It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote about the incredibly lackluster laptop market, and I have to admit that as far as regular consumer laptops go, not a lot has changed.  Over the past half year or so, I’ve researched Windows laptops extensively, and guess what I ended up buying?

A 13″ MacBook Pro.  Sigh.

My new MacBook Pro

But that’s not really where the story starts.  No, instead this story begins around January when I decided that I’d probably be buying a laptop this year.  I’ve expressed my displeasure with Apple’s current laptops more than once on this site, and as a result, I set out to find a Windows laptop that would make me happy.

In the beginning, I was determined to buy a gaming laptop to replace both my desktop and my laptop, and after hours and hours of research, I narrowed my choices down the Razer Blade 15 and the MSI GS65.  In doing that research, I learned quite a few very alarming things about the Windows laptop market that I’ve been totally immune to since 2005 (when I bought my first Mac laptop).  Yes, I do have a Surface Pro 3, but I never really intended on that completely replacing my laptop.  Settle in, this is a fun list.

  • Trackpads on Windows laptop are either pretty good (read: not great) or awful.  You have to do research on every single model (even if you are just looking at Dell laptops) to make sure you’re getting a good one.  I would never buy a Windows laptop without a glass trackpad and Windows Precision Drivers, and even those are not as good as a MacBook’s.
  • Poor customer support/lack of local support options/quick turnaround for issues is a serious problem.  The best option seems to be buying from Microsoft with their Performance Guard warranty so you can return/repair/get help at Microsoft stores.
  • Screen/light bleed (bright spots on your display) is very common, but the quality varies a lot manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • Build quality varies wildly, including case flex (when the chassis gives if you press down on it) and screen flex, which I was horrified to learn was an actual problem in the Windows laptop world
  • A lot of Windows laptops have questionable cooling solutions and/or try to cram way too much hardware in way too little space, and, as a result, get pretty loud and hot.
  • No Windows laptop has speakers that come anywhere close to Apple’s.  Honestly, Apple’s laptop speakers are magic.  I have no idea how they manage that level of quality from those tiny speakers.
Razer Blade 15, fresh out of the box.

So, after considering all of this, I bought a Razer Blade 15 from the Microsoft Store.  I was drawn to the power and design, as Razer used a unibody design similar to Apple, and it had top-notch specs.  It didn’t solve two problems I have with Macs, though: the high refresh rate screen didn’t have a touch option, and the price was essentially equivalent to a 15″ MacBook Pro.

I brought the laptop home, got it setup, tried to play Fortnite on it, and the fans kicked on so loud that it was actually distracting me from the game.  That area above the keyboard was so hot that it felt like my finger was going to actually burn.  My device also had moderate screen bleed.

On the flip side, the design was “nice,” aside from the gamer-aesthetic Razer logo.  The trackpad was also probably the best I’ve used in a Windows laptop, maybe tied or slightly better than a Dell XPS.

But I returned it the next weekend.  It was too loud, too hot, and generally too imperfect to justify its price.  It was back to the drawing board.

I decided gaming laptops were clearly out, so next I’d find a good ultrabook.  I kept my eye on the Razer Blade Stealth, the Dell XPS 13, and sort of the Huawei Matebook X Pro.  Surfaces don’t have modern ports, and they’re expensive, so they were automatically disqualified.  Apple was also rumored to be updating the MacBook Air, which I was actually pretty excited about.

Then Apple released the update, and they used a Y series CPU.  Yes, I know it’s 7w, but I’m not buying a Y series CPU again.  Apple had once again disappointed me with their laptop offerings.

First off, the Huawei seemed like the best deal, but no matter how I tried to slice it, the design was such a personality-less ripoff and the device was known to have just enough common issues that I knew I’d be disappointed with it.  I didn’t want to have to take apart the laptop to put a piece of paper under the trackpad to make it not rattle, which is a very real and common thing people have to do with that computer.

Dell is also hard for me to stomach.  The XPS line is pretty nice – the design is premium, and it has personality; however, that personality is decidedly “Dell.”  The carbon fiber palmrest design and the general Dell aesthetic is not my thing.  Plus, I keep telling myself after all the issues I have with other Dell products in my life, I probably shouldn’t keep buying Dell stuff.

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the bezels on the Razer Blade Stealth, but it seemed like the best option.  That is, until I found out all of the issues people seem to have with it besides Razer’s already infamous customer support.  Apparently the screen is prone to phantom touches, and it’s so common that people just disable the touchscreen and live with it.  Come on, this is totally unacceptable.

It was at this point, months later, that I gave up.  Apple does not make the laptop I need, but I was left with no other options.  I could either buy a laptop that had meh power but the right price point (MacBook Air), or I could buy a 13″ MacBook Pro, which had the power the Air should’ve had along with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t need and a price tag I didn’t want.

This was a long, difficult process for me, and I am a tech person.  I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for the average person laptop shopping right now.  Apple really would’ve killed it if the MacBook Air would’ve come out at a lower price and also offered a U series chip at a mid-tier price point (~$1300).  That said, I do like the MacBook Pro.  I’m dealing with the keyboard and still trying to find a use for the Touch Bar, but I’m sure I’ll have a whole article about that later.

If you’ve gotten this far, sighed, and realized I wasn’t going to make a recommendation, don’t fret, here it is: if you don’t want a Mac, and you want an ultrabook, get an XPS 13.  The other options are just not suitable for most consumers.  If you enjoy or can deal with Dell Aesthetic™, the XPS 13 (and 15, for that matter) is a quality machine, and they will back it up with decent support.  Bonus points if you buy an XPS 13 at a Microsoft Store.  Heck, even if you don’t buy it there, I think you can still bring it in to them for free basic troubleshooting.

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