I spent a week with the Apple Macbook Pro and swapped it for the Microsoft Surface Book 2. I feel there is no good reason for the vast majority of us to own an Apple PC in 2019.
This is my firm conclusion after owning Apple’s new powerhouse 15 inch MacBook Pro for a week.
I did not easily arrive at this opinion.
I’m a long-time Apple user
1. I have been a Mac fan and user since the 2002 release of OSX 10.2 Jaguar;
2. An iPhone user since the release of the iPhone 3GS in 2009 (I currently use and own an iPhone XS. Although my model seems to frequently overheat and suffer from poor battery life); and
3. An iPad user since the iPad 2 was released in 2011 (I currently use and own an iPad 6th Gen)
For the past 2 1/2 years I have been using a lovely HP Spectre x360 13.3” convertible notebook. This slim notebook sports an Intel dual Core i7 CPU and 8GB of ram. I decided it was time for an upgrade primarily because:
1) I frequently record educational videos of my desktop. Video rendering time on this notebook was starting to drive me nuts.
2) More importantly, I was starting to have problems with the CPU shutting down on me due overheating. The sleek form factor of the Spectre x360 comes at the cost of less than stellar CPU ventilation. Running several heavy duty apps simultaneously (trading apps like TradeStation, Trader Workstation, TC2000, and Trade Navigator – all of which which appear to be quite resource hungry – and a few browser tabs) seemed to be more than what the Spectre x360 was tasked for.
Also, I particularly wanted a laptop with a high resolution 15 inch screen. Even though I usually run an external monitor, the additional screen real estate offered by the larger format screen is near priceless to me.
My Shortlist of 15″ laptops
After doing much research, I concluded that the Dell XPS 15 was the “smart money” purchase. But I just don’t like the laptop. I find its form factor and finish clunky and old-fashioned and definitely un-sexy. Maybe this sounds shallow, but when I spend upwards of 60 hours per week on my laptop, I want to use hardware that I actually enjoy using. Not something that makes me go “ugh” every time I open it.
Apart from the usual web browsing and office productivity software, I use my laptop for:
1) Trading: I trade stocks and options and much of the trading software I use is PC only
2) Video rendering: I frequently record educational videos about financial markets
Given the highly spec’d hardware on Apple’s notebooks and the fact that Parallels PC emulation software is now on version 14, I thought that an Apple PC should be a strong contender to fill my needs.
Macbook Pro 15” vs Surface Book 2 15”
I was considering the mid-spec Macbook Pro with the 8th generation, 45 watt Intel hexa-core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. Similarly I was considering the 512GB SSD version of the Microsoft Surface Book 2.
On paper, I thought the MacBook Pro should absolutely scream, given its hexa-core, 45w Intel CPUs, 16GB of RAM and purportedly the fastest SSD in the business. Plus, it’s still one of the nicest form factor notebook computers on the market. This was the laptop I decided to go for.
My MacBook Pro 15” Experience
Apple basically invented the whole “un-boxing experience” so opening the Macbook Pro (MacBook Pro) 15 didn’t disappoint.
Initial setup was quite painless and fairly quick. Once I had logged into iCloud and iTunes I set about downloading Microsoft Office, Firefox, Chrome and of course Parallels version 14 and a new Windows 10 Pro license to use within Parallels. I then downloaded, installed and configured all of the Windows software I use (Camtasia, TradeStation, Ninja Trader, to name a few). This was several hours of work getting it all downloaded and configured.
No “Windows Hello” facial recognition equivalent
The first thing I found a bit old-fashioned (even odd) about the MacBook Pro was the lack of facial recognition for signing into the PC.
Facial recognition works so well on the iPhone XS I was perplexed as to why Apple hasn’t ported this technology over to their notebook computers.
Having to enter a password on each new login seems “so 2015″ and the fingerprint sensor for subsequent logins is a second-rate alternative.
Having used the Spectre x360 for the past 2.5 years I had grown very accustomed to the “Windows Hello” facial recognition for logging in and felt Apple users were missing out here.
The other thing that I missed more than I expected was the touchscreen – something that has been an integral part of the Windows experience for at least five years now.
When recording videos of my computer screen, I will often draw annotations on the screen or highlight areas of the screen using EpicPen and either a stylus or often just my fingers…directly onto the screen. Trying to replicate this ease of use with a track-pad was frustrating.
I found that I quite absently use the touchscreen for moving, rearranging, selecting and zooming windows. I find touchscreens incredibly intuitive. And no, Apple, that lame touchbar does not even come close.
The “butterfly” keyboard Apple has been using on the MacBook Pro since 2016 has received its fair share of negative reviews. I didn’t like the keyboard when I tried it in the store but the salesman assured me I would get used to it an love it within a day or two of use.
Well I’m sorry to say that after a week, I never even got close to liking it. In fact, I disliked it more than any other keyboard I’ve ever used on a laptop (I’m almost tempted to use the word hate when it comes to this particular keyboard). I’ve never made so many typos in my life as when using this keyboard and this didn’t improve even after a week of use.
I imagine there must be people out there who like these keyboards, but I could not get to grips with it. Your mileage may vary.
MacOS app experience less than stellar
Did you know there is no Netflix app for MacOS? I’m dead serious.
Ok, so you can watch Netflix in your browser, but what if you want to download some movies to watch on a flight? There maybe a workaround…but I really can’t be bothered searching when it’s simple and free to download the Netflix app in Windows.
There’s also no (free) Twitter app for MacOS either. Sure, you can spend $20 on a third party app, but I don’t want to when I can use the free, official Twitter app in Windows.
Also the Microsoft Office apps for MacOS look and feel different from their Windows counterparts. The Windows versions of these apps look and feel more polished and I find them easier to use.
Couldn’t pair the MacBook Pro with my Microsoft Mouse
I use a Microsoft ArcTouch bluetooth mouse, which I really like. For some reason I could not get the MacBook Pro to even recognise that this mouse existed, let alone pair with it. I don’t know whether this is Apple’s fault or Microsoft’s but it was another point of frustration in my whole, frustrating MacBook Pro experience.
This was probably the most disappointing aspect of the MacBook Pro for me. I am not by any stretch saying that these machines are slow (they absolutely kill it on Geekbench) but when running Windows under a Parallels virtual machine, the performance hit is considerable.
Rendering video using Camtasia under Windows was even slower on the MacBook Pro than on my older Spectre x360. It took ages.
Multitasking also became a joke. With 4-5 apps open (admittedly, some of these apps are quite heavy duty) it was taking 4-5 seconds jsut to switch tabs in Firefox. Unusable.
Meanwhile, the CPU fans on the MacBook Pro sounded like they were trying to launch a rocket into space the whole time!
I spent almost an hour on a chat with the very helpful Parallels tech support, who showed me how to allocate as much RAM and as many CPU cores as possible to the Windows virtual machine. But even after making these changes the performance was still unacceptably slow. Performance was well below what I had been getting with my 2.5 year-older 8GB, dual-core Spectre x360 (although at least the Apple CPU wasn’t overheating!)
At this point I spent an hour on the phone with Apple Care, who helped me reset the NVRAM , PRAM etc on the MacBook Pro. None of this helped the machine’s performance so after one week of perseverance, I decided to return the MacBook Pro 15 and exchange it for a Microsoft Surface Book 2 15”.
Onto the Surface Book 2
The “un-boxing experience” on the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Surface Book 2) 15” is extremely similar to Apple’s version of the experience. I think most manufacturers of technology products have copied Apple’s un-boxing experience by now, and Microsoft is no exception.
The initial setup of the Surface Book 2 is however very different from that of the MacBook Pro.
On the MacBook Pro you have straightforward yet utilitarian black-and-white screens that guide you through the process in silence.
With the Surface Book 2, Cortana guides you through the setup experience by talking you through it. The experience is kinda corny, but I did appreciate the effort behind the far more personal touch Microsoft is trying to create here.
Microsoft makes some sexy hardware
The fit and finish of the Surface Book 2 is lovely. I wouldn’t say it’s better than on the MacBook Pro, but certainly on par and refreshingly different.
The magnesium alloy used on the Surface Book 2 has a lightness to it that makes the MacBook Pro aluminium seem heavy by comparison.
The Surface Book 2 is reasonably bulky compared with the MacBook Pro – largely because of the fulcrum hinge that the screen can detach from – but I really doesn’t feel much heavier in the hand than the MacBook Pro.
The screen on the Surface Book 2 15” is a gem. It’s bright and it offers amazing resolution, but the thing I really love about it is the 3:2 aspect ratio. The 16:10 aspect ratio on the MacBook Pro makes for a display that is just too narrow for everyday productivity tasks. I was finding I had to put the dock on the side of the screen to compensate for the lack of vertical screen real estate on the MacBook Pro.
The 3:2 aspect ratio on the Surface Book 2 just makes so much more sense for a universe of tasks from writing blogs and Word documents, to working in Powerpoint, to analysing stock price charts to general web browsing. Possibly the only area where the 16:10 aspect ratio has any advantage is when watching widescreen HD movies. But the screen on the Surface Book 2 still has more than enough real estate to make for a very enjoyable movie experience too.
Surface Book 2 sports a Great Keyboard
The keyboard on the Surface Book 2 is a pleasure to use. Nice and tactile, just the right amount of key travel and good backlighting. Nailed it Microsoft. And sooo much better than the MacBook Pro keyboard.
Ok, the trackpad on the MacBook Pro is a highlight. It’s HUGE, smooth and MacOS has excellent support for gestures.
The trackpad on the Surface Book 2 a lot smaller, but it tracks responsively, is also very smooth and I must say I do prefer the “mechanical” click on the Surface Book 2 trackpad to the haptic “fake” click on the MacBook Pro.
I should point out however that even on a notebook PC, I use a mouse whenever possible. So trackpad quality is unlikely to be a deal-sealer or deal-breaker for me.
My performance expectations for the Surface Book 2 vs the MacBook Pro were a little lower. Only because the Surface Book 2 uses the 15w, quad-core “mobile” version of Intel’s 8th generation i7 CPU.
But I have so say, the Surface Book 2 has taken everything I have thrown at it in its stride. It just hums along, effortlessly.
Multitasking is not a problem…and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever even heard the CPU fans on this PC…the fans on the MacBook Pro continuously sounded like rocket-launchers.
It renders video (subjectively) about 2x faster than the MacBook Pro did under Windows. I imagine the 6GB video card is helpful in this regard and the time saving is very welcome.
The Surface Book 2 just feels zippy and responsive. Windows Hello works in an instant…much like Face ID on the iPhone XS…still puzzles me why Apple doesn’t include this feature on their laptops.
I haven’t yet mentioned that the Surface Book 2 has a detachable screen. Yes, you can pull the screen from the base and turn the PC into a 15” tablet!
Whilst a bit unwieldy due to its sheer size, the screen/tablet is almost disconcertingly light in weight given the magnesium alloy construction. I don’t imagine I’ll ever use it as a tablet…but being able to watch Netflix in bed with just this large, super-lightweight screen on my lap is a bit of a special treat!
In conventional laptop mode, the Surface Book 2 is well-balanced, light in weight and a pleasure to use. I think the ergonomics are superb and the fulcrum hinge has none of the wobbles that plagued version 1 of the Surface Book.
Given my experience, I can’t think of a good reason for me to own an Apple laptop any more. I get the whole “Apple ecosystem” thing but it just doesn’t swing things in the MacBook Pro’s favour in this contest.
I think that one would need to have some very specific requirements these days to have an Apple PC at the top of their shopping list.
In fact, for the first time in 15 years, I’m considering leaving the Apple ecosystem altogether. In addition to my Microsoft laptop, I can see myself using an Android phone, Spotify and Google photos in the near future.
The Apple PC experience is starting to feel old-fashioned compared with Windows. The lack of facial recognition and touch screen capabilities are the glaring drawbacks in the Apple experience.
I won’t be even remotely tempted by Apple laptops until they bring out versions with touchscreens and facial recognition. Apple announced recently that iOS and MacOS apps won’t converge until 2021. I take this to mean that this is the earliest we could expect touchscreen laptops from Apple. I think this will prove to be too late…Microsoft could be onto Windows 11 by then!
Apple really seems to have dropped-off the innovation curve. Even in smartphones, Samsung seems to be leading the way in terms of innovation. I’m sure this could change again in the future, but for now, my reasons for sticking with Apple – for anything – have largely disappeared.