First Thoughts on the 2016 MacBook Pro 13

A week ago Monday, I unpacked my new 2016 MacBook Pro 13. It took 57 days from day I ordered it until the day it showed up at my door. Why so long? I’m glad you asked friend. ūü§ď I didn’t order it right away – I wanted to see a few reviews because I was so shocked and dismayed at some of the decisions Apple had made regarding the ports and the small battery size. As I waited, the build time went from 1-2 weeks to 4-6 weeks. Since I wanted to avoid Washington State sales tax (which would have added $260 to the final bill), I ordered it from ABT. It was considered a custom order since I got the Core i5 2.9 Ghz / 16 GB RAM / 1 TB SSD version. I didn’t want to make the mistake I made with my 5K iMac having only a 512 GB SSD, especially since I was planning on using Final Cut Pro on the MacBook and it needs tremendous storage to make it’s powerful mojo work.

The final price was an eye-watering $2600. I remember paying $2500 for several of my first laptops – I’m looking at you, little Fujitsu P5010D – but my 2015 Dell XPS 13 purchase was only $1151, so this was a big step back up to the pricing stratosphere. I am agog at the people who max out the 15″ version and pay over $4300! Cost is a relative thing though of course – back when I was a single guy with no real bills, a $5000 computer every two years was a regular occurrence. My how things change!

Presented to you stream-of-consciousness style, here are my first impressions of my 2016 MacBook Pro 13.

Continue reading First Thoughts on the 2016 MacBook Pro 13

Why I Returned the ASUS UX305 and Re-Purchased a Dell XPS 13

This is one of those long-overdue posts that I’m spurred to crank out today because a commenter (rare as they are on my blog!) asked me a question a few others have asked: why, after raving about how great the Asus UX305 was, did I return it? And what did I purchase instead?

I used the ASUS UX305 for a full month, two weeks of which were in Mexico on vacation (where I took at lot of photos with my Nikon D750) and generally really liked it. Good battery life, nice design, not too heavy. I was a little grumpy about the clicking trackpad problem, because it speaks to weak quality control, but as long as the unit you get doesn’t have the problem, you’re good. The one thing that niggled at me though was the CPU: I use Lightroom very frequently on my laptop, and the UX305 struggled to keep up in some ways. Not all the time, and in general I’d say if you’ve got more patience than me, it wouldn’t be an issue. But since I¬†keep my laptops for 2-3 years, I wanted to invest in something that would remain high-performance. I truly think the UX305 is a superb device though and recommend it highly, especially for the price.¬†So what did I buy instead? Continue reading Why I Returned the ASUS UX305 and Re-Purchased a Dell XPS 13

Asus UX305 Noisy Clicking Trackpad Problem

One of the issues I noted in my first day with the Asus UX305 was the weird trackpad that had a clunk/click sound when tapped on. I couldn’t understand if it was normal or not; I assumed it was just a poor design decision on Asus’ part. When I posted my first impression review on the Amazon product page, one of the commenters shared that he too had the clicking trackpad issue. When he contacted Asus tech support they told him it wasn’t normal and that he should return the product.

Curious about this, and having the personality type that doesn’t keep a product if I think it’s defective and would need to be returned anyway, I ordered a Microsoft Signature Edition (the UX305FA-USM1). I’d gotten into a somewhat heated discussion over in the Amazon product review comments with someone who insisted that the Signature Edition was a superior product due to the software build Microsoft put on it (bloatware-free). Oh, also some guy who was mocking me for not lying and using the student discount like he did.

Figuring I now had the opportunity to see for myself, I ordered the Microsoft Store version. And, somewhat to my surprise, there was a big difference in the trackpad. Watch the video to see why.

Shortly after doing this video, I returned the Amazon version.

The Best Value in Ultrabooks Ever: The Asus UX305F

asus-UX305F

After I returned the Dell XPS 13, I expected to wait until the Windows 10 time frame to try and find another product. I’m also keeping my eye on what Apple does with the MacBook Air, just in case I feel desperate enough to make THAT giant leap (can you tell I’m reluctant?). I’m hideously uncomfortable and slow using OS X because I’ve never done more than dabble on my Mac Mini – the OS makes little sense to me, I know virtually no shortcuts, and I find it utterly non-intuitive. But enough about that, back to the world of Windows laptops…

I was reading a very detailed review of the Dell XPS 13 – I’m always curious to read what reviewers say about hardware that I own(ed) – and I saw a review of the Asus UX305F. I frankly hadn’t paid much attention to Asus laptops since I bought their first Zenbook back in 2011 and the key travel was so short it missed 50% of what I typed. And their model naming scheme is so confusing (UX301LA, T1000TA, etc.) it’s hard to know what’s what. Seeing the specs on the UX305F, and the price, my jaw dropped.

Continue reading The Best Value in Ultrabooks Ever: The Asus UX305F

Sorry Dell, I Sent The XPS 13 Back To You

Dell-XPS-13-Welcome-Mail

This was not an easy decision, but I sent the XPS 13 back to Dell for a refund. I won’t be repetitive – all my reasons are in this previous blog post. The bottom line was that I felt it had too many compromises for a product cost over $1900. When I splash out that much money, I want to feel like my purchase is an improvement in all the important ways. That reasoning is why I bought, then returned both a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon D600. Both cameras had a lot going for them, but ultimately were not a full upgrade from my well-use D300. I had to wait for the D750 before the true successor was found.

The point being that when I’m upgrading a cornerstone of my technological world, I have high standards and will wait for the right product. The XPS 13 was so close in most ways; I may revisit a Core i5/256 GB PCIe SSD version late in the year after Windows 10 launches. Maybe Windows 10 will bring with it some battery life gains, and Dell will have a few months to mature their drivers. Back to my HP Envy Spectre 14 for now, though that may be short-lived as I have my eye on something else…something quite different from the XPS 13, but something that may tick the most important boxes (but not all of them).

Side note: the photo above is of a really cool owner’s welcome booklet that Dell sends you after you buy the XPS 13. It was customized with the model of my laptop, and even the service tag and specs of the product. It welcomed me to the Dell family, and was a nice touch. It felt personal and welcoming. Nice job whomever at Dell is responsible for it!

The Pros and Cons List for the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook 2015

Dell XPS 13 (2015 Edition)

Sometimes the best way to make a rational decision is to weigh the pros and cons. I typically trust my gut and make fairly quick, but reasonably informed, decisions.¬†Every so often I feel torn and need to take a step back to think about the best option. I’m also not above admitting I made an error in judgement. So here’s how I’m looking at the Dell XPS 13. I hope this list helps your purchasing decision on the XPS 13! Continue reading The Pros and Cons List for the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook 2015

First Thoughts on the Dell XPS 13 (2015 Edition)

I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts on my new Dell XPS 13, but haven’t quite gotten around to it. What I did do tonight was type up a long comment that I posted over on PC World’s¬†review of the XPS 13 (by none other than the legendary Gordon Mah Ung). Another fantastic review is by Lisa Gade of MobileTechReview (the photo below is courtesy of her review).

dell_xps13_2015_lead

My comment/mini-review is below:

***

I now own the Dell XPS 13 – the top-end Core i7 QHD+ model with the 512 GB SSD. It’s quite a machine – Dell did an impressive job with the build quality and the overall package is impressive. It’s expensive though to get that top-end model. The 512 GB SSD upgrade alone was $300. Ouch! I’m ticked that Dell doesn’t allow us to truly customize what we want – I wanted the 1080p display but couldn’t get the 512 GB SSD without also getting the QHD+ display. Why does Apple offer more customization now than Dell? That’s just wrong.

Four main things irk me now:

1) The fact that the M.2 SSD isn’t PCIe and Dell told you they’re planning on releasing a version of the laptop that uses PCIe. What the hell? I just got this thing a few days ago, and it’s already going to be replaced by something newer? Is Dell taking PR lessons from Osborne?

2) Windows 8.1 is still a mess in high DPI mode. Well, to be fair, the OS itself isn’t too awful with the DPI scaling set to 250%, but apps are a mess. Blurry text in TweetDeck. Weird scaling and overlap of UI elements in all sorts of other apps. A magnifying glass in Lightroom the size of a grain of sand. It’s frustrating realizing I have to wait for Windows 10 to supposedly make this all better. Microsoft really wasn’t ready for laptops with screens quite this high-res…they should have been deprecating APIs and forcing developers to code for high-res displays, or found some way to auto-fix the issue.

3) The battery life is nowhere near what Dell claims. I’m used to OEMs being dishonest about real-world battery life, but we’re talking a 50% difference here. I’d say real-world usage of my XPS 13 in productivity and Lightroom (zero gaming) is about 6-7 hours. Good, but not great. And Dell announced great.

4) With all the rumours of Intel releasing Skylake this year, it feels like when Windows 10 comes out there will be a whole new generation of laptops, giving Broadwell U laptops a shelf life of maybe 6-8 months. There’s always something better around the corner, but the delays in Broadwell and the noise that Intel is already making about Skylake makes me concerned Broadwell U will be jumped over very quickly.

All in all, ¬†there’s a LOT to love here, but given that I only buy new laptops about every three years, I’m not sure this is the right one at the right time.

Dell XPS 13 2015 Edition: You Shall Be Mine!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA/ photo courtesy of Slashgear /

I’m tremendously excited what Dell has done with the new XPS 13, announced at CES 2015 recently. Talk about some amazing hardware design! It’s been a few years since I owned a Dell laptop – my last one was a Dell Vostro V13, which was a decent laptop for day to day work with a nice design, but ultimately had a very ho-hum screen, was underpowered, and had fairly poor battery life.

For the past three years, I’ve been using an HP Envy 14 Spectre – an audacious, premium design from HP that sadly was a one-off and not the first of a new line. Sure, they’ve carried the ENVY name forward, but none of them have been Spectres or been premium. The Envy 14 Spectre was, and is, a fast machine with a great design. The overall weight though makes it a hassle for travel, and the battery life isn’t anything to write home about. I was particularly frustrated when, after ordering if the first week it came out, within a month of getting it Intel had announced new chips – HP decided to release this new product at the end of a chip cycle from Intel. This was right after I’d moved to the USA, and I frankly wasn’t in the loop on Intel’s roadmap. It’s still a fast laptop for most things, but I’d have preferred to wait and get the newer generation of chip from Intel, all things being equal.

The new Dell XPS 13 comes with a Broadwell-U chip. I’d initially been excited about the Core M chips and the idea of a fanless design, but once I saw how performance-limited they were, I decided I needed to go for a Broadwell-U chip. Here’s what’s funny though: Broadwell was supposed to ship in products last year, and all the rumours point to Intel releasing Skylake midway this year. Skylake is a new chip design and promises significant advances over Broadwell…so by ordering this Dell XPS 13, am I setting myself up for another scenario where mere months after I get a new product there’s already a new chipset? Could be. At least this time I know about it! Hopefully if Skylake products won’t ship until Q3/Q4, I won’t feel bad about snagging a Broadwell-U based system…as long as it rocks, that’s all I care about.

Dell used to be the king of customization, but I find it ironic and sad that now that seems to be more Apple’s game: I can order a Macbook Air with a Core i5 or i7 CPU, 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, and a choice of 256 GB or 512 GB SSD. Dell has a few configs, but if you want a 512 GB SSD, there’s only ONE config: the Core i7, 8 GB of RAM, and the QHD+ touchscreen display. I’d have been perfectly happy with the 1920 x 1080p non-touch display as that unit gets better battery life…somehow Dell decided not to let people pick that option. I’m feeling very iffy about Window 8.1’s ability to handle a resolution that high. I’ve never liked how the Windows UI looks with high-dpi settings turned on, so I’m a bit concerned how well this display is going to work with my apps (and eyes).

After wasting two days playing telephone tag with Dell – their practice of needing to call you on the phone to verify your order is as old-fashioned and quaint as it is wasteful and inefficient – my laptop is finally in pre-production. I expect to have it in my hands by February 6th…can’t wait!