Beyond the Apple
The Best Windows Alternatives to the MacBook
At the peak of Apple’s laptop dominance, its iconic “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ads invited us to join Justin Long at the cool kids’ table and snicker at John Hodgman and other such bespectacled squares with their Windows devices. But a decade later, Hodgman is actually cool as hell and today’s top PCs absolutely rival Cupertino’s best offerings. In fact, today’s premium Windows laptops can also offer better value, more customization options, and a slew of useful ports that are the envy of many a Mac user.
I have been guzzling the Apple Kool-aid for years and years, but the differences between the two breeds has shrunk to little more than PCs’ gaudy Intel palm-rest stickers. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s continuing refinement of Windows 10 and ever-deeper interaction with the Xbox can make it an appealing switch for a certain breed of gamer.
For anyone in the market for a high-end laptop, or anyone like myself who is flirting with the notion of jumping ship, these five laptops deserve your attention. They come in a wide range of internal configurations, so obviously their specific performance will depend on how much money you invest in their innards.
HP Spectre x360 15t
The two-tone matte finish and glossy beveled edge combo of this Spectre is striking, but its design refinement also runs deep. The mitered back corners serve as an off-angle Thunderbolt 3 port on the right side and power button on the other. The hinges have just the right amount of stiffness and zero wobble through 360-degrees of motion. The quad speakers are tuned by Bang and Olufsen and they’re both powerful and immersive. I loved the touchscreen OLED display on the model I tested, and the flexibility to use it as a giant tablet or simply as a freestanding display sold me on the convertible concept. I also appreciate that the stylus pen is included.
The keyboard has excellent key travel, a dedicated numeric pad and a fingerprint reader, though I was less enthusiastic about the touchpad. While it’s understandably centered under the typing portion of the keyboard, when using only the touchpad to navigate a document or web page for long periods of time, I found that the ergonomics aren’t that great. The camera is Windows Hello ready for facial login and has a physical off switch to put your mind at ease when you’re not using it.
Razer Blade 15
The Blade 15 is a stunning slab of anodized black aluminum. The satin finish is stealthy and beautiful, and the sharp edges evoke weapons-grade precision. Razer calls it “the world’s smallest 15.6-inch display gaming laptop,” though it certainly feels substantial. The Advanced model that I tested had a nearly bezel-less 4k OLED touch display and an anti-ghosting optical keyboard that registers input instantly––ideal for gaming, but also a stellar for typing. As an extra little gimmick, each key can be assigned its own color backlight.
For heavy gaming, there’s an available vapor chamber cooling system: a vacuum-sealed copper chamber filled with deionized water that evaporates to dissipate heat, and the fans can be fully controlled manually. There’s no fingerprint reader, but the camera on the advanced model is Windows Hello compatible. The large glass touchpad was my favorite of all the machines on this list. My only gripe with the Blade is both minor and superficial: I wish there was a way to make the Monster-Energy-Drink-green serpent logo go away completely by turning off its light.
Lenovo X1 Extreme Gen 2
I dig the utilitarian look and feel of the X1 Extreme. It’s minimally adorned with a carbon fiber pattern on the top cover and a ThinkPad logo with a red light dotting the “I.” The 15.6-inch screen is available in FHD and touchscreen 4k OLED. The keyboard is spacious, and the keys have a plush 1.7mm of key travel that just makes you want to type all day on it. The matte black surface is a smudge magnet, but it’s very comfortable to carry and to work on.
There are two cameras on the top screen bezel: a 720p camera with a physical off switch, and a Windows Hello compatible IR camera––in case you prefer that to the fingerprint sensor for login. The 135-watt adapter can charge the battery by 80% in 30 minutes, and for power users, the X1 Extreme can support up to 4 monitors. There’s a red rubber TrackPoint in the lower center of the keyboard if that floats your boat, but it doesn’t get in the way if you choose to ignore it. The speakers on this laptop are so good that I actually used this laptop one night in a pinch as my sole source of music for a dinner party.
Dell XPS 15
Dell’s XPS series has long been a gold standard for premium laptops, and no Macbook alternative list would be complete without it. The machined aluminum top and bottom covers are very Macbook Pro-like, and the carbon fiber palm rest is comfortable and cool-looking, albeit smudge-prone. There is a fingerprint reader integrated into the power button, and the battery life is solid.
The 15.6-inch 4K ultra HD OLED display on the model I tested was stunning; a very bright 500 nits, with an anti-reflective coating delivering low glare and a glossy finish. The XPS has your USB, HDMI, and Thunderbolt 3 ports covered, as well as an SD card slot, and the large touchpad is very responsive. This is the sum of many XPS iterations and in every way––from the smooth performance to the firm hinge, precision-cut vents, and slim screen bevels––it feels dialed in and perfected.
LG Gram 17
The first thing you notice about the Gram is its lightness. At 2.95 pounds, it does not feel nearly as heavy as you would probably expect. I also found it to feel a little less “premium” at first encounter because of the lack of heft, but that feeling went away quickly after I started using it. The metal alloy frame (nanocarbon and magnesium, according to LG) does feel quite thin compared to the others on the list, but it’s also lighter than the others while delivering two extra inches of screen real estate, which brings me to the second thing to notice about the Gram: the 17-inch 2560×1600 LCD display with plenty of room for all your tabs and windows. For a laptop it looks downright IMAX-sized from a foot away.
A fingerprint reader is integrated in the power button, and the palm rests and keyboard are very spacious. Like the Spectre’s touchpad, the Gram’s is left of center to adjust for the dedicated numeric pad on the right side of the keyboard. But because it’s a larger touchpad you don’t notice that while surfing the web. An added bonus for portability is the extremely compact power adapter. My only caveat for the Gram is that the speakers aren’t great performers.
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