Going into 2020, it’s clear that Hewlett-Packard and Dell are ahead of Apple on light laptop design.
Review backgrounder: I used a third-gen MacBook Air (late 2018) for six months and am now using an HP Elite Dragonfly and Dell XPS 13 7390.
HP Elite Dragonfly (late 2019): The 13-inch HP Elite Dragonfly’s tagline, “Lighter than Air,” is an obvious jab at the MacBook Air.
Rightfully so. The Dragonfly is not only much lighter than the MBA at a starting weight of 2.2 pounds (very close to the discontinued 12-inch MacBook’s 2 pounds) but has phenomenal battery life. Those two things (extreme lightness and long battery life) are usually mutually exclusive. So, kudos to HP for investing the time and R&D to figure this out.
Why the HP Dragonfly is ahead of the MacBook Air:
Chassis is made from magnesium which makes it sturdy but very light
Fast 4-core Intel processors (MBA is dual-core)
Both fingerprint and face ID
A slot for 4G/LTE or 5G SIM cards
360-degree touch display
Battery life longer than the MacBook Air based on my testing
And road warriors know that shaving a half-pound from a laptop can make a big difference when you’re lugging around a backpack all day and constantly pulling your laptop out of your bag and putting it back in. The Dragonfly makes this really easy. Oh, and it’s a lot faster than the MacBook Air too.
Dell XPS 13 7390 (late-2019, 6-core): the design I’m using is what Dell, until very recently, called the XPS 13 9380. In other words, I’m using the last version* of the standard clamshell XPS 13 form factor.
The XPS 13 hasn’t gone on an extreme diet like the Dragonfly (the XPS 13 I’m using weighs about 2.7 pounds) but it still packs an amazing amount of mobile and materials tech into a very-high-quality and stunning-looking laptop.
Why the Dell XPS 13 is ahead of the MacBook Air:
Smaller chassis than the MacBook Air, thinner display bezels
Palmrest is made from “arctic white” woven glass fiber, which reduces weight and provides a soft texture to rest your hands on
Fast 6-core Intel processors (MBA uses dual-core)
4K touch display (MBA Retina resolution falls well short of 4K)
Despite the faster 6-core Intel processors and 4K display, battery life is only marginally less than the MacBook Air
The argument that many MacBook diehards will make is that “it’s the OS, stupid.” Or to put it more accurately, the macOS/iOS ecosystem. That’s true and one of the reasons (among many) I have a 16-inch MacBook Pro on my desktop as a daily driver.
But on road trips, I prefer a superior hardware design to the vaunted Apple ecosystem. That’s why the HP Dragonfly or Dell XPS 13 will go with me on long road trips, not a MacBook.
*For 2020, Dell has updated the XPS 13 so it is much closer to the existing XPS 13 2-in-1, i.e., sporting even smaller bezels and a slightly larger 13.4-inch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio vs the 16:9 on the 2019 13.3-inch version.
I also have the newest XPS 13 2-in-1 (I know, it’s confusing), which boasts many of the same features.
I was a founding member of CNET news and hardware editor at CNET, a contributing technology reporter for the New York Times, and a reporter and editor at the Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly — the latter in Japan, where I lived for ten years. Currently a contributing reporter for Fox News.
Which puts a huge amount of pressure on Microsoft. It needs to deliver a version of Windows that will allow the hardware to live up to all the gambles made in Vegas by the end of 2020.
Let’s take a look at the CES successes powered by Microsoft’s Windows 10.
Intel produced a concept device, obviously to show what its chips can do with new laptop forms, but the fact that it was showing off the new form as a foldable laptop with a single screen taking up the screen, bending round the inside hinge, and then down over the space normally associated with the keyboard is a clear indication that this is a route it is comfortable with.
How about two of Dell’s examples; the ‘Concept Duet’ which shows a twin screen no physical keyboard design, and the ‘Concept Ori’ which is closer to a tablet design that can hinge upwards into a laptop style angle.
While Asus didn’t go for a flexing screen, the Asus ZenBook Duo also works on two screens, although here the second screen shares the bottom half of the laptop design with a physical keyboard.
The there’s Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Fold, which does go with the full screen that curves into thing when closed just as a normal laptop.
But there’s a literal twist to all of these innovative laptops. At CES they were all running Windows 10 Pro, a workmanlike solution at this early stage but not refined to make a seamless foldable or dual screen device feel like magic.
All this amounts to pressure. The early announcement of Windows 10X, coupled with the Surface Neo release window of Q4 2020 has created a hard deadline for the OS team to deliver not just to the Surface team at the Redmond Campus, but to Microsoft’s key hardware partners who have shown their hand at CES.
Microsoft has always looked forwards into the future but it usually remains behind closed doors until everything is cooked. With multi- and folding-screen technology, it has decided to share that future vision today. Let’s hope that Microsoft has thought carefully about delivering to that timetable.
I am known for my strong views on mobile technology, online media, and the effect this has on the public conscious and existing businesses. I’ve been following this space for over ten years, working with a number of publishers, publications and media companies, some for long periods of time, others for commissions, one-off pieces or a series of articles or shows. As Scotland’s first podcaster, I continue to be a prominent voice in the rise of podcasting and new media online, and picked up a British Academy (BAFTA) nomination for my annual coverage of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, alongside contributions to Radio 5 Live, the BBC World Service, presenting Edinburgh local radio’s coverage of the General Election. You’ll find me on Twitter (@Ewan), Facebook, and Google Plus.