Mobile Java game development, without using a full-size laptop

Hey all,

I’ve been struggling with this for a while now. I have a pretty old, but powerful enough 13" Macbook from the 2009-ish era which I’ve been using for mobile Java development for a while now (using Eclipse).

The problem is, the laptop is starting to wear down and exhibit graphics card problems, so I’ve no doubt it’s on the way out. To be honest though, I’m glad. The thing is a beast. It’s so heavy and cumbersome compared to newer laptops in its size range.

I’ve been looking for something compact to move onto for mobile development for the last few weeks, and I was really tempted by the Surface Pro 3 - a device that has the right kind of form factor (small enough to be extremely lightweight and portable, yet with a large enough screen / high enough resolution to make coding feasible). It’s also pretty well rated in terms of power and capability, although perhaps not really necessary for my code project requirements.

However, the sheer price of the thing turns me right off. That almost insulting £100 price tag for a snap-on mechanical keyboard (and £169 for a dock… what?) feels like a real slap in the face. The lowest price version of that device with a serviceable hard drive size (128GB, not the tiny 64GB version) is already £849, something that seems wildly exorbitant.

I’d love to hear from fellow Java devs who might use mobile workstations for their projects - especially those that use devices perhaps smaller than the average laptop. I’m really hoping to pick up something capable but modest enough to have a reasonable price tag whilst being a bit more portable than my 4-and-a-half pound ageing Macbook!

Thanks all!

The pricetag might not be to your liking, but I just got a stock 13" Macbook Air to replace a beast even older than yours (2007 Macbook) and am 100% delighted with it for coding purposes. It’s super-light, has a great keyboard/trackpad, starts up in about 10 seconds, has 128gb of storage, 4gb of RAM, 1.4ghz dual-core i5 (turbo boosts to 2.7ghz if/when needed), and the battery lasts like 12 hours.

I think they’re now $899 for the 11" and $999 for the 13".

Thanks for the reply - I hadn’t even considered the Macbook Air line, come to think of it. I guess the world of laptops have moved on a bit since 5/6 years ago!

The price range does sting, true, but the more I look into this, the more likely I’m finding that going with just a more modern laptop is the way forward.

That said, the lowest-spec Macbook Air (which suits my needs, hardware-wise) has an 11" (27cm) screen. I didn’t even realise the range went that small. That does actually fit my requirements (at a push), since my main reason for being anti-laptop was that I’d expected at least a 13" screen on any laptop. Having one with a smaller display is a huge bonus for me.

Thanks for pointing this out, you’ve made my search a whole lot easier now!

Lots of logic in this thread.

Don’t want to spend money on a decent mac.
Complaining low end macs have tiny screens.

You see the problem here?

Seriously, you can pickup an Laptop for the £250 less than a Mac Air that has twice the RAM, 5-10x the storage space and a 15-17 inch screen.

If you want a decent screen and I just don’t mean size, then you either get a high end mac at £1500 or a high end laptop at £1000.

I don’t get why people keep trading performance and price, to shave off a kilo of weight.

How about buying from a brand that doesn’t produce overpriced pieces of shit, unless you need the apple logo to impress someone. You can get some stickers :slight_smile:

Did you even read his post? You’re not taking into account his actual needs. He doesn’t want a large screen. He doesn’t want a big, honking beast that’s going to be a pain to drag around. He expressed interest in the Surface Pro 3, but balked at the outrageous price (and really, that price is outrageous for what you get). And furthermore, his previous ownership of a Macbook indicates that the platform itself is a match (it’s not like anybody’s trying to convince a diehard Windows user to switch over or something).

The Air is absolutely great for its intended purpose as a platform which emphasizes mobility in all of its dimensions, but remains a “real” computer that can do “real” computer stuff. If you’re looking for a desktop replacement, the Air is not going to be it, unless doing productivity-level work or less is all you ever use your computer for. You’re not going to do hardcore video editing on it. You’re not going to play graphics-intensive games. But the thing is basically perfect for coding and other productivity-style tasks. It has a great keyboard, a great trackpad, a nice display, superb battery life, and more than enough power to handle these sorts of tasks in a zippy manner.

I have been using a 13" Macbook air 1.8GHz 4GB ram and a 250GB flash drive for java/android development for the last couple of years. In that time it has surpassed all my dreams. The only downfall is, of late I have been doing a lot of gui designing, and I am finding the screen landscape to be very limiting. So a smaller would be very painful!

Thanks everyone for the replies to this question, although I’m surprised at some of the (perhaps perceived) hostility in some responses.

I’ve had a look at some cheaper laptops (perhaps formerly classed in the ‘netbook’ bracket), but they all seem to be either too heavy for what they are in size, have awful, low-resolution displays with terrible brightness / contrast ratios, or are simply just lacking in the performance department.

I appreciate that I might be asking a lot for a machine that ticks all the right boxes but remains under the £700-ish price bracket, but I believe one helpful poster above pointed out that the Macbook air, although slightly above my budget, does actually tick the boxes I need whilst still being reasonably affordable.

I’m not looking for a hardcore out-and-about desktop replacement, just something small and light enough to not be a hassle to cart around and yet still be comfortable enough to code on.

That said, I appreciate everyone’s’ input. I’m still looking at the Macbook Air as the replacement machine. It’s never about the badge, I couldn’t give two hoots about it. But it’s got good performance, great weight, and a nice high-resolution screen, so it seems perfect for me.

The Lenovo Yoga line might also be of interest as they are laptop/tablet hybrids, main downside is integrated graphics, but then most mobile devices you might be developing for won’t have much better.

EDIT: the Flex series also looks good:

You could just buy a freaking netbook at that point.
Owing a mac means not playing games for the most part. It can do java and office and it saves your money. And they are low in weight… not that I understand how that is so freaking important to spend hundreds more…

He’s not trying to play games on it. Seriously, the knee-jerk anti-Apple position is so tiresome and boring. I’ll bet you’ve never actually used a modern Mac–laptop or desktop–to the extent that you’d be even remotely qualified to judge them “overpriced pieces of shit.” Maybe you should look into why you feel the need to respond in this fashion any time somebody expresses genuine satisfaction about Apple products. What does it matter to you?


Also finding a the right notebook is a cumbersome and frustrating thing. I am searching for example for a notebook with max 13.3", a non-glossy HD+ or FHD display, good WiFi reception, that comes in a color (e.g. red) and doesn’t burn your lap or sounds like a starting plane.

Doesn’t seem to exist…

I’d personally avoid netbooks and tablets for development.

I once considered it, but just plugging Eclipse and trying to compile/run some demos (Box2d if anyone wonders) made them almost die.

As for size… It is true that consumer laptops do emphasize bigger screen sizes, and finding a good compact laptop is a chore, specially if you want to avoid paying overpriced products like “professional/gamer” laptops or Apple* products.

Best bet is probably to look around retailers in your area (or the net), and keep on the lookout for older models about to be taken off the shelves that might experience a price drop.

I got my rather compact Hp TM2 that way, nabbing it for almost half price when it was about to be retired, and the thing still works fine (it’s even substituting my main computer while I get it fixed).

*I’m sorry, I do not intend to attack Apple users. If you like their products, more power to you, but my approach when buying hardware is to look closely at the specs, and you can buy laptops with better hardware configurations for way less than the Apple product of choice.

This is not supposition, I’ve been to the Apple store several times looking for laptops, talked to their reps, and they themselves admitted this when I pointed it out (when they realized that I didn’t much care for the “design”).

Again, some people value Apple’s design, and good for them. I just say, know what you want and need, and don’t let the shiny bits distract you.

Do those laptops with “better specs” also have stellar keyboards, trackpads, and displays? What are they made of: metal or plastic? In the case of mobility-oriented devices, do they weigh less? Are they smaller/thinner? Do they have better battery life?

I don’t mean to imply that all, or any, of these questions must necessarily be answered in a way that’s favorable to Apple. What I’m trying to point out is that raw internal hardware specs don’t tell the whole story, and aren’t always enough to satisfy every need all on their own.

Speaking personally, OSX is a must-have for me. I run a Windows partition on my desktop for games, but I do everything else in OSX (Ableton, Scrivener for writing projects, Java/Ruby/Obj-C/Swift coding, and so on). I simply prefer it over Windows, hands down. And that goes double for when I’m on my laptop, because OSX is simply superior as a laptop OS. Every time I use a PC notebook, I feel like it’s this totally disjointed mishmash of components and software. With Apple notebooks, everything fits together from the outset, because it was designed that way from top to bottom. It’s a (slightly) intangible element–and a personal, subjective one, to boot–that one must factor in when deciding on a purchase. Raw specs alone will never be the sole determinant for me.

The automatic assumption that “shiny bits” distract Apple device users is what really grates. I’m not sure why so many PC users seem to care about it. It’s as though they take other people’s mere use of Apple products as a negative commentary on their own decision to use PC products. I’ve never gotten this, and I never will.

Hi all, I thought I’d respond now that I’ve finally made a decision, and a purchase!

I know this will engage the ire of some people who’ve taken the time to respond to my original post (and I’m sorry if that’s the outcome here), but I ended up picking up a Macbook Air (11" base model). All told it was $749 (or $899 to my U.S. friends).

Ultimately there were a few things that tipped the scales in favour of the Macbook. Primarily, weight and portability were satisfied nicely by my choice, but the screen and speed of the thing have been really surprising. The base 11" model doesn’t have the stellar screen resolution of the Macbook Pros (which go up to 2560 x 1600 I believe), but it’s ideal for the smaller screen dimension.

Furthermore, coding on it is a joy. Eclipse runs amazingly - it starts up almost instantly and project builds are really snappy. Much improved over my old 2009 Macbook Pro. As for all the other productivity stuff, well - it does that stuff just as well as other machines I’d imagine.

I appreciate everybody taking the time to share their thoughts on my issue, and am grateful for the advice received, so thanks!

Lastly, one thing I should add - the laptop looks stunning. Yes, I know that looks are probably the least of concerns here, but I’m yet to pick up another laptop in the same price bracket that has this amazing kind of build quality and polish to it. I’m always happy to be proven wrong, but it feels like a solid, quality piece of hardware - something I’m pretty chuffed to own. Not very pragmatic, I know, but hey - if I’m going to spend £700 on a piece of hardware to take out and about, I might as well get something that looks good too ;D

Not everybody’s cup of tea, but hey. It’s a great mobile development platform!

I am not doubting it’s capability, I did come off as hostile before :s apologies for that. I do not like Apple products personally but I do like the OS.

I’ve always believed in “You get what you pay for”, this firmly applies to PC’s but from my view you never get what you pay for with macs.

It is sad but true, they are nice looking machines and have good screens.

/rant :stuck_out_tongue:

How is it resolution wise? I am running a 1366x768 res on this laptop and I sometimes find it dire to develop on :frowning: Espeically if you have eclipse, photoshop and all sorts of folders open lol.

I might just note here over the war of Apple vs Microsoft while I have the chance…

I honestly love the Mac… It is very multitasking, very fast, very good looking, very light, never crashes, etc.

The only reason why I use windows is because of DirectX and also it is cheaper…

Also, I just hate iOS… Especially people who just say it is better with no reason at all… The sad thing is most people these days people just listens to everybody else and just gets an iPhone without even trying any Androids…

Because we need to use unix based stuff and bash, we use macs at work. Meaning I worked with macs for over 2 years now, for a living, being a programmer.

Also what dos it matter to me ? Well the whole point is: Devotion to ANY brand or company is beyond stupid; in case of Apple its just even more the case.

Great point. I agree 100%. What I don’t understand is why you choose to read a preference as “devotion” when it comes to Apple. It seems like that’s an all-too-common assumption. And yet, the odd thing is that it’s rarely Apple users who start the ball rolling on such conversations. They’re not walking around accusing PC users of being brand devotees. I get it: the fact that Apple designs the whole product from top to bottom turns their users into a ripe target for this particular jump-to-conclusion, but it’s nevertheless an obsession that only PC users seem to harbor. In other words, they always seem to prove themselves, through this obsessive behavior, to be bigger platform/brand devotees than their targets could ever hope to be. There is nary a post about an Apple product on the internet that doesn’t have at least one “You iSheep have been tricked into buying pieces of shit” comment underneath it. I mean, come on, this stuff is on the same level as yawn-inducing “PC Master Race” comments any time someone talks about the console version of a game. You really need to find something more entertaining to say or nobody’s really going to listen.

I have a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge e520, and I have a few points to share.

Thinkpad keyboards are far superior to any Mac keyboard I’ve seen.
My trackpad has buttons and is very nice and clean to use.
I’ll admit my display is average (1366x768 matte). However, more recent laptops are moving towards 1080p.
As anyone will tell you, thinkpads are (relatively) indestructible.
I’ve got a dedicated graphics card, and a pretty decent one for a laptop at that.
It’s definitely not small or thin, but as we’ve seen with the new iPhones, thinner is not better. And size is not much of an issue.
I have a theory that the Apple battery monitor lies. If it were to be believed then a Macbook would have nearly double my battery life. However in actual use, my laptop lasts a little bit longer (up to 30min).

[quote]I don’t mean to imply that all, or any, of these questions must necessarily be answered in a way that’s favorable to Apple. What I’m trying to point out is that raw internal hardware specs don’t tell the whole story, and aren’t always enough to satisfy every need all on their own.
Definitely. A lot of my friends have HP Envys (Envies?). All but one of them has been plagued by hardware issues. Not to mention that even a very minor drop will probably break or bend something.

You ever tried Linux? Both Linux and OSX are Unix-based and POSIX compliant, so it should be mostly familiar for dev use. But Linux is free (as in beer and freedom) and isn’t restricted to Apple devices.

So far my analysis has put my PC laptop and a Macbook at roughly the same level.
On the hardware side favouring my laptop.
On the the usability side they’re roughly the same.
On the shininess and aesthetics the Mac is (not surprisingly) better.

This is the part where I bring out the price comparison. :point:

My Thinkpad (from 3 years ago): $660 US.
Current Equivalent Macbook: Somewhere between $1200 US and $1500 US. Both the $1200 and $1500 models do not have a dedicated graphics card.

I don’t know what calls for the more than double price.

EDIT: I’d like to clarify that I don’t hate Apple devices. I hate the Apple mentality and the majority of its userbase. I also just cannot understand the reason for the pricing.