On "the Best Laptop"

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

John Gruber: Wirecutter’s ‘Best’ Laptop

My longstanding complaint about The Wirecutter is that they institutionally fetishize price over quality.


They do have a “Mac or Windows (or Something Else)?” preface to the whole comparison, but if you’re going to name a “best laptop”, putting aside OS preference, it’s incompetent not to conclude that MacBooks are both technically superior and better values for the dollar thanks to Apple’s exclusive silicon advantage.

This has really gotten Gruber up in arms, and I see where he's coming from, although I do take issue with these two quotes.

Fetishizing Price?

Going through some of the most recent articles on the site, the best hand warmer is $60, which is about 10x the price of any hand warmer I've ever bought, and maybe a bit ironically, the best video editing laptop is a MacBook Pro for $2,499.

I don't know about this "fetish", myself. I've used The Wirecutter many times, and I've often eagerly scrolled down to their "budget pick" since their "best" selection was too pricy for me.

It's also worth noting that they usually have an "upgrade pick" if you want something nicer and are able to pay for it.

I'd say that given the outlet's goal of finding the best products for the most people, factoring price into the decision makes a ton of sense. Leave it to enthusiast sites to find The Absolute Best Money Can Buy of whatever you're interested in, but I think it would be insane to ignore cost on a site like The Wirecutter.

Faster Always Equals Better

Saying "it’s incompetent not to conclude that MacBooks are both technically superior and better values for the dollar" just doesn't sit right with me, especially since this whole "Mac laptops are faster than PC laptops" is like 20 months old.

Would Gruber and the rest of the Apple community from before December 2020 have said that MacBooks were absolutely not the best laptops for most people because they were slower than many Windows laptops on the market? It's absolutely awesome how fast and efficient Apple silicon devices are today, and it's a major win for Macs in general, but they're not automatically better than everything else because of this, just like faster Windows laptops weren't automatically better than Macs for the decades before the Apple silicon era.

Also, in his follow up on this, Gruber says:

reviewers at ostensibly neutral publications are afraid that reiterating the plain truth about x86 vs. Apple silicon — that Apple silicon wins handily in both performance and efficiency

Are they afraid, though? The entire reason we know how good Apple silicon is in the real world is from reviewers doing these comparisons. Literally every M2 MacBook Air review from outlets that cover more than just Apple showed performance and battery compared to Windows devices. Hell, just a few weeks back I linked to a video form a basically Windows-only YouTube channel that compared the M2 processor as well as they could do similar Intel and AMD laptops on the market. Dave2D mentioned that other manufacturers were not keen on him comparing their laptops to M1 devices, but reviewers did those comparisons anyway.

This doesn't vibe with me at all.

My Take

Do I think the M1 MacBook Air is the best laptop for the most people? Yeah, probably.

I think that most people do so much of their computing these days in a web browser that the platform you use doesn't matter as much as it used to, especially if the reason you got a Windows machine was because "all my apps are there". The M1 Air's combination of power, battery life, design, and price point make it a super-compelling product! In fact, it's a big reason I'm a little skeptical about the M2 model's ability to surpass it in sales after the initial rush subsides.

Looking at their other computer picks, it seems that The Wirecutter considers Windows a feature more people want, so they tend to recommend Windows computers unless they're selecting for a category that Macs really excel in. I don't think I'd agree with this, even though the Mac's market share is still a minority, but it's the best explanation I have.

I think there are a few reasons you would still want to get a Windows laptop today:

  1. Your budget is less than $1,000.
  2. You play games.
  3. You have specific software you must run that does not exist on macOS.
  4. You prefer Windows.
  5. You want more freedom around tweaking your system than Apple allows.

Is that a majority of U.S. buyers today? Probably, and I suspect that's The Wirecutter's rationale, because while I and Gruber don't think those are important to us, maybe we're wrong that they don't matter as much to most people out there.

The Worst Takes: Reddit

Here are a few gems from the Reddit thread for Gruber's piece:

Just different audiences with different software targets. If I need to troubleshoot something in Intel world, well guess what I will be buying? That's why I still have my 2018 MBP. If I wanted to debug an iPhone game? Well, obviously.

Apple silicon only good for debugging iOS games…okay.

The luxury of Intel based Macs was being able to dual boot. Now that’s gone, they just aren’t an option for many people.

How many people bought Macs because they could dual-boot? To this day I'm fairly certain this was a marketing ploy to convince people that these were indeed real Intel machines. Yes, I know some people do it (I did once, even, to play Mass Effect 2), but it is sooooo niche.

This dude is never gonna make his blog mobile responsive is he.

Okay, this is actually fair 😂

When MacBooks were running Intel processors, they were considered sort of a premium version of an x86 laptop. Now that MacBooks are running ARM processors, they are considered fundamentally different.

lol, but this guy agrees:

Totally agree. Now that MacBooks can’t natively boot Windows, I no longer recommend them unconditionally to people who ask. There’s no way out if they end up disliking macOS or need to run some Windows software.

Ah yes, the large group of people who buy a Mac, decide they don't actually like macOS, and then install Windows instead of getting a new laptop. There are literally dozens of them!

Just merge AAPL and MSFT and create MacWind OS .

Kindly get out, sir.