MacBook Air replacement?
December 5, 2016 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My wife's beloved 2014 MacBook Air (11") is starting to die. While we love Apple hardware, 99.99% of her time is spent in Windows (through Boot Camp). What would be a good replacement for this laptop?

More details: We appreciate the milled aluminum construction of the MBA and how tough it is, so something similar (Samsung?) would go down easy. Also, we are not averse to another Apple laptop, but it seems a waste to have all that partition of the hard drive sitting permanently unused with the Mac OS. Plus we are not in love with Apple's price premiums, and would be delighted to find another maker that was nearly as tough and well made, but not as expensive. Other nice features would be low weight, since she is disabled and in bed most of the day, and has a hard time using her hands. She also watches a lot of streaming videos, so great screen and video processor would be ideal. Price ranges from as cheap as possible to around $2500. We are in the USA. Thank you for any recommendations you can provide to help us!
posted by seasparrow to Technology (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My Lenovo YOGA 510 is very Mac-like, down to the metal construction. It weighs nothing. It doubles as a tablet; the "yoga" part is that the screen folds over. It is tiny and spacious and I love it.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:04 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've got an MBP that runs windows about 90% of the time, a work PC, and if, after I leave this job, I find myself in want of a laptop, I would save my pennies for a Microsoft Surface Book. It definitely finds itself in the same general aesthetic as MBP, at least speaking of my 2014ish model, and it's a powerful little machine that's comparable to the current MBP. And why not? It's clearly after the same market.

It's not as light as Air, at least with the keyboard attached, but the screen undocks and becomes a monster 13.5" tablet computer. It starts at $1500, though if I bought today, I'd go for a version closer to $2000-- some models go up a ways after that, too.

I've had Macbooks Pro at this job for a number of years, and while I've never been a Mac guy, I respect the MBP hardware. Surface Book has been among the few PC laptops I've seen that would meet my standard for same. (Though i'm not in the market, so I haven't researched extensively.)

On preview I see DarlingBri recommended a Yoga laptop from Lenovo. Their Yoga 3 was on my radar as a MBP replacement before the Surface Book was out, though I would want to be assured that Lenova's no longer putting nefarious stuff on its machines. Since an Air user probably doesn't need the computational heft of an MBP, I think a lighter Yoga is probably good for your wife's usage.

More general advice: Whatever you do, upgrade the memory above the standard amount, and get a 512GB SSD if you can swing it in your budget; those lightweight machines don't take the sort of SSD you get at best buy, but rather the little board you see inside it; they are generally not meant to be user serviceable, and computer manufacturers are doing their part to keep their products out of the scope of the local PC repair shop, as well.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:13 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Provided you're not a heavy webcam user then I would recommend the Dell XPS 13 range.

They have quite a few options, so I'd recommend the Core i5 with 8GB and QHD+ as a nice "all rounder". It'll come with a SSD which meets the recommendation above.

You don't need a touch screen on a pure laptop, it'll only make your arm hurt after a while.
posted by mr_silver at 10:25 AM on December 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

The computers I've seen mentioned as high quality in this class are

The Surface Book
Dell XPS 13
HP Spectre x360 13

I would recommend buying from the Microsoft Store. The computers come with a clean install of Windows, without the preinstalled garbage, manufacturers love to weigh down their pcs with. You also have the option of Microsoft Complete for $99, which extends the warranty to two years, and adds accidental damage protection, similar to AppleCare.
posted by Harpocrates at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

If she's been happy enough on a 2014 smaller Air and doesn't feel the need to download stuff often, I'd say the $1500 Surface Book would be more than enough. It's going to be a little bigger than she's used to but run faster and the battery should be about what she expects, which is the thing that's probably going to keep me on my Air for quite awhile yet. Yes, it's hard to upgrade the storage, but I'm not sure that matters if she doesn't use it for games or downloaded video. I have a 120gb Air and I even do some light gaming on this machine and it's fine. I might upgrade to the 256, but I wouldn't go any better than that.

Not saying that's what I'd recommend because I haven't used it, but as a heavy user of my Air I can at least speak to what kind of capabilities a PC is going to need to be equivalent. And basically anything with a modern processor and 8gb of RAM is going to feel snappier than what she's used to and be perfectly fine for watching video and doing email and whatnot for the foreseeable future. When people start talking about video performance in PC laptops right now, they're talking about stuff like gaming performance, not watching Netflix.
posted by Sequence at 10:39 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

An older Air is my personal computer, and my work-issued laptop is a Yoga 2. My Yoga has been a pretty good machine, though the small screen that only works at pretty tiny resolution is sub-optimal, and my boss and one other employee with the same laptop have had multiple warranty replacements - both of them had the creepy ghost display issue, where suddenly dozens of invisible fingers would be tapping all over the screen sending emails and fucking up spreadsheets (IT WAS SO CREEPY YOU COULD SEE ALL THE "TOUCHES"), there were second-display issues (I have some of those too - it thinks my second monitor is about an inch taller than it is).

They both got them replaced with Surface Pros and they are much happier.

But for that kind of bed-watching I'd want a 15 or 17" high-quality display. The Microsoft store has a bunch of big Dell and Lenovos for well under $1000 that look pretty good to me.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

If she doesn't need/want a touchscreen I'd probably go with the Dell XPS non-touch model with the i5, but upgrade the SSD to 256GB. Total: $1,099. Or add an i7 for another $200.
posted by Huck500 at 11:26 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

To be honest, I'd be concerned with the Surface Book's extra weight (and that it doesn't offer much value compared to the Apple models). If you wanted to go Windows, the Dell XPS 13 is generally considered the top of class currently, and weighs about the same as a similar Macbook Air.

Looking at what you're looking for, though, I'd almost recommend the (new) Macbook, it's amazingly light and is now slightly better performing that the first model, and has an incredible screen. If not, the new Macbook Pro (without touchbar) is slightly lighter than the Macbook Air 13, and also has an incredible screen (and slightly better keyboard than the Macbook).

At the end of the day, it's mostly up to preference, but when looking at build quality and performance, Apple doesn't really command that much of a higher price than its competitors.
posted by General Malaise at 11:59 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My wife's beloved 2014 MacBook Air (11") is starting to die.

I think it's worth bringing to an Apple Store for a diagnostic and estimate. My 2010 Air is running happily (with a new battery). That computer should have longer life span.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:15 PM on December 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

The Surfacebook is much more in line with the MBP in terms of capabilities, size and price. The Surface Pro is the MS "competitor" for the MBA, and even then it's on the higher end of pricing. And it's not really a competitor so much as a different imaging of what a computer could be. Some people love 'em (me for one), but they're not necessarily for everyone. That said, if she can see one in person, your wife may be a convert.

However, as mentioned above, Dell, Lenovo and HP all make more direct replacements for the Air.
posted by bonehead at 1:02 PM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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