Aside from a few months with the "lamp" iMac and a brief affair with Linux, I grew up exclusively using Windows. That changed in 2011, when I traded my aging Sony Z1 laptop for a MacBook Pro. After just a year with macOS, I became the type of person who uses a MacBook, iPad and iPhone, and never really considered anything else. And so I watched last fall's MacBook Pro announcement with great interest.
I was hoping to upgrade from my mid-2015 15-inch Pro, which, even when I bought it, was a little long in the tooth. But what Apple offered up was far from what I wanted. The Touch Bar seemed, and still seems, less convenient than function keys for someone used to keyboard shortcuts; the dearth of ports bothered me a little too, but it was the marginal CPU and GPU improvements that really stung, and the sharp like-for-like price increases only compounded my decision: It was time to look beyond Apple, and back to Microsoft, for my next laptop.
This might sound strange if you've never been immersed in Apple's hardware ecosystem, but buying a new Windows machine can be a little scary. There is so much choice, so many different factors to consider. Even among Microsoft's hardware options, you find vastly different takes on what a PC even is. I began asking myself what I actually wanted from a laptop; I'd spent so long letting Apple dictate a narrow set of options, I wasn't really sure.
So I made a little checklist for what I needed. I travel a fair amount, so portability is quite important: I didn't want anything heavier than my 4.5-pound MacBook. Battery life isn't a huge concern for me -- I only need enough juice to get me from outlet to outlet, and perhaps see me through the occasional live blog. In terms of ports, USB, USB-C, HDMI and an SD slot would be ideal. Performance is by far the most important factor for me: I have Photoshop running near-permanently, I like training neural networks to do stupid things and I also use InDesign, Premiere and Illustrator very regularly.
Then there's gaming. The switch to Windows would grant me access to a giant library of games -- should gaming performance be a consideration too?
I looked at tons of machines, but none of them were really a good fit. The front-runners were the Surface Book, which is immaculate but too small, and Dell's XPS 15, which is super-portable but not quite powerful enough for my needs. It soon became clear that, at least in terms of performance, a gaming laptop was perfect for someone switching from a "Pro" Apple system to Windows.
I've got a strange affection for ASUS' ROG lineup, but the models I like tend to weigh the same as me, and so I found myself looking at Razer's laptops. I guess it makes sense: The Blade Stealth, Blade and Blade Pro essentially seem like ultra-powerful, matte black versions of the MacBook Air, the 15-inch Macbook Pro and the old 17-inch MacBook Pro. Sure, they're a little gaudier -- especially with the illuminated green snake logo and Chroma keyboard -- but I was reassured that you can turn off all of the lights, should you wish.
After reading through countless reviews, I settled on a Razer. More specifically, a Razer Blade. It had almost everything I was looking for. The model I picked had an i7-6700HQ processor, a 6GB Nvidia GTX 1060, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. The screen -- a 14-inch 3,200 x 1,800 panel -- was a little smaller than I wanted, and it doesn't have an SD reader, but the next option up in Razer's range is the Blade Pro, which, despite being impressively thin, wasn't quite portable enough, thanks to its 17-inch display.
It's now been six months since I picked up the Blade, and I'm happy. But it took me nearly all of that time to get there.
Life with Windows
Switching over from macOS to Windows was simple enough. Almost all the apps that I use daily -- Chrome, Creative Suite, Slack and Steam -- offer the same or a better experience in Windows vs. macOS. But there are some I still miss on a daily basis. For the past few years, I've used Tweetbot for my personal Twitter and Notational Velocity to both write and take notes. If there's a Windows app equal to Tweetbot, I've yet to find it, and I've tried using Simplenote (the note-taking service that Notational syncs with) for writing, but it lacks the streamlined interface and keyboard shortcuts of the app I'm used to.
Perhaps the hardest thing to come to grips with on the software side is Windows itself. It's almost back to Windows 7 in terms of simplicity, but I still struggled for weeks with basic navigation. On macOS, I launch everything through Finder, and using the Start Menu for the same thing proved tricky. Running apps by pressing the Start key and typing works fine, but the rest of Finder's functionality is sorely lacking in Microsoft's implementation.
The main issues are that file searching through the Start Menu is very hit-and-miss, and that Windows 10 ignores your browser and search preferences, opening them in Edge and Bing, respectively. The former, as best I can tell, is because Windows' file system isn't indexed as well as macOS's, while the latter seems like a desperate and user-hostile way of fighting Google's dominance in those markets.
After a while struggling -- and even installing third-party apps to divert Start Menu searches back to Google and Chrome -- a friend recommended I try Wox, which is essentially a Finder/Alfred clone for Windows. It loads apps just as well as the Start Menu, opens web links and searches according to your preferences and also taps into the Everything disk-indexing app for near-instant file searches.
My remaining issue is one of troubleshooting. I can customize macOS with my eyes closed through System Preferences or Terminal, and diagnosing and fixing problems also comes naturally. In Windows, tweaking simple things often becomes a game of cat-and-mouse as I search through the inexplicably distinct Control Panel and Settings menus. This isn't really a knock against Windows; it's more that I'm still getting attuned to the way Microsoft has organized things.
Life with the Blade