I’ve been using Macs exclusively since 1998, when I jettisoned whatever Dell I was using at the time in favor of a shiny new iBook SE (the gray and white version of the original Hello Kitty toilet seat-esque iBook). After adapting to the Mac’s ways, it seemed like a revelation to me at the time – easy to use, reliable, and beautifully designed.
That iBook SE led to a string of Macs over the years – white plastic iBooks, MacBook Pros of various designs and ages, an eMac, a Power Mac G4, and finally a few used Mac Pro towers, which were beasts that had power to spare. I loved them all, and they helped me get a lot of creative projects done. My Macs were the platform I made my old local architecture & urbanism blog on. They were what I did all the sorting and editing and publishing for my photography projects on. They were what I wrote for the newspaper on, what I dabbled in programming on, and what I started my music creation with. They were a big part of my life.
And so, when my 2015 Retina display 13″ MacBook Pro was annihilated in an accident, my thoughts for replacement turned to the current MacBook lineup. In my current day job in IT, I’ve had a lot of time with the current era of the MacBook and Pro, and while I can’t deny that they’re beautiful and sleek, I’ve been fairly underwhelmed by them thus far. The total changeover to USB-C means I would need to get a host of dongles and adapters and replacement cables, the battery life seems lacking compared to the previous generation models, and the optional Touch Bar hasn’t panned out to be the wildly helpful interface element it was promoted as. Besides all those issues, though, the new MacBook Pros are more expensive than the ones they replaced, and there’s the matter of the biggest dealbreaker for me, personally: the new butterfly switch keyboard. I’ve used a 12″ MacBook at work for months, and newer MacBook Pros regularly, and I can’t get around the fact that I really, genuinely hate the new keyboard Apple has come up with.
We’ve seen all the reports about questionable reliability, which is enough for me to be leery, but as somebody who does a lot of typing (and is planning on doing even more in the near future), I can’t get past the new keyboard’s feel. The key travel is so shallow that I feel little feedback when typing, and that shallow travel actually makes my fingers hurt after typing for an extended period. It’s barely a step up from typing out long articles on an iPad screen.
So, since I’ve been feeling jaded about Apple’s odd choices & frequent neglect of the Mac lineup, I did something I never expected I’d do: I looked for alternatives. This led me to a Microsoft store, where I walked out with a brand-new Surface Laptop in burgundy.
In my semi-recent conversion to enjoying gaming again, I’ve been doing most of my game playing on an Xbox One S, the newer revision of the Xbox One. I’d never considered Microsoft to be talented in the hardware field, but their new design language as expressed on the Xbox One S I find genuinely striking and attractive. I guess it was my positive experience with the Xbox that led me to look at Microsoft’s laptop offerings, and I’ve been similarly impressed by the Surface Laptop.
This computer is more or less exactly what I have been wishing Apple would make: an update of the MacBook Air, with modern tech and a high-res Retina-caliber display. The Surface Laptop is a thin, light wedge, with a comfortable keyboard and the best trackpad I’ve ever used on a Windows device. It has a USB-A port, a magnetic power plug that pulls out easily when something trips on the cable (something that has also been removed from the newer MacBooks in Apple’s USB-C quest), and a face-scanning camera that logs me in extremely quickly and reliably. And the screen is a gem – high-res (running at 2256×1504), multi-touch capable (which has been more useful on occasion than I suspected), and running at a 3:2 aspect ratio, giving a lot more vertical space than a 16:9 ratio (which seems favored by almost all other Windows computer makers).
I went with burgundy as a change of pace from the long line of silver & black laptops I’ve been using, and I’ve become quite fond of the color. The burgundy Surface Laptop has an attractive, warm appearance that’s a nice alternative to the visual coldness of most modern portable computers.
It even has a physical warmth, thanks to the left-field choice of covering the keyboard & trackpad area with alcantara, the synthetic suede-like material that so often shows up in higher-end car interiors. I’ve only used the Surface for a short while, but thus far the alcantara is holding up well. It gives the machine a nice soft-touch feel that’s unlike any other laptop I’ve ever used.
Many of my initial fears about switching to the Surface came down to the software and OS side of things, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Windows 10. It’s significantly more attractive, design-wise, than I expected it to be, and I like where Microsoft is going with their design language. It feels as though they’re heading in a direction where they’ll have something genuinely unique and distinctive, and I’m glad to see it. Windows 10 has also thus far been pretty well rock-solid and reliable for me, something which is probably helped by the Surface Laptop being designed and built by Microsoft themselves. One of Apple’s major strengths has always been the integration between their hardware and software, and it’s interesting to see Microsoft taking advantage of something similar on their Surface line.
As far as software goes, the major suite I need – Adobe Creative Cloud – works pretty much exactly as you’d expect, with little difference day-to-day compared to the Mac version. All it took was downloading and running the installer from my existing subscription. I also had acquired an Office 365 license, as the newspaper required submissions in Word format, so that seamlessly transferred to the Surface as well. FTP software (for managing WordPress installs) has been where I’ve noticed the change most severely, as I’ve not found anything that compares to the polish and design of Transmit on Windows, but that’s been a minor thing so far.
The biggest adjustment I’m going to have to make is in audio, as I was a Logic user on the Mac. I’m not in a place anymore where I’m doing the actual recording for our music, as our drummer handles that, but I still need some form of audio workstation for making demos and composing. I’m currently trying out Reaper, and will see how that goes.
One other nice side effect of switching to Windows has been native game support. While the Surface Laptop, with its Intel integrated graphics processor, is in no way a “gaming laptop,” it’s more than capable of running a huge assortment of indie games and several older AAA titles, and it’s nice to not have to reboot via Boot Camp to play them. (Finding out that the Surface runs the original Mass Effect trilogy with no real trouble was quite a nice bonus.)
Nobody is more surprised than me that I’m using a Windows computer, but…it’s honestly been great so far. The Surface Laptop is a beautifully designed, very capable computer that I’d put up alongside most MacBooks any time. It’s a different aesthetic than Apple’s, to be sure, but it’s executed very well. It’s reasonably powerful and capable of adapting to a wide variety of use cases, while being light and thin and easy to toss into a messenger bag. I never expected to be writing something from Windows again, but Microsoft unexpectedly made a laptop that fits me really well.