While it’s great to see Mark Zuckerberg and company try and kill the smartphone with futuristic face-computers, I still live in the present. And in the present, I need a great laptop when I’m not staring at my iPhone.
There have been a lot of attempts to reimagine laptops over the last few years. In 2015, Microsoft had the Surface Book, a powerful portable with a clever hinge and detachable touchscreen. Last year, Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro, which along with a new design featured the new Touch Bar that replaced the standard function keys with digital keys. Google announced last year that it’d let you run Android apps on Chromebooks, effectively turning them into fully-functional PCs.
But none of those solutions turned out to be ideal. The Surface Book launched with loads of bugs and didn’t really get it right until version two launched last year. The MacBook Pro was plagued with battery life issues and complaints from users because it didn’t have the ports and power they needed. And Chromebooks with Android apps are still very much a work in progress.
I’m still typing away on a three-year-old MacBook Air. It has a terrible screen with mile-wide bezels and an overall design that’s really starting to show its age after nearly seven years. The sad truth: It’s still the best laptop.
Despite numerous recent attempts, no one else has nailed it.
But I was intrigued this week.
The latest attempt to shake up the laptop category is Microsoft’s Surface Laptop, a new $US999 computer designed to compete with Apple’s MacBook. It hasn’t launched yet, but we got a good look during Microsoft’s debut in New York on Tuesday.
There’s a lot to like here, but there’s also plenty of reasons to remain sceptical, given Microsoft’s track record and recent flubs from its rivals.
This time the gimmick is Windows 10 S, a sort of diet version of Windows 10 that can only run apps from Microsoft’s own app store. That means you’re going to miss out on a lot of the programs you probably use, including popular web browsers like Chrome or Firefox. Windows 10 S is designed to be Microsoft’s answer to Google Chrome, which has been eating up significant chunks of the education market. Microsoft desperately wants that market back.
However, you can still upgrade the Surface Laptop to the full version of Windows 10 for free for the first year. It will be $US49 after that. That’s what intrigues me the most — a full Windows 10 laptop with a big touchscreen for $US999. And on paper, the specs seem to line up nicely with my beloved MacBook Air.
Here’s where the scepticism comes in.
Everyone from Microsoft to Apple to Google have promised to shake up the laptop market in recent years, and so far, they have all failed. Apple lost the high ground by effectively stripping the “pro” out of its pro lineup. Google can’t get Android to work properly on a laptop. And now, the Surface Laptop just feels like a vessel to get other computer makers excited about pumping out cheap Windows 10 S devices and selling them to schools. It’s not a category-defining product.
And until someone comes up with one of those, I’m keeping my old MacBook Air.
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