Software DevelopmentTechnology

Why I chose a HP Windows laptop over a MacBook Pro

When I started my new job at Amazon, I had the option to switch laptops. I’d been using a MacBook Pro for the last 5 or 6 years, and decided it was time to go back to Windows. My first day, a brand new HP Elitebook awaited me, and though it’s only been a week, I’m quite happy with the decision. Though I miss some parts of the Mac, I’ve already found a ton of advantages and haven’t looked back.

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I had always been a Windows person, going back to my second computer ever; the first had DOS. At Audible, when I was coding on a daily basis, I made a case to switch to a Mac because the support for programming was better, including a native Unix terminal, Eclipse, and running some of the internal tools. But my role changed a few years ago when I began managing, and I found myself spending less time in IntelliJ and more in Office. Managing object oriented class hierarchies became less of a priority than managing my meeting schedule. Even so, I knew I’d made an odd choice when I got asked not once, not twice, but three times by the IT desk if I really wanted the HP.

I’m actually incredibly happy with it though. The hardware, something Apple has always been great at, is actually pretty good with the HP. Yeah, it’s a pretty clear take on the brushed aluminum wedge of the MacBook, but it works. There’s a little more texture on the metal with the HP, and a little more depth, making it more comfortable to use. It’s also an inch bigger in the display, making it feel large and immersive.

My favorite feature though is the Keyboard. MacBooks had great keyboards and input for years, until the recent MacBooks with the keyboard design everyone except Apple seem to realize it terrible. Like so bad it may have been the primary reason I switched over. The lack of any key travel, keys that register phantom presses like random periods in sentences because it thought I had hit the space bar twice, and keys that randomly stop working because a miniscule particle of dust got under all drove me crazy on a regular basis. The HP has fantastic key travel paired with clickiness and a slightly wider keyboard that feels more like a real one than the Mackbook. There’s even an extra column with home, end, page up and down, and larger cursor keys. I never got stuck with a touchbar, but the HP also has a real row of function keys, much better than the unintuitive and unhelpful touchbar.

The trackpad isn’t quite as precise as the Apple one, demonstrating Apple’s continued dominance there, but it’s also far better than Windows touchpads I used to have. It works just fine and doesn’t seem to get triggered randomly when I rest my thumbs near it. There’s even a little cursor nub on the keyboard though I doubt I’ll use it.

I also forgot how much I like Windows. Since Windows 7, it’s really gotten much better. Windows still gets the basics of window management much better than Apple. I get the love for historic differences, but I’ll never understand why MacOS insists that Windows need to be manually sized unless you want to install a third party windowing app. Not only it is easy to switch applications and move them around with the mouse, there are also great keyboard shortcuts for flinging windows around, perfect for the gigantic single curved monitor I now have at work. It’s probably because I grew up with it, but Windows still just makes more sense intuitively to me than MacOS.

It could also be because it’s new, but the battery life on the HP also seems to blow the MacBook out of the water. The fan seems to spin up way less often and I don’t have to continuously close windows like I did on the Mac. I think it’s probably because the main applications I use, Outlook, Word, Chrome, and Excel were first built for, and continue to be optimized for Windows. It’s odd considering most development is done on Macs now, but it definitely still seems to be the case. I have made it two days of heavy use in the office and on the bus without needing to charge it at all.

The support for other hardware also makes the HP great. The official dock makes it super easy to go from meeting back to my desk without messing with a million cables and dongles like the MacBook. I just clip it in and my keyboard, mouse, monitor, phone charger, and everything else are just ready to go. With the MacBook, I had to plug in two USB-C hubs first, connect the monitors, then often switch the settings because It didn’t automatically detect them. My USB stuff would also just stop working if I didn’t restart the computer periodically. The giant monitor I have now also works much better, partly due to the better windowing system, but it also just seems to detect the laptop and automatically change settings much more reliably. The MacBook would often get stuck with windows stuck on a no longer connected monitor when I disconnected. Plus, I don’t have to carry ten different dongles around because the computer actually has real ports.

I actually didn’t mind when the MacBook switched to USB-C only, eliminating all the other ports, all that much. However, going back to a laptop with real ports is a game-changer. It still has USB-C, so I can use the same charger as my phone, making travel easier. But, unlike the MacBook, it’s got two real USB ports for all the times I forget a dongle, an HDMI port, a real ethernet jack, and even a SIM card slot. This means I can charge, plug in to the TV as a monitor, use a keyboard and mouse, and even use my wired network if I want, all without a single dongle. Every one of those things required it’s own separate and often incompatible dongle with the Mac. My desk used to look like a failed plumbing experiment with all the daisy chained dongles with the Mac.

Of course all the Office programs work much better on the HP than they had on the Mac. With Office 2016, things did get better on the Mac, but still never caught up. Features in Outlook especially, like proposing new meeting times, finding rooms and attendees, and just moving around meetings never worked well on the Mac, so I’d often end up using the web version of Outlook which didn’t have good notifications, so I’d miss meetings. At least it was better than earlier versions which didn’t even let you add meeting locations or show attachments. The HP though supports all of this, and things just run smoother. At one point I even installed Windows on my Mac in a virtual machine to get around this, though of course it didn’t work well either. It’s not just the Microsoft programs though, even Chrome, Firefox, and Spotify just seem to work better and use less battery. I love the feature where Spotify controls are accessible via the taskbar. I also love the feature where Chrome doesn’t use the entire battery in 30 minutes.

I do miss some parts of the MacBook though. The camera on the HP is pretty muddy and I’ve had to resort to using a headset for video conferencing because the microphone just doesn’t pick up. Thankfully I was able to get an awesome Microsoft noise canceling headset from the IT desk. The monitor also doesn’t help as I don’t use the laptop screen when plugged in, so the camera is never centered and I’m never looking directly at it.

The screen is also just not as good. It’s usable and fine, and a bit larger, but the clarity and resolution isn’t as good as the MacBook. There’s a light coating on the glass which gives it a bit of a glazed over look, though does give it better privacy in public. Neither have touchscreens which would be nice in some situations. The bezels are also noticeably larger, though because of the larger screen, it doesn’t bother me that much. The top one is a bit much though as it goes way beyond the camera.

The accessory ecosystem isn’t there for the HP like it is for the MacBook either. Since everyone has one, it’s easy to find cases, covers, and skins designed specifically for the Apple laptop. I even had a cool custom headphone decal that included a cutout for the light up Apple symbol on mine. I just wanted a simple cover or skin for the HP to make it stand out and to make it so I could put stickers on it, but couldn’t find anything out there. Because of the lack of market share, especially for consumers, and the lack of cultural cache, it’s much harder to find things for the HP. The same goes for accessories like the custom Apple trackpad, keyboard, and chargers, though nicely, these actually all work fine with the HP.

I took a bit of a risky leap of faith by switching from a premium Apple MacBook to the HP. Before, all of my work computers had been beastly Thinkpads, or chunky Dells. The HP caught my eye as actually having some design appeal. Paired with the advantages with the software I use most on a daily basis, the nice hardware and improvements in Windows made me willing to take the chance. I’m very glad I have so far and continue to find places I’m impressed with the HP. After a few years of questionable design decisions, Apple may have lost its lead more than everyone realizes, so it may be time to consider other options like the HP again.