Is there a cheap Windows alternative for a MacBook user? | Computing

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I need a new lightweight laptop, as I travel a bit, but cannot afford a Mac at this time. I already own an iPad (and an iPhone) but the screen is too small for hosting group meetings. Also, I am a writer and photographer. What would be your suggestion for a lightweight, value-for-money laptop that won’t take me too far from the facilities of an Apple product that I’ve been accustomed to using for many years. Bernadette

If you’re a happy long-term Mac then I recommend you stick with Apple. There’s not a huge amount of difference between MacOS and Windows 10, but you will have built up years of experience and “motor memory” reactions that you will lose if you change operating systems. Also, while Windows 10 does a reasonable job of working with smartphones, you will lose the integration that Apple provides between iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and iCloud.

And while MacBooks still cost more than mainstream Windows laptops, the saving may not be compelling if you view it over the life of the machine.

For example, let’s imagine that you would be happy to pay an extra 50p per day for the pleasure of staying with Apple. If you amortise your laptop purchase over three years, you could afford to pay a premium of £390 to buy a MacBook Pro (assuming a five-day working week). If you reckon you could make it last five years, you could justify a premium of £650. Of course, this argument is moot if you don’t have the cash.

The obvious is a refurbished or secondhand MacBook Pro, either from Apple or a third-party supplier. The drawback is that only old Macs are . A MacBook Pro from, say, late 2016 could still cost around £1,000, and you could buy a new 13in MacBook Air for that.

Windows’ advantages

Microsoft Surface v Apple Macbook Pro.

Microsoft Surface v Apple Macbook Pro. Composite: Samuel Gibbs

It’s easier to switch systems if you have positive reasons for moving, rather than just the lower price. One example is the wide range of screen sizes from 7in (in the GPD Win 2) through 10.1in, 11.6in, 12.5in, 13.3in, 14in, 15.6in and 17.3in to the 21in curved screen in the Acer Predator 21 X gaming laptop. In your case, a 14in screen would provide good portability in a size that you cannot get from Apple, and where 1920 x 1080 pixels is acceptable resolution.

With Windows 10, the advantages include touch screens, the ability to run tablet apps, pen operation, logging in with face recognition using Windows Hello, and the “tent mode” you get with laptops that have 360-degree hinges.

Not all Windows laptops have all of these features – they add to the cost – so it would be useful if you could try them in advance to see which ones would work for you.
Of course, the iPad Pro offers some of them. However, a Windows 10 machine like a Microsoft Surface Pro offers all but one (tent mode) as well as the power of a MacBook in a single device.

A Surface Pro – alternatives are available from other suppliers – should also work well for a writer and photographer. You can run full Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop with a mouse or touchpad, do editing and annotation with a pen, then use it like a tablet for viewing or showing images. You can also handwrite notes in OneNote.
Some iPad apps are becoming available in MacOS, but Apple is still in denial about touch screens. I’ve been using them for six years now, and when I use a laptop that doesn’t have touch, it feels backward and broken.

Mac-like laptops
Asus stands out as the Windows PC manufacture with the most Mac-like products. Its manufacturing arm, Pegatron, has been a contract manufacturer for Apple and Microsoft so it knows the business. (Both company names are derived from Pegasus, the flying horse.) Asus Zenbooks tend to be better made and have screens with better colour gamuts than many alternatives, but may cost more as well.

The obvious laptop for your purposes is the 14in non-touch Asus UX410UA-GV544T, which is “crafted from solid aluminium” (but not a unibody design) and available in Quartz Grey or Rose Gold. The current version has a 2.2GHz Intel Core i3-8130U with 4GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. The screen resolution is 1920 x 1080 pixels (Full HD). The price from Asus is £643.89 (or 12 monthly payments of £56.96), which is around half the price of a 13in MacBook Pro with a seventh-generation Core i5 and 8GB.

Asus ZenBook UX410UA-GV544T

Could the Asus ZenBook UX410UA-GV544T be your best bet? Photograph: Asus

The Asus UX410UA is the same as the Asus UX3410UA, while the Asus UX410UQ models have Nvidia 940MX graphics chips. The UX430UA models are newer, slightly thinner and a little more expensive. The UX490UA is the deluxe version. Any of these would do the job.

Some models with the previous (seventh) generation of Core processors are now being sold off at a discount. Amazon has a UX410UA-GV158T with a Core i3-7100U for £549.99, though this only saves £50 over the same laptop with a Core i3-8130U. Argos has a better deal with its clearance offer of the same machine (Core i3-7100U/4GB/128GB) for £469.99. This might be your best buy.

The main drawback is the 4GB of memory, but the Argos Q&A says that you can upgrade it, and this has generally been the case with UX410UA designs. However, there is only one memory slot, so you’d have to ditch the 4GB installed to fit 8GB or 16GB.

I’m less concerned about the 128GB SSD because you can slot in a cheap 64GB or larger SD card to store photos and presentations.

If you have the cash, consider either the UX410UA-GV350T for £659.98 (£140 off while stocks last) or the slimmer UX430-GV414T for £679.97 (£120 off). Both these laptops have new Core i5-8250U chips, 8GB and 256GB SSDs. explains the differences.

As usual with Windows laptops, there are lots of variations with different processors, memory and SSDs, so shop around for the one that best matches your needs and your bank balance.

Touch and tent mode
If you fancy a touch-screen 14in laptop with tent and tablet modes then look at the HP Pavilion x360 and Lenovo Yoga 500 ranges. The Yogas support Lenovo’s optional Active Pen, while HP laptops support different active pens. (Non-active or capacitive pens just work like fingers.)

In this case, the cheap option is a 14in Yoga 520-141KB at Currys PC World for £399.97 (£130 off). This has a Core i3-7100U with 4GB and a 128GB SSD. The main drawback is the gold metallic finish. The identical machine costs £449.97 in grey and £499.98 in black.

There are two more expensive options with better specifications. The Yoga 530-141KB has a Core i3-8130U processor, 4GB of memory and 256GB SSD for £599.99 while the HP Pavilion x360 14-cd0008sa has a faster Core i5-8250U, 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD for £699.99. Expensive? A similar 13in non-touch MacBook Pro with a slower Core i5-7360U costs £1,449.

In general, it’s better to buy a Yoga direct from Lenovo because you can add three years of on-site support for £68.40.

Second hand?
The best alternatives to MacBook Pros – Dell’s XPS 13 and 15, Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface Book, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon etc – are obviously out of your price range. However, have a look at the Tier1Online and Morgan websites for deals on refurbished ThinkPad X series Ultrabooks. Prices vary according to age and condition. I didn’t see anything I’d recommend at the time of writing, but you might get lucky.
A Surface Pro 3 or 4 would also be a good option, but certified refurbished models can be quite hard to find. You could try eBay, but battery life isn’t guaranteed, and changing Surface Pro batteries is not a simple task.

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