One creative professional does the unthinkable.
If my life story so far were ever to be turned into a Batman movie then, by my side dressed in green tights, they would cast a laptop.
I’ve been working as a freelance filmmaker, motion graphic artist and writer for nearly a decade and my trusty sidekick through all that time has been my mid-2010 MacBook Pro.
Remarkably, it will be seven years old this spring; and as it wheezily spends five minutes each morning loading up Adobe Photoshop, I wonder if it’s perhaps time for an update.
A couple of years ago, this was a simple process: head over to the Apple Store and pick up whatever white magic machine they had most recently released.
But that’s been thrown to the wayside by the latest MacBook Pro, released in October 2016, which was – to put it kindly – pants.
As I wrote on its release, the mediocre improvements in speed and power do not match its butt-clenching price tag. Meanwhile, Apple has actively worked to remove utilities – things like an SD card and USB slots – most vital to photographers, filmmakers and the like.
And don’t take my word for it. A quick search on YouTube and you’ll find no shortage of creative professional angrily lamenting the abandonment of a customer base that effectively made Apple the business it is today.
“It’s not a pro machine” says YouTuber Roberto Blake, “It’s just not.”
anyone having trouble getting FINAL CUT PRO to export from the new MacBook Pro? HOW CAN APPLE SUCK THIS HARD? pic.twitter.com/SSPvdrjb02
— Casey Neistat (@CaseyNeistat) December 8, 2016
Smelling the salty tears of a neglected market, Microsoft announced two computers last autumn, which they’re hoping will convince us creative professionals to end our affair with the Mac.
The most exciting is the Surface Studio – not yet available in the UK – followed closely by the Surface Book.
This, Microsoft hope, is their MacBook killer.
But could I really do it? After seven years of doing things the Apple way, how easy is it to switch not just machine, but operating software and user experience?
Well, armed with the latest Surface Book, I decided it was time to find out.
When we look at the machines themselves they square up pretty equally. You can get all the details in this rapid review, but gigabyte for gigabyte there’s not much between the Surface Book and the latest MacBook Pro.
The challenger does have one trick up its sleeve: an SD slot and two USB ports. You’ll now need to buy an expensive adaptor if you go with Apple (because Tim Cook).
But honestly the Surface Book does not compete on looks: it doesn’t have the effortless “look-at-me-working-in-a-café” flair of a MacBook. For some, this is a deal breaker – if it isn’t, read on.
It’s not just about the machine. Going back to Bill means using a laptop pre-loaded with – gulp – Internet Explorer and – say what? – Bing.
It also means potentially losing dozens of vital apps, as developers have always favoured producing for the more sophisticated App Store.
If you’re a creative professional it’s not as scary as you think. Since Adobe began releasing all its essential software into a Creative Cloud subscription model, you don’t need to repurchase any of their programs. You can even open the same files between Apple and Microsoft machines.
The Surface Book handles editing video and using Photoshop effortlessly, especially compared to my seven-year-old MacBook.
The screen is crisp and bright – and Adobe’s interface is identical so you don’t have to learn any new commands – apart from remembering the Ctrl key is in a different place.
Yeah, that was a bit annoying. It also plays this annoying jingle every time you press a wrong key.
There is of course more to the creative’s toolbox than Adobe’s Creative Suite. I made a list of the apps I used most commonly in my work – how many of them can I get on Windows?
The results are surprising.
Of my thirteen most-used apps, nine (including Backblaze, Evernote, Scrivener, Slack and Spotify) have Windows versions, and of those that don’t, two (Alfred and MacX YouTube Downloader) have half-decent alternatives.
The only apps I lose are iA Writer and Highland – both writing applications, which I must admit I’d be sad to do without.
So far, so… not as bad as you’d think. But the proof is in the pudding. What’s it like to use one of these things?
The last time I used Windows on a regular basis, there was an animated paperclip trying to help me write my dissertation.
So it took a while for me to get used to using the interface. Windows is – still – not as intuitive as Mac OS: it’s not as easy to launch programs, find and move files, or even know for certain whether a program is running or not.
And, before long, I came across a classic Windows experience.
As I began editing a video, I plugged my headphones in… and the sound continued to play out of the speakers. This had me perplexed for a quarter of an hour, and the solution involved finding the audio driver settings in the control panel and updating the drivers.
In my whole seven years using my MacBook Pro I have not once had to locate my audio drivers; they just always… worked.
A short perusal of the Surface forums confirms this is a recurring problem on this machine.
Thing is, these are all little niggles and annoyances that you could forgive – if you were making a big saving on money.
But sadly, the top flight Surface Book will set you back £2,649 – that’s a saving of only £50 on the latest MacBook Pro. I guess I’ll stick where I am for now.
The war for the creative hearts and wallets may have begun, but I’m not sure either side really gives a toss about winning.
Adam Westbrook is Associate Editor of The Memo’s Creative section. He’s an independent video artist, filmmaker, and occasional lecturer in journalism and production.