Yes, as a matter of fact, I did say ex-Apple user in the title. While OS X (and now MacOS) was never my favorite operating system, the overall user experience on a MacBook Pro used to be unparalleled – at least in my opinion. But in recent years, Apple’s attempts at innovation have become increasingly gimmicky.
So when I found myself in the market for a laptop, I opted to avoid the debt necessary for a new MacBook Pro – especially in light of the new features I did not like. And with used MacBooks costing as much as new PC laptops, I couldn’t justify purchasing a used MacBook. Plus, because my company-supplied laptop handled work-related projects, my only real need for another laptop was for my personal writing projects that I didn’t want to put on company hardware.
So I began my search. But first, let’s get the operating system thing out of the way. I use Linux, not Windows or MacOS. Even when I had a MacBook Pro, I tended to use Linux more than Mac. So for me, the difference between PC and Mac is primarily a hardware difference.
My initial search was half-hearted, because based on previous experiences, I questioned the quality of a lot of the PC brands. And a trip to Best Buy confirmed that doubt. The consumer-focused PC laptops are downright awful. Mediocre specs or wild attempts at “cool” features rendered them mostly useless to me. Turns out, if you want a laptop for actual work, you have to look for business class laptops, which are generally not available at consumer electronics stores.
I finally found some business class laptops at Micro Center, which afforded me the opportunity to play with some of them. They were much better than the consumer laptops I found at Best Buy – anti-glare screens, better specs, rugged. But I was still put off by the price. Significantly less expensive than a MacBook Pro for similar specs, but still too much to induce debt spending. After all, I wasn’t convinced I would be happy with a PC laptop.
Given that I only needed this machine for my writing projects, I decided to look into used laptops. So after a fair (extensive, and probably unhealthy) amount of research, I opted for a used ThinkPad X230 on eBay for $155, to which I added a $60 stick of RAM – a $215 total. I installed Linux and started playing around. I expected a run-of-the-mill Linux-on-PC experience where some things worked and some didn’t. What I discovered was that everything worked with no tweaking. In fact, I preferred this $215 ThinkPad over my company-provided MacBook Pro from 2015.
Here are a few reasons why:
- A month after I bought it, I unexpectedly had to get a new job. Contract-to-hire required me to bring my own equipment, which concerned me. But I was pleasantly surprised to find the 3rd generation i5 processor in the ThinkPad more than adequate for my software development needs. (When I switch to full time at my new job, I’ll be asking for a ThinkPad instead of a MacBook.)
- It had an anti-glare screen that could be used in low light, bright light and even outside without having to resort to strange contortions in order to see the screen. (I understand how cool the glossy screens look in the right light, but in all other light, they’re awful.)
- It came with a TrackPoint mouse – that little pencil eraser thing between the G, H and B keys. An excellent pointing device that didn’t require taking my hands off the home row to move the mouse pointer.
- After using MacBook Pros for years, I had forgotten how good a laptop keyboard could be. Wow! Firm, with decent key travel, I found that I didn’t mind long typing sessions on it. If I had to choose only one reason to switch to a ThinkPad, this might be it.
- The compact, sturdy design was refreshing. Although about twice as thick as the MacBook Pro, the 12.5″ form factor of the ThinkPad managed to fit better in tight spaces than the ultra thin 13.3″ or 15″ designs.
- Easy upgrades – something that cannot be said of any MacBook. RAM, Hard disks (2 of them), battery – all easy to access and relatively inexpensive. Not to mention extra peripherals like docks and cables were far cheaper than their Apple equivalents.
Once I discovered how much I liked the ThinkPad, I purchased a battery upgrade for $70, extending my battery life to 7+ hours and bringing my total to $285. And I liked it better than the $1,000 2013 MacBook Pro I was offered (and gave to my son instead).
So the laptop I bought with writing in mind became my daily driver for pretty much everything I do on a computer. Color me surprised – and happy.