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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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My experience buying a Windows laptop

After 16+ years working, writing, playing, making, listening, watching on a Macintosh, I’m switching back to Windows. Within a few days from today I will no longer be a Mac user. In fact, the only Apple product I will be using regularly will be my 2014 iPad Air 2 which I plan to replace soon.

(I’m not the only one.)

This is a big deal for me. But not as big of a deal as it would have been if I had made this switch back to Windows a few years ago. A lot has changed. Windows 10 has gotten good. Hardware is arguably nearly as good. And so much of the software is either written cross-platform or runs on the cloud.

This decision to move back to Windows has been years in the making. In fact, it may be about 1 year later than it should have been. While I hope to find the time to write about why I believe it is a great time to switch from macOS to Windows (though, I’ve mentioned it several times here) this post is going to be focused on the experience of researching and buying a Windows computer.

Buying a Windows computer can be a draining task compared to buying a Mac.

Since 2002, when I fully switched from Windows to the Mac, I’ve purchased 9 Macintoshes for personal use, and several others for team members at work. Each time I purchased a new Mac it took me 15-20 minutes to make a decision on what I wanted to buy. Sixteen years of buying Macs has made me a bit lazy.

Deciding which Mac to buy is a fairly simple exercise. First, I would wait until Apple released brand-new models. Then, I would ask myself these questions:

  • What size screen do I want/need?
  • What is my budget?
  • What is the very best Mac I can buy with the screen size I want for the budget I have?

With the answers to these questions I was usually able to pick out the model I wanted within a few minutes, grab the box in the Apple Store or at Best Buy, and walk out.

So a few months ago when I sort of kind of knew for sure that I wanted to switch to Windows I began to look around at what my options were. What is it like to buy a Windows computer?

Due to the abundance of choice, purchasing a Windows computer is not as simple as buying a Mac. This fact is actually something I’ve criticized for years but is now something I see as an advantage. I used to say “I don’t want so much choice, just give me what I need. I like that Apple just gives me what I need.”

However, time has taught me that this is only good if Apple makes all the right choices for me. And for the last few years they haven’t been. They’ve probably been making the right choices for someone else (likely students, casual consumers, etc.) but not for me. What Apple are selling I no longer need.

I digress! Remember, the “why you should consider switching from Mac to Windows post” may come in the future. Back to buying.

Unless you walk into a Microsoft Store and purchase a Surface of your liking (the way I used to purchased Macs) this is what the buying experience is like.

You go to the web site’s of Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, HP (and others) and pore over all of the configurations they have available.

While you’re there you try to build up your vocabulary both for the manufacturer’s brand names (Lenovo has like three different YOGA type laptops and ten THINKPAD lines, etc.) and for the actual hardware that is inside these laptops. Each of them have their pluses and their minuses and differing options available.

For instance, and this is just one small example, as of this writing you cannot purchase an “ultrabook” sized laptop (13″) with a 4K screen, dedicated GPU, more than 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. You can purchase some combination of these things but you can’t get this exact thing (at least not via the manufacturer’s that I researched). The combinations can be overwhelming and all of the information about these computers is not in the same place.

One huge, huge resource for me was Lisa Gade and Mr. Mobile on YouTube. Both of these laptop reviewers have a style I enjoy. They get directly to the point, explain real world scenarios for their use, and also take the time to compare one laptop with another in head-to-head battles.

Tech reviewers on YouTube have some serious job security. Not only are they distilling a huge amount of information into a quick video – but they need to do it every single month as manufacturers make slight adjustments to their lineups. It has to be a full-time job just keeping all of this straight.

For a few days I was dead set on buying the Huawei Matebook Pro X. It has everything I want in a Windows PC and – coincidentally, looks exactly like a MacBook Pro. However, it appears it will take a few months to be able to buy one in the United States (thanks Verge). By that time I fully expect the models that are available today to be outdated so I decided I didn’t want to wait that long. Perhaps that will be my next computer in 3 or 4 years if they are still highly rated then.

I happily chose the Dell XPS 13” (Model 9370). Yes, I reconfigured mine with exactly what I needed so it will be a fe days before Dell gets it to me. According to all of the reviews I’ve seen it will work just fine for my needs. And I also plan on buying an external GPU (something I was considering doing for my MacBook Pro set up anyway) to give me a bit more oomph working within the Adobe Creative Suite (something I do far more at my current job than I did over the last few years).

Side note: I would not purchase a Windows computer through many retail outlets that I’ve been to. Best Buy, Target, Sam’s Club, Staples — all have meager selections. These retailers likely have better choices through their web sites but I would recommend buying PCs directly from the source. In fact, if you call the manufacturer you will get a better deal for the exact same hardware. I won’t tell you the deal that I got simply by calling our company’s Dell representative, but I can say it was very worth the phone call.

It took me a few weeks to decide on the Windows PC that I wanted. Now that I have a base knowledge of what is available, of the vocabulary, and now that I know what I’m looking for – it will likely take less time to make a decision next time.

I’ll let you know what I think of the Dell XPS when I get it.

This post was written on a borrowed Surface Pro on Windows 10 that I’ve been using for over two weeks and I’m very, very happy with my Windows 10 experience so far.

WWDC 2017 recap

I wanted to take a few moments to jot down a comparison between my wish list for this year’s WWDC and what was announced. Also, towards the end, some quick thoughts on the surprises that were announced.

Here are my wishes, in order from the previous post, and whether or not we got them.

  • Shared iCloud Photo Libraries. Nope. It doesn’t appear so. I think if they had finished this they would have announced it.
  • iCloud data Family sharing. Yes! And, they gave us 2TB for the price of 1TB. So, a very good update here.
  • An all-new Mac App Store. Kinda? While they didn’t show this off, Phil Schiller did hint at it during John Gruber’s live interview with him and Hair Force One.
  • App Store demos. Nope. While the new iOS App Store looks very nice (and it getting great reviews all over the web) it didn’t include this.
  • App slimming. Not sure. I’ll wait for the public betas of iOS and macOS to determine if they’ve done any work in this area.
  • More Camera app filters. Yes! While the camera app may not have more filters built-in, the Photos app has tons of updates in this area. I’ll take it.
  • Apple Prime. Nope.
  • Rename iCloud Photo Library? Nope. But, not a big deal.
  • Apple Watch Series 3. Nope. Not yet. And the watchOS updates that were featured were lackluster. But, I think they were holding back for the event they’ll have in the fall.
  • Apple Photos improvements. Yes. Tons. I’ll wait until I get my hands on it to do a direct comparison with my wishes.
  • More iOS Extensions. Nope. I didn’t see much in this area mentioned, but I think they made up for it with the drag/drop features.
  • Siri. Nope. Read Manton’s post on this. He wrote what I was thinking.
  • Apple Maps accuracy updates. Nope. Not a single mention about Apple Maps that I saw. So, again, I’ll have to wait and see with the betas.

My last minute wish that I threw in was for driving mode. And that is a huge yes!

If we’re keeping score that’s like 8 nopes, 1 kinda, and 4 yeses. Which doesn’t seem like a good score but somehow I was very impressed with WWDC overall. I think we’re in for a great year of software updates coming from Apple.

Now, onto some of the surprises.

  • HomePod. While not a total surprise HomePod looks interesting. As a piece of hardware I really like it. As a device that allows you to access Siri I’m less excited because of how poor Siri is still. For example: Ask Siri “how far is New York City” compared to “Driving directions to New York City”. How can’t Siri answer the first question if it can answer the second? I refuse to believe that Apple isn’t staying up late nights to bolster Siri’s offering so hopefully we’ll see a massive improvement in Siri within calendar 2017 or 2018.
  • iMac Pro. What an incredible computer! My first Mac was an iMac and I bought Eliza an iMac somewhat recently. I really love all-in-one computers I just prefer to have a notebook myself due to working remotely, at work, in coffee shops, at a client’s, etc. If I were to buy a desktop computer for myself the iMac Pro would be it.
  • Macbook updates. I got my new Macbook Pro with Touchbar somewhat recently. But, these updates aren’t enough to make me regret my upgrade. They look solid though.
  • ARKit. As I’ve already noted, this will be huge.
  • New iPads Pro. The updates to the iPad (both software and hardware) are very, very good. Makes me wish I needed to upgrade.
  • iPad iOS features. Though it appears some of these could come to iPhone (or, perhaps the 10-year anniversary iPhone) – these features are amazing like drag and drop and the dock, etc. Pretty cool.

There are of course many things I haven’t mentioned but ll-in-all a solid week of Apple updates.

One last thing; recently Tim Cook has been quoted as saying that Apple is focused on autonomous driving (which we knew) but that they are focused on it as a category rather than a feature. Apple finds autonomy as an interesting area moreso than simply self-driving. I’m very interested to see how this idea manifests itself in future products.

Touch Bar

I’ve been tweeting like crazy about the new MacBook Pros and how I’ve found the most recent updates underwhelming. But I couldn’t come up with a great way to describe how I felt about Touch Bar in a way that I wanted in my blog archives. Until I read this.

Michael Tsai:

I’m not crazy about Touch Bar, but it does seem potentially useful.

That’s exactly it for me. The Touch Bar does not excite me. But, I can see how it could be potentially useful.

Apple asked a bunch of people to fly to their campuses to show them a new version of the MacBook Pro that is, of course, lighter thinner and has less ports. And it has the Touch Bar. But it isn’t what I wanted from them. And, as you see from Tsai’s post, perhaps they don’t care. I don’t care about lighter or thinner. I care about performance, storage, reliability.

I am underwhelmed. No. It is worse than that. I’m disappointed.

I’m using a 2012 MacBook Pro. I’m ready to upgrade. But I can see no compelling reason to do so. Not for Touch Bar that’s for sure. After spending some time with the Surface Book this weekend I can now say I’m going to purchase one and see if I can make the switch. Microsoft’s software may not yet be up-to-snuff but they certainly have my attention and it appears I’m not alone.