The best alternatives to Apple’s disastrous MacBooks

By

Macbook alternatives: The Surface Book comes with a 100%-working keyboard.
Unlike MacBooks, the Surface Book comes with a 100%-working keyboard.
Photo: Clint Patterson/Unsplash

Apple’s current line of MacBooks is probably its worst laptop lineup in years. The keyboards are so broken that even the newest MacBook Air is covered under Apple’s keyboard repair program. There are too few ports, and too much heat. And if you want to upgrade any internal parts? You’ll have to buy a new MacBook. But what are the best MacBook alternatives?

If you want to ditch the MacBook, you will find plenty of options. However, none of them offer one essential element: macOS. Switching to another operating system is like moving house and having to leave everything but your clothes behind. But there are workarounds even for that. Let’s check out the best alternatives to the MacBook in 2019.

Best MacBook alternatives

Short of building a hackintosh, i.e. a generic PC laptop hacked to run macOS, the only way to stay fully inside Apple’s computer ecosystem is to use the first alternative on our list, the iPad Pro. But, depending on how you use your Mac, the alternatives might not be as painful as you think.

No macOS? No worries

If you use Dropbox, you can switch to Chrome or Windows and take all your files with you. If you use iCloud to sync your calendars and so on, then Windows is the best option. Many happy people use an iPhone and a Windows PC together, and remain healthy to this day. Likewise, Photoshop and Lightroom are also on PC, and some of Adobe’s mobile apps can be installed on a Chromebook.

But if you’re heavily into Mac-only software like Final Cut Pro, Pages, Logic Pro X or GarageBand, then you’re out of luck. These are Apple-only, and in some cases macOS-only. You’ll have to find an equivalent app, which — for some professionals — might be a dealbreaker. So, with all this in mind, let’s take a look at some alternatives to the MacBook.

iPad Pro

An iPad Pro with Sentis Libra attached could be mistaken for a MacBook
An iPad Pro with Sentis Libra attached could be mistaken for a MacBook.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

This one keeps you in the Apple ecosystem. You won’t be running Logic, proper Photoshop or Ableton Live, but at least you get to keep using your iCloud account and your Photos library.

The 2018 iPad Pro brings its own share of problems, not least the recent (and — as I write this — ongoing) iPadOS 13 debacle. However, it is also closer than ever to being a legit Mac replacement. And pound for pound, it’s a lot cheaper than the Mac. Add in a mouse and a keyboard, and you’re almost there.

Surface Book 2 and Windows

The Surface Book 2 even looks like a MacBook.
It even looks like a MacBook.
Photo: Microsoft

A Windows PC is a good alternative, because it’s the best-supported non-Apple platform for iCloud. Obviously you can’t use any of your Mac apps on Windows, but iCloud for Windows will let you sync your photos with your iPhone, sync Safari bookmarks, and sync your mail, contacts, calendars and tasks with Outlook.

iCloud for Windows.
iCloud for Windows.
Photo: Apple

If most of what you do involves web apps, or platform-agnostic tools like Lightroom and Dropbox, then you’re good to go.

Hardware-wise, Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 looks great. It has a detachable touchscreen, although the tablet experience is supposedly inferior to the iPad. More importantly, it has a reliable keyboard, a great trackpad, plus a pair of USB-A ports, a USB-C port, an SD card reader and a headphone jack.

Even the cheaper Surface Laptop 3, which starts at $999, offers a mix of ports — and looks pretty great. Apart from running Windows, that is. Although, if you are going to run Windows, and you have a MacBook-size budget, then Microsoft’s own Surface hardware is your best option, because you don’t have to deal with all the crapware loaded on competing Windows laptops.

A Chromebook

If you’re all-in on Google services, and most of your apps are web apps, you should consider a Chromebook. iCloud-wise, you’re stuck using the www.icloud.com site, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. The whole point of the Chromebook is to be a simple client for web-based services, and Apple’s iCloud site is pretty great.

When it comes to MacBook alternatives, the biggest advantage of a Chromebook is its price. Wirecutter’s top pick is the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, which costs just over $500. It has a scissor-key keyboard, a microSD card slot and a pair of USB-C ports. Still, unless you really, really hate MacBooks, the Chromebook offers few advantages. Other than a working keyboard.

Linux

When it comes to MacBook alternatives, Linux is an option (and elementary OS looks pretty sweet).
elementary OS looks pretty sweet.
Photo: Elementary

Linux offers all the compatibility disadvantages of a Chromebook, but you can at least run it on pretty much any laptop hardware. The best, most Mac-like Linux distribution for switchers looking for a MacBook alternative is probably elementary OS. It comes with a suite of apps and many Mac-like features: Parental controls, do not disturb, picture-in-picture, plus versions of Apple’s power-shaming alerts, location restrictions, a dock and a lot more.

elementary OS even offers a small app store, which fixes one of the biggest headaches for new Linux users. App installation often involves typing commands into a command line, or compiling the apps yourself, from source code. Good skills to have, but not something a regular user wants to deal with.

Still, if I were shopping for a new OS, elementary would be high on my list.

No good MacBook alternatives

The problem is, there’s really no good MacBook alternatives. The Mac is a whole package, hardware and software together, and you can’t replace one without also ditching the other

App-wise, and iCloud-compatibility-wise, Windows is the best option. I was going to say that the Windows experience would’t be as slick as on the Mac, but with macOS Catalina and its incessant nagware, I’m not so sure.

Still, most Mac users likely will do what I’m doing: Try to keep their old machines running for as long as possible. And hope that Apple will finally make a decent computer before their current one gives up the ghost.