I wrote back at the start of August that I had sold my MacBook Pro. I explained the reasons why and what I was looking for next.
However, although that was the middle of summer, whereas this is now officially the second day of winter, I still haven't been able to find my next laptop.
For a long time I had my heart set on the ThinkPad T440s, and this was almost a certainty. But the more I read about this laptop, the less certain I am that this is what I want to use for the next few years.
I've come close to owning a ThinkPad a few times now, and each time I've bought something else I've grown to regret it. The problem in the case of the T440s is that those classic ThinkPad touches such as the TrackPoint (the distinctive, little red pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard) have, according to some forum posts and reviews, been rendered all but useless by the removal of the buttons. And there are other points that make me less keen on the T440s:
- The removal of all mouse/pointer buttons, leaving a single touchpad which acts like one giant button.
- The new clicking action on this touchpad, which sounds quite cheap and tacky. This video has been backed up by some people who have got hold of the first units off the production line, and complained that some degree of damping would be welcome. Apparently it's as 'clacky' as most spacebars. And that's what the T440s has instead of mouse buttons.
- Lenovo have seen fit to bless the unit with a M.2, or NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor) drive slot. The downside to this, though, is that Lenovo have hindered our options by using the single-sided, 42mm version of the standard, which virtually no-one is building right now. And nor do I expect that it uses the same 4-channel PCIe interface that, for example, Apple have implemented on the new MacBooks or, I suspect Acer have implemented on the new Aspire S7, or Sony on a recent 13" Vaio. Lenovo actually say that it should be used as a 16GB cache drive, not a primary drive. Now, given that there are (as I've just mentioned) some other laptop vendors selling machines with these next-generation drives as blisteringly fast primary drives, this is far from enticing from Lenovo.
- The laptop has a 4GB soldered-DIMM, and one slot available for up to 8GB of DDR3L SODIMM RAM. This means a maximum of 12GB. This also means that the RAM cannot run in the faster dual-channel mode.
- There are also reports that light from the screen bleeds out around the screen's bezel.
On the other hand, the T440s does have some positives
- It starts at 3.6lbs, and even the touchscreen version is ~3.8lbs. This thing is remarkably light for a 14" laptop.
- Lenovo have finally got around to fitting IPS screens.
- ThinkPads are known for their best-in-class keyboards.
It also incorporates two batteries which allows you to hot-swap one of them, but as I don't really use a laptop on the move this isn't a huge selling point for me.
Despite those negatives, I'm quite sure I could buy a T440s and live quite happily using it over the next few years. But I can't help myself from thinking that Lenovo will very soon implement a faster NGFF drive as the primary drive, or offer a model with 8GB soldered-DIMM RAM, and that they'll soon sort the 'clacky' touchpad. But how much longer can I wait?
Well, it's a moot point for now anyway because Lenovo still have not made the T440s available to buy inEurope. It is available in China and Hong Kong, the US and Australia, but not in Europe.
Enter stage left: A Contender
And then there was the Razer Blade.
This is actually 14" gaming laptop, but it has pretty good looks, a great spec, is in a neat little package, reviews say cooling is no problem. I read everything I could find on this laptop, looked at the photos taken from every angle, and decided that although it wasn't perfect (apparently the screen lets it down somewhat) it ticks all my boxes. The keyboard is clearly designed for the teenage gaming market, but I shrugged my metaphorical shoulders and decided that was going to be my next laptop... except that it doesn't appear to be available anywhere in Europe. So I wrote to Razer and asked them about this. Their response said "The Razer Blade is currently only available in China and North America. We have no plans to offer anywhere else". Nice. There's a company with ambitions.
Enter stage right: Hang on... didn't this one just leave the stage?
While I've been waiting for this laptop, something else happened: Apple launched the upgraded MacBook Pro. And once again I find myself in a situation - as a year ago - of looking at MacBooks and seeing more boxes ticked and less compromises.
To recap, here are the primary reasons that I sold my MacBook Pro after owning if for about 8 months:
- It ran HOT - and I often use a laptop on my lap rather than on a desk.
- At ~5.6lbs it was very heavy.
In short, I felt that the MBP had too much power for what I was using it for, and the downside of this was the heat and weight. And the fact that it was heavy made it feel uncomfortably hot.
- Different keybgoard layout (I use a normal keyboard layout in the office all day, and I felt that this was preventing me from changing my typing habits).
- I got fed up looking at a white screen for 11 or 12 seconds every time I restarted it while the machine went through its BIOS emulation phase.
However, let's examine those points on the new (late 2013) MacBook Pro:
- The lowest-spec version comes with a 2GHz i7 without a GPU. In fact, the integrated graphics (on the CPU) is Intel's new Iris Pro 5200, and Apple appear to have bought the entire run of these chips as no-one else is offering them - everyone else is stuck on Intel's 4400 graphics.
Anyway, I would expect this to run cooler than my previous experience with a MacBook Pro.
- It now weighs 4.4lbs - that's more than 20% lighter.
- Same keyboard layout.
- This last one is an interesting point because I believe (and I may be wrong - I'm still looking for answers) that the new MacBooks use EFI v2.3, which is also available with Win8. There seem to be some hurdles one has to jump over to get Win8 to install using EFI, and even more rings of fire one must jump through in order to get all the Win8 drivers running on a MacBook Pro, but it appears that it is possible to install and run Windows 8 natively on a late 2013 MacBook Pro.
Something else that should also be said of the new MacBook Pro range is that they've come down $200 in price.
Well, as you can see from the bullet-pointed lists, there are pros and cons on each side; neither seems the perfect laptop and I'm sure that if I went with either of those I'd find sticking points quite soon. As with everything, there are compromises to be made.
And there's also another consideration.
Waiting in the wings: The ThinkPad X3
When I sold the MacBook back at the of July, I was almost certainly going to buy a ThinkPad X1 Carbon, until I read about just exactly how poor its screen is. And while I was mulling this over I read about the T440s. And then a few weeks ago I came across this: the ThinkPad X3, the X1 Carbon's successor. The reason that might just tick more boxes than the T440s is that in order to build a machine of this size, Lenovo may have to use an NGFF drive as the primary drive.
Current rumours/expectation is that this will be launched around the end of January 2014.
Other options are out there: there's the Dell XPS 15 which has a great spec at a reasonably-good price point. The problem here is that I've bought two machines from Dell in the past (my current/legacy laptop, an XPS M1530, and the XPS M1330 for my girlfriend) and... well, suffice to say that the customer/sales experience was so poor that I'm not willing to every buy another single item from Dell. Ever. The laptops themselves have worked pretty well, but I was aghast at Dell's customer service. Consumerism is really the only part of western democracy where your vote counts, and I vote never to buy from Dell.
There's also a new range of HP laptops, the Zbooks and the Elite books, but the problem here is that it's a decent spec encased in a design from the mid-90s. I've railed against Apple's perceived form-over-function in the past, but I admit that looks do play a part: after all, I sit at my laptop for about 360 days of each year; I see as much of it as I see of my girlfriend so naturally I want to be happy with its looks.
So where does this leave me? Right now, it looks like I'll just have to sit this out for another couple of months. There are whisperings that the T440s may not be available in Europe (outside of academia) until the start of 2014 anyway (if ever! I mean, I'm not sure that the T431s was ever made available in Europe - it certainly isn't right now). I'd be unwilling to commit to another MacBook Pro without atleast seeing the price of the T440s in my local currency (Lenovo prices differ by territory). Waiting until perhaps February 2014 will offer a greater chance to answer the following questions:
- The price of the T440s
- If anyone has managed to install Win8 - with the proper video, audio, touchpad, bluetooth, etc. drivers on a late 2013 MacBook Pro.
- If and when the X3 is being launched, and it's spec.
- And perhaps Razer might decide to offer their laptops to the rest of the world.