Does laptop weight matter?

Perusing /r/digitalnomad this morning 1, someone asked the question: does laptop weight matter?

It’s a question that your reaction to might be kneejerk depending on the first thing that comes to mind. On on end, laptops are portable computers, of course weight matters. On the other, a lot of people are mainly just carrying them around the office or around their house, in which case weight really doesn’t matter.

Digging deeper, the answer turns out to be a pretty unsatisfying “it depends”. I’ve spent roughly the last ten years on-call, often carrying a laptop around on my back everywhere I went and running to and from work with it, so weight was about as important to me as to anyone. But even in my case I was fine with a pretty good range of weights as long as the laptop wasn’t a total brick – initially I carried a Macbook Air 11” (2.38 lb / 1.08 kg) for many years before switching to a slightly heavier Macbook Pro 13” (3.02 lb / 1.37 kg), without noticing that much.

I suspect most people these days fall into a bucket of “frequent micro-carries with occasional macro-carries”, meaning most of the time their computer is transiting small distances around the home or office, and occasionally much further like in their luggage through an airport or by train.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the weights of all the laptop I’ve owned personally or through work since starting to carry one back in my last year of university. They’re all over the map:

  • MacBook 13” polycarbonate (2006) – 5.2 lb (2.4 kg)

  • MacBook Air 11” tapered unibody (late 2010) – 2.38 lb (1.08 kg)

  • Macbook Pro 13” retina (late 2012) – 3.57 lb (1.62 kg)

  • MacBook 12” retina (2015) – 2.03 lb (0.92 kg)

  • MacBook Pro 13” Touch Bar (late 2016) – 3.02 lb (1.37 kg)

  • MacBook Pro 16” M1 Max (late 2021) – 4.8 lb (2.2 kg)

The biggest surprise was how heavy that first plastic MacBook 13” was! It weighs in heavier than the 16” Pro that I’m using now, and the 16” Pro is absurdly heavy by recent Apple standards as the first generation of laptops in years to favor features like battery life and ports instead of thinness. Worse yet, if I’d been able to afford it at the time I would’ve bought the aluminum MacBook Pro instead of the polybook, which would’ve weighed 6.8 lb (3.1 kg) for the 17” – I might be walking around with an additional bend in my spine today.

I went with the larger 16” MBP this round after realizing that I rarely plug into an external monitor (so the extra screen real estate in laptop mode is nice), and that I’m not expecting to be commuting daily again anytime soon. I work out of cafes frequently so I still end up carrying it pretty far, but an extra pound and a half doesn’t make much difference when it’s the only thing in my backpack. It’s a little more of a push to fit for airline travel where I’m carrying a host of other things, but it’s still workable.

REI recommends carrying no more than 10% of your bodyweight for a day pack, so if you’re 150 lb, then with a 16” MBP in there you have 15 lb - 4.8 lb =- 10 lb leftover, probably plenty for many people.

The outlier on the list above is the discontinued 12” MacBook (“MacBook adorable”) which at 2 lb (< 1 kg) is about 30% the weight of my current 16” MBP. It was more comparable to an iPad than other laptops, and so negligibly light that I’d throw it in my bag even knowing I might not need it.

I like this form factor so much that I reformatted mine last year to use it as a writing-only computer, but gave up because its underpowered processor and butterfly keyboard make it a pretty tough sell in this day and age. I really hope to see Apple bring something comparable back for the M1 era.

In my opinion, mostly no – bring the computer that gets the job done, especially if you’re in an industry like mine where your laptop is far and away your one and only most important tool. That said, if we can get back to a good performance level at below the 2 lb / 1 kg threshold – so light that you don’t even have to think about whether you have the space to bring it along – I’m in.

1 Not overall recommended as a good use of time, but turns up the occasional interesting morsel.

Does laptop weight matter?

March 19, 2022

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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