My main reason for getting a new laptop is for traveling, and normally my first recommendation is to get a Chromebook. Chromebooks are light, inexpensive, and require no maintenance or configuration by the user. In many ways, Chromebooks are ideal traveling laptops, but for my travels, I still require the use of a few software that are only available on Windows or OSX.
My primary requirements for the laptop are:
Light weight. This isn’t going to be my primary work machine so I value weight over processing power. I also don’t need a large screen so something in the 12” to 13” is sufficent.
Use USB Type-C for charging. I want to minimize the number of chargers and dongles that I need to bring with me when traveling. My other devices (phone, tablet, etc) are all using USB Type-C.
UNIX-based - Most of what I do and software I use are Unix-based software and most are open sourced.
There are a lot of great Chromebooks out there that are light weight and inexpensive. Sadly, my favorite one, the Chromebook Pixel, is not cheap and also no longer available. Chromebooks come with USB Type-C and are capable of running a complete Linux distribution when set to Developer Mode. The only reason that I did not go with a Chromebook is because there are two applications that I need and are not available on Linux or ChromeOS.
Developers, especially those who works with UNIX, often go with a Macbook since it runs BSD under the covers. For a long time, Macbooks brought together the best of both worlds: Unix subsystem with a modern GUI desktop that supported external peripherals. While I don’t use many OSX apps, I do have a Macbook Pro because I needed a “UNIX” notebook and I didn’t necessariy wanted to deal with trying to get Linux to work on different laptops. However, each successive generation of the Macbook has gotten worst for developers and the most recent version was the straw that finally got me to throw up my hands and say, “enough!”
The latest Macbooks are terrible. They only have USB Type-C connectors and while I love USB Type-C, Apple is jumping the gun by only having Type-C ports. It adds too much incovenience to the users. The keyboard on the latest Macbook is abysmal. I loath typing on it and found myself avoiding using the machine if possible. The touchbar is no replacement for actual physical keys to type on. The battery life is very poor and can bearly make it to the end of the day on a full charge.
Dell XPS 13
The XPS 13 is very attractive with its “infinity” display that barely have any bezel. There is a version that comes with Linux as well as a version with Windows so setting up dual-booting should be easy. There are plenty of reviews online about the pros-and-cons of the XPS 13 already so I won’t dive into it here. For my requirements, the XPS meets all three criteria.
2017 Razer Blade Stealth 13”
The Razer is an interesting machine. Its build quality rivals that of a Macbook, it has a beautiful display and the 2017 13” model addressed a big complaint about of bezel thickness of the 12” models. The Stealth currently comes only with Windows 10 although Razer has said they want to provide first-class support for Linux in the future. The unique thing about the Stealth is its ability to use the Razer Core external GPU enclosure to power the graphics rather then rely on the onboard Intel graphics chip which is okay for some gaming but not really powerful enough for AAA games. The Stealth also comes with RGB backlit keys with different coloring effects and each key is individually lit. The keyboard feels okay although I feel like I’m having to adjust for the CTRL key. I tend to like keyboard with a little more “click” to them. I would say the keyboard is just average.
The body of the Stealth is very nice with an all-black aluminum body. It feels like a Macbook but the black catches smudges easily. I bought a black matte skin for it because I know I’m one those people who would get annoyed by the smudges or any chip on the machine.
The one criteria that the Steath doesn’t seem to satisfy is the UNIX requirement. Yes, I can set up dual boot but right now it doesn’t have all the Linux drivers. I can run an virtual machine running Linux, but that’s another layer to install and uses additional system resources and battery. I can use things like Cygwin to have a bash shell, but I’ve always found them clunky. Window Subsystem for Linux will address this and allow allow Fedora Linux to run in Windows without a VM. WSL will come later in the fall and until then I can live with running what I need to run on Windows.
Ultimately, the Stealth beat out the XPS because of the option for using it with the Razer Core. I also like the look and feel of the Stealth better.