When my old Thinkpad finally went south, a friend of mine suggested I consider the Microsoft Surface laptop instead of another Thinkpad. After a bit of messing around, I finally ended up with two laptops on my desk to choose from and a large (but temporary) bill on my credit card. One was going to be sent back off the island. How to choose among these two tremendous laptops?
Since I have a number of compute-intensive applications, I chose a pretty high end model (16 Gb of memory of 1 Tb of solid state disk space), but many of the criteria apply to lower priced systems as well.
The Surface laptop screen is a touch screen in all models, and you can buy a stylus to do actual drawing on it if you want. Any place you’d want to click your mouse, you can just touch the screen. This is integrated with Windows 10, which supports and encourages your using touch, including the otherwise baffling Edge browser that supplants Internet Explorer. But, after having used a mouse in Windows for many years, I just didn’t see why I needed this. If you are working in graphics, you might find it helpful.
Both laptops come with Windows 10, which has its own learning curve, but the Surface Laptop gave you a choice of installing Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. The Thinkpad just gave you Windows 10 Pro right out of the box. Windows 10 comes with the new Edge browser that replaces Internet Explorer, although IE is still supplied for diehards. The Internet scuttlebutt is that the main use of the Edge browser is to download another browser, such as Chrome, and I did that immediately, because Chrome has all my bookmarks and passwords stored in my account. As soon as you try to download it, Edge scolds you, saying that Edge is much faster than Chrome.
On the Thinkpad, it seems a perfectly capable browser, and it can import your bookmarks from Chrome after you install it. On the Surface, all of your bookmarks seem to turn into big squares at the top of the window, wasting a ton of browser screen real estate. This feature is presumably for touch screen users, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. So, on the Surface, I used Chrome exclusively.
The ThinkPad beautiful display comes with Dolby Vision, which allows each individual pixel to have a wider range of color and contrast. This is primarily for entertainment apps, but the screen is really impressive to work with.
As soon as I set the two laptops side by side, it was obvious that the Thinkpad screen was wider. It’s almost an inch wider than the surface, and this makes a significant difference when you need to switch between app windows. Since the Surface is a bit taller, you probably get about the same amount of screen, but the width is what makes to different to me. When you first boot up the Surface, it comes up with a tiny font: much too small to do actual writing with. So I had to find the control panel settings that increased the system font. This also affected the fonts in the browser, and I found that I had to enlarge it using Ctrl/Shift/+.
The Surface immediately found and connected to my wireless printer. On the Thinkpad, I had to tell it to scan for printers, and it found it right away. Neither Windows 10 machine allowed me to share files with my Windows 7 server upstairs without some screwing around I still haven’t completely solved.
On the Surface, I seemed to be making more typing mistakes, and when the measured the two keyboards, the Surface keyboard was 10.75” from the outside of the left shift key to the outside of the right shift key. The Thinkpad was 11.12” and that 3/8” difference made a significant different in my typing accuracy.
But the main difference turned out to be the number of USB ports. Since I habitually use a wireless mouse, I needed a port for this and another port to connect USB flash drives to so I could transfer data from the old computer and from my camera. Without a second port, this meant giving up your mouse every time I needed to copy data from my camera or the old computer. By contrast, the Thinkpad had 4 USB ports, two full size and two micro ports. This one feature turned out to be the deal breaker. My friend told me this must have been a recent change, as her Surface had two USB ports. If that had been true of mine, I might have kept the Surface, because it is quite a slick machine, but in fact I am typing this article on my new Thinkpad, and the Surface has left the island.
Oh, and the Thinkpad turned out to be $400 cheaper, too!
|Thinkpad X1 6th gen||Surface Laptop|
|Display||2560 x 1440 pixels||2736 x 1824 pixels|
|Display size||12.25 x 6.93”||11.38 x 7.5”|
|Memory||16 Gb||16 Gb|
|SSD storage||1 Tb||1 Tb|
|Weight||35.9 oz||45.6 oz|
|Processor||Intel Core i7 (8th gen)||Intel Core i7|
|USB connectors||2 full, 2 micro||1 full|
|Touch screen||No (but they sell one)||yes|