Laptop shopping

I bought a laptop four months ago. A 13″ MacBook Air with Retina display, 16 GB memory and 256 GB SSD.

I was laptopless after leaving Honor. I have a great desktop but I knew a laptop would be useful during our move from California to North Carolina. I’m a thorough shopper. I investigate every option and circle in until I find the best choice. I wanted to record my notes for my own sake, but also I thought it could potentially be useful to someone else.

Screen size

This was a big factor. Smaller is nice because it’s light and portable. Bigger is nice if you use the laptop a lot or it’s important to have multiple windows open side by side. I’d been using a laptop with a 15.4″ screen and it was fine. I knew I didn’t want anything much bigger than that. I didn’t intend to use the laptop for programming full time, so a smaller screen would be fine. But how small? I visited a local Best Buy to see a bunch of screen sizes in person. 13.3″ felt a little small. 14″ was good, though still on the small size. My sweet spot was between 14.5″ and 15″. Unfortunately there’s a dearth of options in that range. There are a lot of laptops with 13.3″ screens a lot with 15.5″ to 15.7″. It’s a shame, and a missed opportunity for laptop makers.

Performance

I decided that performance was not at all important to me. I rarely play games. I wanted to be able to run Android Studio and Xcode but didn’t need them to be blazing fast, so I avoided ARM, Intel Atom, and Intel Celeron CPUs. I do think 16 GB memory is a good idea, rather than 8 GB, which is a common default. I hate disk swapping and 8 GB is cutting it a little too close. And I’m strongly in favor of SSDs, for reliability/durability as much as lower latency.

The finalists

Note: Prices and weights are from my notes from months ago and aren’t up to date.

  • Dell XPS 15, 15.5″
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, 14″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.49 lbs, $1,702.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd gen, 14″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 3.08 lbs, $1,799.
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, 13.5″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.8 lbs, $1,900.
  • Dell New XPS Touch 13, 13.3″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.7 lbs, $1,870.
  • Macbook Air, 13.3″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.75 lbs, $1,691 (plus I was able to take advantage of a 15% off friends and family discount because I have a friend who works at Apple).

The decision

The main thing that pushed me over the edge to the Mac is that I don’t like Windows. It has always been a poor operating system. The job of an operating system is to be unobtrusive. A facilitator. It should get out of your way and let you do whatever it is that you want to do with your computer. I’ve used Windows only rarely over the last 20 years, but my impression is that it still fails in this regard. It has regular severe security problems. Installing software updates requires reboots too often. It’s too easy to get into a state where the system is misconfigured. Uninstalling software frequently leaves artifacts on the computer. Windows 10 Home doesn’t even have full disk encryption standard. That’s completely unacceptable on a laptop in 2019.

And so if I got a PC I’d want to run Linux. But Linux on a laptop requires a lot of work to be on par with Windows and Mac OS regarding battery life, suspend/resume, Wi-Fi, special keys (volume up/down, brightness), etc. I’m busy and didn’t want to invest the time.

So I settled on a Mac. The only laptops Apple sells with a screen bigger than 13.3″ is the MacBook Pro. It has a 15.4″ screen and is $2399, which is more than I wanted to spend.

Emily bought a laptop, too

And then it turned out Emily needed a computer so she could start working as a contractor. She does a lot of intensive image editing, so larger screen and better performance are important. She got a Dell XPS 2-in-1 with an Intel Core i7-8705G, 16GB memory, a 512 GB SSD, and the nicer screen option for $2,034. She generally prefers Macs, but a similarly configured MacBook Pro is $2,600 and that’s a hefty premium.

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