Joining the Apple Ecosystem on a Budget – Part I

MacBook Air, Apple TV 4K, iPhone X, Apple Watch Series 3

If it wasn’t made obvious by my previous posts already, I’m an Apple junkie. I switched from Windows to Mac back in June 2006, and exclusively used Mac computers since then. I got a used iPod Touch during college, before switching to an iPhone 5 in early 2013 when it finally came to T-Mobile.

What I love the most about my products is how well they all work together; the infamous Apple Ecosystem, as many a tech reviewer call it. Granted, it took me a while to really understand the importance of it – my previous laptop that I had until last January, was a 2009 MacBook Pro with an old-fashioned hard drive. It was painfully slow at times; Photos would take close to an hour to import new photos and videos; Messages eventually stopped syncing with it; AirDrop was non-existent with it; etc. 

With my current set-up, though, I experience none of those issues and have really come to embrace and appreciate how well all of my products – my MacBook, iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV – all integrate with one another.

Let’s say you’re curious about getting into the Apple ecosystem, and you want the most bang for your buck. For the purposes of this article, I’m making the requirement to myself that the items purchased must be officially supported by Apple with the current operating systems. While there are patchers to bring macOS on unsupported Macs, I’d rather keep this as simple as possible. I’ll offer a couple options as well, to really help make some options.

Since this is a two part article, today we’re going to focus on what you can get if your starting budget is $1000. That’s the price of the base model flagship iPhone 11 Pro, and seems like a good starting point for the first set of recommendations.

 

Mac

This will probably consume the most of your budget, but it is doable. The biggest question is if you want a Retina or a non-Retina screen. In 2012, the MacBook Pro line switched to Retina displays, while the Air eventually got this feature in 2018. I’ve personally never used a Retina Mac device, but they do look nice. They also drive up the price of used models quite a bit.

If you want a compact model, I’d actually recommend the same model I’m using – the 2015 11.6” Air. The smaller size makes it ultra-portable and insanely easy to carry around. However, I’d also recommend 8GB of RAM (which was an upgrade made at the time of original purchase); the base models came with 4GB of RAM which will definitely limit what you can do on this model. If you want the larger screen, the 13.3” Air model is more prevalent and far easier to come across used than the 11.6” model. 

I actually bought my model slightly used on eBay for about $330, though unfortunately the shipping and import fees to Canada tacked on close to an additional $100. I don’t hold that against the price, though, as the computer itself still only cost me that much. To me, it was worth it because it was in nearly pristine condition minus a couple of scuff marks, and it only had 54 charge cycles at the time of purchase.

I’d say don’t spend above $350 on either size of this model, as it is nearing five years old and does have the older display. Currently, Swappa.com shows a listing for an 11.6” model with 256GB of storage and 8GB of ram for $355, so let’s just say that’s the model we’ve bought and we managed to talk the seller down to $350.

But suppose you want a Pro model. The 13” 2015 MacBook Pro is still a fantastic machine, and offers a nice mix of the legacy ports while still being current and usable. Depending on the specs you go with, I’d stay with between $450-$500. Currently, Swappa.com shows a model with 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM for $475, which is definitely a great deal and will offer plenty of storage. Personally, I’d go for a model with more RAM even if it means cutting back on the storage; I use iCloud for most of the files I need to access between devices, as well as making use of the free tiers of Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. But for the purpose of this article, let’s say that’s the model you went with should you elect to go with a Pro.

With $650 (or $525 if you spent the extra $125 on getting the MacBook Pro), let’s get into the next purchase… the iPhone.

 

iPhone

Luckily, models as old as the 6S from 2015 are still being officially supported with iOS13. That said, there’s no guarantee just how long the 6S and SE, which uses the same internals, will continue to be supported (I’d personally say iOS14 seems likely), so for this experiment, I’ll go with the iPhone 7. It’s a year newer than the 6S, and since the A10 chip is still being used with the seventh-generation iPad and the iPod Touch that was released last March, two or three more years of support wouldn’t surprise me.

That said, the base model of the iPhone 7 was released with 32GB of storage. While it’s passable if you don’t plan on storing a lot of files locally, I’d try to go with 64GB or higher. My quick peruse of Swappa.com didn’t show any 64GB unlocked iPhone 7s in stock, but the cheapest 128GB model I found went for $167 for the rose gold model. The other colour variants were comparable, such as a black model being $168. Since I’d prefer the black model, that’s the colour I’m going with, for the extra $1. Just to make it an even number, let’s round to $170.

 

iPad

With $480 (or $355) left, let’s take a look at perhaps getting an iPad. Though there are many devices still available that support iPad OS13, as it’s now called, there are two models in particular that I don’t see getting support after this. The Air 2 and Mini 4 are still nice devices, but they use the older A8/A8X chip; the A8 chip, for comparison, was used in the iPhone 6, but wasn’t supported with iOS 13 for the iPhones. This was largely due to both it and the Plus model only have 1GB of RAM, whereas the iPads using this chip got 2GB. That said, since some variations of it aren’t supported, it’d be a wise guess that the rest of it is almost out.

The 9.7” iPad is still supported from the fifth generation all the way to the current seventh generation (which also features a slightly larger display). Between the three of them, I’d go with the 2018 6th generation iPad. It uses the same chip as the iPhone 7 and features Pencil support, so if you’d like to draw or write on it later on, you can do so. Better yet, it’s also an insanely good deal – new or used. For example, Swappa.com currently shows me a 128GB variant for only $219 – nearly $200 off what it sold for just under two years ago.

However, your preference on iPads will also come with the size equation. For most, the 9.7” is fine; if I was on a tight budget and trying to squeeze out the most I could, I’d also go for this model. Personally, though, I’ve always liked the size of the iPad mini better. A used model of the current iPad Mini 5 is currently selling for around $300-$350, but this would eat up most of what you already have. Again, this would just come down to how you weigh the cost to value ratio.

 

Apple Watch

Assuming we did indeed go with the 9.7” sixth generation for $219 (which I’m rounding to $220 to make it easiest) and went with the MacBook Air earlier, we now have $260 left. I’d personally get an Apple Watch next. Some people find them gimmicky, but after owning one for a little over two years, I’m definitely a fan and use it far more than I ever expected to.

The entry level Apple Watch that Apple.com currently sells is the Series 3. It’s the model I’ve used and it still works well, all things considered. As nice as the newer features (the smaller bezel and the added heart monitoring features, mainly) would be, the whole purpose of this is to get the most for our money. Swappa.com currently shows a 38mm model for $165 or a 42mm model for $170. Again, this just comes down to size and how they’d look on your wrist. I personally own 42mm, so that’s the model I’d go with.

Of course, it’s possible to find a Series 1 or Series 2 for cheaper. I don’t know if I’d recommend the Series 1 if you’re wanting to keep it for another year or two; the Series 2 is still pretty decent since it has a few additional features, but if longevity is your concern, I’d go with the Series 3. Of course, if you just want a watch to use for now and you’re planning on upgrading to a higher end model in September, then by all means, go for it. 

  • 2015 MacBook Air – 11.6”, 8GB RAM – $35
  • iPhone 7 – 128GB – $170
  • iPad, 6th Generation – 128GB – $220
  • Apple Watch, Series 3 – 38mm/42mm – $165/$170

These are the items I picked in this article. We’d still have about $90 left afterward depending on what size you chose for the watch, which helps as I didn’t account for any taxes, shipping costs, or price adjustments – not to mention accessories. So, if you’re looking into getting into the Ecosystem with as many items as possible, and don’t want the latest and greatest for your devices, this is a great list.

The second part of this article will trim some of this down, and show what to get if your budget is even less – say $750 or even $500. Check back then!

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