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Screen battle: MacBook Pro (left) vs. Asus Zenbook Pro

A year or so ago, the dentist was cleaning my teeth and remarked that his wife wanted a new MacBook for Christmas. "But they cost twice as much and don't they all just do the same thing?" he asked.

It was a difficult question for two reasons -- one, my mouth was full of dental equipment, and two, while all computers "do the same thing," they don't all do it the same way.

When able to do so, I said that in my opinion, the MacBook was overpriced and underpowered but that it had somehow obtained celebrity status and if he subscribed to the "happy wife, happy life" theory, he should probably just buy the MacBook.

I was mostly using an early 2015 MacBook Pro at the time and had basically lukewarm feelings about it. Yes, it was a nice enough laptop with a bright, sharp display (dubbed Retina by Apple's marketers) and good battery life. But whether it was worth its roughly $2,000 price tag while a comparable Windows-based PC could be had for much less depended entirely on how it was to be used, I thought.

Soul extender

Many so-called creative professionals -- writers, graphic artists, filmmakers, and the like -- feel Macs are somehow more attuned to their efforts. This is, of course, like saying that your BMW is an extension of your soul. In other words, blather. I switch back and forth among machines running Linux, Windows 10, and OS X (Mac's NASA-style name for its Unix-based operating system).

Linux, an open source Unix-like system, is by far the stablest and fastest (when running on comparable hardware), but it can take some tinkering to get printers, scanners, and other peripherals to run properly. I find the latest version of Windows 10 to be nearly as responsive and, although this is heresy in some quarters, very intuitive and easy to use. Drivers are available for just about every imaginable peripheral.

My top-of-the-line MacBook, on the other hand, has always seemed sluggish. It is also prone to odd chronic problems that somehow defy solution. Since the day I booted it up for the first time, my MacBook has had a problem communicating with iCloud and displays a screen advertising that fact, although my iMac and iPhone 6S have no problem with it. It is impossible to make the warning box go away, although I have managed to banish it to the lower-right corner of  my workspace most of the time.

PhotoI have spent countless hours trying to work through this little quirk and have read in online forums of the similar struggles of others, all to no avail.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about the MacBook is that one is left to guess when Apple may deign to issue a new model. I felt for several months that my MacBook had fallen behind the latest Windows models, especially when I read that Asus and others were now making laptops with what we might call a Retina+ display, something sharper and brighter than the MacBook.

Curious, I ordered an Asus Zenbook Pro (UX501VW) and, as though it had been waiting to vex me once again, Apple then decided to release its latest MacBook. Leaving aside the lack of a delete key and the stubborn non-standard arrangement of control and function keys, this "surprise" update schedule is, to me, the most annoying of Apple's tricks and treats.

Business and professional users generally update their machines on a regular basis, wanting to keep up with new technology and avoid any surprises from aging components, and some are even sufficiently organized to have budgets they must adhere to. Apple makes it hard to do this since it has become addicted to treating every new model as the equivalent of a surprise asteroid hit. It would be a thoughtful gesture to establish a regular update schedule and stick to it. If GM can produce a new Chevrolet every year, why can't Apple produce a new MacBook every two years?

No Touchbar

So I missed out on getting a MacBook with the "Touchbar with integrated Touch ID sensor" but instead got the Asus with a brilliant display, a delete key, and everything else one might reasonably want.

It's hard to overstate the difference the sharper display makes. Wine may get better with age but vision does not, and looking at a 15-inch screen all day can get old quickly. Even the no-longer-unusual 2880 x 1800-pixel resolution of the MacBook pales besides the 3840 x 2160 of the Asus and others equipped with what is being called ultra-high def (UHD). 

Unlike clock speeds, RAM, and other under-the-hood features, the display is right in front of your nose every second you're using your machine. With consumers snapping up gigantic UHD TVs and salivating over iPhone displays, it's a little odd to contemplate why laptop resolution doesn't get more attention.

Looking at a page of text on the UHD display is roughly like reading a big glossy magazine page. It's hard to see why anyone wouldn't demand it on their next machine.

Software bundles

Finally, let's not forget the software that comes bundled with each machine. Apple and Microsoft both provide web browsers, simple photo editors, and the like. Apple includes an office package consisting of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs while Windows tries to sell you its Office package. 

The Apple package is, not surprisingly, incompatible with most competitors, forcing people like me to keep an Apple machine around for those stubborn few writers who insist on sending us stories written in Pages, the word processor that comes with Mac machines. 

The easiest and least costly solution is to use Google's excellent office package. Its word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs are easy to use and since storage is in Google's cloud, you're not cluttering up your computer's storage with all those recipes you've concocted. This also makes it easy to change computers -- just log into your stuff and you're back in business. (Yes, Google may somehow make marketing use of your material but it will be so many degrees removed you'll never know it, assuming you are not running for president or related to someone who is).

This brings us, finally, back to the dentist's question -- which is better? Obviously, both are good or they wouldn't be as successful as they have become. For my purposes, the Asus Zenbook with UHD and Windows 10 beats the MacBook handily, both for ease of use, the brilliance of its display, and, not coincidentally, the price.

The 15-inch Asus goes for about $1,500, the 15-inch 2016 Apple MacBook Pro for $2,799. That's not a misprint -- the MacBook with comparable under-the-hood hardware and an outmoded display is $1,300 more than the Asus (or, probably, comparable machines from other manufacturers).

It's pretty easy for anyone, dentist or no, to decide which one to pull off the shelf. 


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