I cut my computing teeth on MS-DOS and Windows 1.0. I’ve been a user of Windows since it has been around.
But there were a couple of times when I switched all the way over to a Mac. The first was in 2007 when Windows Vista woes drove me to buy a MacBook Pro. Windows 7 won me back in 2010, but then I was searching for a new laptop in 2012 and I happened to stop by an Apple Store. The 2012 MacBook Air had the best keyboard available on a laptop and there I was again, back on a Mac.
That recurring feeling happened when I recently tried out the MacBook Pro 16-inch. For the first time in almost eight years, I found myself considering a switch back to Mac. Here’s why.
A return to glory
It’s difficult to quantify just how much I love the MacBook Pro 16’s Magic Keyboard. I’m almost embarrassed. I could gush for hours about how great it is, it seems. Seriously, I enjoy typing on this keyboard, it’s that perfectly tuned for me — and as a writer, there’s no more important laptop component.
If Apple had studied my preferences and designed a keyboard to match, it probably wouldn’t be as perfect. Suffice it to say that I can type more quickly and accurately on this keyboard than any other I’ve tried. Apple’s even brought this same keyboard to the new MacBook Air, which enjoys the benefits all the more.
In the past, that simply wasn’t the case. I loved the keyboard on my 2012 MacBook Air — still do, in fact. But the butterfly keyboard that Apple adopted across its product line in the past few years has deterred me. It always felt to me like typing on a block of wood. The bottoming action was way too abrupt, and while the keyboard had a click to it, the travel was far too short.
Contrast that with the Magic Keyboard, which has a perfect one millimeter of travel, a balanced bottoming action that provides just the right amount of tactile feedback, and an incredibly precise clickiness that lets me know exactly when a key is depressed and when to move on to the next. It matches my muscle memory perfectly, and that lets me type as quickly and accurately as I ever have.
The HP Spectre x360 15‘s keyboard is in second place and I still like it quite a bit, but it’s really not close at all. If I could have the Magic Keyboard on a Windows 10 machine — say, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 with its miraculous AMOLED display and awesome performance — I’d be in laptop heaven.
So yes, the keyboard formed my initial curiosity in a return to the Mac. But there were other surprises too.
The MacBook’s speakers are a good example. I was shocked by just how good they are. Yes, I’d read reviews that talked about how crisp and full-bodied the speakers can be, but after listening for myself, I’ve become spoiled by the experience. There’s no question these are the best speakers ever put in a laptop.
They’re more akin to a quality pair of external speakers, with a wide tonal range and more bass than one expects. They can get very loud without distortion, and they enhance my music listening and Netflix watching experience. I’d kill to have these speakers on a Windows 10 laptop, especially one with 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) support.
Even some of my previous hang-ups started to fade once I spent more time with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. For example, I’ve never been enamored with the MacBook’s larger, haptic touchpad. Apple calls it a Force Touch trackpad, which uses a motorized taptic engine that fakes the feeling of a click. It’s an innovative technology, but I never preferred the artificial click to a real one.
But after spending some extended time with it, it has grown on me. The touchpad’s massive size is an advantage, and Apple has managed to almost perfect palm rejection — the touchpad registers my palm every now and then, but it’s rare enough that it’s never a problem. I simply can’t say that about some Windows 10 touchpads, which still tend to skip and jump around as you’re typing because of wonky palm rejection.
The things from Windows laptops I would miss
Despite the draw of the MacBook Pro 16-inch, my decision to stick with Windows laptops comes down to just a few small but important differences.
With the wide selection of Windows 10 laptops, you can get every type of laptop imaginable, without limitation. That includes gaming laptops, workstations, and experimental 2-in-1s — but also features like touch displays. The MacBook Pro has its own type of touch screen, the Touch Bar, but it hardly compares.
It requires too much of my attention to remember when it might be helpful and when it might not. It rarely seems to anticipate my actual needs — that is, outside of the volume controls.
It’s really too bad Apple won’t get over itself and add a touch display to the MacBook. I can’t get past the lack, especially for simple things like scrolling through long web pages with my thumb and tapping pop-up buttons. Apple’s arguments against touch displays aren’t convincing to me, simply because they provide so much utility in Windows 10. And don’t get me started on stylus support, which MacBooks also lack.
It’s a little thing, maybe, but it makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy using a laptop — heck, I literally hold my smaller laptops by the display with my thumbs ready to scroll. It feels weird — and limiting — when a display doesn’t respond. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by using so many 2-in-1s that have touch displays, but regardless: The experience for me without one is subpar.
MacBooks also can’t compete with Windows displays on the high-end. MacBooks’ Retina displays look great, with sharp text, excellent contrast and brightness, and wide and accurate colors. For this reason, they’re still the best pick for photographers.
But they still don’t support 4K resolution, and so I can’t watch Netflix in all its glory. The best Netflix viewing experience remains the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 with Samsung’s awesome AMOLED display. Not only is it 4K, but it also sports awesome Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) that makes for probably the best Netflix viewing experience you’ll find short of the best OLED and QLED TVs.
Given how dark many Netflix shows can be (in their cinematography as well as their themes), the lack of HDR can be a detriment. And some people don’t notice 4K on smaller screens, but I do.
Despite those things I’d miss from Windows laptops, I wouldn’t need a gun pointed at my head to choose a MacBook Air or Pro 16. Windows 10 laptops have enough of an advantage to keep me on board, but these new MacBooks make it closer than ever before.
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