About Apple’s new MacBook and Microsoft’s Surface

Apple held a keynote about their new Macintosh Laptop lineup yesterday and we watched it. Here are our personal thoughts about Apple’s new MacBooks. We’ll also write about what Microsoft presented earlier this week with it’s new Surface devices and compare it a bit with the new MacBook Pro. Please note that this article won’t feature a lot of technical details. It’ll just be a very critical review of the recent keynotes that were held by two big players in the it sector. Please also note that this is in no way a complete list or a comparison of the devices. This article is meant to be a short and informative summary of the last week’s keynotes, so you don’t have to watch them in full length!

UPDATE: Some YouTube videos were not embedded correctly (thanks wordpress!), so I added links to the article at the corresponding passages, if you’d like to watch them. I’m sorry if this causes any inconveniences.

About Apple’s new MacBook Pro

But first let’s talk about Apples MacBook Pro. It has been some years since Apple released a new MacBook Pro. I have one of the older models (Late 2013) and I absolutely love it. Since I first used it, I didn’t even waste a second thinking about using any other laptop or OS. However, I have to admit it right now: I’m not very impressed by what Apple has come up with. Like I said, the current MacBook Pro is quite old. Of course they have been some facelifts, but nothing too critical, nothing new, nothing that made you want to buy a new laptop if you already had one. But what about the new MacBook? Let me show you a picture of the new model:

macbook-pro-2016-apple
Figure 1: MacBook Pro 2016

At first glance it looks absolutely the same as the old MacBook Pro models did. If you take a closer look at it, you can see that it is thinner than the old models. It is also lighter, according to apple. The new MacBook Pro has a larger force trackpad, which is (according to apple) the best, they’ve ever made. The trackpad detects how hard you push your finger down and reacts accordingly. But this isn’t a new feature to laptops, it has been around for quite a while, but not in Apple’s MBP. Same applies to the keyboard, but it just looks absolutely the same as it did the last couple of years.

The screen is nicer than it was (obviously) and Apple states that you get up to 25% more colours and 67% higher brightness and contrast:

macbook-pro-2016-display
Figure 2

Which is nice, but it still is nothing to start me drooling and wanting to rush to the store and buy one as soon as it is available. But maybe there is more with this new MBP?

You might have heard about the Touchbar already, because this leaked some days ago:

macbook-pro-2016-touchbar-2
Figure 3: The Touchbar

The Touchbar is a separate screen, which is placed directly above the keyboard. As you can see it replaces the function keys, which seems like a nice idea at first, but it gets worse and worse the more you think about it. But let’s start at the beginning.

The Touchbar

The Touchbar will replace the function keys, for example the keys for adjusting the screen’s brightness or the volume, and instead of physical keys you get a small touchscreen. Apps and the OS can configure the Touchbar to display different icons to enable the user to use different functions. For example: Safari can display icons of you favourite websites and buttons for navigating back and forth. Text based applications can display suggestions and auto corrected words.

If the YouTube player is not embedded correctly, you can watch the video here!

Also Siri now has a dedicated button on the Touchbar. I personally think that this is a very useless feature, because I couldn’t think of anybody who wants to tell his computer verbally what to do, especially not when you’re in public or at school/work.

However you now get a finger print sensor with the Touchbar, which is a nice feature, because you can log in easily and you can use ApplePay easily, but it still isn’t that great.

About the hardware

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the MacBooks come with never hardware inside. They come fitted with the sixth generation of Intel’s i5/i7 CPUs with Intel Iris graphics. According to apple you get around 60% more performance than you were used to. The new MacBooks also come with a faster flash storage:

macbook-pro-2016-ausstattung-1
Figure 4: The hardware

Apple also claimed that they have reworked the cooling on the new MacBook Pro, but it basically looks absolutely the same as it did for the last years. However it is a bit less bulky and should be more quit, according to Tim Cook.

The new generations of MacBooks will also have improved speakers, but I don’t expect them to be that great, as they are getting smaller and smaller and built-in speakers will never replace a proper setup.

What bothers me a lot is that the engineers at Apple decided to ditch the usual connectors you’d expect to find on a laptop. So the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have a HDMI port, the same applies to the number of USB ports: zero. Yes, unfortunately Apple thought it’d be a great idea to ditch the standard USB-B connectors and replace them with Thunderbolt 3 connectors, which have female USB-C shaped connectors. And that’s it. All you get are four of these Thunderbolt connectors. This basically means that you’ll need a lot of different adaptors to use different devices, which are not Thunderbolt compatible. At least it comes with a 3,5mm headphone jack.

Also the Apple logo on the back of the screen doesn’t light up any longer. It is now finished in a shiny metal look, which will scratch up as soon as you get it out of the packaging and collect finger prints whenever someone even dares to think to touch it.

No minor changes with the battery pack were mentioned, so I assume it’s capacity will stay at around 10-12h with decent usage, which isn’t too bad, but it’s also nothing too great anymore, as other manufacturers have caught up.

Pros and Cons

Let’s list some pros and cons we could think of, starting with the pros:

+ You can charge your Mac on each thunderbolt connector. This gives you more flexibility.

+ Due to the new connectors you can now connect more devices to your MacBook, for example four screens.

+ You can customise the icons on the Touchbar

+ The new MacBook Pro is thinner and lighter

Now let’s look at our list of cons:

– The MagSafe 2 connector was ommited. I liked it, because if you tripped over your cable it meant that you pulled the connector out of your MacBook instead of pulling the whole 2000$ device off the table.

– But what is really stupid about this Touchbar is the following: I listen to a lot of music on my MacBook and I do so very often. After some time I’ve learned where the physical buttons are, that control the media player and I can use them without the need of looking at the keyboard. Now this get’s way harder when using the Touchbar.

– The proper peripheral connections got ommited as well, this means that you’ll have to get adapters for everything you want to connect, which isn’t a good thing for the customer.

– You can not connect your iPhone to your MacBook Pro via USB anymore without getting an appropriate Thunderbolt to USB connector, which is about the stupidest thing that I’ve seen this year. However connection over bluetooth shouldn’t be problem.

Summary

Tim Cook talked a lot about the Touchbar. However I think this is nothing too special. I mean of course it adds some cool and even useful functionality to the device, but it’s nowhere close to a revolutionary new feature. I mean what’s wrong with physical keys? They do not take away extra power from the battery and you can learn the pattern and use them without looking, something that becomes very hard with a touchscreen, especially when you put a lot of icons on a small screen, just as the Touchbar does.

Another thing that is really bad in my eyes is the lack of proper peripheral IO. I mean no full sized USB-B connectors? No SD-card reader? No HDMI? That’s really poor if you ask me. And it also makes me sad. I was curious to see something new from Apple. And this was just disappointing.

In conclusion I’d say that these features are not enough to make this a new MacBook Pro model. Where is the innovation you promised us? Look at other manufacturers: They come up with all these nice ideas like useful tablet computers and all you come up with is a useless Touchbar that doesn’t add a lot of extra functionality?

Talking about useful tablet computers, let’s take a look at Microsoft’s Surface and especially the newly presented Surface Studio.

If you want to watch the keynote, you can do so here!

About the Microsoft Surface

Before I bought my MacBook I had the first generation Surface Pro and I have to admit that I loved the device, even though it had a lot of flaws and was by far not a perfect device. But it seems like Microsoft have learned out of their mistakes and listened to what their customers hat to say and MS has come up with several Surface tablet computers since then. Let’s take a (very) quick look at the current models: The Surface 4 and the Surface Book. I’ll also talk a little bit about the new Surface Studio.

The Surface 4 is about one year old now. It looks something like this:

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Figure 5: Surface 4 with type cover

As you can see it’s a tablet computer. Optional keyboard-flip-covers can be attached to it with the help of magnets. These work as a keyboard but also protect your screen from scratches, which is a very good idea. You can also use a pen to make inputs on the touchscreen.

It has decent hardware for this type of device. It comes with Intel’s i5/i7 CPUs (sixth generation) and built-in graphics, nothing too fancy, but still very good if you consider that this is a tablet computer.

What makes this tablet so interesting is that it comes with Windows 10, the same OS you’ll find on regular laptops and desktop PCs. This means that you can use your tablet to do something useful instead of just playing candy crush, which is a great idea if you ask me.

Battery life is decent. It’s not bad but not very good, because Windows and the beefy hardware eat up a lot of battery, so in real life you’ll get up to 8 hours of working time before you have to recharge your Surface.

Pros and cons

+ Very good build quality

+ Nice screen

+ Thin, light-weight and handy

+ Has a touch screen and can be used with a special pen that allows you to write, draw, … like on paper.

+ Full-sized USB port and microSD-card reader

– Windows eats up a lot of storage space. If you buy a 128gb model you’ll end up with 100gb after you installed windows, which will be eaten up quite fast by Windows.

– Can get quite warm, which makes it uncomfortable to hold in your hands.

Summary

In summary the surface is a great device and I think Microsoft developed it very well. They’ve taken user input seriously and made it better over the years. The build quality is very good, and the fact that it is a tablet you can take with you easily makes this the perfect mobile device. To be honest that’s what I’d have loved to see from apple. Some proper tablet/laptop maybe a convertible device, but not just another facelifted MacBook.

About the Surface Book

Well the Surface Book is almost like the surface itself. It comes with a hard-cased keyboard you can snap to the tablet part:

surface-book-hero
Figure 6: The Surface Book

As you can see it looks just like a regular laptop, but the screen can be taken off. The hardware is better than in the regular Surface 4. It has a stronger CPU (also Intel’s 6th generation i5/i7) but comes with notebook graphics. I just wanted to mention this device to make this article complete. Basically everything I wrote about the Surface 4 also applies here.

I can only come up with two more cons:

– It’s quite expensive, prices start at 1650€ and go all the way up to 3350€, which is a lot.

– It somehow really bothers me that it cant be fully closed. I don’t know why but I like my laptops fully closed.

About the Surface Studio

The Surface Studio is the first all in one PC that’s produced and sold by Microsoft themselves. It can be seen in fig. 7:

Surface_Studio_Overview_2_HeroFullBleed_V3.jpg
Figure 7: Microsoft Surface Studio

It looks very nice and according to the build quality that the Surface tablets have I’m quite sure that it’ll be built properly as well. It is meant for professionals, not really for home users. That makes it easier why they made it that massive. Take a look at the following picture:

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Figure 8: The Surface Studio

It has a 28″ display and it has a higher resolution than a 4k tv. However the screen is super thin but all the other hardware is in the base of the computer. The screen can be tilted and laid out completely flat on the base, which is a cool idea if you want to draw on the screen, but to be honest I can’t think of a lot of possible use cases for this in the real world. I mean 28″ is a lot. Just look at the size of this display. Who has the space to lay that display out on the table? Most home- and professional offices I know simply don’t have that space to lay that display out.

Input options

Data can be input into the computer in several ways. You can just use your default keyboard and mouse. The screen is a touchscreen, so this is also an option. You can also use the surface pen to write/draw on the screen. However you can also use speech input, which is actually a bit better than Apple’s Siri, which seems a bit outdated by now. But this is all default stuff. Microsoft has created something interesting:

Bildschirmfoto 2016-10-28 um 22.25.13.png

The thing in the lady’s left hand. It’s called the Surface Dial and it is, well like a dial. It can control several features, depending on the app, you are in. You can put it on the screen or on the table and you can turn it to, for example, select colours from a colourselector in paint/photoshop etc:

If the YouTube player is not embedded correctly, you can watch the video here!

Hardware

Also nothing too special here. It features even more powerful Intel processors than the Surface Book and it has better graphics, because it’s meant to be used by professional designers and video creators etc. It has proper peripheral IO ports and currently there is not a lot more to say about it, as it was just presented yesterday.

Pros and cons

+ Build quality, design

+ Input features

+ Nice, big screen with great colours and contrast

– Large, no it’s really huge so you’ll need a lot of space to be able to tilt it around like that

– Expensive

Windows Creator’s update

Microsoft focused their latest keynote on 3D. You might have already heard a lot about Microsoft’s Hololens, which I’ll cover later in this article. In the keynote Microsoft presented a way to 3D-scan real world objects with a smartphone and convert them into a 3D object which can be used in Windows apps. To achieve this, a new Windows update (the so called creator’s update) was announced which’ll bring 3D to windows. This new version will come with a new version of Paint, Paint 3D, which looks like the first useful paint version for years:

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Figure 9: Paint 3D

The sandcastle, which can be seen in fig. 9, was 3D-scanned using a Smartphone:

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Figure 10: 3D-scanning a sandcastle with Windows capture 3D experience

3D can also be used in powerpoint, which I can imagine will be a handy feature, especially for students/teachers to give their presentations a nice look. Generally these features will be available in all popular Microsoft applications, like in their browser, edge. Talking about edge: In the future you’ll be able to look at websites and navigate your way through the web with the help of a Hololens, which will create an augmented reality web experience.

This allows you to watch videos in 3D, view webpages in augmented reality or place virtual objects in your real world.

The update also features new sharing options and possibilities to interact with people. There are a lot of other details I couldn’t mention here, but I tried to describe the best features as good as possible. However Microsoft had an impressive presentation, so if you find the time to look at it, here it is. I think it’s worth a watch, even though the beginning was quite boring:

If the YouTube player is not embedded correctly, you can watch the video here!

The keynote is quite long at it basically covers everything Microsoft sells right now and plans to sell in the future. It contains a bit about the new xbox, it contains sections about the Surface and the Surface Book. So if you want to see more about these, make sure to take a look at the video above!

Conclusion

This year Microsoft really impressed and surprised me. They’ve come up with great ideas and really innovative stuff. On the other hand Apple disappointed me with their new MacBook and iPhone, which I didn’t even mention here, but I guess you all have heard about that by now.

I think Apple has to catch up immediately and they have to publish good new ideas soon. I’d love to see something like the Surface redone by Apple, because to be honest that’s what Apple is great at: Take something that is already good and rearrange it to make it even better. For me the only reason why I’m not using Microsoft products any more is their OS. I really love MacOs and in my eyes it was always worth paying that extra money for a Mac just to have the OS. However I really think that this wasn’t a good year for Apple, so I have to admit, as much as it feels wrong for me, this year goes to Microsoft.

What do you guys think? Would you buy any of these new products? Let us know in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “About Apple’s new MacBook and Microsoft’s Surface

  1. UPDATE: Some YouTube videos were not embedded correctly (thanks wordpress!), so I added links to the article at the corresponding passages, if you’d like to watch them. I’m sorry if this causes any inconveniences.

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