Apple’s entry-level devices are more bait than bargain
July 31, 2022 July 31, 2022
Welcome to our regular collection of all the Apple news you missed this week, in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.
When bargain pricing has a cost
Some say you get what you pay for. The late Sir Terry Pratchett argued that it’s very expensive being poor. But most of our finest minds agree that buying cheaply is liable to come back and bite you on the bottom.
Apple products could scarcely be described as cheap, but all things are relative, and the company has long recognized the appeal of what we could call its most affordable-adjacent offerings. I’ve always advised readers and family members to look beyond Apple’s tempting baseline prices, which are liable to leave you with less storage than you need or otherwise shortchanged on features or specs.
But this vague suspicion of low price tags has been sharpened by recent experiences with Apple’s newly updated M2 MacBook Air, which performs shockingly badly if you go for the entry-level configuration. Read and write speeds for that machine’s single-channel 256GB SSD were 50 percent slower in our tests than that of the top-end $1,899 model, and the expected M2 speed boost was almost entirely absent.
So the $1,499 model with a better chip, more storage, and a fancier charger is actually the better bargain in the long run. While the $1,199 model might be tempting, we recommend spending extra for at least 512GB of storage, or look for a discount on 2020’s M1 Air instead of buying this year’s cheapest model.
Cut-rate entry level products have become something of a trend. The iMac range contains a similar pitfall for the unwary bargain hunter. The cheapest ($1,299) version of the 24-inch iMac seems like an appealing option, given that it features the same 4.5K display as the $1,499 model and a very capable M1 processor. What Apple doesn’t publicize is its missing the power adapter with ethernet, Touch ID keyboard, has fewer color options and ports, and only has one fan, which will mean lower performance and more noise under load. For just $200 less, it’s hard to recommend.
Once you develop an instinct for price paranoia, you start to notice false economies throughout Apple’s range. What’s the Apple Watch Series 3 still doing in the store, for instance, when we’re just months from the launch of the Series 8? I will tell you what it’s doing: tempting innocent buyers with its titillating price tag, then disappointing them afterwards with its threadbare feature set and imminent lack of software support.
The second-gen AirPods from 2019 are still available, but you really shouldn’t buy them either when the newer edition easily justifies the extra cash. And the iPhone SE, which was newly updated this year and has what looks like a bargain price tag, is actually more expensive than the previous model and doesn’t add much in the way of modern features. In both cases, you should pay more for a better alternative, or go without.
Of course, it’s easy to say all this as an Apple-focused reviewer who gets access to (predominantly high-specced) products on a reasonably regular basis. Of course I prefer the premium editions, which are more expensive for a reason. In Apple’s world expensiveness correlates pretty accurately with quality.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a linear relationship, and at different parts of the graph, price is going up faster than quality, or vice versa. At the top end, a lot of extra money earns you relatively little extra quality: the Apple Watch Edition always represented poor value for money, and the Mac Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are not worth their sky-high respective price tags unless you have a job or specific niche use case that justifies their capabilities. At the entry level, conversely, quite a small extra outlay will see a huge improvement in your experience with the product.
Buying cheap, whether you’re buying a pair of boots or a laptop, is generally a waste of money. And because it’s Apple we’re talking about, it’s a waste of quite a lot of money. Spend more, or spend none at all, but you should probably skip right over the entry-level tier if you can avoid it.
The rumor mill is churning out some big possibilities for the Apple Watch. On top of what’s coming in watchOS 9, we could see the biggest change to the Apple Watch lineup in its seven years of existence. We talk about the upcoming Apple Watch in this episode of the Macworld Podcast.
And with that, we’re done for this week. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter for breaking news stories. See you next Saturday, enjoy your weekend, and stay Appley.