The New York Times’ product-recommendation service “Wirecutter” has sparked widening criticism about how laptops are reviewed. The technology/Apple blog Daring Fireball first complained that they “institutionally fetishize price over quality”.
That makes it all the more baffling that their recommended “Best Laptop” — not best Windows laptop, but best laptop, full stop — is a Dell XPS 13 that costs $1,340 but is slower and gets worse battery life (and has a lower-resolution display) than their “best Mac laptop”, the $1,000 M1 MacBook Air.
Technically Dell’s product won in a category titled “For most people: The best ultrabook” (and Wikipedia points out that ultrabook is, after all, “a marketing term, originated and trademarked by Intel.”) But this leads blogger Jack Wellborn to an even larger question: why exactly do reviewers refuse to do a comparison between Wintel laptops and Apple’s MacBooks?
Is it that reviewers don’t think they could fairly compare x86 and ARM laptops? It seems easy enough to me. Are they afraid that constantly showing MacBooks outperforming Wintel laptops will give the impression that they are in the bag for Apple? I don’t see why. Facts are facts, and a lot of people need or want to buy a Windows laptop regardless. I can’t help but wonder if, in the minds of many reviewers, MacBooks were PCs so long as they used Intel, and therefore they stopped being PCs once Apple switched to using their own silicon.
Saturday Daring Fireball responded with their own assessment. “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 — is not going to be popular with a large segment of their audience. Apple silicon is a profoundly inconvenient truth for many computer enthusiasts who do not like Macs, so they’ve gone into denial…”
Both bloggers cite as an example this review of Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2, which does begin by criticizing the device’s old processor, its un-backlit keyboard, its small selection of ports, and its low-resolution touchscreen. But it ultimately concludes “Microsoft gets most of the important things right here, and there’s no laptop in this price range that doesn’t come with some kind of trade-off….” A crime of omission — or is the key phrase “in this price range”? (Which gets back to Daring Fireball‘s original complaint about “fetishizing price over quality.”) Are Apple’s new Silicon-powered laptops sometimes being left out of comparisons because they’re more expensive?
In an update, Wellborn acknowledges that this alleged refusal-to-compare apparently actually precedes Apple’s launch of its M1 chip. But he argues that now it’s more important than ever to begin making those comparisons:
It’s a choice between a hot and noisy and/or slow PC laptop running Windows and a cool, silent, and fast MacBook. Most buyers don’t know that choice now exists, and it’s the reviewer’s job to educate them. Excluding MacBooks from consideration does those buyers a considerable disservice.