My Dream Setup, Revised

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about my dream setup. It’s a discussion that commonly occurs in tech circles and is often accompanied by the debate between a laptop as your only machine or a desktop as a primary machine alongside a thin and light notebook. Things have become a little bit more complicated, though. With the increased power and versatility of iOS devices and the inconsistent upgrade cycle of the Mac, a dream setup has never been more difficult for me to devise.

My idea of a dream setup has been in flux ever since Apple released the new MacBook Pro. If you were to ask me what Mac I would buy a couple weeks ago, I would have gone with the MacBook. But it wouldn’t be an easy decision.

With the purchase of a MacBook, it would have taken the responsibility as my primary machine — housing my iTunes and photo libraries, but I would have continued running Plex on the Mac mini. It would be a great setup — and fits in with the desktop machine plus thin and light notebook ideology — but I’m not too keen on managing two Macs anymore and I need the always-on Mac mini for media hosting.

My revised dream setup is more simple and would require less overhead to manage. A single Mac that serves all my macOS needs alongside an iPad that fills the role of the thin and light computer.

My current dream setup:

  • 21.5-inch, 4K iMac
  • Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
  • Magic Mouse 2
  • 9.7-inch iPad Pro
  • iPhone 7

My dream setup started to solidify after I installed Snow Leopard on my old iMac and spent a few days using the machine. I was amazed at how nice it was to use a desktop Mac. It had a much larger screen that sat at a reasonable distance, a spacious keyboard that felt great to type on, and a mouse — something I haven’t used with any of my personal computers in years. It felt comfortable.

I don’t spend too much time using a Mac these days — I’m almost exclusively on iOS — but when I do, I want it to be as comfortable as my old iMac was. And that’s why I’d go with Apple’s old-style, wired keyboard (with the numeric keypad) alongside the Magic Mouse 2. That’s the same keyboard that my iMac shipped with in 2008. And to this day, its my favorite keyboard of all time. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I spent any length of time with Apple’s older mechanical keyboards, but I came to the Mac during this keyboard’s era and I don’t expect to find something better anytime soon.

As for the iMac itself, I wouldn’t go too crazy with build-to-order options. I’d go with the base model, only upgrading the hard drive to a 512GB SSD. The rest of the iMac’s hardware is more than suitable for my needs — light photo editing, media hosting, and basic web development.

I’d use the internal SSD to store my applications, iTunes music, and photo library, but I’d also purchase an external drive and a TwelveSouth BackPack for Plex. That way I’d have all the benefits of solid state in my day-to-day, but enough storage for all of my video files.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 7 were the easy decisions in my dream setup. I love the iPad and use it for the vast majority of my computing, hence the desire for the higher-end, Pro model. I could see myself being interested in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but at the moment I value the portability of the smaller model so highly that it outweighs any of the benefits I’d get from the bigger screen.

And for many iPad owners, their device lives inside of a keyboard case. I don’t expect I’ll ever do that with mine. I prefer keeping my iPad bare and setting it on TwelveSouth’s Compass — the original model, specifically — alongside Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard when I plan on doing a lot of writing. I can certainly crank out a couple-thousand words on the software keyboard if I need to — and have countless times in the past — but it’s always much more comfortable to write with a hardware keyboard.

I’d also stick with the smaller, 4.7-inch iPhone. The extra screen real estate could come in handy, but I like being able to use my iPhone with one hand and that’s not feasible on the larger screen. I am envious of the dual-camera system from the Plus model. And not just because of portrait mode. Having access to 2x optical zoom is a huge deal. It opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to take crisp photos at a distance that wouldn’t have been possible without it. I hope that this camera system makes its way into the smaller iPhone at some point, but again, it’s not worth the trade offs that come with the larger form factor. I’d rather have a slightly worse camera than have to deal with a giant iPhone.

This certainly isn’t the most extravagant dream setup. It’s reasonable and obtainable, which is how I’d prefer it to be. I could buy everything — the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPad — for just under $3,500. That may seem expensive at first glance, but I’m willing to bet this sits at the lower end of the pricing spectrum — at least when compared to other dream setups.