LAS VEGAS — CES was full of wild stuff. Drones that automatically follow you around. Self-driving cars. A TV as thin as a credit card.
But while most of the show is about looking forward to what’s next in tech, I had a lot of trouble staying in the present. I’m in the market for a new laptop, and I was hoping the biggest showcase of gadgets in the world would give me some good guidance.
Unfortunately, I left the show disappointed.
As a Mac user since 2004, I had high hopes last fall for Apple’s redesigned MacBook Pro. I still think it’s probably the best laptop around, but not without some serious caveats, most notably its battery life issues. After giving it some more thought, I decided that was a dealbreaker and my search continued.
I’d still like to avoid making the jump to Windows or one of Google’s Chromebooks, but the rest of the MacBook lineup is horribly flawed. The MacBook Air is great, but it still has that old, low-resolution screen and the same basic design from over six years ago. Ouch.
Then there’s the newer, super-thin MacBook. While I’m in love with the design and ultra-portability, it’s slightly underpowered for my needs, and I’m not confident it will last me more than a couple of years before I need to upgrade again.
I just don’t feel confident buying a new MacBook today.
So, what else is there?
I suddenly find myself Windows-curious.
After a disastrous run with Windows 8, Microsoft has redeemed itself with Windows 10, which finally feels like a mature operating system and an enticing alternative for Mac lovers like me. Over the last year, laptops running Windows 10 feel a step ahead of what we’re seeing in the MacBooks. Touchscreens. Thoughtful, opinionated designs. And plenty of power under the hood.
The MacBook Pro’s new Touch Bar has some clever uses, but it falls short of what’s possible with a full touchscreen. (Apple remains steadfast in its position that laptops shouldn’t have touchscreens.)
But even the newest Windows 10 laptops don’t cut it for me. Dell introduced a new version of its XPS 13 laptop with a touchscreen that folds over into a tablet mode, but like the MacBook, it doesn’t have enough power for me. I’m intrigued by HP’s Spectre laptops, but the design doesn’t exactly blow me away. Same with the latest stuff from Lenovo. I’ve also been testing Microsoft’s latest Surface Book, which seems like the best of the bunch to me, except I’m not wild about the detachable screen.
Plus there are still a few quirks with Windows 10 that bother me, like the lack of touch-friendly tablet apps.
What about Chromebooks?
Chromebooks are the wild card.
They’re great for doing just about everything you want to do on a computer, but still have some limitations when it comes to running traditional apps. Samsung had the biggest Chromebook announcement of CES, releasing two touchscreen models that can run Android apps.
But Chromebooks and ChromeOS, Google’s operating system for these laptops, are in a weird transition period right now. Google is gearing up to radically change ChromeOS and merge it with Android into one super operating system for laptops, codenamed “Andromeda.” As enticing as some Chromebooks may be, I think it’s worth waiting to see what Google announces this fall before investing in a Chromebook.
Buying a laptop used to be relatively easy. As a Mac loyalist, I’d just get the best MacBook and be good to go for several years. But that won’t work today. There are too many compromises with every model in the MacBook lineup, and I can’t buy any of them with confidence.
Making the leap to a new platform like Windows or ChromeOS comes with its own problems. ChromeOS is still half-baked and it will be several months before we see Google’s grand vision for it. And while some Windows 10 laptops are intriguing, there’s no perfect laptop, and it’s going to be a while before we get some more options.
For now, the hunt continues.