Where are the good laptops?

Check out this keyboard and tell me what you think: if you’re shopping for a new laptop computer – what about it jumps out at you?

Figure 1. A keyboard.

It has your standard speed-typing layout! That’s right – you can go straight from your desktop computer to this laptop and back, and not miss a beat.

It seems that it is getting hard to find a competent new laptop to purchase. My previous favorite, Lenovo, has apparently parted ways with their perfect keyboards and switched to a newer chicklet design. To make matters worse, they’ve abandoned the standard two-row-by-three-column layout of the editing keys (Home, Delete, End, Insert, Page-Up, Page-Down), and the cursor-movement keys are no longer set off in their separate, easily-typed format. See the illustration in Figure 2.



Figure 2, showing the crucial editing and movement keys circled in blue.
Figure 2, showing the crucial editing and movement keys circled in blue.

It was already bad enough that the previous 1920-by-1200 pixel resolution displays disappeared. My Thinkpad W500 had that. It is starting to die intermittently, but I am loathe to give up that display for the loathsome 1920-by-1080 that all of the displays top out at now. Scanning the websites for the other laptop makers reveals that even with the few models sporting larger displays, there is nothing with a 1920-by-1200 pixel screen. Very annoying.

The saving grace is that newer, higher-resolution screens are starting to appear — Lenovo has announced their new W540 with a screen resolution of 2,880 by 1,620 pixels! This would be awesome. But I am not seeing it in any one model that has all of the basic requirements just yet.

Here, then, is a list of what I would want to see in a new laptop:

1. Decent display resolution!!!  At an absolute minimum — 1920-by-1200. We want that extra vertical band of pixels! Better: a 2650 x 1600 resolution display that is at a minimum 15.6 inches. Better yet would be to have a 17 or 18-inch option at this resolution. Why would a manufacturer expect users to shell out $2.2K+ for a new laptop, for anything less?


2. A keyboard whose design respects the ‘standard’ traditional Thinkpad layout and feel, meaning that the keys have a physical feel that makes it very easy to type, and a layout that matches the traditional PC desktop keyboard (cursor and editing keys are in the right places). This “standard” layout, is what my existing computers have. I have bought some excellent aftermarket keyboards with this exact layout.

Figure 3. Closeup of the editing keys.
Figure 3. Closeup of the editing keys.

There is finely thought-out ergonomics at work here. Notice the beveled edge of the keyboard well: when you slide your hand up there in a dark room or as your eyes are focused elsewhere — that edge serves to orient your hand. Your fingers instantly find their way to the Page-Up/Down keys. Through habit, then, your index finger always falls upon the Insert and Delete keys. You don’t have to re-focus your eyes to look at the keyboard to find those – it just happens subconsciously. And see that space between the column that contains the Insert & Delete keys, and the column to the left of them (the Pause and F12)? That little space your fingers will find by habit, to further home in upon their location. The excellent Lenovo Thinkpad W500, has this.  If a manufacturer foolishly messes with this, and changes the laptop’s keyboard — suddenly you’re stuck with having to replace everything and retrain yourself! The key-travel must be as on the W500 or W510, which is most definitely not a ‘chicklet’ keyboard. Professional users do type.


3. Multi-touch display. Not essential all of the time — the mouse does fine. But when this laptop is sitting on the family table and you want to just touch it to have something happen – that’s nice to have. Very nice to have. If we’re going to pay North of $2K for a new cptr today, it seems dumb not to have the option of Touch. Think about this: your customer is contemplating pulling the trigger on a new laptop/workstation; he’s mulling it over for a day since it’s a chunk of change ($2500); he walks into a retail shop for pencils and strolls by the counter of laptops. One is showing Windows 8.1’s start screen. He reaches over and softly touches the Music tile, and it instantly leaps to attention, ready to sound out. Sweet. Do you think he’s not going to think about that, when he next goes to sit down and revisit your web-shop page to order?


4. Trackpoint. Okay – I realize most people aren’t used to these and prefer the touchpad. But I and a lot of other Thinkpad users like to have the Trackpoint nib, especially for those moments when the mouse is not at hand.


5. Battery life that exceeds 24 hours. Look, if an iPhone burning 64 bits and quad-cores can last a full workday, why would you expect a user of your W510 to feel happy about the lousy 2 hours it provides?! Do your engineering. Provide the option of a massive spare battery if you must, that connects to the underside. But give us life!


6. The fastest CPU and subsystems — to yield a system as fast and snappy as a desktop. For various reasons — today most laptops feel like you’re in a slow-motion movie even when simply doing the simplest of tasks. This should not be necessary. Be mindful that professional users couldn’t care less about games. So hyped-up graphics subsystems to drive those games aren’t what’s needed. What we want, is the thing to respond to us. Always. Instantly.


That is not a long list. There is nothing revolutionary within it – these are the technologies that are available and have already been in production. And this doesn’t include all of the minor, common technologies that have already become common such as multiple USB 3.0 ports and a camera-memory-card reader.

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