What MacBook should I get for a trip to Africa?
Hi Dave. My contract with my current client ends in three weeks. Since I'll finally be a free agent I am going to spend several months in west Africa as I have a good friend living in Sierra Leone. I'm looking to teach, freelance or do whatever paying gigs come my way.
I have the 17in MacBook pro which is great even though I've had it since December 2007. I've been considering selling it for cash toward a new 13 inch MacBook Pro so that I can blog, do podcasts, etc. However I don't know if getting the new one is the right choice considering there's no slot for another battery. I'll be without power for about five hours a day in Freetown.
I'd feel safer having an additional battery in case the power is out for an extended period of time. Should I just look for the previous version of the MacBook? Would I be sacrificing a lot of power?
First off, I have to say that sounds like a very exciting trip, and if you time it right, you can pop down to South Africa for part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world. I'll be watching it, so don't forget to wave to the camera!
I'm glad that you're thinking about the unique challenges of working in a country where they don't have constant electricity, however, because it'd be a big problem to take your 17-inch MacBook Pro, which I'm guessing gets about two hours of battery usage, if not a bit less, and try to work through that five hour period. Not good.
There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. One of which is to buy a new computer, as you suggest. The new MacBook Pro's have a rated battery life of 7 hours, according to Apple, which they rate with the screen at 50% brightness and the Internet being accessed via wifi. Since five hours of no electricity is probably going to also mean that there's no Internet access unless you have a standalone sat-phone connection of some sort, you should be able to turn off wifi entirely and definitely work through that five hour period without too much difficulty.
I have a new 15-inch MacBook Pro and I'll say that the battery life is wonderful. I can use it for 4-5 hours with wifi access and the screen up to about 85% brightness. Having hacked up my previous MacBook by putting in a high-performance hard drive and ending up with about an hour of battery life.
The downside of the new MacBook Pro line is that the higher performance battery is built into the unit, so there's no way for you to pop one out and put in another if something goes wrong while you're in the field. If you're going to just be there a few months, it's probably not a big deal, but if you're contemplating a longer trip, that could be a serious limitation.
It's a trade-off: if you buy an earlier 13-inch MacBook Pro model, you'll have the replacable battery, but it won't last anywhere near as long. The newer units obviously have better performance, but that's probably not going to be noticable versus a one-generation old MacBook Pro, particularly for most typical uses.
Another thing to consider, though, is that there are supplemental power devices you can use to help nurse that battery life along. Specifically, I'm thinking the new mini-solar panels that are starting to become available on the market. The timing is good: Dec-Mar is summer in Freetown, with an average of only 0.5-inches of rain each month.
Now some of these solar panels can be kind of crazy expensive, notably the Apple Juicz from QuickerTek.com at $700, but you could pull completely off the grid for weeks on end if you needed to. Dig around in Google and you'll find that there are also do-it-yourself plans for a device that'll cost about $200 and do the same thing.
You'll definitely want a power conditioner or surge protector, something to protect you from the irregular electricity in Sierra Leone. Check out TrippLite.com for some commercial grade solutions (about $200) or pop into your local hardware store to talk about options. Worst case, even the little Belkin surge protector for $25 is better than nothing.
However you set things up, I hope you have a terrific experience, and don't forget to write!
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