Goodbye Surface, Hello Pixelbook: How I Finally Settled on the Best Long-Term Portable

Ah , Windows. The operating system everyone knows, and many love. I grew up in a family who used Windows as their daily drivers. As early as I can remember, maybe 10 years old, I remember my dad had a huge white computer tower. It was there that I’d forge some of my first memories of using a computer. Besides in school, of course. After I’d learned computer basics in elementary school like using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel (ehh…), I came home and began using the internet. I discovered fun online games like RuneScape and AdventureQuest (though they ran pretty slow on that budget PC for the time). And always a musical one, it was where I made my first foray into music production by trying out programs like VirtualDJ to make my first remixes and mashups of my favorite artists. Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in PC’s, their applications, and how tech can be used to push them forward. I’ve come a long way since then, and so has technology.

That was in the late 2000’s. Skip to 2017, and the landscape for personal computing is totally different today. Now we have smartphones, devices we can now realistically do everything on (though not so conveniently), and tablets thrown into the equation. PC’s and laptops have, in proportion, begun to plateau and now decline in terms of sales, as more buy tablets and attach a keyboard to it, effectively making it their main PC. Still, though, many buy a laptop or PC to have a roomier experience – you get a more comfortable full-size screen and keyboard. And there are still certain applications one can only use best on a PC – niche audio or programming applications, serious video editing, hardcore gaming, etc. But the key word there is that it’s a niche – as much as you may like your use cases for a powerful PC or laptop, the general public doesn’t need it for more than general web-browsing, social media, video-streaming, and word-processing.

Chrome OS was introduced by Google just a few years ago in 2011. And it has surprisingly already taken over Macbooks in terms of laptop sales. At the same time, Android tablet sales have gone down, and so has the motivation to create them by manufacturers. The fact is, lkess people are using tablets now, unless they get an iPad. Even then, they probably also have Macbook and a phone. And maybe even a desktop PC. That’s a lot of devices.

Since the late 2000’s, I have had my own PC’s, and upgraded every few years. Each time has given me a good upgrade in power, allowing me to get more from my desktop programs, for music, video-editing, and just browsing the web. My first PC was a cheap eMachines Intel Celeron-based PC. Even then, it was apparent it was a budget PC. But it was what my family gave me, and it worked for me. Later on, I upgraded to my first laptop, an HP Windows 7 machine. It was a true upgrade. It had a dual-core processor. Later on, about half-way through high school, I was involved in the school’s broadcasting club. I needed more horsepower, as a one-hour long video with multiple camera angles and video effects took nearly an entire week to render. So I got a new laptop. Yet another upgrade, yet still budget. At this point, laptops worked for me and seemed more logical than a desktop. I’m getting a power increase every time I upgrade, and why have a desktop if a laptop is more portable and cohesive, right? My last laptop had an Intel Core i3 and a 17-inch screen. Yep. I think the premium we paid for it was for the screen. I used this until my first year of college, until it wasn’t enough for my uses (and when one of my professors asked me why I got such a big screen.)

So I got something new, this time for college. I got a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Seeing all of the flashy commercials and rave reviews got me excited for the device. I was excited about the portability, the pixel-dense screen, the pen, and the ability to use it as a tablet. As well as Microsoft promising it would make my student life easier. I shelled out over $1K on the device, as it was the first time I was truly investing in a PC for myself. The difference in speed was great. A video that took a few days to render on my old HP laptop took no more than a few hours on the new Surface Pro i5. I loved the Surface for the same reasons everyone else did: its color-calibrated display, its portability and transportability, and its upgrade in power ver other similar devices. The Surface served me well for 2 years. Last year, needing more power once again, and seeing the improved screen, I got the Surface Pro 4. It was the Surface I knew, but even better. The i7 version I got was even faster for video and music production, and I got good use out of it for a couple more semesters.

Alas, that brings us to today. I sold my Surface. I came to realize I bought the new version mainly for the upgrade in power once again. But at this point, I realized that portable power just wouldn’t cut it for me anymore. So I spent about three entire weeks researching what best to do about my situation, and I came out of the other end – happily. I built a gaming desktop. Being the creator of this website, it is obvious I love gaming. I had always dreamed of having a nice gaming rig, and now that 4K is in its primetime, and I have a nice 4K TV as my display, it made perfect sense to build a gaming PC for 4K, but also to finally have the power to edit video and produce music that even my Surface Pro 4 had begun limiting me to do. I thought about getting the new Surface Pro (5?) but I knew the upgrade would be incremental again, and that is why I decided to finally come back to where I started – in the desktop form factor. Only this time, the reason I built a desktop was to get the best power I could reasonably get, and be able to upgrade later on. Buying a killer laptop not only would have been more expensive (due to its portability, form factor, and engineering), but also because nearly all gaming laptops today cannot be easily upgraded. So when it’s time to upgrade, you need to buy a whole new expensive system (and the upgrade won’t be superb in terms of power, either.) So that is why the desktop PC was the best option for me to invest into for my main computer – maximum power, and the option for easier and more cost-effective upgradability. The PC was definitely a big investment,  but it’s good to know I have all the power I need now, and when it’s time to upgrade again, it will cost much less than buying a whole new system (like I did in the past with my laptops).

So since then, I kept my Surface, but wondered why I needed such a powerful laptop anymore with my killer desktop now. For this reason, I sold the Surface and invested in something I’ve needed for a long time – accurate headphones for doing audio mixing on (I ended up getting an HD600 and O2 + ODAC combo, by the way.) I used my extra cash to shell out on a cheap $200 Lenovo Y580 laptop. I ended up not liking it, as it was way too heavy, and I had gotten used to the Surface’s small, but beautiful and sharp screen. The 2012 Y580 was so much of a downgrade (the screen’s backlight grotesquely changes as you move the screen up and down, and the color balance is washed-out) that I immediately said, “Oh no.” The screen seemed too big too, even though just a few years ago, I thought I couldn’t go smaller than a 17-inch! At this moment, I realized that the size of the screen really doesn’t matter. It matters how close you are to it. This is why we can reasonably look at both a 65-inch TV, and a 5-inch phone screen – we just sit further away from the TV and put the phone screen much closer to our face (it’s also why 1080p or higher is equally as important on a phone as on a TV – we are seeing the same amount of pixels for the distances we’re viewing the screens at.)

I was enticed to my “new” used laptop because it had Nvidia graphics and a bigger screen. But it was heavy as hell (6 lbs in 2017!) and therefore not portable at all. I need to take it to school along with other things I carry in my backpack (a Nintendo Switch, battery pack, headphones, cables, notebooks, pens and pencils, snacks, etc.) so adding this laptop makes it too heavy for me and renders it useless. I simply won’t use my laptop at home, since I have my desktop PC there. So the quest was on to find a new laptop.

I actually didn’t want to go back to the Surface. I didn’t really need all the extra power, I realized. What I really needed was a decent screen, keyboard, and I needed it to be light. The Surface Pro had a downside in that it tried to be a tablet and a laptop, but failed on the tablet side compared to any other tablet (unless you really wanted to play one of the two Windows-exclusive tablet games on Windows Store). In all fairness, in terms of its hardware, though a compromise, it executed the 2-in-1 concept very well. The detachable TypeCover allowed the laptop to be a pure tablet when you wanted it to, and by reattaching the TypeCover, it could be a laptop again. However, this design compromised the Surface Pro being a true laptop in order to make it a better tablet. For example, using it as a “laptop” was a worse experience than any other laptop with a traditonal laptop design. The thin TypeCover and kickstand combo could easily fall off of your lap, compared to a much more stable traditional laptop would on your lap. Additonally, the TypeCover chose thinness over comfort, with keyboard keys that just were a bit harder to type on and thinner than most laptop keyboards.

Microsoft recognized the problem and came out with the Surface Book – it had more power, and a true laptop bottom base that replaced the TypeCover. However, it became too heavy to carry in a typical student’s backpack, and the tablet still wasn’t very useful. In other words, the design was still a compromise. Jump to 2016, and Microsoft unveils its (final?) attempt at fixing the problem – they drop the tablet gimmick entirely, and make a traditonal laptop. Dubbed the Surface Laptop, Microsoft created a normal laptop design, with no compromises other than doing away with the tablet portion entirely. It retains the Surface line’s sense of elegance and beautiful pixel-dense screen, while doing away with pen support and tablet mode support. In earnest, I did enjoy the fact that the Surface Line had the Surface Pen, and all of its possible uses in being a student with it. But the problem is, I just never ended up using these features. And the Windows Store’s lack of compelling apps other than OneNote made the tablet portion useless too. Alas, Windows is still better as a traditional laptop than a tablet, and maybe it should stay this way.

I was thinking of just getting one of these Surface Laptops, then. But I then ran into the same problem that I had before. Why would I invest in this, when I now have a powerful PC? Well, it was light, thin, and fast. I thought, “It might as well be the perfect one to get now, right?” But it cost too much for what I needed it for. At this point, I just wanted a cheap computer that could do what I needed it to on the go (simple things like web-browsing and working on Word documents), but still be light, thin, and fast.

So I considered a Chromebook. I actually considered getting a Chromebook at the same time I got my Lenovo laptop. My priorities for the device were out of whack, then, as I valued graphics over portability. That was until reality hit, and I realized I wouldn’t really be making use of those graphics much, and I wouldn’t be using it at all, since it was too heavy. So I was back to considering the HP Stream laptops and Chromebooks. Before I could ponder too much, in came the Pixelbook.

The Pixelbook, announced at Google’s Made By Google event on October 4, has finally made me truly consider the Chrome OS, not only as my main laptop/tablet, but as the laptop and tablet of the future. Before the Pixelbook’s announcment, I thought of Chromebooks as cheap devices that could mostly just browse the web and use a few proprietary apps. That was true a few years ago, but now with the addition of Android tablet and phone apps, as well as the new 2-in-1 designs of the hardware, I believe the Chromebook can now be the best OS for most people in the future.

Now that I have my desktop PC to run any PC apps or games I want, the only thing I want out of my laptop is the ability to more easily work on documents while at school, browse the web, and be fast, portable, and light. A Surface laptop would solve all of these things, but it took away the ability to use it as a tablet, and I felt I wasn’t sure it was worth its monetary value to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great Macbook competitor and its design is very high-quality, but it’s taking away the tablet portion of the Surface (not an objection to me, as I already said it wasn’t useful with WIndows 10 on it), with the exchange of a better design – the standard laptop design. But now that the Pixelbook can do all of that – having a premium, portable design and performing all of the tasks I now demand from my computer away from home, the Pixelbook has trumped the Surface Laptop, and every other Surface for me, as well.

The Pixelbook’s 2-in-1 design, the Pixelbook Pen that’s even more responsive than the Surface Pen and the Apple Pencil, and the addition of access to the full library of Google Play Store apps designed for phones and tablets, as well as the seamless companionship it makes with Google’s Pixel Phone, makes the Pixelbook the best laptop, and tablet, on the market now. Adding Google Play Store app support means that the Chromebook, a great web-browsing device with an otherwise similar app-availability problem as Windows Store, is now many times better, and a true competitor to the Surface, Macbook, and iPad line. With all of the apps we now use to do everything we want to on our phones, like social media, web-browsing, document editing, gaming, music production, and even video editing now accessible through the Google Play Store and the Chrome web browser, in addition to processing increasingly moving from the local device to the cloud, the Pixelbook is truly primed to be able to do everything you would want it to do, and makes it a true competitor to every other operating system you would shell out $1K for. Its advantage and beauty lies in the fact that we can now fulfill the perfect dream of transitioning between every phone and tablet app we now use to do most of our work on the go, upgraded to one device with a desktop-like experience –  a device that due in good part to its design, can truly be both your laptop, and your tablet.

The Google Pixelbook, with its beautiful screen, its powerful Intel Core processors, its advanced pen, its seamless 2-in-1 design, and its now-vibrant app-store, fulfills the concept of a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet, better that the Surface Pro ever could. By focusing on being a laptop first, and a tablet second, and adding access to an app store much more developed than Windows Store’s, the Pixelbook allows itself to be a fully-featured laptop and tablet without compromise, and thus knocks the Surface Pro out of the park. For more niche usage cases like advanced video-editing, programming, and hardcore gaming, Windows may still be desired. But for most people’s uses, or for those like me who already have a Windows desktop to do more of the grunt-work, the forward-thinking Chrome OS with Android apps, paired with truly useful 2-in-1 designs like the Pixelbook, is now the most useful portable one can have.

For further reading:

4 crazy Chromebook myths, debunked

Time to call it: The Chromebook is the new Android tablet