Laptops – two wrongs, who can make a right?

13Mar15

TL;DR

Apple and Google have both launched laptops in the past few days that are both amazing and seriously flawed. If only somebody could make a machine that has the best of both worlds.

MacBook

macbook

The leaks were pretty much spot on, so in the end the new MacBook brought few surprises. I really want a small, light, robust laptop with a decent battery life, so it looks almost ideal.

Why the MacBook is wrong for me

8GB max RAM – it’s barely enough to run a busy browser, and certainly doesn’t have the headroom for running a few VMs for test/demo purposes. I’ve had a laptop with 16GB RAM for two years now, and I’m really not willing to downsize.

I could live with the small(ish) SSD, the low powered processor and the lack of ports, but the lack of RAM is the deal breaker for me. I know that the mainboard is smaller than a Raspberry Pi, but RAM doesn’t take that much space.

Can it be fixed?

No – not unless Apple decide to squeeze in the extra memory, and I rate the chances of that happening within the product life-cycle at approximately zero.

Pixel2

pixel2

The original Pixel was an enigma to me – too high end for the ChomeOS that it runs, but not high end enough to really distinguish itself. The Pixel2 seems different – it’s so high end that it stands out on the merits of the hardware. i7 processor, 16GB RAM, 12″ screen (I really don’t care that it’s a touchscreen) – we’re certainly headed in the right direction here.

Why the Pixel2 is wrong for me

ChromeOS – I may joke that any desktop OS is just a bootloader for Chrome, and that’s almost true, but not true enough. Even though this machine has the memory to run local VMs it doesn’t have the OS to do that. Not having Skype is also a major issue for me.

Puny SSD – cloud services are great when you have connectivity, which rules out a lot of the time when I actually want a small and light laptop – like when I’m on planes, trains etc. Of course even if the OS problem can be solved, 64GB doesn’t leave much space for VM images. When it’s possible to get (reasonably priced) tiny 1TB SSDs it’s such a shame that they’re not an option.

Can it be fixed?

Possibly – I’ve not seen a detailed tear down yet to establish how SSD is done in the Pixel2, and whether the tiny original one can be upgraded to something more suitable. I have greater confidence in the OS side of things, as I’ve seen the Linux community do a good job of porting things onto previous Chromebooks.

Update [19 Mar 2015] – David Radkowski let me know that the SSD is soldered onto the motherboard, so although I’d expect the OS piece to be fixable the lack of storage is pretty much a show stopper. Whilst it’s possible to get huge capacity SD cards these days for add on storage, I wouldn’t want to be running VMs off them.

A quick diversion to USB-C

It’s interesting to note that both of these laptops use USB-C for power and other purposes.

Many Mac fanboys seem to be disgusted at the decision to replace magsafe with USB-C – just think of all that shiny new stuff that’s going to fall victim to clumsy idiots tripping over power cables. There’s also a loud conspiracy theory that it’s all about selling lots of expensive proprietary dongles.

Google is doing a much better job of talking calmly about USB-C being a new industry standard.

With the ability to carry 100W of power it seems that USB-C will soon be pretty much everywhere, and I like the idea of commodity chargers, video adaptors etc. I also like the idea that I can top up my laptop from the same battery pack I might use for my phone or tablet.

If it was just Apple going down the USB-C road then that would be a problem, but the fact that both of these new laptops from such different stables are released in the same week and headed in the same direction gives me some confidence that USB-C is here to stay and it’s just the opposite of a scam – it’s something with real potential to deliver better value and convenience – just don’t trip over the cable.

Google have done a better job here by having USB-C on both sides to allow charging and monitor attachment at the same time, and it also helps that they have some conventional USB3 ports, but then they did have more volume to play with. I’d note that when I last bought a laptop with MacBook Air lost points on the number of bits and bobs I’d need to carry around to support it – I was thinking about total travel volume and weight – not just the machine.

What would work for me

A MacBook with 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM – just take my money.

An i7 16GB Pixel2 with 1TB SSD and Ubuntu – likewise.

A Canonical badged i7 16GB Pixel2 clone with 1TB SSD – YES PLEASE.

Both of these machines are tantalisingly close to being perfect – just a couple of spec tweaks and I’d be ready to buy. So who’s going to exploit the me shaped gap they’ve left in the market? Lenovo, HP, Dell and Toshiba might all have been contenders in earlier days, but I feel it’s more likely to be Samsung, Acer or Asus, perhaps even Xiaomi that will get the joke this time around.

Or maybe I’m just part of some pinnacle IT clique that’s too small to be worth marketing to, and I’ll be stuck with my 16GB Lenovo X230 (with its 1TB SSD) for the rest of eternity?



2 Responses to “Laptops – two wrongs, who can make a right?”

  1. You can definitely count me in as part of that clique, I had the exact same thought. I basically want a Pixel 2 w/ more SSD for VMs.


  1. 1 Bad data will make you sell the wrong thing | Chris Swan's Weblog

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