Laptop Quest 2020: Maybe a better keyboard

I have two laptops currently:

  • A sixth generation (2018) ThinkPad Carbon X1
  • A 2016 MacBook Pro without touch bar

I got the ThinkPad because I a) hated the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard and b) worried that it would fail out of warranty, leading to a $600-700 repair bill, given Apple’s insane (or insanely clever?) design that necessitates not just replacing the faulty keyboard, but basically half of the entire laptop.

Apple then started its keyboard repair program, which covers every model with a butterfly keyboard (this is every MacBook released since 2015, not counting the MacBook Air prior to its 2018 redesign). For four years after purchase, Apple will repair or replace a defective keyboard for no charge.

I bought the MacBook Pro in December 2016, so I am good for 10 more months, after which the cost of repair will again rise to about $700. Or maybe even more, because Apple has never been shy about raising prices.

This whole thing is further complicated by a couple of things related to my writing:

  • I went back to Ulysses, which is Mac-only
  • I still really hate the butterfly keyboard. I find it uncomfortable on my finger tips, and that’s even when I’m not applying my usual “fists of gorilla” approach to typing

I’m wed to macOS, but have begun looking for other writing app alternatives again, because the tool is really secondary to the writing itself.

But wait! In October 2019 Apple updated the 15 inch MacBook Pro to a 16 inch model and brought back the more traditional scissor switch keyboard. Instead of having half a millimeter of travle, it now has one entire millimeter of travel! I tried it out in an Apple store and it’s better, but it’s still not great.

The ThinkPad keyboard feels luxuriously deep and satisfying in comparison (my partner is using the ThinkPad now, as his $200 HP laptop is not running anymore so much as hobbling along intermittently).

So my current options are:

  • Hope that Apple comes out with an equivalent to my current MacBook Pro this year with a “good” keyboard and a price that is not any more outrageous that what it is currently. Rumors suggest the possibility of this is pretty good, but Apple is notoriously unreliable for updates on anything other than the iPhone and Apple Watch. And they have treated the Mac line pretty shoddily post-Jobs.
  • Get a Windows laptop and find other software to use. I’ve been trying out a bunch of new writing apps, as well as noodling around in some old standbys, like the perpetually-in-beta version 3 of Scrivener for PC. For the actual device, the Dell XPS 13 and ThinkPad (7th gen) both seem like strong candidates. The Surface Laptop 3 can be had for a decent price, too, and I’m not concerned about its relative lack of IO.

It’s early, so I’m not really leaning in one direction or the other yet. On the one hand, Ulysses is a really nice app. On the other, I resent having to pay a subscription for it (the updates have clearly not been enough to warrant the cost, which I’ll go into in a separate post). I’m also not a huge fan of macOS. It’s fine and for writing it does everything I need, but I am both extremely comfortable with Windows 10 and really like some of the native features of Windows (it may come as no surprise that windows management is really good, where in macOS it is just short of a disaster).

Anyway, I’m typing this on the MacBook Pro now and my finger tips are starting to hurt, so unless I switch to voice dictation, I am going to end this post here. More to come!

Windows 10: The Quick List Review

I’ll offer more detailed thoughts on Windows 10 later but here’s a bullet list of the good, bad and ugly I’ve found so far. I updated my Surface Pro 3 the day of release (July 29) and my main PC a few days later and so far don’t regret updating either.

The Good:

  • refined look to windows–drop shadows are back, thick borders of Win8 are gone, widgets are thinner, classier-looking
  • ALT-TAB presents all open windows in a grid, making it easier to see and switch between them
  • the thin line underneath running programs on the taskbar is easier to see than the old glowing effect
  • ditto for the effect showing multiple windows open for the same program
  • Start menu is back and offers a balance between Win 7 functionality and the advantages of Win 8’s live tiles (with the option to turn them off)
  • File Explorer now has an optional Quick Access feature that makes it simple to find files you use most often
  • you don’t need to dip into Control Panel to change most settings anymore
  • a bigger, better calculator
  • a bigger, better date/time setting
  • built-in calendar, mail and store apps are better than before
  • redesigned Action Center has better notifications and handy quick task options
  • Modern (Metro) apps now run in windows and can be moved around and closed like regular programs
  • Cortana works decently though I rarely have need to use it (her?)

The Bad:

  • rearranging tiles in the Start menu is still needlessly fiddly (though not as bad as Windows 8)
  • requires rebooting to fix most issues (in my experience so far)
  • really wants you to sign in with a Microsoft account (I have one so no biggie but others may object)
  • the calendar and mail apps may be better but still aren’t good enough to replace better alternatives
  • ditto for Edge, a decent (and speedy) browser but way too barebones to replace something like Firefox or Chrome
  • the store is still filled with tons of junk
  • some parts of the UI feel unfinished (Settings is still not a full replacement for Control Panel)
  • Solitaire is not included and now features a yearly subscription (!)
  • you can’t change the color of title bars in windows without some hackery. Hope you like white!

The Ugly:

  • the Groove music app a) has a dumb name b) is also barebones c) will happily mangle your music library when you import it
  • probably more stuff but my ire hasn’t been sufficiently raised to be able to think of anything else off the top of my head