Jeremy Abroad

Why I Sold My Macbook Pro for a Dell XPS 15

September 28, 2018

After 3 years exclusively using the Macbook Pro, I’ve ditched it for the Dell XPS 15.

As a web developer, the one thing that’d kept me on the Macbook Pro (aside from the fact that it was always my assigned work laptop) was OSX’s Unix-based operating system along with its widespread support for commercial software (eg. Adobe) which Linux unfortunately lacks.

But now with Windows Subsystem for Linux, you’ve got a Unix shell on Windows. It’s slow and can’t do everything yet, but it’s good enough to where it’s no longer an automatic disqualifier against using Windows for a software engineer not working on the Windows stack (eg. .NET).

Why I Hate the New Macbook Pro

Apple has sabotaged its Macbook Pro by:

  • Replacing the top row of keys with a touchbar (removing the Esc button, F1-10 keys, etc)

I hate the touchbar. I use the Escape key a lot, and replacing it with a long touch bar reduces my productivity, plain and simple. When you tap the touchpad, there is absolutely no feedback, so when I press where the former Escape key is, it seems that half the time it doesn’t even register. And I don’t even use Vim that much (code editor that makes heavy use of the Esc key) - if I did then this alone would make this laptop a nonstarter.

  • Replacing its formerly top-notch keyboard with an extremely uncomfortable “butterfly keyboard”

The old Macbook Pro had one of the best keyboards I’ve ever seen on a laptop. The new Macbook Pro’s keyboard is extremely uncomfortable. The keys that were once cushiony are now hard and thin, with little “give” when you press them. After typing for long periods of time I found it very uncomfortable on my finger tips. After a month of use I still did not get used to it.

  • Removing all USB ports and the SD card slot, requiring expensive dongles

Now you need a dongle for anything that’s not USB-C. The dongles are annoying and expensive.

I’d love to use a wireless mouse, I just haven’t found anything as comfortable as the Steelseries Rival Optical Mouse (it was $60 before, not sure why the price skyrocketed, maybe from my advertising?) that’s designed for adult human hands rather than tiny midget hands inducing carpel tunnel syndrome. Unfortunately this mouse is USB (not USB-C), and thus requires a dongle. Same with external hard drives, and the SD cards to my cameras.

  • Choosing inferior AMD graphics cards, and being behind the curve specs-wise.

If you use Adobe products like Premiere for video editing, do 3d modeling (eg. with Blender), or anything computationally intensive that utilizes the graphics card like deep learning, then you will be at a severe performance disadvantage using the AMD card. I posted some benchmarks rendering videos in Premiere and 3D animations in Blender in my MBP vs. Dell XPS 15 video.

If however you are using Apple’s Final Cut Pro for video editing, that software is optimized for Mac and AMD so you’ll be better off on the Mac.

Spending $1,000 more for a similar machine might be questionable, but spending that much more for an inferior machine is just plain stupid.

Note: If you’re a student and/or aspiring software engineer, then the Macbook Pro might still be the safer choice because your work laptop will most likely be a Mac if you’re working in the U.S. (on a non-Microsoft stack).

Now to be fair if you’re always using an external keyboard and basically just using the laptop like a desktop, then the laptop keyboard is not as big of a deal. And there are massive differences between OSX and Windows/Linux as your operating system, so comparing a Mac to a Windows machine is not an Apples to Apples comparison (no pun intended).

Let’s look at other aspects

Other aspects of Dell XPS 15 vs. Macbook Pro

Touchpad

Apple still has the best touchpad, no question about that.

That being said, Dell’s touchbar isn’t actually that terrible. You can customize it to have basically the same functionality (two-finger click for right-click). Either way, I personally always use a mouse because I hate touchbars in general and find them carpel-tunnel inducing, so this doesn’t really affect me.

Sound

Sound quality on the Macbook Pro is clearly superior

Screen

My Dell XPS 15 has a 4k screen, so resolution wise it is superior.

That being said, I don’t think the difference is really noticeable (to be fair I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison) because the Macbook’s screen is pretty damn good as well. The Macbook’s screen is narrower but taller.

The Dell XPS 15’s 4k screen is touch screen, but I never use that so it doesn’t make a difference to me.

Battery Life

Way better on the Macbook Pro.

Build Quality

Macbook Pro is lighter and thinner.

Also one thing I’ve noticed about the Dell XPS 15 that I absolutely hate is that when I’m charging it, there seems to be an electric current running through the surface of the laptop that can’t be healthy. I didn’t even notice until my girlfriend who was touching my left arm noticed it was vibrating when I rested it on the laptop. This is absolutely unacceptable. I don’t believe this happened on the Macbook (though I sold it a while ago so can’t confirm).

Reliability

6 months or so into owning my Dell XPS 15, the bottom 15% of the screen just died. I was abroad and my U.S. warranty didn’t conver me abroad. After wasting a lot of time playing phone tag with clueless customer support agents, I finally learned that I could just purchase international warranty ($260) and walk into any Dell customer service center to get it fixed. Only took a couple days to get it fixed in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s been 6 months since then and I haven’t had any more issues since then.

There was also a problem where the laptop would overheat in my backpack with the fan blasting at full throttle despite the lid being closed for 3+ hours. I haven’t experienced this problem in 4 months now though so I think it was finally fixed in a firmware update.

I didn’t own the new Macbook long enough to say whether there were reliability problems. I’ve never had problems with my other Macbooks, but my refurbished 2015 Macbook Pro had a couple issues - one with the graphics card when I first bought it where the screen would go crazy once per day, and a dead pixel 4 months in. Luckily both of these were covered under the 1-year warranty.


Final Assessment

Despite the Macbook’s build advantages, overall I find the Dell XPS 15 to be more performant for my needs and a significantly better value. I’m so dissatisfied with the Macbook Pro’s touchbar and uncomfortable keyboard that I refuse to purchase a Macbook Pro until they fix them (July 4th, 2019 update: looks like they’re finally getting rid of the butterfly keyboard. I hate the way they implemented the touchbar, but if they really insisted on a touchbar then perhaps it might be acceptable if they placed it above the Escape key row, retained the Escape key, or added some kind of feedback mechanism to pressing it (eg. it being pressable like a button, a vibration like any smartphone).

Reasons to get a Dell XPS 15

  • No stupid touchbar (death if you’re a vim user), no lack of USB ports and SD card slot
  • $1,000 cheaper
  • More performant for most applications due to NVIDIA graphics card and better specs

Reasons to get a Macbook Pro

  • iOS development
  • Standard in software engineering in the U.S. (unless you’re on the Microsoft stack, doing deep learning on your laptop, game development / 3d graphics, and other niches)
  • Sketch software is Mac-only (popular right now, but there are alternatives like Figma with cross-OS support)
  • Better Unix support. Windows Subsystem for Linux is objectively inferior to the command line on OSX. Of course you could install Linux on the Dell, but then you’re potentially switching between two operating systems which is more of a hassle.

UPDATE

Since I wrote this article, Apple released a new Macbook Pro with better specs. But it’s still got that awful touchbar.


Jeremy Bernier

Written by Jeremy Bernier who left the NYC rat race to travel the world, work remotely, and make the world a better place.