For the past five years or so, Apple and Samsung have made the best of the year lists when it comes to technology products. However, this is not the case for 2015. This year, it’s a tie between two unexpected companies: Microsoft and Dell.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 was already a huge hit in 2014, but the company topped itself with the beautiful and incredibly productive Surface Pro 4. It’s no wonder why Digital Trends gave the Pro 4 a near-perfect rating.
“The Surface Pro 4 is a microcosm of the change Microsoft is trying to spur inside its own walls. Time and time again, it missed the opportunity to leap on a new trend in consumer technology. But not with Surface. This time, Microsoft is a leader. It’s setting the trend. And unlike its new competitors, it’s had a few years to work out the kinks.”
The Surface Pro 4 provides an almost-perfect typing experience. [Photo via Daryl Deino]Perhaps the only thing that stopped the Surface Pro 3 from being a full-time laptop replacement is the awful Type Cover, which had one of the worst trackpads of all time. However, the Type Cover for the Surface Pro 4 not only has a near-perfect glass trackpad, but also has keys that are well-spaced and have great tactile feedback.
The Surface Pro 4 has a gorgeous 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824 pixel resolution screen. It works well as a tablet, a multimedia player, an office device, and even a notepad. The N-Trig Surface Pen is almost as comfortable to use as a real pen. There have been some bugs reported, which Microsoft has apologized for. However, unlike Microsoft’s more expensive Surface Book, the bugs really don’t make the Surface Pro 4 less productive.
Speaking of productive, Dell shocked everybody earlier this year when unveiling the bezel-less XPS 13, a laptop with a 13-inch screen that fits into a chassis usually reserved for 11-inch ultraportables. The early 2015 version had some screen and trackpad issues that prevented the device from being the ultimate laptop. However, the late 2015 version defined what an ultraportable laptop should be like. It’s no wonder why The Verge recently produced a review that said the best windows laptop just got better.
“It’s extremely rare for me to be excited by a laptop, but the Dell XPS 13 has made me switch back to using Windows full time. Lenovo and Microsoft make some great hardware, but Dell has managed to focus on what laptop users actually care about: the basics. There are no gimmicks here: no wobbly hinges, no tablets, not even a touchscreen.”
The Dell XPS 13 has a masterful build and is the best ultraportable laptop on the market today. [Photo via Daryl Deino]Of course, there are some compromises that Dell had to make. The biggest one is that the keyboard feels cramped and the keys don’t have that much travel. However, once you get used to typing on the XPS 13, the keyboard is fine. Like the Surface Pro 4, the XPS 13 uses a 6th-generation (i5 or i7, depending on the configuration) Intel Skylake processor. The XPS 13 is a great alternative to the MacBook Air and even the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Both Microsoft and Dell released other laptops this year — the Microsoft Surface Book and the Dell XPS 15. While both products are good, they prove the belief that bigger isn’t necessarily better. The Surface Book has an annoying wobbly hinge and a trackpad that isn’t always tracking. The XPS 15 is supposed to be the 15-inch version of the XPS 13, but feels much heavier than it should be.
If you are looking for a portable and powerful laptop, skip past the Apple Store and walk straight into the Microsoft Store. While you will have a tough time choosing between the Surface Pro 4 and the Dell XPS 13 (which is available at all Microsoft Store locations), at least you’ll be in the right place.