About laptops

My laptop died a few weeks ago and I can’t fix it. Likely to be a component on the motherboard… something trivial, a broken connection perhaps, but far from trivial in its ability to disable.

It was a three-and-a-half year-old HP 6715B, 15.4″ matt display with perfect pixel dimensions of 1680×1050. Aspect ratio of 16:10. Oodles of desktop space and lovely to work with. Right now I’m using a borrowed Samsung NC20 netbook with a 12.1″ display, 1280×800, 16:10. It’s underpowered and the screen feels very cramped, but the pixel spacing is pretty-much identical.

Loads of laptops!I’ve been looking for a replacement in an equivalent price band. Surely the price of technology will have fallen so I should get something decent for the money – around £600. However, fashions have changed. The display is, for me, perhaps the most important thing in any laptop, and I’m dismayed that in adverts it’s mostly always overlooked. Maybe because it’s become almost universally 1366×768 pixels (16:9) and you have to hunt to find anything else. But look! The vertical height is smaller than on this little netbook! Great if you want to spend your time watching movies but hopeless if you want to do real work – you’re forever scrolling vertically. It’s like writing a letter or reading a page through a letterbox slit!

And displays are now almost universally glossy, not matt. Whose great idea was that?! So, they say colours appear enhanced, but what about the reflections? … Urgh! It’s probably OK for videos or games but that’s not what I use a laptop for.  I use it for writing and reading, coding and editing graphics, and I need to view the image accurately and without visual distractions.

Keyboards have changed too. Gone are the keys which almost touch each other but with angled edges to make them easier to discriminate. Now we have ‘chicklet’ or ‘island’ types: smaller buttons with dirt-collecting space between and little feel.

One thing I’ve discovered is that I don’t actually need a physically large screen. Sure, lots of pixels, but they don’t have to be spread over a huge space, especially when the screen is close to me. This little 12″ netbook for example, balanced on my thighs, doesn’t seem physically too small. It just doesn’t have enough pixels. I like the idea of increased portability and don’t actually need the 15.4″ display which my old laptop had, and 90% of new laptops have. 14″ would probably be ok and easier to lug around. That’s about the limit – anything smaller and you’d likely lose the optical drive.

It makes me wonder why 15.4″ (and larger), low resolution, glossy screens and naff keyboards are so popular and I guess it’s because so many people use their laptops for watching videos – maybe with a few friends huddled around. And I suppose you can always connect one or two larger displays if you ever need anything better.

As for weight, yes, I know I can get an ultra lightweight laptop like the Macbook Air but I’m not made of money. But 14″ laptops cost more than 15.4″. But matt screens cost more than glossy!

So, I’ve been hunting through manufacturers’ websites, trawling through forums and scrutinising reviews. And the more I’ve looked the more disillusioned and undecided I’ve become. I’ve discovered a great review website in notebookcheck.net but it’s so critical that I feel nothing will be acceptable in my price band, not even as a compromise! And when I view laptops in the flesh I realise that the construction, layout and finish add yet more subjective dimensions to the cauldron of confusion.

A friend of mine tells me it took him a year to choose a new laptop. I know I procrastinate but that’s a bit extreme! I must make some reluctant decisions…


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