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New Laptop On The Block

Is Microsoft’s Surface Laptop the heir apparent for MacBook Air?

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In our world of smartphone ubiquity, we see new screens all the time, from tablets to smartwatches to virtual reality headsets. Yet, through all the advances of the past decade, the laptop has persevered, and for good reason. When it’s time to get stuff done, whether that’s writing a long email, drafting a story or making the numbers do their dance on an Excel sheet, or even editing your photo libraries, there’s little better than the humble laptop.

Ask a jury of my peers about their favorite laptop of all time, and you’re likely to hear the words “MacBook Air” repeated an awful lot. For years, the Air has been the gold standard for many professional and casual laptop users, with its perfect balance between portability, power, battery life and ease of use, not to mention the best keyboard-trackpad on any laptop, period. All this at a sixty-to-seventy-grand price point that is well worth the initial outlay for most working professionals and affluent students. Even if you factor in the one chink in its armour — a poor screen resolution — the MacBook Air is arguably the greatest portable computer Apple... nay anyone, has ever made.

Yet, the MacBook Air is a dead laptop walking, with Apple splitting its attention between the sleeker but underpowered MacBook range and the pricier Pros that shipped with far fewer traditional ports than most folks were used to, leaving the Air line all but neglected for the past couple of years. Sensing this opportunity, the competition has tried to bring in their own ultraportables, and while some of them have been excellent products, they’ve either been priced north of a lakh in India or been hobbled on one hardware front or the other. No one else has nailed the MacBook Air market quite like the original.

Last week though, a new laptop from Microsoft gave me pause, and I truly think the company could be onto something here. The Surface Laptop is a $999 clamshell-style notebook, a huge departure from the Surface lineup which has thus far heavily promoted the touch-screen hybrid (detachable keyboard) concept. From its milled aluminum body, to its soft and premium Alcantara fabric-covered keyboard, to its gorgeous 13.5-inch high resolution touchscreen, to its claimed 14.5-hour battery life, the Surface Laptop is the very model of a premium, high-end laptop. It competes directly with the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo and undercuts the entry level MacBook by a hefty margin.

The only caveat is that it runs Windows 10 S, a diet version of Windows 10 that’s designed to only run apps from Microsoft’s own Windows Store. That means that you’re going to miss running apps you’re familiar with, including web browsers like Chrome or Firefox, unless you’re willing to fork over an extra $49 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro and unlock all your regular desktop apps. It feels like a fundamentally flawed idea to charge a fee for functionality you’d expect from a Windows laptop to begin with, which is why Microsoft is allowing potential Surface Laptop owners to upgrade for free until the end of the year.

From the looks of it, the Surface Laptop truly could be a mature, no-gimmicks device for anyone seeking a luxury computing experience without breaking the bank. The design seems well thought through, and Microsoft went to great lengths at launch to talk about how it’s paid particular attention to three key pillars of a great laptop experience — keyboard, trackpad and battery life. Could this be the Air apparent? It could well prompt Air users suffering from years of neglect to jump ship if Microsoft brings this device to India at a competitive price point. Microsoft’s past pricing on Surface devices has been anything but, though I hope they surprise me this time around.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
magazine 27 may 2017 macbook air microsoft

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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