A group of professional thieves smashed my car while I was hiking at Devil’s Slide in Pacifica along California Highway 1. I lost my recently purchased Surface Pro 6, Bose Headphones, AirPods, and various essential items.
Now I need to find a replacement for my Surface Pro 6. Let the search begin!
Replacing Surface Pro 6 is Hard
I could always buy the same Surface Pro 6 i5/8GB/256GB configuration with my favorite cobalt signature keyboard and excellent surface pen. After all, I did my research before purchasing the Surface Pro and had been happy with it ever since.
Many reviewers did not mention this part: I found the Surface Pro especially suitable for light coding because it allows me to sketch thoughts and diagrams on the left side using the Surface Pen and write small programs on the right side. If I run OneNote in full-screen mode, I will have a whiteboard, and this is ideal for brushing up coding interview whiteboarding skills as well.
I did have a few minor complains about the Surface:
- There is no USB Type C port, so I have to carry the charger.
- The tablet mode is just useless.
- There is no official YouTube support in the tablet mode, and the Netflix tablet app was not good.
- The kickstand has to be extended to cover a relatively large area on the table to support a comfortable viewing angle and is bad in smaller coffee shops.
- Windows platform does not have my favorite iOS / OS X apps such as Garage Band, Pixelmator, Final Cut Pro, etc.
- There is a way to access iCloud photos and documents using the iCloud tools or website, but the process is cumbersome.
- Windows UI is pretty optimized at this point, but there are still some lags here and there. Sometimes, touch screen support is bad.
- Bash on Windows was tremendous, and it would become even better with the full Linux kernel support and the new Terminal. However, any GUI based Linux app still requires custom X Window setup and native GPU hardware acceleration is not there.
The $329 iPad is the best iPad
Surface Pro is a good compromise between laptop and tablet. However, I still prefer a decent laptop in traditional form. At the same time, I often used my iPad Air 2 for video consumption and reading before trading it in. Besides, I have been using the iPad Air 2 and laptop combo for many years since college, so I am happy to try it out again.
After making this decision, I immediately order the 11-inch 256GB iPad Pro with Apple Pencil 2 and Smart Keyboard. I was genuinely disappointed about the keyboard after using the Microsoft Surface Pro Signature Type Cover with Alcantara. The iPad smart keyboard was rigid, with no tactile feedback, and the cover material is just unbearable. The whole package does not justify the $1300+ price tag. The iPad Pro itself worked great, and there were alternative options for keyboards, but none of the options would keep the thin and light profile of the iPad Pro. The iOS multitasking support limits the hardware capability of iPad Pro which rivals many Intel Core i7 equipped laptops.
Inspired by Austin, I returned the iPad Pro and purchased the 2018 9.7-inch iPad 32GB on Amazon for just $249 (For full disclosure, I work for Amazon as a Software Developer, but I don’t get paid for sharing Amazon shopping links). Apple was probably going to update this model at some point this year, but this price tag is low enough that I do not even mind using an older generation iPad.
I returned my old iPad Air 2 because there was no iPad pencil support and the hardware was getting laggy. Surprisingly, the iPad 9.7 gets the job done efficiently. In some cases such as editing in Adobe Lightroom, the iPad even outperform the same application on the Surface Pro 6 or 12-inch MacBook (OK. Programmatically, they are not the same applications based on entirely different platforms, but you get the point). And with the iPad pencil support, I was able to mark PDFs, sign documents and sketch class diagram if needed. The whole package cost less the $350 for me. And having a home button made me nostalgic, and I was even able to use my old smart cover.
Brief Experience with OnePlus 7 Pro
As a side note, I ordered the OnePlus 7 Pro before the incident happened. I developed Android OS framework professionally in the past and have used Motorola Moto X, Nexus 6P, and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, but Android has improved since then, and I wanted to experience them. My plan was to avoid the next upgrade to the new iPhone when it comes out if the OnePlus 7 Pro gets the job done.
Unfortunately, because of the incident, I had to return the phone to free up the budget for laptop purchase. I enjoyed using the 90 Hz display and the clean Oxygen OS UI. However, there were a few pain points switching to Android from my iPhone X:
- There is only Apple CarPlay with no Android Auto support in my car. The lack of support is partially Google’s fault. They tried to collect too much data from cars, so some manufacturers decided not to support the system.
2. iMessage was the deciding factor.
3. The cameras were not as good as I hoped. The color was too saturated out of the box and just did not feel right.
4. It was missing my favorite apps such as Garage Band and voice memo.
Windows Laptop Alternative
The Surface Laptop is a decent alternative, but I would prefer to have a USB Type C port this time.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon is on-sale and my best option in the Windows land. It has an excellent optional 1440p HDR screen, a killer keyboard, is very lightweight but still packs a decent CPU (Intel Core i7–8550U would be my choice). And surprise! I used to be a TrackPoint guy back to elementary school lusting over the design and precision of the ThinkPads owned by my uncle and teenage neighbor.
Back To Mac
I have been thinking about getting an additional Mac as soon as I switched to Windows. Practically, I have lots of project files for applications on OS X, and there is just no replacement for iMovie, Garage Band, and many Mac applications. Not to mention the OS X UI, iMessage support, iCloud Photos, Apple Watch unlock, and encryptions always make me want to switch back.
My original plan was to get a 2018 Mac Mini with the Intel Core i7 processor. I could use the Surface Pro on the go and the Mac Mini at home. However, I need a laptop replacement and a Mac computer this time, so why not combine both?
2019 15-inch MacBook Pro
The last MacBook Pro I truly enjoyed was the 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro. It got me through college and was able to handle any workload ranging from Final Cut Pro to training SVM models. It was one of the last Apple computers with Nvidia and CUDA support and offered great port selections and a decent keyboard.
Comparing to the last generation 15-inch MacBook Pro, the current generation lacks many features:
- A tactile keyboard
- Nvidia graphics card support
- Port selection
- Reasonable thermal management for high-end CPUs to allow consistent TurboBoosting.
The newest 15-inch MacBook Pro probably won’t solve any of the problems above (2 and 3 for sure, 1 and 4 by design). At least Apple cares about the keyboard reliability issue, introduced new materials and Apple Keyboard Service Program covers any new keyboard issues.
I thought about getting the newly updated 13-inch MacBook Pro for maximum portability and use it until a new generation of MacBook Pro comes out possibly next year. However, the 2.4GHz Quad-Core i5 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, 16GB of memory and 512GB of SSD storage would cost $2199. Why not spend a few extra bucks on the 15-inch MacBook Pro?
I mostly use my laptop as a desktop connected to the external keyboard, mouse, and monitors. And to be clear, I would not use the 15-inch MacBook Pro for work, which eliminates the need for me to travel with it in long distance. For vacations, I could always use my iPad or work computer if I needed to work remotely. On weekends, I often carry my laptop to coffee shops, but the walking distance is usually pretty short.
So why not wait for the next generation of MacBook Pro with Intel 10nm chip and possibly better thermal design? The short answer is I cannot wait for that long because I need a laptop now. More importantly, while the new Apple product looks shiny, we should avoid buying the first generation of any Apple product because they often need to work through hardware and software issues. Sometimes, it takes many iterations to solve a problem (or attempt to solve the problem in the case of butterfly keyboard) Thermal issues are also often found in the first generation of Apple product.
The extra power of the 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with extra work to carry it around but upgrading the configuration of 15-inch Mac Book Pro does not need additional legwork (and a larger wallet of course).
Here is my ideal configuration:
- 2.3GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz
- 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory
- Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4G of HBM2 memory
- 512GB SSD storage
Essentially, I picked the standard high-end configuration of MacBook Pro and added the Vega 20 GPU, which adds up to $3,149.00. The high-end configuration of MacBook Pro is the best configuration. I was not able to find the 8-core CPU on any other laptops with this size and design while supporting USB Type-C charging, and the hardware is future proof. If I need to run any program that requires more than 16GB of memory, I will probably need more than 32GB of memory anyway and therefore should run it in the cloud. I do not need to edit videos while traveling, so the 512GB SSD storage is more than enough.
I picked the Vega 20 option for two reasons:
- Only $350 extra for a Vega GPU is a bargain considering the performance increase and the option did not exist before the end of last year.
- It will further help offload some of the CPU tasks to mitigate the CPU thermal issue.
Although this might be wishful thinking, Apple might be considering bringing back Nvidia support on Mac Pro according to the Apple internal document. For MacBook Pro users, the Nvidia support means having the new option of connecting external Nvidia GPUs. It would greatly help professionals using Adobe Premiere, and other CUDA supported graphics application and data scientists who prefer to run deep learning models locally. We might know the details as early as June.
Be inspired again
I would never go into video editing without a Mac and met many other inspirational people along the way. Professionally, Apple also enabled me to become a Software Developer who appreciates humanity, arts, design, and human-machine interaction. The iLife and iWork suite was part of my high school and should continue to be part of my life. Leaving Aperture was sad but long live Final Cut Pro.
In recent years after selling my 2012 15–inch MacBook Pro, I found myself working less on music, photography, and video editing. It was partially due to my new busy work schedule, but at the same time, I was limited by the hardware of my 12-inch MacBook and later the software of my Windows devices. Recently, I started to post serious photos on Instagram and would like to continue to resume my video editing works.
This is the best time to get a MacBook Pro. If Apple can make people use and love Final Cut Pro X after discontinuing Final Cut Studio and knows how to make an 18-core iMac and 8-core MacBook Pro, I would like to stick around and see what’s next. As always, I just need to be prepared to pay for it.
Update 5/4/2019 4:55 PM
I ordered the 15-inch 8-Core MacBook Pro at 2:36 PM today and selected Same Day Two-hour delivery offered by Apple with a $9 delivery fee. I was surprised to see this option because the last major Apple purchased I made required me to stand in line early in the morning at the Stanford Shopping Center.
At 3:45 my new MacBook Pro was delivered by PostMates! Great job, Apple and PostMates!
I chose the standard high-end option but did not opt for the Vega 20 GPU because it would take one or two weeks to ship. I may have to buy the Vega 20 GPU configuration to see how much difference it would make for my workflow. For both configurations, I have the option of using external GPU in the future.