Those that know me even moderately well, know that I love exploring different sides of tech. Back in the early 2000’s I was a Windows user and really happy with my brand new Compaq laptop. It was one of the first to feature a graphics card you could game with and was really light and compact (I resisted the urge to say compaq, you’re welcome). Then someone brought a Mac into the office. A PowerBook. It was shiny. It was different… “Never seen OS X before, is it any good?” I was asking. Oh, UNIX based? Photo management built in? You can edit videos with ease? I’m sure you can see where this is going. The next time I bought a laptop, it was a Mac and I absolutely loved it. The PowerBook G4 was my first experience with OS X and I’ve been a loyal user ever since. Mac Minis, Mac Pros, MacBook Pros, MacBooks, iMacs the list of Macs I’ve bought at home and at work would probably be staggeringly long. And it all started with you little guy:
Over the years that same curiosity has led me to try all sorts of weird and wonderful tech. On the phone front I switched to Android for a few years and thoroughly enjoyed the breath of fresh air that came with trying out things from a different perspective.
Ok, history lesson over. Fast forward to last year and I’m travelling to the states. I brought my 2016 MacBook Pro with me, which I felt had disappointed me in so many ways. High Sierra bugs though mostly minor kept annoying me. The keyboard wasn’t fun to type on and keys kept getting things under them which stopped some keys from clicking down properly. The Touch Bar I’d hoped would be a wonderful revelation in how I used my laptop turned out to be an annoying hindrance. Who knew I pressed ESC so many damn times in a day? Not I apparently. And in my time off between doing work and going to meetings I tried to game on it. The terrible frame rates and a lap that was on fire indicated to me that perhaps the machine wasn’t really comfortable doing what I’d asked of it. The fans concurred. Then, as if it were some kind of scripted event in a game I noticed something while browsing The Verge…it was an ad for something quite different…
A graphics card you can actually game on? Top end hardware in an interesting form factor? Full size USB ports? SD card reader? Unlock it with your face? Touch Screen?! That…detaches? What the actual f***? I’m not exactly sure how it happened to this day, but I ended up in a Microsoft Store in San Francisco and somehow this came into my life:
Having impulse bought yet another tech gadget I decided to see what all the fuss was about and attempt to use this as my primary laptop. How long would I last? Probably not long, I thought. Maybe a week? Well over a month later, this is still my primary laptop and my MacBook Pro just looks at me, sadly as it gathers dust. I know, some of you are cheering (I’ve met you Microsoft fans) and some of you are yelling at your screens (I’ve met you too Apple fans). So here are some thoughts about the why and how of it all.
What I love:
- The GTX 1050 in the 13″ model I bought can handle almost any game on medium to high settings. It’s not the 1080 that’s in my desktop, but it’s decent. I almost bought the 15″ GTX 1060 model but they had none in stock at the time.
- When doing intense tasks the laptop stays nice and cool. No more feeling of my lap being on fire that my MacBook Pro gave me every damn day. I’m not sure if this is more modern components, better cooling or just the placement of parts in a bigger case, but it’s so good.
- Touch screen and stylus support. I didn’t think I needed this in my life until I had it. It’s really useful.
- The pen magnetically attaches to the screen, nice touch Microsoft!
- The form factor feels great.
- Windows 10 is so damn stable. I haven’t had to restart it once because things were going wrong…something I find myself doing a lot on the Mac recently.
- Gaming on Windows is a million times better than macOS. I know all the historic reasons for this, not all of them Apple’s fault, but still, it is. Also unlike under Apple BootCamp, Microsoft is quite happy for you to download the latest Nvidia drivers and install them if you choose.
- Have I mentioned the hardware? It’s really solid and nice.
- The keyboard feels like it has more travel and is much nicer to type on.
- Battery life is solid, I feel like I get roughly double the battery life my MacBook Pro was getting.
- You can unlock the laptop with your face! It’s basically the same technology Apple uses for iPhone X but done earlier and better by Microsoft. I say better because it is far better at recognising me and if my face is obscured or there’s directly sunlight telling me that and trying again.
- Physical ESC key. ‘Normal’ USB port. I missed both these things, now I have them again. I like the idea of having an SD Card reader but freely admit to not having used it yet.
- Surprisingly all my MacBook Pro dongles work. Ethernet, HDMI, etc. I’m sure Microsoft ones are just as overpriced as Apple’s so that was a nice surprise.
Things I have had to find another way to do:
- I use Terminal on the Mac heavily, having UNIX there ready to go at any time is essential for me. Turns out Windows 10 supports installing a Linux subsystem with minimal effort. You go to the store, download Ubuntu (or your other Linux flavour of choice) and you’re done. There’s no tab support in the Ubuntu window but you can open as many windows as you like, and it’s actually real Ubuntu, no funny business.
- I really like Tweetbot on the Mac. The official Twitter client for Windows is reasonably good but I don’t love it as much as Tweetbot.
- Tower (my Git app of choice) is available on Windows. That said, I ended up using SourceTree just because their app felt like a more mature, stable Windows app.
- Android Studio and Intell-J run pretty much the same as they do on the Mac. That covers my Android and Web development needs.
- As much as die hard Mac fans laugh at things like Electron, turns out there’s a huge upside for Windows users. Slack, Sublime Text and so many other apps I use all the time work exactly the same way thanks to their cross platform nature.
- 1Password for Windows is surprisingly good. If they added Windows Hello support it would be perfect.
Things that are worse, or that I don’t care for:
- Detaching the screen seemed like such a great idea. I tried it a few times and didn’t really have a use for it, so I pretty much use this like a regular laptop. I wonder if that’s a me thing or a universal experience. I’m not embedded enough in the Windows world to know.
- Running Xcode in VMWare is horrendously slow. I *may* have tried installing macOS directly, but getting the drivers for the graphics working seemed like an uphill battle I just didn’t have time for. This means that I have to do all my home development on my iMac, tethered to a desk. The humanity! In all seriousness if I didn’t have an iMac at work and at home this would be a huge problem. iOS development is an essential part of my job.
- Windows still has a few dark places you can end up in. There’s still a registry (though it’s buried further down these days) and there’s still Windows 2000 style areas that you need to go to for some things. It’s not as bad as it once was, but the OS still feels a bit underdone in some visual areas.
- While Microsoft’s ‘Authentically Digital’ design aesthetic is clean, I honestly find it bland and boring. It feels like all the bad things about iOS 7.
- I’ve never used Siri on the Mac and I see no reason to try Cortana either.
- Hi DPI support seems much more solid than the last time I tried it, but occasionally you’ll still run into an app that has fuzzy text or image assets because they haven’t updated to support it yet. I feel like on the Mac we passed that point several years ago.
- The laptop goes into sleep mode when you close the lid, good. It doesn’t wake up when you open it though if it’s been a while since you did it. I suspect it has something to do with the laptop moving from sleep -> hibernate, but it’s mildly annoying.
Is this the greatest laptop ever made? No. Does it blow the MacBook Pro so far out of the water that I’m walking around laughing at people still using Apple laptops? No. But there’s something here, and you can really feel it. Microsoft is getting good at hardware. Windows 10 is improving. They are listening to feedback and making yearly incremental updates based on it. If I were Apple I’d start to worry. Being arrogant and opinionated only works as long as all the decisions you make are right. As soon as they aren’t, the illusion of “it just works” is broken and people will start to look elsewhere. Not all at once, not in some massive exodus, but person by person they will seek out the solutions they feel best for them.