When buying something with an Apple logo really doesn't matter

When the Apple logo really doesn't matter

Last week I posted an editorial extolling the virtues of Apple-branded routers: I think the AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule and AirPort Express make a lot of sense, even if their price and performance can be trumped by other products. There are loads of other cases where I wouldn't even hesitate to go with a third party instead. Here are some of them.

Mice

I admit that the Magic Mouse is nice for its support of gestures on the smooth, featureless surface, but I have to tell you that of all the products that Apple makes, it's my least favorite. I infinitely prefer the feel and features of third party mice.

Lately I've really been enjoying the Razer Taipan mouse that I reviewed back in July. It had a terrific feel and remarkable sensitivity, loads of programmable buttons and absolutely amazing software drivers that let me get the most out of it.

One of the reasons I prefer third party mice to Apple's own is because I play games, and for the most part, games play wretchedly with the Magic Mouse. That's because most game developers assume - rightfully, in the case of PC gamers - that their users will have scroll wheels, distinct right buttons, possibly programmable macros and other things that make playing games easier.

While the Magic Mouse may be well-integrated with the operating system and with plain-vanilla apps, games are a different story. I realize I'm an edge case here, but there are other arguments for third-party mice too — they come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different hands, designs vary to accomodate different mouse holding techniques and more.

Keyboards

I have an Apple Wireless Keyboard and I use it with my Mac Pro, but I don't really like it all that much. My desk setup for my Retina MacBook Pro incorporates a Matias Mini Tactile Pro keyboard, which I infinitely prefer for its mechanical design.

Apple's keyboard is nice and quiet, but Matias' has a much stronger key feel that I like, as I prefer to get a bit of resistance from my keyboard as I'm typing. I've been using personal computers since the late 70s, when almost all computer keyboards were mechanical, so I'm a bit old-school in this respect.

Even if Matias' products don't suit you, it's not that hard to find a keyboard with Mac-specific layout. Assuming you'd rather go with a commodity keyboard designed for Windows, that doesn't matter: OS X's support for PC keyboards is spectacular. If it doesn't recognize your keyboard, it simply asks you to press a few keys so it knows what type of keyboard you're using, and it's off to the races.

Displays

Apple's Thunderbolt Display is, as I've opined before, too long in the tooth for me to bother with. What's more, it's $999 — way, way out of my price range. That's why the last two displays I got came from an online reseller called Newegg.com. I got good deals — sales, in fact — on ViewSonic displays that I've been very happy with.

Of course, the downside of buying a third party display is that it often doesn't integrate visually with your Mac as nice as you might like — the Thunderbolt Display's design language is consistent with the Mac's, even if it echoes an older iMac design. But the ViewSonics' black bezel basically disappears for me when I'm using it (I pay no attention to it), so I haven't found it to be that much of a distraction.

It may cost you a bit of extra money to get the display working with your Mac. If your Mac is equipped with mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt, you'll need to buy an adapter to connect a DVI or (heaven forbid) a VGA display to your Mac — that means budgeting another $20-$30 depending on whether you go with Apple or get a third-party interface. But compared to what Apple charges for its one, singular display, you'll still be get a much better value shopping for a third party display and buying the adapter.

Cables and memory

Apple charges a premium for its own branded Lightning and 30 pin Dock Connector cables. You can find less expensive alternatives anywhere — I even see them at the gas station near my house. But stay away from the really cheap ones. I'd spend a bit more money and get something that carries the Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch logo, which shows that it's been given the thumbs up by Apple.

In the case of Macs that have upgradeable memory — the standard MacBook Pro, the 27-inch iMac, the Mac mini and older models — you can save a fair amount of cash by going third-party instead of paying Apple's premium price when you get your Mac configured at the factory. Now, in the case of systems like the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro, you have no choice, since the memory is soldered to the motherboard. But I've never had a Mac with upgradeable memory that I didn't go with third party RAM on, and saved myself a ton in the process.

How about you?

There's other stuff I left out, like external storage and printers, since Apple doesn't make any devices like that anymore. But I imagine there are some peripherals and accessories that I've left out which you prefer to get from third parties rather than buy from Apple. So what do you have? Let me know.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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When the Apple logo really doesn't matter

48 Comments

I had the leather smart case/cover (the one that protects the front & rear if my iPad mini) at a cost of £55 & after about 3 weeks I sold it & reverted to using the leather folio case I've always used on my iPads at a cost of £7 from ebay. The Smart case was just too flimsy when the iPad was stood up in (watching TV mode) & it kept slipping flat when in keyboard mode. Apple put a lot of time & effort into putting their hardware together but the accessories they make are rubbish & very poorly designed. Strange really.

I don't play a lot of games, so I use the Magic Trackpad. For most cases I can get single pixel precision. Once in a while, I will pull a Microsoft mouse out of my desk when I need it.

For keyboards, hands down, the Matias tactile series are the best. They support the Apple "special" keys, and the feel of them is second to none.

As a programmer who spends a large % of each day scrolling around in code, and/or webpages, I simply love the magic mouse. The responsiveness of the scrolling is simply unmatched by any 3rd party mouse. I also hate the clunky, finger stress inducing monstrosities you seem to prefer as a keyboard. For me, it's the apple wired keyboard with numpad, and nothing else. It is, quite simply, the best keyboard I have ever owned, so much so that I take one with me when I go travelling with my rMBP, and I bought one for my PC even (gasp!).

As a gamer, when I want to game I do so on my custom built gaming PC. Any self respecting gamer doesn't game on a Mac. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mac, and I hate having to go back to windows for anything, but Apple doesn't make gaming hardware (and probably never will) and the developer support for games just isn't there. They come late, if at all, and frequently with poor performance, and many bugs that sometimes go unfixed.

Exception: I do have a third party bluetooth mouse for my rMBP, because when I go on vacation, it'll do for some light gaming in a pinch, and gaming with a mighty mouse is absolutely a non-starter.

Agree. Magic Mouse is just fine for my iMac. But no, I never use any mouse with my rMBP. The stock trackpad is just fine.

On the other hand, I've despised all previous Apple mice. Even the Mighty Mouse suffered from the cruft build-up that plagues nearly all physical mice. And that horrid clear plastic-with-black-seed-inside Apple mouse, which couldn't be programmed to simulate two-button action, was almost completely unusable.

I had a series of 3-button Logitech mice for my old PowerPC Macs, and even a trackball for my long-gone Power Computing Mac clone. Not any more. Love the multi-touch gestures on the Magic Mouse.

I've had a lot of luck with Anker cables and chargers. Same quality of the apple stuff and about 1/2 the price.

I don't like the Magic Mouse because my hands are too big. I don't like how it grips but I will say the smaller wireless keyboard is fantastic, I'm not much of a gamer so it is perfect for me. I have an HP display connected via hdmi and it looks grainy even at 1080. Is there a way to fix this? It looks great on my windows partition but horrible with my mac.

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Desktop Computers!! Apple's Mac Mini, iMac, and Mac Pro lines are abysmal. The Mac Mini is too minimal (and two years old). The iMac is too "all-in-one" (Don't make me buy a display every time). And the Mac Pro......well the Mac Pro is sad, sad, stubby, tubular joke. Expensive but not expansive. Innovative but impractical. All sizzle and no steak.
I've been an Macintosh fan for years, but I need more desktop/workstation value than Apple is able or willing to provide. Windows 8.1 is bad, but at least it can be easily upgraded next year.

Have you actually used any of these? I use iMacs fairly often, and have a Mac Pro. It's stupidly fast, and it's extremely quiet when it is running. I also support Mac minis, and they are fast enough for basic users, and very low maintenance.

Yes! I have a 2011 27" iMac I use at work with a 256GB SSD -and- 1TB Hard Disk. As I said it's the closest thing Apple has to a value oriented desktop/workstation PC. But even here more performance and value can be had using PC hardware where you can leverage internal expansion and upgrading possibilities.

The base model Mac Pro has a 256 GB SSD but no Hard Disks. The Keyboard and Mouse are NOT even INCLUDED in the $3000 base model price! Upgrading the SSD to 1TB is a whopping additional $800. Adding an external Thunderbolt drive is more cost effective...but ruins the design aesthetic. Oh yea...and you can have any Graphic solution as long as it's provided by AMD. The Mac Mini has only Intel graphics hardware, and is completely ill suited for 3D work on even a medium sized display. As I said...it's too minimal.

I understand this hurts, but I fully back up my original assessment. Apple desktops are unique, and certainly work for people with loads of money willing to live with the limitations. But they MOST CERTAINLY do not hold the best value, the best expansion or upgrade potential, and usable service life.

I am most certainly NOT a troll. I love my MacBook Air. I love my iPad mini. I love my iPhone. But when I need to get a new Workstation, it won't have an Apple Logo.

Wow. This comment is like the result of someone asking for a comment that includes every faint, lame, unsupported criticism that has been made of Mac hardware over the last 20 years or so.

Or perhaps this comment was lifted right out of an anti-Apple forum from about 1996 or so?

None of it is really relevant today, most of it is pure nonsense and every argument you make about the "Desktop" Mac, has been refuted over and over again for the last ten years or so.

Can you refute the arguments again for me...I seem to have missed them. Not to mention ... the re-designed Mac Pro (that eschewed internal expansion for design aesthetic) was introduced just last year!

I'm not a troll. I was hoping to start a discussion. The Mac Pro is sexy, but desktop/workstation computers should also be practical. I'm not going to move it often, making it bigger and upgradable isn't asking too much. Apple isn't going to change unless people are honest with them about what they want. It's really a shame...just when Apple is starting to make gains in other segments, they screw up a really important one. Where designers, artists, engineers, developers - some of the most tech-wavy people on the planet do their computing.

Thanks for dropping by. Did you actually have anything relevant regarding the article? Because contrary to troll opinion, we really don't need a reminder that not everyone buys Apple products.

I use a logitech g700s and m518 mice. And I really like the g710 logitech mechanical kb I got recently. All can be found on sale occasionally on amazon or other sites.

For monitor, I usually get Dell. Got a refurb 27" monitor u2713hm for 350 late last year. It's been great. But I'd be interested in an Apple one if it's retina or ultraHD, whatever you want to call it.

The Airport line of routers suck. I had one, once. It ran so hot I risked cooking anything on top of it (like the cable modem or a speaker), provided poor range (my small apartment had wifi dead spots that went away when I upgraded to another brand router, situated in the exact same spot and orientation), and required proprietary control software that was buggy as hell instead of the standard web interface.

For routers, get a Linksys/Cisco or a Netgear. For backups, get an external hard drive.

Airport routers are the best that I have ever used. I have a Time Capsule, Extreme, and an Express, all with great range and zero problems.

I've never owned an Airport but I don't think anything should be put on top of any router or external hard drive. Most don't have fans on top but heat rises. I also use a Netgear router. I also use a couple of WD hard drives for backup and data dumps.

It depends on the item. My external drive(s) and modem are vertical, so nothing can go on top of them anyway. I've almost always used the flat top of the router for another piece of equipment, only two exceptions are the Airport due to the aforementioned heat issue, and my first Linksys because it had vents on top. I've had zero problems with placing my modem or a small PC speaker on top of my later Linksys or Netgear routers.

The Airport is also the only router I replaced due to failure (basically, it cooked itself), all others were replaced for feature upgrades.

Magic Trackpad and Wacom for work. Razor Mose for games.

I've been using an AirPort Extreme for years. Just got and Almond+ 802.11 ac router that is not only a great router with a touch screen interface and it's own iPhone (and Android) app, but it also supports ZWave and Zigbee home automation products. So I'm giving up my Extreme for a much more functional router.

I agree that there are many areas where the Apple branded product isn't "necessary," but that doesn't mean they aren't still the best in category.

Keyboards are a good example in that like a lot of the older crowd, the author seems to prefer noisy, mechanical keyboards, but in fact, the Apple keyboard is actually "best in class," and much more popular than the noisy, "clicky" keyboards the author mentions.

It's worth remembering that MOST people actually prefer silent, newer keyboards with the lower key-travel. Why would you want to work harder, and make more noise?

I can type monumentally faster on an older keyboard. Apple's i miss many keys. Apple's also isn't ergonomic so it hurts my wrists. I'd have to "work harder" with Apple's keyboards.

Why would you want to work harder, and make more noise?

Because my typing accuracy is higher and my speed is faster on a mechanical keyboard than it is on a scissor switch model.

I'm a fan of the Magic Mouse, Apple keyboard, Magic Trackpad etc. For things like memory, cables and even iPad cases, other alternatives can be better value for money. But the one thing Apple has never got right is headphones. Worst Apple purchase I ever made was those 'Premium' in-ear headphones they used to sell.

I bought the latest $799 Mac mini with the 4-core i7 and terabyte drive. I then upgraded it with 8 gig generic RAM and a 128GB Toshiba SSD in the second slot to make a Fusion drive of my own. Saved ~$200 over Apple pricing.

I like to see articles like this. It gives me hope that not everyone is a blind Apple follower, purchasing anything with an Apple logo.

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Copy-edit alert:

> . There are loads of other cases where I wouldn't even think twice to go with a third party instead.

This is completely ambiguous: it can mean you either would always go with a third party, or never!

100% agree with you. I currently use pcs but my family is 100% mac desktops and God i can't stand the Mice. Keyboards either. But whenever visit them i use my own portable mouse because it's got buttons and scroll wheels and it's actually shaped like my hand. The keyboard isn't ergonomic and there's almost no travel in the keys. I'm very used to the tactile feedback of keys with travel and i don't have to look at the keyboard to type. With the Apple keyboard i'm constantly missing keys and typing worse than normal. I can typically type pretty fast but i'm not the most accurate. With the Apple keyboard i'm both slow and even less accurate. And of course for the apple products i have, an iphone, their earbuds suck.

I love Mac everything but when my boss needs help with something on her Mac I dread having to use that awful keyboard. Typing doesn't feel natural on it. It's too thin and the keys don't feel responsive enough for me.
I don't game at all so I love the functionality of the Magic Mouse.
I loved my airport express until I realized yesterday that it was the culprit in the mystery of my slow ass download and upload speeds. After reconnecting my Comcast (which I have no love for) modem to all of my devices the download speed increased by 4x. It makes me sad because I loved using it with my external speaker.

I have to say that the Magic Mouse is not my favorite. I used a Mighty Mouse with my first Mac a 17" MBP until it finally died, then I got Magic Mouse and rarely take it out of my bag. Here are the things that I don't like about the Apple Mice in general. The OS driver is terribly slow and even max tracking is not fast enough. (I use a third party driver for both the Mighty Mouse and the Magic Mouse. As for the Magic mouse it is just too low profile for a long day at work and I get cramps in my hand. On my work PC (Yes Windows) I use a Logitech Performance MX mouse and it is great. Thing is I wish it was Bluetooth so I could use it with my Mac. (I know I can still use it but I don't want the receiver even that nano receiver sticking out if the side of my Mac).

As for cables I like the iHome MfI cables. I have three 5' cables, they are flexible and come in colors. I wish apple would offer a longer cable, 3.5' just doesn't always cut it.

I don't always use an external monitor but I have a Samsung 24" 1080p monitor that has HDMI so I have the Mini display port to DVI adapter and a DVI to HDMI cable. It works really well. (I forgot to mention I now use a 15" rMBP)

I play around from time to time with other products but when I have to deal with DRIVERS and that nonsense it becomes too much of a hassle.

I have a newer Apple wireless keyboard, I love it, but it just doesn't have the action of the older keyboards.

I love the Clear G5 extended keyboards. Great action, but the got dirty real easy and caused performance issues.

I have see some mice I want to try, but once again I just don't want to have to deal with drivers, updates, etc,...

I am still mixed about the trackpad for the imac. On one hand, it integrates well with OSX's multitouch gestures and is great for scrolling when browsing the web. On the flip side, it sucks for software like excel and right-clicking. It complements my cheap wired mouse quite well though.

If you are buying a brand new imac, I would recommend that you swap out the mouse for a trackpad. But only because I hate the Magic Mouse even more.

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I use the Magic Mouse for work but have a separate gaming mouse when it's game time. I like the Apple USB keyboard but definitely went with a third party external display.

I love the integrated display in the iMac - the quality is superb and of course it fits the overall look. When buying monitors for Mac Pros and Mac Minis, I always get third party monitors - good quality ones are often half the price of a similarly sized Apple branded monitor.

I don't have a Mac (yet), but when I get one I'll be using my own monitor. I'll be using my own mouse, too. I've used the Magic Mouse and while I enjoy the idea of it a standard mouse is just more efficient for me.

On my iPad I use two different. non-Apple cases. I have one Logitech Keyboard case and one flip cover/stand from a seller on Amazon. Far cheaper and just as efficient.

By the way, I like this type of post and wouldn't mind more of them when topical. The Apple way has advantages but good looks at when it is better or more economical to look elsewhere are very much appreciated.

The only place where the Apple logo is irrelevant to me is desktops and laptops. They definitely may be the best thing ever for some people (maybe even the majority, I don't know), but for me and almost my entire friends circle, we run away from any Mac.

That's probably a thing that's unique to gamers though, because OSX sucks for gaming, and even if you install Windows Parallels, the hardware on even the high end Macs is sub-par compared to a $1500 ROG laptop, or $600 custom-built PC.

With new Mac Pro there will be a lot of non-Apple thunderbolt peripherals for storage and expansion bays. Not to mention 4k monitors. There is no option from Apple now that the Mac Pro is strictly a CPU/GPU unit. It's the opposite of minimalism. Like a computer's guts splayed out on a desk or rack. Chaos.

The Apple design language is primarily driven by the iPhone/iPad these days.

Anyone have any good recommendations for a solid monitor to use with a newer Macbook Pro? I'm in the market, and would love an Apple display, but its hard to drop that much cash. I just want something that has a comparable image quality, connects well with the Macbook Pro (I hate adapters), and is economical.

I disagree about the wireless keyboard. That is the device that I love the most. I definitely like it better than the keyboards on their laptops. There is a bit more key travel, and I think that's what makes it better for me.

As for the magic mouse, I agree. I use it, because it's more comfortable than the trackpad. I find with the trackpad. My clicking finger starts to hurt. Unless I remember to use my thumb to do the clicking. Which I almost never do. The magic mouse's shape is terrible for ergonomics. I love the smooth scroll for webpages though. Apple needs a pro mouse. The one button thing is good for web browsing and stuff. But you can't even play diablo 3 with it. Because that game requires using both buttons at once. Apple needs to take the awesome smooth scrolling ability and cool design and merge it with an ergonomic mouse and come up with something in-between. Something that's good for gaming and web browsing.