The Laptop: As Personal as a Computer Can Get

A laptop is as personal as a computer can get.

This is why you should carefully consider many factors when purchasing a laptop. There are the size, the weight, the features, the ergonomics. Some carry around their laptops in their bags. Some leave them on desks (taking the computers for a stroll only every so often). Some even prefer laptops that they can keep inside their small bags or large purses–subnotebooks or small tablet PCs often fit inside small bags.

My laptop, an old reliable Thinkpad, is about to give up on me after many years of faithful service. Just recently, the TrackPoint broke, and for me, the TrackPoint is one of the most important features of my laptop, and probably even any laptop for that matter. More importantly, I consider the ThinkPad’s trackpoint to be the most ideal pointing device. Why? Three reasons:

  • Ideal positioning. Being a touch typist, I prefer having my fingers on top of the keyboard most of the time. Having to move my hand from keyboard to mouse–or even the touchpad–and back is an inefficiency I hate to contend with.
  • Minimal movement. The mouse is meant to be moved around. The touchpad is meant for one’s fingers to glide on. As for the TrackPoint, your finger’s just there. A little pressure to the right direction, and the cursor moves there.
  • Good feedback. The ThinkPad has what I consider to be the best clickers around. They’re not thin, small, itty-bitty clickers with shallow feedback. TrackPoint clickers are solid, large, with deep feedback. Just the deep clicking sound is music to my ears!

Brand Matters

So while I’m saving up enough dough and looking for that perfect replacement to my ThinkPad, I got to borrow an extra laptop my dad sometimes uses when he goes on trips to the rural areas. It’s quite small, thin and light. But it’s an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer)-made computer–what laptop afficionadoes would usually call “grey-box” or generic laptops. Yes, they’re branded, but they’re usually from the third-party manufacturers that big-names contract for manufacturing their laptops.

My single biggest gripe: the design.

Mind you, by design I don’t only mean the aesthetics. I consider design to appeal to all aspects of the senses, from sight, to touch, and to the usability of the device. And to put it bluntly, not all laptop brands are built and designed the same. Still, it’s a brand issue, which is usually a subjective matter. Nonetheless, I’d rather go for those brands that espouse elegance in design.

It’s somehow akin to comparing a build-your-own computer to a branded one built by, say, Apple or Alienware. The latter would have the cool factor, and also elegance in design, from the way the machine feels to the way it efficiently uses space, to the way it looks, even!

And being a notebook computer, with everything built-in, you wouldn’t have much of a say as to how the device is designed. One wrong design element and you’ll have to live with it.

Why I don’t like it

This grey-box computer I’m using is quite fast. It’s about ten times faster than my ThinkPad, I would say. But the advantages stop there. In terms of design and ergonomics, even the cheapest ThinkPad would beat the heck out of this one.

Again, brand matters. Because with a good brand usually comes great design. Here are a few reasons why.

  • The wow factor. Whip out a shiny new MacBookPro in a cafe and you’d probably hear oohs and aahs–or at least imagine to, but that’s the general feeling. Bring out a sleek, black ThinkPad and its wow, this guy must do serious stuff. Take out an iBook or MacBook, and it’s cute. Somehow, grey-box laptops and some other brands just don’t have that wow factor. Most brands have models that look too plasticky or too drab. Some look like toys.
  • Input devices. Have you ever tried using a keyboard with keys not in the position you’re used to? This is just what you would feel using a different laptop brand. ThinkPad keyboards are all made the same, from the oldest model to the latest (well, save for the Windows key, perhaps, which is present in some Acer-made ThinkPads and some newer Lenovos). The positioning’s the same. The tactile response is the same. And I just love how the keys are spaced-out adequately, and how the function and navigation keys are separate from the letter keys. I could work on my ThinkPad keyboard with my eyes closed. And about the touchpad, well, I hate the fact that I can’t turn off touch-clicking. Many a time have I had everything messed up because my palm accidentally touched the pad and clicked the cursor somewhere while I’m typing.
  • The heat is on! In terms of heat dissipation, no two models are built alike. Some laptops are just so efficient at it, that you don’t feel any heat at all, whether from the bottom, the sides or top of the unit. With the current one I’m using, though, and some other Celeron M-based models (even by otherwise good brands), the heat escapes through the keyboard and the wrist-rest, whether running off the battery or plugged into the mains.
  • The peripherals. One gripe I have with this grey-box is that the USB ports are positioned directly underneath the PC Card slot. And I have to use a PC Card WiFi adaptor to surf wireless (which is 99.9 percent of the time). It’s difficult to access the USB slot, and some of my devices won’t fit–either I remove the PC Card or plug in a USB extender. And only two slots?
  • Connectivity. My years-old ThinkPad has infrared. And I use that to sync my SmartPhone with Outlook. This spanking new grey-box (and many others) don’t even have Infrared, nor FireWire. Now how am I supposed to transfer videos from my video camera? Oh wait, I don’t have one. My point is that if you’re buying a laptop, you better make sure it supports all the connectivity needs you have.

It’s all about design

I could go ranting on and on. But I won’t, because at least I have something to use while I search (and drool over) that next great laptop I’ll be buying. Dave’s T43 looks great, and probably is! But isn’t quite within my price range for now. Still, my next laptop purchase would most likely be a ThinkPad.

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