “instant savings” of $175–normal price is $994)
Lenovo IdeaPad U330: $1264.84 (sale price–normal price is $1334.64)
Sony VAIO VGN-SR290: $1194.99
White MacBook: $999
McCracken’s Third Law of Computer Buying specifies that when you’re spending $1000 or more for a system, you shouldn’t obsess over price differences of $100 or less. So the cost of the MacBook, Lenovo, and Sony is close to a wash–especially considering that each machine has some attractive qualities missing in one or both of the other laptops. Considering only the hardware you get for the price you pay, they’re comparable values.
(I do think that a long-time tendency of Apple to simply not offer some features at any price is more striking than ever with the new MacBook, which not only didn’t add some stuff that people were hoping for but eliminated FireWire. But that’s less a question of price and more one of basic feature availability, or lack thereof. Feel free to discuss in the comments, though.)
Then there’s the white MacBook. At $999, it’s meaningfully cheaper than the new MacBook, the Lenovo, and the Sony–which makes sense, since it’s a less ambitious machine in terms of industrial design, and it doesn’t have an LED display. But it’s not a bad machine for the price, and Apple’s decision to keep it in the MacBook line at a lower price makes perfect sense–especially since the new MacBook’s starting price is $200 more than what MacBooks started at prior to last Tuesday.
Unless I’ve completely satisfied the world’s hunger for Mac-PC price comparisons, I’ll take a look at the new MacBook Pro vs. Windows laptops at some point. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the MacBook vs. cheap Windows laptops (which is now a bit out of date) a comparison of the iMac vs. Windows all-in-ones, and a story on the Mac Mini and small, cheap Windows desktops.
And the Dell? It’s by far the lowest-cost machine here, with a sale price that’s almost $500 less than the MacBook. At that price, it’s a deal; at its normal price of $999, it’s a close rival for the white MacBook (albeit one with more RAM and a bigger hard drive). But the Dell has a less fancy Core 2 Duo, basic integrated graphics, no LED backlighting, and good mainstream industrial design rather than the high-end aspirations of the MacBook, Lenovo, and Sony. It’s an attractive alternative if the MacBook sounds too pricey, but a significantly different machine.
In the end, I think that all five laptops look appealing in their own way, and each one has its own personality; I can imagine buying any of them and being happy with what I got for my money.
Which leaves the question I asked in the very title of this article: Is the new MacBook expensive? Here’s my answer:
“The new MacBook is in the same ballpark pricewise as fancier high-style 13-inch Windows laptops. But if you’re happy with something a little more basic, you can get a Windows 13-incher for a lot less–or, for that matter, the white MacBook, which is a good deal at its new price.”
I suspect that not everyone will agree with all of my conclusions in this piece. Let the analyzing of my analysis begin…