Hi all, long time ltt viewer, first time ltt forum poster, let me know if I'm off topic or the other.
I'm a full time programmer working mostly with web based technologies, but enjoy spending my free time dabbling in most high level languages like C, C#, etc.
I've always been a Windows user but am familiar with Mac and various Linux OS, and don't want to immediately discourage any particular OS, so long as it gets the job done.
Since 2017 my daily driver machine has been a Surface Pro 2017 model for work and remote working, and an i7 PC I built in 2015 for use at home, however I'm looking to replace both machines shortly as the PC is getting a bit slow and the Surface's battery isn't doing so hot either. I've spent a while trying to figure out what I want in a laptop and have basically come up with the following essential requirements, as well as a few nice-to-haves. Imagine that Money is no object in this scenario as I'd rather a machine that does everything I need it to, rather than a machine that is cheap.
I'm also posting this hoping that I can get some input and spark discussion as I feel that the laptop manufacturers of late aren't paying attention to what programmers need in their machines. If you have had similar opinions about laptops let me know, or if you've found a machine that ticks the right boxes for you I'd love to know about it.
The Keyboard is probably the single make or break for a system for me, being a programmer typing is what I spend 95% of my time doing on a laptop
It MUST have the Home, End, Page Up, Page Down and Delete keys
It MUST have arrow keys
It MUST be a US layout, not an ISO layout or one of those ghastly MSI layouts
I understand the recent push that Laptops are making to remove keys that the average PC user won't use, but it seems like unless you're buying the bottom of the line acer laptop with the same generic keyboard they've been running since the mid 2000's, or a 17 inch gaming laptop with a full sized keyboards, then they just don't offer these keys. Also if we can avoid terrible keyboard feel as well. Lenovo and HP have been keeping the feel nice from what I've tested, but most of the others I've tested have felt pretty awful.
Prior to the recent events, I spend at least 75% of my days either at my desk at work, or traveling between home and work. Carrying the surface has been a blast because it weighs so little but offers a full desktop experience whenever and wherever I need it. I would say that battery is important to me, but I can settle for around 5 hours if the machine fits the bill, but ideally I'd go for a 10 hour or more battery life.
I'm really not interested in trying to lug around more than I need. A GPU in the machine would be nice, but if it doubles the weight I'd opt out. 14" machines would be pushing my upper limit, I'd maybe go for a 15 inch if it really ticked all the boxes but I want to avoid something that large if at all possible. Trying to find machines much smaller than 14" with the keys I mentioned above has been almost impossible, and is actually what lead me to buy a surface in the first place.
Also if it can charge off type-C rather than just a barrel plug that would be preferred, since lugging a battery bank only when I need it would also make the decision to take a different machine with less battery easier.
3. Workplace Aesthetics
Since most of my job is done sitting at a desk, I want to avoid anything that makes the machine look too "gamery" if possible. I'm happy with keyboard lights or RGB since I can set those to white and be happy, or if they're only able to be set to blue I'd be fine with that also, I want to keep it simple though and avoid designs like anything MSI or Alienware laptops generally put out if possible.
Other nice to haves, but not required things would be;
- Either high res or high refresh screen, but I do spend a lot of time plugged in so it's not a huge deal breaker, but I'd like to be able to either see my code more clearly, or have the higher refresh rate incase I want to kick off my shoes and do some gaming
- between 14" and 12", I think around here is the sweet spot. I previously had an Asus U31SD and, at the time, would consider it basically the perfect machine
- Don't burn my lap when I'm on the couch, roasted nuts are only nice when they're in trail mix
- Powerful enough to do some light gaming, not playing modern triple a games at max graphics, but enough to play some CS, TF2 or Minecraft without any tearing. It will need to be able to drive a 4k display while under a decent load while I'm programming
- Keyboard lights, I don't tend to look at my keyboard all that much so it's not a huge deal
- Windows, again I'm not tied to it and I'll probably dual boot Linux on it anyway, but I am not keen on having to learn Mac OS if I can avoid it.
- Keep prices within reality where possible.
So based on these requirements I have, I have narrowed it down to a few options, none of which I'm super keen on right now;
1. The Surface Book 13" model
Out of all of the machines I've seen this one seems to tick the most boxes for me. It offers good specs alongside a good keyboard, battery, and screen. However I have found all the ones I test to be extremely top heavy, and to not perform as well as they should due to a choice of aesthetics over cooling. The one thing keeping me back I think is the price to features ratio being a little to skewed towards price for my liking. I am happy that I could retain my existing Surface accessories with it, but would probably need more persuading and I believe that there are way better choices out there. The final thing that really grinds my gears with the surface machines are their lack of decent linux support. I've attempted dual booting ubuntu on my surface pro and the experience was never great due to a lot of proprietary Microsoft things in the machines.
2. Surface Laptop
I'd be for the surface laptop if it wasn't more of the same. I like my Surface pro but there have been many many times I wish I could pull more power than it can offer, I believe I'd prefer the form factor of a surface laptop over the pro as the hinge design has been a pain more often than the detachable keyboard has come in hand. I don't see that the price can justify the lack of performance I'd gain from picking this over a surface book or many other choices.
3. Razer laptop and Asus Zephyrus G14
These machines almost perfectly do it for me, but they both seem to have the same issue that most other laptops have, they just don't have the keyboard that I need to do my work. I don't understand why these gamer focused laptops are all trying to go for these strange keyboard layouts. The razers' short shift would drive me insane and they both lack the essential keys I need. At the moment the Asus may be the closest in every way if I'm willing to change my typing layout, but I just can't justify the time loss from learning a new typing method, or changing my typing style when I'm programming and need to easily select a row, or navigate across the IDE quickly
4. Lenovo's offerings
I've always had a love hate relationship with Lenovo. I've had a couple of Lenovo machines and find their keyboards amazing, but always find them way too expensive for seemingly no reason other than "because they target the business sector". Lenovo's laptops mostly still carry aweful TN 1080 screens and a trackpad for ants, but still demand high end consumer prices that I really struggle to justify.
5. Panasonic Toughbooks
In terms of a pure, amazing, no compromises machine, this just about does it for me, featuring basically everything I need in a laptop. The only thing is the price. After I finally got a quote from a reseller for the specs I'd be after (2 batteries, 144hz screen, backlight keyboard) it was going to come in at over $7000, and even then i don't think I'd be fully happy with it.
So that's why I'm here, please help me as I've spent the best part of a year looking for a machine that fulfills my desires, I don't feel as if I'm asking for much, but can't seem to find anything that ticks the boxes I need.