Yes, laptops are still a thing.
On this episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Dan Seifert of The Verge joined Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode to answer listener questions about laptops. Laptop computers have not been replaced by tablets and phones, but users are upgrading their laptop less often and looking more critically at what today’s laptops can deliver in terms of bang for your buck. Why does the new Surface laptop feature a suede-like fabric? Is Windows 10 S all that and more? What about Chromebooks? All these questions and more, answered.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Too Embarrassed to Ask on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn or Stitcher.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior tech editor at The Verge.
And you’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast Network. This is a show where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about consumer tech.
It could be anything, like, “Why does Kara despise people’s public posts on Venmo?”
Well that’s obvious.
Or, “Why does Jason Del Rey want a Juicero?” which he confessed last week on our podcast, or, “What’s the best way to protect my online privacy?” That is a serious topic.
You can’t, you cannot.
“What the heck is going on with Uber?” There’s another one we tried to answer in recent weeks.
It’s a hellscape.
Did you see that Uber now has Uber Freight?
They’ve had it for a while.
That’s an old story. Send us your questions, we really do read them all. Find us on Twitter or tweet them to @Recode or myself or to Lauren with the hashtag #tooembarrassed.
We also have an email address, it’s email@example.com. A friendly reminder that embarrassed has to Rs and two Ss. Last week we talked about payments, peer-to-peer payments.
Yeah, very fascinating. That was super fascinating. Jason is a star.
Mobile payments. That was kind of funny, we had this moment during our podcast taping, this is not a joke, where Patrick Collison from Stripe just kind of appeared out of nowhere.
Yeah, he did.
And then walked by the room, and I was like, “What is happening?” Then it turned out you were interviewing him afterwards.
Indeed. We have all the power players here at Recode Central.
Just kind of wandering the halls.
I have them wander all the time. Then that one time I had an internet billionaire wandering around.
This is true. I’m learning this.
Also, I won’t get into the details, but I’ve been on these email chains lately with Kara as we are leading up to Code Conference in a few weeks. I try to be somewhat polite in my emails and ask for things nicely, and Kara is just like, “Sheryl, do this thing.” I see her emails to people and I’m like, “Oh my God.”
To be Kara Swisher. I just can’t imagine.
I know, it’s good.
Speaking of, you actually did tape a podcast with Sheryl.
Yes, I did indeed, and she did what I asked her to do, the other thing. I can’t tell you what it is. It’s a surprise.
It’s a secret.
She did the thing, Sheryl did the thing.
I listened to your podcast this morning — during my commute — with Sheryl. I thought it was really good.
That’s how I felt.
It was really raw and touching.
We didn’t talk about the company, we talked about the book.
No, it was about her book, “Option B.”
That was a good podcast, you should go take a listen.
I don’t know which billionaire is going to be coming by today.
Now, I’m like sad that my back is to the door. I’ll be turning around.
I’ve been emailing Mark Cuban, but I don’t think he’s going to show up, because I think he’s in Sri Lanka or something.
Well that wouldn’t make, unless he has that teleportation thing down.
He’s a lot of fun. I like talking to him.
Is he coming to Code Conference?
Not this year, but I do want to get him back onstage. I was just talking about doing an event in Texas with him, we could tape Recode Decode and stuff. But we’ll see.
He’s a great guy.
I hear keys clicking in the background and I think it might be Dan Seifert.
Dan Seifert is up on the keys.
Is that Dan Seifert or is that Eric?
Dan Seifert: It was me.
LG: It was Dan.
I was doing that.
LG: It was Dan. That’s fitting, because today on Too Embarrassed to Ask we are going to be revisiting a topic that we first discussed with Dan a year ago, which is laptops. Everybody has questions about laptops. Last week, there was a Microsoft hardware event in which we saw not only new hardware, but also a new operating system aimed at the education market. So we are bringing Dan Seifert, The Verge’s reviews editor, back on the show.
KS: Yes indeed. We are very excited to have you here, Dan, to talk about laptops.
Thanks for having me.
KS: Of course, we saw last year Apple introducing the new Macbooks, and they weren’t exactly what people wanted. Do you have a new Macbook, Dan?
No. I’m actually a Windows user. I’m like the only Windows user in our New York office.
KS: Really, the only one?
KS: You can’t find them ...
LG: That can’t be possible, the only one?
KS: That can’t be possible. One time I did a video of me and my children looking for a Windows product in our home. It was called “Find the Windows.” We looked for everything. It was when they were introducing the party thing with Windows, whatever the latest version of Windows, and we literally had no copies of Windows, and it was very funny ... My kids were ...
LG: Do your kids have an Xbox?
KS: They do now, they love that, now they have that.
LG: So they have that Microsoft product.
KS: They do, but they didn’t at the time, we ...
LG: I will say, this is purely anecdotal, but there is, at the mall near where I live, there is a Microsoft store and an Apple store, and I usually walk by both, and there was a lot of activity at the Microsoft store the other day.
KS: The video stuff is great, my kids love their Xbox.
LG: They had VR set up there, VR headsets set up too.
KS: My kids love, love, love the Xbox. I cannot say enough about that. They cannot say enough about it. In fact, I want them to stop saying so much about it, because they want to keep buying things.
LG: Anyway, first world problems ...
LG: We thought it would be a good time to revisit laptops. People always ask us if they should upgrade to the latest ones and what’s going on. So Dan, to start, tell us about the event last week. Tell us about the new Surface laptop, how is it different from the Surface book and other Surfaces, the Surface Pros and things like that.
KS: Were people dancing around them? Did they do any dances with them? I’m very ...
LG: Kara’s cutting straight to the chase.
I don’t know how much dancing there was, I’m sure once Microsoft starts its ad campaigns on TV, we’ll get to see lots of dancing.
That was the best part. I like the dancing.
Last week Microsoft actually announced what is called the Surface laptop, which is kind of a funny thing to call it — a laptop — because they’ve had the Surface line forever, and we’ve often referred to them as laptops, but I think inside Microsoft, this is the first true clamshell laptop that they’ve produced that they consider a true laptop.
KS: Explain clamshell to the people.
Yeah, so clamshell is your standard typical laptop where you have your display, a hinge and a keyboard, and they are connected by that hinge, and they close and open just like a clamshell. So when you say laptop, 99.9 percent of people are thinking about a clamshell.
That’s what the Surface laptop is, and it is very much a traditional clamshell laptop with a keyboard and a track pad. It does have a touchscreen, and it does have support for Microsoft’s pen that they include with the other Surface models. It doesn’t come with a pen, but it works with a pen if you have one. It’s very thin, and it’s very light, and it’s very sleek, and it’s very similar to Apple’s old Macbook Air in many ways, and I think we can get into that and how that’s really interesting.
So what’s different from the prior Surface models, where you’ve had the Surface and the Surface Pro, and then a couple of years ago we heard they came up with a Surface book. Those were all detachable computers that you could rip the keyboard off of.
KS: Pull the screen off, yeah.
They could work as tablets. Microsoft, I think, thinks of those as tablets first, even though personally, I use a Surface Pro Four, and I use it almost strictly as a laptop.
LG: It feels like a laptop.
I think the vast majority of owners use them as laptops. I think inside Microsoft, they think of those as tablets. The Surface laptop that they came with last week ...
KS: Do not rip off the keyboard.
LG: Do not try to take your surface laptop apart.
KS: People, pro tip, don’t rip the thing apart, because you’ll be unhappy with us.
LG: Podcast concluded. Thank you very much for joining us in this special episode.
KS: What’s in the base model there? What’s in the base model?
The base model starts at just under 1,000 bucks, and it’s got a core I5 processor. Kind of a stingy four gigabytes of ram.
And a pretty small 128 gigabyte storage SSD.
KS: Why so stingy? Don’t be stingy.
It is kind of stingy. You should not be buying a $1,000 laptop with four gigabytes of ram.
LG: For $1,000.
KS: What’s up with that?
There are upgrade models, of course, you can spend up to $2,500 bucks on it.
KS: Why is it so stingy with the ...
I think, based on my experience with Microsoft’s product line, they have an entry-level model that they don’t expect anybody to buy, and they just do it to advertise “starts at $999.” Then the vast majority of ones that they’ll sell are priced at like $1,299, and they have eight gigs of RAM, faster processor and more storage. Those are the ones that you’ll see in Best Buy, those are the ones that they are going to have on display at the Microsoft stores and stuff like that. That’s essentially the mainstream model. But to hit that lower price point so they can advertise “starts at $999,” they put out a stingy one.
KS: So they can do ads. It’s too bad Ballmer’s not there anymore, because he’d yell “999.” He’s gonna be at the Code Conference in a couple of weeks.
LG: Maybe you can get him to talk about it, scream 999.
KS: I can get him to yell, trust me, I can get him to yell.
I want to hear him talking about his Clippers performance.
LG: Yeah, the Clippers, I want to hear about his data project.
So Dan, one thing that a lot of people are talking about is the fabric. Talk about the fabric on the keyboard.
So the keyboard. A traditional laptop either has metal or plastic around the keyboard where you rest your palms on and type. The Surface laptop has a fabric called Alcantara, which is almost like an artificial suede. Microsoft actually released a detachable keyboard for the Surface Pro Four made out of this material last year. It’s really nice to touch, it’s really luxurious and it feels really nice.
KS: Suede? Nobody likes suede, who likes suede?
The question is how dirty it’s going to get.
LG: I was going to say it sounds filthy, and I just can’t wait until all those nights when I’m crying over my laptop keyboard because Kara has said another mean thing to me, and it’s just all getting absorbed into my Alcantara fabric.
KS: Nellie just bought a suede jacket, all we discuss is stains on her suede jacket. I’m just telling you, suede is a bad idea.
Alcantara is a fabric that you find in a lot of sports cars. The seats will be made out of this Alcantara fabric, because it’s kind of grippy, and it’s pretty durable, enough to be used inside of a car. However, it can stain, especially because they are releasing four colors of this thing.
KS: What colors?
I think there is red, gray, blue, and I think a black.
KS: How about white?
The blue or the red, or the gray, they might get kind of yucky pretty quickly.
KS: How nice. It’s so good, I’m paying $1,200 ...
LG: Did you feel it, Dan?
I haven’t touched it, unfortunately. I was on assignment outside of New York.
KS: So you don’t have a first impression of this thing?
LG: Dan was in China.
I don’t have a firsthand impression. However, I have touched the Alcantara Surface Pro Four keyboard, and it’s very nice.
KS: What about the whole thing? You haven’t touched this particular laptop.
I haven’t, unfortunately. We are doing this so soon after the announcement.
KS: I know, I’m sorry.
LG: I know, we are doing it so soon, and Tom Warren from The Verge was there, and we have a lot of coverage on the site about this, but Dan is our guru on laptops, and he’s done this before. At some point we’ll have full reviews on the site. Dan, talk a little bit about Windows 10 S. Because this is the software news, this is what’s interesting.
It’s the second part of the announcement that they made last week. Windows 10 S is — many people are viewing it as Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS. What it is, it’s Windows, but you can only install and use programs that are installed from Microsoft’s own app store. It’s almost like they took Windows and applied Apple’s iPhone model to it, to where you can only get the applications from their approved app store, running on it. The advantage that Microsoft says is that it’s more secure, it’s more stable, it’s less likely to run down or get slow over time, and a bunch of other security benefits. Also, if you are deploying a bunch of these to a business or a school, it’s easier to manage than standard Windows where people can kind of install whatever they want, whenever they want.
That’s Windows 10 S. The Surface laptop actually comes with Windows 10 S out of the box. If you want the full Windows 10 Pro, where you can install applications that are not in the Windows 10 store, that’ll cost you $50, but I think they are waiving the fee through the end of this year or something.
LG: That’ll cost you $50 to install an entirely new operating system, to upgrade your OS you’re saying?
Essentially, it’s like unlocking the OS. That’s kind of how I’m envisioning it.
KS: And they are competing against Chrome in the education market, right? Because my kids all have Chromebooks, that’s all ...
KS: They beat the crap out of those things.
It’s kind of funny, because the Surface laptop is a high-end laptop that’s targeted towards a very specific niche of the education market, mostly kids going to college who are willing to spend $1,000 or have scholarship money to spend $1,000-plus on a laptop.
KS: No, their parents are willing to spend $1,000, the parents.
Then, Windows 10 S is competing against Chromebooks that exist at the $200, $300 price range, and are filling all of the elementary and middle schools. So they are kind of two separate, different stories.
KS: Can they actually compete, because it seems like Chromebooks are everywhere. The kids have gotten used to them too at the same time. You know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s a question of economics, and it’s a question of ease of use for these schools. Schools will go with what they can afford in their budget, and what is something that they can administer to students, and then be able to maintain easily. You think of a school’s IT department, probably doesn’t have a whole lot of people in there, there might be one or two people.
KS: One guy who’s literally suspect ...
And they’ve got to manage however many hundreds of laptops are delivered to the students. So the easier that they can manage that, the better. And of course, schools have very strict, tight budgets. So the more they can do with their budget, the better. So Microsoft does have a bunch of partners that are releasing Windows 10 S laptops, like your Asus and Acer and HP, etc., that are at that 2, 3, under $400 price range that competes with the more mainstream ...
KS: One of the issues is Google Docs. Kids use Google Docs all the time now. That’s all my kids use is Chromebooks. It’s an integrated solution, schools are all sort of ...
I mean, Microsoft has it’s own integrated solution to answer that too, like there’s Office 365, right? It’s really just what they’re given ...
LG: But you could also just access Docs from a browser. You can use them with a Microsoft laptop ...
KS: You could. It seems, the whole thing is so integrated. When I was working on their ... The schools have them so integrated that I’ve seen ...
Right. But it’s like your students ... Your kids use them because it’s what they were given, right? If they were handed a Windows 10 S laptop and handed Office 365 accounts, they’d be using those.
KS: I don’t know. I think they’re just used to it as a habit. They’re very used to all the Google apps. Everything seems to be on Google apps and they seen familiar with everything from ...
Yeah, Google’s made a lot of success in the education market.
KS: Searching and mapping and everything, they do everything on Google.
They’re not using Apple Pages, that’s for sure.
KS: No, and Apple used to be the thing in the education market when I was young.
LG: Dan, how is the PC market doing in general right now?
So for years, the PC market was always viewed as declining for a long time. And now, I think it’s kind of stabilizing. There was a recent report, I believe it was from ... Let me just check my notes here real quick. IDC said that in the most recent quarter, global shipments have actually increased just a tick, so it seems like it’s either kind of flattening out, they stalled the decline, and maybe it’s coming back a little bit. But it’s never going to get back to where it was like the dominating way of computing. I don’t think PCs are going anywhere any time soon, and I think that the market and the performance of the market bears that out. But it’s just one piece of computing in a world where we have phones and tablets and all these other types of computing as well.
KS: And I would agree. So they seem to use their laptops. Students do, but I’m trying ... I do so much of my work on a phone now, it’s kind of ...
LG: Well, you have to remember too that a lot of the PC numbers reflect huge, huge shipments of PCs to the enterprise market.
LG: So you have big companies that are buying many devices in bulk. That’s why Lenovo, for example, is consistently one of the biggest shippers in the world. So I think, anecdotally, consumers will say, “Well, I just use my tablet or my iPad at home now,” right? Or “I’m fine just using the same laptop for five years.” But I think what’s really happening to the PC market is that that shift is also happening in enterprise. So more workers are saying to their IT departments ...
KS: And we open them less and less.
LG: “I just need a tablet, I just need my phone,” right? And then they have a PC that’s been sitting on their desk for several years that they’re not upgrading at the same rate.
KS: Yeah, I’m not upgrading at the same rate. I used to get one ... I haven’t gotten a new ... I don’t know, it works fine for what I need.
KS: Which is interesting. Speaking of that, I have a Macbook. Can we talk about those? Is it worth an upgrade for the new Macbooks?
LG: Yeah, because we haven’t really ... Did we talk about the new Macbooks on Too Embarrassed when they came out in October? I think we may have, but now let’s talk about this more broadly.
KS: I have not upgraded.
LG: Because when we talked to Dan last year, one of the big questions we got from people was, “Should I hold on to my five-year-old laptop if it’s working fine, and I don’t have an upgrade right now, or should I upgrade, because ...” Everyone gets really excited when there’s new Apple stuff.
LG: So has that changed at all, Dan?
I would say that if you’re in the same position as where we were last year, or if you’ve got a four- or five-year-old laptop that’s working fine, doesn’t feel slow, it’s doing what you need it to do, then I don’t know why you would buy a new laptop.
KS: Because why? Explain that for people.
If you have an older laptop that’s not doing the needs for you, if you feel like ... Maybe you’re a creative person who’s doing a lot more video editing now than you were five years ago, and your current laptop is not up to snuff, it can’t handle a higher resolution like 4K and stuff like that, maybe the battery doesn’t last anymore because it’s all worn out, then totally, you can upgrade to a new laptop.
I think it just really depends on your needs. I don’t think that the ... The new laptops that came out, whether they were the Macbook Pros that came out in the fall or Microsoft’s new products coming out this year ... They’re not fundamentally different than prior laptops. They offer the same experiences. They might be a little bit faster, might be a little bit slimmer, a little bit lighter, maybe slightly better battery life than a brand new laptop at a year and a half ago, but it’s not a fundamental change.
LG: It might have a touch bar ...
LG: A touch bar, that is not a deal-breaker for most people.
KS: So is there a breakthrough coming here, or is this just the way it’s gonna be?
Based on what we’ve seen, it seems like the breakthrough was that people could decide whether they needed a PC or not. And if you need a PC or a laptop, laptops are laptops and they’re gonna be laptops, and they might get new features like a touchscreen or pen support or the detachable feature ...
KS: Nothing exciting.
But it is still, at the end of the day, a laptop. And what’s really interesting to me about the Surface laptop from Microsoft, is that for years, Microsoft was pushing at changing the paradigm of what a PC could be in terms of, it’s detachable, it’s tablet first, you can flip it around and do all these different things and stuff, and here in 2017, they’re releasing a very traditional, straightforward laptop. And I think that goes to speak to what people need to do, what they need laptops for. And it does what a laptop user needs it to do without trying to shoehorn in other uses or try to be a jack-of-all-trades to work across different areas of your life.
KS: So again, do not detach it.
LG: Do not try to detach it.
You can touch the screen all you want, you can poke and scroll and all that stuff and ...
LG: Yeah, because it’s a touchscreen. But you can’t try to rip it apart.
KS: Do not detach. I like the word detach.
LG: I’m curious as to how Microsoft’s relationships with the other OEMs, the hardware manufacturers, have changed over the years. There was certainly a reaction when Microsoft first got into making it’s own laptops, as opposed to just licensing it’s software to the laptop makers, but now, Microsoft is in it. It’s in it, right?
It’s in it in a very limited sense. When you look at the broad PC laptop market, Microsoft is playing in the upper niche of the high end, over $1,000, most of the time much more expensive than that types of laptops. And the bulk of the market is still under $700. So Microsoft is not competing against the bread and butter for a lot of its partners. What it is doing is, it is showing how to make a premium laptop experience, or premium PC experience, much like Apple has done for decades.
And honestly, I think that if you look at the other partners, your Dells and your HPs and your Lenovos, their premium lines of laptops have gotten so much better since Microsoft entered into the market. They’ve gotten more premium, they’ve gotten a better design and better performance, better battery life and everything. And really, their premium sales have all gone up since Microsoft has introduced its Surface line. Especially in the past couple of years when the Microsoft Surface line was actually starting to be a success.
So I don’t think that HP or Dell would see Microsoft as a huge threat to their business. If anything, it’s the rising tide lifts all ships type of idea. But late last year, I reviewed HP’s X360, Spectre X360, and I gave it a very high score, and it’s an excellent laptop that I can recommend with almost no reservations. Two years ago, there wasn’t an HP laptop in sight that I could say that about. So I think what Microsoft has done was very smart, in that it made the whole Windows PC market better, and I think that’s a good thing.
KS: Yeah, for them it is.
LG: Dan, you’re saying that you didn’t want the four-pound HP Spectre with the Corning Gorilla Glass top that we saw at ...
Oh my gosh, I remember that thing.
LG: That was like four years ago, remember that one?
The fingerprint magnet.
LG: That was an Ultrabook. Remember the Ultrabook that their marketing pushed around certain specifications?
KS: No normal people remember them.
LG: We like to nerd out about this stuff too.
KS: I might detach that screen.
LG: Get on the nerd train!
KS: No I will not, I might detach that. I have a total feeling I want to do that right now. But I’m not gonna do it. All right, thanks Dan. In a minute we’re gonna be answering questions for you about laptops from our readers, but first, we’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. Lauren, what do we say here?
KS: No not like that, come on.
KS: Thank you, it’s painful ...
LG: Welcome to the Vox Media Podcast Network. Ka-ching.
KS: It takes a lot to keep this ... What is it, Dan? What’s the fake suede?
Alcantara. That’s how I pronounce it.
KS: It takes a lot to have the entire place here, the Vox Media Podcast Network, in Alcantara.
LG: Yeah, Kara’s wearing an Alcantara suit, and blue Alcantara shoes.
KS: Yeah, I just wallpapered Jim Bankoff onto the wall with it, and he’s behind the Alcantara. Anyway, here’s our first ad.
LG: I think in the time that you read that there were at least five more malware threats that emerged.
KS: Exactly, I agree.
LG: That was ... that’s long.
KS: Yeah, there’s someone waiting in our kitchen here, too. Anyway, Lauren? Next ka-ching? Yeah.
LG: Probably a person from Microsoft who just appeared as we were speaking about it.
KS: He’s coming for our Alcantara, or whatever the hell that is, the suede. They see the suede and they think, “Money.”
KS: Thank you Lauren, that was beautifully read. Ka-ching.
KS: Okay, so if you’ve been listening to the show, you know how it works. Every week, we take tech questions from our readers and listeners, and we try to answer everything we can. This week, we’re answering your questions about laptops with The Verge’s reviews editor, Dan Seifert. Lauren, please ask the first question.
LG: First question is from Bryant H, he’s @commontek on Twitter. “How much do you use laptops anymore outside of professional circumstances?” My answer is, all the time.
KS: I do not.
Well that’s interesting. This is a good question. Anecdotally, I almost never touch my laptop when I don’t have to do work on it. And I know that my wife uses an iPad at home as her computer, she doesn’t use a laptop anymore. So I guess the question you have to say is, what do professional circumstances mean? Does that just mean work, or does it include schooling and education, because if you are a student, you’re probably using a laptop a lot still.
KS: Yeah, but to search things, I use my phone and maybe iPad ...
Yeah, I use my phone to look things up or I use a tablet.
KS: Recipes, I used to use ...
LG: I must be so old school.
KS: You are.
LG: I am. This weekend, I go to sit on the couch and relax, and I’m thinking, “Oh, okay, I have to order a Mother’s Day gift, and I have to send some friends a wedding gift, and I have to book some travel,” and stuff like that that I just have to take care of, and I do it from my laptop. I open my laptop and do it.
KS: I have started to do apps ... I used to buy Amtrak tickets, for example, on my laptop. Now I have an app, and I do it through there. It’s very easy. My plane tickets, everything. Lots of things I would do ...
LG: I mean, obviously there are apps for such things, but maybe that is a sign that I’m getting old, that I’m like, “I want the big screen.”
KS: I’m so quantifiably older than you, so that’s not an issue I don’t think.
LG: No, it’s just my ...
I need tabbed browsing, I need to be able to browse seven different Mother’s Day ideas.
LG: I need to control my windows and command-tab through multiple applications, and I need to do all this stuff.
KS: I never use my laptop.
LG: But arguably, like Dan was saying that his wife does with the iPad, is that a lot of the stuff I’m saying that I do with my laptop, I could just do on an iPad, and I’m not ...
KS: It’s a changing scene.
I know that my wife sticks the iPad into a keyboard dock, and that’s her home computer.
KS: Yeah. I don’t even use that. Anyway, it’s a very changing situation. All right, the next one, Edie Jones, @edie_j. “Given that Verge gave the HP Spectre X360 a higher score than the new Macbook, would that be the premium laptop today to buy, or is there a reason to wait?”
That’s a very good question in context of last week’s announcement from Microsoft. We haven’t reviewed the new Surface laptop yet, so I can’t give a verdict on that. I can say that if you are in need of a laptop right now and you can’t wait any longer, the HP Spectre X360 is an excellent 13-inch laptop that costs a few hundred dollars less than the comparable Macbook Pro. But if you don’t like Windows, obviously, it’s not gonna suit you. And if you prefer a Mac, then a Macbook Pro is probably the right computer for you. It just really depends on your needs. I think we discussed this last year, there’s no one-size-fits-all with laptops or computers, and depending on what you use it for and how much you plan on using it depends on how much you need to spend and which one’s the best for you.
KS: Right. So we don’t know.
LG: And some preferences around operating systems.
KS: So we’ve got lots and lots more, so next one.
LG: Next one is from Peg Achterman, who asks, “Here’s one: Varied opinions on whether it’s okay to close and go with laptop. Solid-state drive should be okay, right?” This is funny, because I just never think about this. I’m like, whatever, I’m done, I just close the laptop.
Yeah. Ideally that would be it, right? You just close the laptop and you go on with your life. That’s how you see the advertisements and stuff like that. I’ve never heard of any concerns about it damaging the internal components, like the SSD or anything like that. However, in my experience reviewing a lot of laptops, not all of them shut down or go to sleep properly when you close the lid.
LG: Because you’re draining your battery.
Yeah, which will either drain your battery or what I call, it gives you a ’hot bag.’ So you throw the computer in your bag, and then it’s still warm and it’s still doing stuff, and not going to sleep, and then your bag gets really warm.
KS: Did you dub “hot bag” yourself?
Yeah. You don’t want to hot bag yourself.
LG: Now what does it do to the Alcafabra?
That’s a good question. In my experience, Macs do a really good job with this, where you can just close the lid and they shut down, or go to sleep like they’re supposed to. Certain Windows computers have had issues with this over the past, I think. Windows 10 when it first launched did not do this properly, so it affected a lot of computers. So it’s really kind of a hit or miss thing.
KS: People really enjoy hot bagging in San Francisco. Anyway, next question. David Rodham Janove: “Why won’t Apple include another USB charging port on their laptop charger so I can charge my iPhone at the same time?” Apple doesn’t care what you think, David, I’m sorry.
Yeah, because they want you to buy another charger from Apple.
KS: Yeah. Why not. Throw something out there Dan. Just ’cause.
LG: Why didn’t Apple include any good ports?
KS: Yeah, why didn’t they?
I don’t know. It’s funny, because on a Microsoft Surface charger — he’s talking specifically about the charging brick, he wants another port on there so he can charge his iPhone. On the Surface charger, there actually is a second USB port, or there’s a USB port on there so you can plug a phone into it and charge it while you charge your laptop. I think it’s super clever, it’s super convenient. Why Apple doesn’t do this, I don’t know. You’d have to ask Apple.
LG: So you’ll buy more dongles.
KS: Assholes. That’s why.
LG: Well no, here’s the thing. At the end of the day ...
KS: They never want to do anything they don’t want to do.
LG: Yeah, at the end of the day, a lot of these companies are making decisions, and this is not to defend Apple, but a lot of these companies are making decisions based on what they see to be advancements in engineering. So they’ll remove a certain button or a certain port or whatever it might be from a phone or a laptop or other devices, because they say, “Well, we’re accommodating this now in the build of it,” or, “We’re doing it because we wanted to do this.” And it seems as though there were some engineering decisions made that maybe made sense in the minds of Apple, but for a lot of consumers who are looking at the new Macbooks, they’re saying, “Well, there aren’t that many ports.”
LG: And I happen to be one of those people.
KS: They don’t care. That’s how I feel.
KS: They love the dongle, as you know.
I will note that my Surface only has one USB port.
KS: Okay, all right then.
KS: Next one.
LG: Sad trombone. This is a good question, actually. This is from Joseph Bullivant, who has written in before. He’s @techjoelogic on Twitter. “As a professional creative with an aging Macbook Pro, I had no choice but to get in on the touch-bar action and upgrade to the latest model. However, it is still underpowered for me. Is there any way to give it a boost via some sort of external graphics card or processor?”
KS: That’s a good question.
This is actually a really interesting question as well. So there are ways that you can ... Because the new laptops have USBC ports with what’s called Thunderbolt 3, it’s a very high-speed transfer connection. And there are external graphics cards that you can actually plug into the USBC port on a computer and give it more graphical processing power. And you can do this with the new Macbook Pros. There are drivers available now for, I believe, Nvidia graphics cards, so if you have an Nvidia 1080 — which is one of the high-end graphics cards — you can put it in a box and plug that box into the side of your computer and give your computer more graphical power and process.
It’s not official in terms of like ... Apple won’t support this, but it is supported by Nvidia. So it is something you can do to give it even more power if you want.
KS: All right.
LG: Okay, good answer.
KS: I’m gonna do the next one. Okay, it’s from Tom, @Faulmensch. Okay. “I’m gonna study abroad this fall and don’t want to take my Macbook with me. Can a Chromebook do all of the basic university tasks I could want?” Dan, could it?
I guess my question is, what are the basic university tasks that you have? My suggestion would be to find out what those basic tasks are.
KS: All right well tell us, just basic things. Docs, surfing the web, email ...
A Chromebook is gonna do all of that stuff. The one area that’s still a pain in the neck with Chromebooks, and maybe it’s changed in the last six months but I doubt it, is if you do need to print something, it can be difficult to print from a Chromebook. Not all printers are plug-and-play, or if you have a network printer it’s not always as easy to access through Chrome OS.
KS: Otherwise ...
So that would be my one concern, but there are lots of students that only use Chromebooks. There’s lots of, maybe not university students, but lots of lower-education or earlier-education students that are using Chromebooks, and you can do all of your typing and reporting and note-taking, etc., and so forth.
LG: Tom’s follow-up question to that was, “What’s a printer?” No, I’m just kidding, he didn’t. But what I really want to know is, can I use Napster on the Chromebook for when I go to college?
Does Napster still exist? Was that when you were in college, Lauren?
LG: I don’t know, has the statute of limitations run out? Okay, moving on. The next one is from Josh. Wow, we are really attracting a younger demographic here on Too Embarrassed to Ask, and I really like this. This is Josh, @_projectjosh. He says, “I’m 22, and probably the biggest thing holding me from getting a Surface is the lack of Apple symbol. Is this a thing?” I feel like Josh should tell us if this is a thing.
Yeah, he might be more in tune with the youth than I am.
LG: Is this a thing?
Not having Mac OS is a thing. So like, if you prefer Mac OS, I found personally that I don’t really care what operating system is on my devices, I can be just as productive with Windows as I am with Macs, so it doesn’t really matter to me.
KS: Yeah, but I think to go from Chromebooks to Apple is ...
LG: I could be wrong, but I think what Josh may be referring to is that Apple symbol that is on the front of his ...
KS: It’s the branding.
LG: It shows everybody that little lit-up apple on your laptop.
KS: It’s cooler.
LG: I don’t know.
I mean, you could be just like everyone else.
KS: There’s been a lot of studies that show Apple’s question of whether it’s still as hot as it needs to be. You know what I mean?
Apple definitely has a very strong brand, strong brand loyalty, so sure, it’s a thing.
LG: Josh, you could also just get a Surface and stick a sticker on it, an Apple sticker on there.
KS: I have some stickers, he can call me, I have a lot of extras that come in the box.
LG: I’m send him a Verge sticker.
KS: Okay. This is Henry McCants, @curiousHenwin. “Many heavy users like video, photo and gaming pros reviewing and critiquing laptops. Are there needs/wants skewing the laptop battle?” All right, if you’re a gaming person or a video person.
I think what he’s saying is that there’s a lot of people who are finding fault with new laptops because they’re not powerful enough, or they don’t have enough ports to do all their needs in terms of photo-editing or video-editing and so on and so forth. Are they skewing the battle? Well, when you think about the market for ... I think this really applies to the new Macbook Pros, because when they came out last fall they had a lot fewer ports and they, in some ways, weren’t as powerful as the computers that they were replacing, or they were maybe just slightly more powerful without a significant increase.
But when you think about who is buying these 25, 27, $2,800 laptops on a regular basis, maybe they’re upgrading every two or three years, these are the people who need that power. They’re buying it to do their jobs. Apple’s most popular laptop over the years has always been the Macbook Air, but the Macbook Air sells for $1,000 to $1,300 dollars, and it’s a great every-person laptop that average people can use and do everything they need.
But if a pro buys something like a high-end laptop as a tool to get their job done, they kind of have expectations set, and they need it to do those jobs. And if it doesn’t do those jobs or doesn’t fulfill those needs, then they’re going to be pretty loud and vocal about it. And I think Apple has seen this with both the Macbook Pros, they’ve seen it with the Mac Pro desktop computer that they didn’t update for like four years, and now they’re like, “Oh, we’re gonna do something again, so stay tuned,” because these pros have been very loud and vocal about it.
That said, the new Macbook Pro has been very successful for Apple. Their sales are up, obviously, because it’s a new laptop to buy and it’s a new Apple thing and people are buying it, but in terms of skewing anything, I think if anything, it makes companies critiquing, makes companies realize what people need and are expecting from their products. And they need to react to that.
KS: All right. Next question.
LG: Next question is from Stewart Baillie, who asks, “Why would Microsoft say Surface laptop will last next four years and not include USBC? Will USBC be replaced, or will all devices switch to this STD,” which I think means standard. Yeah, you should take some Alfabra for that.
KS: Okay. What do you think?
I guess the biggest complaint with the Microsoft Surface laptop that we’ve seen so far was that it doesn’t have any USBC ports on it. For a new laptop, that’s a premium laptop in 2017, that seems kind of weird, whereas the rest of the industry is either including some, or if they’re like Apple, they’re going fully to USBC.
USBC is great and it’s functional and does a lot of things. That said, nobody will say that the old style, or USBA, is going away anytime soon. There’s lot of devices that still plug in through USBA, still continue to plug in through USBA for the foreseeable future, and in the long term, in three to four years if there are all USBC devices at this point, you could get an adapter to go backwards from USBC to USBA.
So, I don’t think it’s really an issue in terms of long-term use. Personally, I would have loved to have seen a USBC port on there, but it’s honestly not a deal-breaker, in my opinion.
LG: What if they made a fabric Dongle and they called it an Alcandongle?
KS: Adam Sexton asks: “Is Windows 10 S good? I love the look of the Surface laptop, but I’m not so sure about the software.”
LG: Yeah there were actually two questions about 10 S. Jade Esgana asks: “If Windows 10 Pro can do all of the things Windows 10 S can, why would I use the 10 S version?”
Yeah, good question. Windows 10 S, whether it’s good or not, we can’t answer yet, we haven’t evaluated it or tested it or used it. It is largely the same Windows 10 experience, you’re just limited to installing things from the Windows store. So when you open it up and you set it up and everything like that, it’s gonna be pretty similar to any other Windows computer. So in that respect, I would say it’s gonna be a similar user experience to other Windows devices.
And if you can do all the things you can do with Pro ... I’m sorry, I’m getting tripped up. If you can do all the things Windows 10 S can do with Pro, why use 10 S? I think Microsoft would say that 10 S provides a more secure, controllable experience. And that’s really why they are pushing it towards the education market. And the earlier question saying that they love the look of the laptop but they’re not sure about Windows 10 S, again, you can put Windows 10 Pro on there very easily. Microsoft’s letting you do it for free through the end of the year, or after this year it will cost $50 to upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro, so I don’t think the fact that it’s launching with Windows 10 S is a deal-breaker or should really influence your decision at all, because you can put Windows 10 Pro on their just as easily.
KS: All right. Next one is Mark, @markalexmclenna. “What laptops have the water-resistant keyboard for when I start crying about the state of politics?”
Or crying when Kara insults you again.
KS: Yeah. Oh, she can get over it.
Lenovos actually, for years, have had spill-resistant keyboards, especially in their Thinkpad line.
Which are catered towards business customers.
KS: Yeah, they kept dipping it in water, remember that?
You don’t see it too often advertised by the other manufacturers, but that’s been a thing that, if you’re buying a Lenovo Thinkpad, you can almost guarantee that it’s spill-resistant.
KS: Any others?
Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any. It’s not something that you see in consumer lines very often. Apple doesn’t talk about it. You don’t see it in HP or Dell’s consumer lines.
They kind of save those features for the business lines.
KS: Because you know water is just bad for computers.
LG: In general, if you spill something, I was gonna say, once you spill something ...
KS: Unless it’s covered in plastic.
LG: Yeah, and then sometimes you initially think it’s great, and then like two days later, everything stops working, and you’re like, “I can’t possibly understand why the Diet Cokes suddenly just put my laptop on the fritz.”
KS: It’s all sticky. All right, Lauren, last question.
LG: Last question is from, oh, Ken Yeung, our friend. “Which one will help me get more juice than a Juicero?” Ha ha.
I have no idea how to answer that question.
KS: Anyway ...
LG: You could just ... Actually, if you’re using a clamshell that does not detach, you can take one of those juice packs and just squeeze the clamshell shut and squeeze the juice between it, but it would have to be a water-resistant keyboard.
Just throw your orange in the middle ...
KS: They’re not oranges, they’re juice packs, Dan.
LG: Yeah, they’re juice packs. They’re like these packs of ...
KS: Look at that, he’s somewhere else. He doesn’t know the controversy, the great controversy of 2008. I had dinner the other night with Ellen Huet, who was first writing about that at Bloomberg. And she’s got more to come, she says.
LG: And more to come on Juicero ...
KS: Juicero ... She broke the scandal wide open.
LG: Do you think we can find a way to mention Juicero in every single podcast for the rest of this year?
KS: We used to talk about Juicero for an hour.
KS: Sorry Dan, not to ...
LG: But here’s my question. If you use a clamshell laptop, like the new Microsoft Surface laptop, as your Juicero compressor, then what happens to the Alcadongle ...
KS: All right, Dan, let me just finish up with an actual question. So this is a good product, and it looks like you guys are gonna have reviews on whether/how good it is soon. Correct? It looks promising.
Yeah, we’re hoping in the very near future.
KS: Sounds like it’s promising.
I’m excited about it.
KS: Good. All right then. Thank you so much for coming. This has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Dan, again, as usual, fantastic.
LG: Thank you, Dan.