I used to laugh at the Mac Mini but today I bought one

Apple Mac Mini on wood desk
(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

As a longtime Mac user, I used to laugh at the Mac Mini. While most Mac computers are polished and pleasing, die hard fans know there have been some duds, and I always considered the Mac Mini a dud. It’s a G4 Cube without the cubic personality. I’m happy to say that either I changed or the Mac Mini changed, because I just bought one, and it’s exactly the computer I need right now. 

I’ve owned every sort of Mac, except for the most expensive Mac Pro desktops. My first Mac was a Macintosh IIsi, running OS 6. After that, I bought a PowerBook laptop and I’ve been a portable Mac fan ever since. I’ve owned PowerBook, iBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro machines. I’ve also owned an iMac, a strawberry model with the CRT display, to date myself. 

In other words, I’ve been a long time Mac owner, and I’ve made many Mac buying decisions, both for myself and for friends and family. When the Mac Mini came around, I couldn’t imagine recommending it over an iMac, or even an iBook. The price wasn’t so far off, and you could buy an Apple desktop or laptop computer for less than $1,000 in the US, back when the first Mac Mini launched. 

The Mac Mini is a mini what, exactly?

What is the Mac Mini, anyway? Is it a headless iMac? A MacBook in a box without a battery? Is it a bigger Apple TV with more components inside? When the iMac was an affordable and even competitive desktop option, the Mac Mini made little sense. 

Things have changed, both for me and for the Apple computer lineup. For Apple, the iMac is no longer the family-friendly entry into Apple’s ecosystem. It’s now a fancy, polished machine, with a price tag to match its premium status. 

The iMac’s 24-inch screen is small, compared to what you’d get if you bought a Mac Mini and used the remainder for an external display. In fact, at more than 4K resolution, buying an iMac is the same price as buying a Mac Mini and a premium display, like a 24-inch LG Ultrafine monitor. 

Apple Mac Mini on wood desk

My brand new Mac Mini with the M2 inside (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

A brand new MacBook Air is almost the same price as the 24-inch iMac, with the new Apple M2 chip on board. That’s not a bad price for an amazingly slim and portable laptop, but it still leaves Apple without a bargain portable. Nothing under $1,000 in the US, at least.

Or rather, nothing I would consider a computer. I know that Apple pushed the idea that the iPad Pro is a computer. It’s not, not for a professional workflow. I can just barely get my job done on an iPad Pro, including Lightroom photo editing and all the back-end content management stuff (CMS) that editors use to make the web site run, but it wouldn’t be easy.

I would need to do extra work to make it work, and that’s the opposite of what I need in a work machine.

How I grew tired of Apple laptops

It was the worst computer I’ve ever owned, and I almost swore off Apple for good

Why not splurge on a laptop? That’s where I have changed. I have another laptop, and I feel burned by Apple. 

After continuously owning Mac computers since college, I sold my mid-2017 MacBook Pro last year. It was the worst computer I’ve ever owned, and I almost swore off Apple for good. 

It was the MacBook with the terrible keyboard. The keyboard was so bad, even after repairs it would often stop working. In fact, I have signed up to be part of a legal settlement for a class action lawsuit concerning the keyboard, with dispensation for users who had to get the keyboard fixed repeatedly.

Since then, Apple has improved its keyboard design, but I hated the way I was treated during that debacle. My ultra-premium laptop never worked properly, even after it was repaired, and Apple never took ownership of the problem. The laptop should have been recalled, and the keyboard swapped out entirely.

Macbook Pro 2017 keyboard

The dreaded MacBook Pro 2017 keyboard (Image credit: Future)

Before I sold that laptop, I bought a Google Pixelbook Go, which has a wonderful keyboard on which I love typing. It’s powerful for a Chromebook, but it can’t handle all of the apps I want to use. It can’t run Scrivener, a writing program I enjoy. Support for Adobe Creative Cloud apps is too limited, especially since I develop a lot of photos from RAW format.

I've been with Mac OS since it was just OS

Burned by Apple portables, I was unwilling to consider an expensive new Mac laptop, but I also needed to maintain a foothold in the Apple Universe. My photos and documents are backed up to my old Mac. My music is with Apple, synchronized to iCloud

To access my tunes, I need a Mac with an iTunes Match subscription, as well as Apple Music on all of my devices. Apple doesn’t make it easy, but it eventually works, and I prefer having my own music to relying entirely on streaming services like Spotify or YouTube Music.

If I’m being honest, I also missed Mac OS. I’ve been with the system since before it could multitask. I stayed with it through the awkward years of Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, with those Aqua buttons that made you “want to lick them,” according to Steve Jobs. 

After reading our Mac Mini review, I bought one, the cheapest one you can buy with an M2 chip inside. It’s super fast. Seriously, blazingly fast. I have, like, a hundred tabs open in Chrome and the machine is chugging along smoothly. I can move the sliders in Lightroom at lightspeed and see the effects almost instantaneously. 

Of course I wish the Mac Mini was more

I wish I’d gotten more… everything. I forgot that my MacBook Pro was a 512GB machine, so my Time Machine backup needed some paring down to make it all fit, and now I get storage warnings. Some of my 70GB of music will need to live in my external SSD garage. 

I also wish I’d gotten more RAM. I’ve already run into a RAM error, when I tried to launch Lightroom with a number of other apps at once. Adobe Lightroom wanted more than 7GB of the 8GB of onboard memory. When it’s the only child in the room it behaves, but it doesn’t play well with others. 

Sadly, adding those features would defeat the point, because Apple makes upgrades way too expensive. It’s $200 to double your RAM in the US. It’s another $200 to double your storage. If these were options I could upgrade myself, I could do it for a third of the price, but the components are soldered to the board and not upgradeable after you buy it. 

Apple Mac Mini on wood desk

My Mac Mini with every port in use (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

I’m still very happy with the new Mac Mini. I love having so many ports, and I’m using every one (thanks to a Razer Blackwidow keyboard that hogs two USB-A ports and one headphone port). I love the small design, and it feels solid and looks like a real computer, not an enlarged Apple TV. I haven’t run it hot enough to need the fan.

Now, if someone needs a Mac, I’ll ask them if they already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse. I’ll ask if they really need another laptop for the road, or if their iPhone is good enough. I’ll ask if they want to spend twice as much as they need, or if they want to get a more powerful machine for less.

The Apple product lineup may change, or I may change again, but for now the Mac Mini is the best Mac computer I could buy. I wish I’d given this little Mac a chance years ago.

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, starting more than 20 years ago at eTown.com. Phil has written for Engadget, The Verge, PC Mag, Digital Trends, Slashgear, TechRadar, AndroidCentral, and was Editor-in-Chief of the sadly-defunct infoSync. Phil holds an entirely useful M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. He sang in numerous college a cappella groups.

Phil did a stint at Samsung Mobile, leading reviews for the PR team and writing crisis communications until he left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. Phil is certified in Google AI Essentials. He has a High School English teaching license (and years of teaching experience) and is a Red Cross certified Lifeguard. His passion is the democratizing power of mobile technology. Before AI came along he was totally sure the next big thing would be something we wear on our faces.