Friday, August 28, 2020

It ain't easy being a unique snowflake, the laptop purchasing edition

As the lockdown drags on I have felt the need to buy a new laptop as my old one is starting to age. A new category in the laptop market is 2-in-1 laptops with full drawing pen support. It has been a long time since I have done any real drawing or painting and this seemed like a nice way to get back into that. On the other hand the computer also needs to be performant for heavy duty software development such as running the Meson test suite (which is surprisingly heavy) and things like compiling LLVM. This yields the following requirements:

  • A good keyboard, on the level of Thinkpads or 2015-ish Macbook Pros
  • 13 or 14 inch screen, at least Retina level resolution, HDR would be nice, as matte as possible
  • Pressure and tilt support for the pen
  • At least 16GB of RAM
  • USB A, C and HDMI connectors would be nice
  • At least Iris level graphics with free drivers (so no NVidia)
  • A replaceable battery would be nice
  • Working dual boog (I need Win10 for various things), full Linux support (including wifi et al)
After a bunch of research it turns out that this set of requirements might be impossible to fullfill. Here are the tree best examples that I found.

HP Elite Dragonfly

The documentation is unclear on whether the pen supports tilting. More importantly this model is only available with Intel 8th gen processors and online reviews say the screen is super glossy.

Lenovo Yoga X1 Gen5

Pen does not support tilting. The graphics card is a standard Intel HD, not Iris.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 7390

This is the one that gets the closest. There is no USB A or HDMI connectors, and the pen requires an AAAA battery. This is annoying but tolerable. Unfortunately the keyboard is of the super thin type, which is just not usable.

So now what?

Probably going to stick with the current ones for now. New models come out at a fairly steady pace, so maybe this mythical white whale will become available for purchase at some point. Alternatively I might eventually just fold, give up on some requirements and buy a compromise machine. Typically this causes the dream machine to become available for purchase immediately afterwards, when it is too late. 


  1. The Yoga C940 is currently your best bet. I bought two for Krita developers needing a new laptop. It's fast, supports HDR, comes with a reasonable pen (no tilt, but no 2:1 pen has tilt, and tilt isn't that useful anyway).

    1. XPS 13 2-in-1 does have tilt. Reading the spec page is how I learned that tilt support on laptops even exists.

      That C948 model seems interesting, it is a _lot_ cheaper than the Yoga X1 which has almost the same specs. I wonder why that is.

  2. Have you looked at the ms surface book?

    1. According to the Internet, Surface Books have NVidia chips, so no. For regular Surface laptops all models that are readily available here have only 8G of RAM, though 16G models seem to be available. I have not tried to use the keyboard myself, and it looks very thin in pictures so I'd need to test that first.