I'm writing this review as someone who is extremely picky with their electronics, wanting to get the best overall package. Firstly, I really like the Windows Precision Touchpad for the gestures which make working on the laptop feel nice. In fact, I really came close to getting a HP Spectre X360 the other day based on a lot of great reviews, but the trackpad felt off to me and did not support all the gestures I wanted to use. That feature is a dealbreaker for me, so I'm glad this knocks it out of the park. The ability to swap desktops with a four finger swipe can help out when trying to do a lot on a smaller screen. To round out my comments on the inputs, the keyboard works great too. For me, it has the right combination of very solid feeling key presses with enough travel to feel satisfying while still feeling fast. That one is personal preference though; I think the new MacBook keyboards feel nice, where some people hate them. Some keyboards throw me off with their layout, but this one feels good. One niggling annoyance...the backlighting has 3 levels, bright/medium/off, and unlike what I'm used to it's static. In other words, if you're watching a video they will just stay illuminated all the time..I would rather the backlighting time out and turn off if you aren't touching the machine, to reduce glare and distraction while watching a video. But, that's just what I'm used to (coming from a Surface Pro 4). It's very quick to toggle though, with function+spacebar, and the keyboard is natural enough that I usually don't need the light unless I'm using special characters.
Performance is something that I really missed coming from a Surface m3, and this machine feels really responsive. In CineBench R15, I got a score of 714 after some tweaking for the CPU test. For comparison, the MacBook Pro 13 is around 360 according to online tests. Some tasks may not show that difference, but in heavy workloads the new quad-core U-series processors are the first big step forward in some time for laptops this size. One feature I like is the hardware support for VP9 video codec used by Youtube, which enables better battery and lower utilization of resources to watch videos, compared to 6th gen or older. After years of incremental improvements (and some time spent with a noticeably less powerful machine) I felt that the 8th gen processor was a must. This is what knocked the MacBook Pro out of contention for me, combined with its lack of features and high price of storage upgrades. Speaking of storage - getting a NVMe storage drive at this price is great. It helps the machine boot faster than my gaming desktop which itself is a beast. The drive is also user-replacable, important in the future when 1tb or more NVMe drives are less expensive. Another factor in performance is cooling, and this machine has a two fan cooling solution, unlike the non-touchbar MBP. I saw temperatures spike high (never over safe limits) and then drop as the fans ramped up. They were very noticeable during intital setup, but I have not heard them much since. The noise is not too annoying, however. Importantly down the road, they're easily accessible for cleaning. Notably, it seems like in laptops this size Core i7 is not a huge leap from Core i5, in most cases offering roughly similar performance due to themal or power limits. Finally for performance, DDR4 ram is used instead of slower low-power DDR3 and the 802.11AC wifi worked well with my router delivering internet speeds the same as my desktop which is wired in (the wireless card is also upgradable to meet future standards, if you were wondering).
For design, I think they did a nice job. Once I removed the stickers, it's a clean looking machine. I don't think it's anything that will realistically catch someone's eye and stand out, but it's not priced like that either. The one standout design feature compared to older machines is the slim bezel display that is becoming popular. I think it looks great and while it's not the slimmest around (Dell XPS 13 takes that crown), it is slim enough to look nice and is the standout characteristic of the machine. I don't use the webcam much but the slightly larger top bezel allows it to be placed at a better angle which some laptops sacrifice for design. I wouldn't care, but if you do use your webcam this is a selling feature. This laptop also features a fingerprint scanner, which is a selling feature for me. My Surface had Windows Hello IR camera, basically facial scanning. That worked well and I liked it. This works faster, and better, and in more conditions/wearing a hat/at odd angles. I would really miss this feature, and MacBook Pro reserving it for the touchbar model is a bit of a bummer. Some sort of quick-login is a must, it's great to have. Another feature that this piles on is support for Wacom AES pens, with more than 4000 levels of pressure sensitivity. It's nice for taking notes, drawing, or retouching photos. Another feature is fast-charge. The laptop only takes a little more than an hour to charge when it's off. Of course, having a normal USB port is something that will be nice, I still have a lot of USB peripherals. It also supports always-on charging which is super handy. Funny, but charging an iPhone with the included cord is something you can do on this machine, not on a MacBook. I have a USB-C phone, so the convenience of your laptop charger also working for your phone is great. The included charger is 65w, compared to some competitors 45w (Dell XPS 13) or 61w (MacBook Pro 13), which helps the machine stay charging even when heavily taxed. Of course, I haven't even touched on the 2 in 1 aspect, which is another feature. It's not something I would use all the time, but it's nice to have. The other models I was considering did not include this feature for the most part, and I don't consider it a must have. However, when you're getting it basically for free, why not. Touch is another nice to have. I find it easier to use the great trackpad, but for the drawing features or for space like on an airplane, the 2 in 1 flexibility is nice when you use it and you don't really pay a big price for it in money or functionality when you don't need it. There are 2 thunderbolt 3 ports if you want to dock the machine or add a graphics card externally in the future. This laptop also includes far-field microphones to let you use Cortana across the room as you can Alexa. I haven't tried those features.
Are there drawbacks to this machine compared to the competition? Yes. I think the screen is good, not great. The brightness is good, but not as high as the more expensive options in the class. The glossy nature of the screen also invites glare more than I am used to. I haven't tried it outside, but I would not expect it to do great in that setting. The battery is the same story. It's not as great as class leaders like the XPS and might be similar or a little less than a MacBook Pro 13. I've seen varying reports on what that machine can do. This one does use the more power hungry DDR4, which might explain some of it. I've seen around 6-7 hours though with video watching use and it seems to predict more for general web browsing, at a medium brightness setting. I have also seen it predict less when under load, which they all do. But, with the fast charging, I think it helps make up for this. That said, I think it's good enough for me. I would like XPS levels of 12+ hours, but I understand this machine is much cheaper and with more features, so it's a trade off. Another good-not-great aspect is the speakers. They're loud enough but lack a real punch. Again, I sort of get it. Nothing is perfect. The build is great feeling especially settled on a table, and premium, and does not flex when picking up from a corner. That said, it can make a *very* slight creaking which I don't think MacBook Pro would do. Again, a slight trade-off for a bottom panel that removes with screws in a straightforward manner for cleaning the fan or swapping battery, SSD, or Wifi module. You sort of need to be looking for this issue, so it's a nitpick, but I've nitpicked every machine I've looked at so I have to be fair. Finally the design, it is a little hard edged for my tastes in tablet mode or sometimes in my lap, like in bed. It's not terrible, but I could see improvements being made there.
I think this laptop is greater than the sum of its parts, and a really great mix of features. For me, it hits the must haves completely, with enough nice-to-haves to surprise and delight. It says something that I was in the market for around ~$1000 machines and ended up with this one at a significant discount. I still like the XPS 13 but they seemed so close, it wasn't worth about $500 more for a similar configuration. The MacBook and Surface Laptop still lack the new processors which is strikes me slightly as lazy at this point when every other maker has them. Again, the HP Spectre X360 felt off in the touchpad which was a total dealbreaker, and more flimsy than this unit. This laptop isn't perfect but in a crowded market really strikes me as a great deal, great overall unit, and the best fit for me. I don't usually make such a long review, but I have been looking into every aspect of this class of laptop lately so I hope this helps someone. I do recommend it!