Some notes on laptops

For the one person reading this who cares: if you’re looking for a laptop, check HP Compaq. Anyone who really cares (by definition, an audience <1) should read on:

My charming host Allan is in need of a new laptop. He currently sports a delightful little (and I do mean ‘little‘) Toshiba libretto thing that’s at least a couple of years old and is starting to get doddery. Worse, his needs are changing, and he could really do with a larger display for client demos and, particularly, development (JSP, SQL Server stuff, lots of things I don’t understand). During yesterday’s stroll through London town we prodded all manner of shiny things on Tottenham Court Road, and between us today we spent an unreasonable amount of time poking around on websites. Some observations:

  • Almost without exception, hardware manufacturers’ websites suck. Dell have three ranges of laptops, with no discernible difference between, say, anything in the D series, and for about two hours I wasn’t even aware of the third range. Panasonic – I gave up. Sony – found the perfect thing in their PDF brochure, but couldn’t track it down anywhere else, and the range on their online store doesn’t tally with the range on their corporate information site (!).0
  • 12″ subnotebooks are really rather lovely, but too small in many circumstances.
  • Basically nobody makes a 13″ or 14″ widescreen laptop. There’s a straight jump between 12″ and 15″.
  • You can’t take Bluetooth for granted. But – to my surprise – it sounds like nobody uses it on Windows anyway.
  • Gigabit ethernet is almost unheard-of in PC laptops.
  • It seems entirely random as to whether a specific model has integrated graphics (ugh!) or a kick-ass Vista-ready GeForce Go card.
  • There’s always a catch.

This last is what really annoyed us. Every single machine seems to have an achilles heel, be it a crap graphics card, or (quite often) being physically much larger than the screen might suggest. Prices are also all over the shop.

In the end Allan found an HP Compaq that looks remarkably good; 15″ 1440×1000 widescreen, fair battery life, gigabit ethernet, bluetooth, decent graphics card: under £1000+VAT, which is genuinely excellent. Peering at the pictures, it may even look half-decent.

Interestingly, though, the 15″ PowerBook is really quite a good buy at the moment. It’s thinner and lighter than most, at least as quick, battery life is OK, it has a few twiddly bits that are curiously lacking elsewhere, and the price is surprisingly competitive. If it could be persuaded to run Windows I suspect Allan would have bought one – but that’s next year’s trick. John Gruber has his usual extra-thorough review.

(FWIW – my own 15″ PowerBook is getting on for two years old now, and I still think it’s wonderful. The only real pain is the hard drive size – I really need 160Gb these days, but it’s just not available. Boo!)

5 thoughts on “Some notes on laptops”

  1. I’ve a Compaq Evo 610C for work. It’s been rebuilt 4 times in the last year. Oh, and it’s taking 10 minutes to shutdown at the moment, “Ah, well, there like that…” being the answer from CSC!
    As for HP Compaq, if it’s a HP built, I’ve heard lots of good stories, but the Compaq HP’s are just as bad as mine, our boss just having had his rebuilt the other week, and a friend have his inbuilt CD/DVD drive just die on him 🙁
    Probably the only time I’d recommend the extended warranty on an electrical product.

  2. One of the good things about this model (which I forget, hence the lack of linkage) is that it comes with three years’ warranty. But I’ll pass on your concerns, thanks.
    Meanwhile, I realised that we didn’t even think to look at IBM^H^H^HLenovo Thinkpads. They’ve just released a dinky little 14″ widescreen ‘Z60t’ which looks pretty sweet… apart from the sucky integrated graphics nonsense. Meh.

  3. 10 Minutes Before I Go Home

    Reading Jonathan’s blog over the weekend, and stories of wandering around Tottenham Court Road looking for a new laptop, reminded me I’ve not posted anything about my current work plaything. Which, given the abject frustration it’s causing, actually su…

  4. And you know, if you use your laptop for writing stories and emails and browsing… and reading Jonathan’s blog… and listening to your music or showing your Mum your pictures… watching DVD’s when you are working away from home in Glasgow… well then a 12″ ibook at �660 with my student discount… is a pretty good buy. And yes, I had to fight hard to resist the temptation to buy a Powerbook but my repressed puritan ethic won through.

  5. Sony do make a rather lovely looking 13″ widescreen notebook. I had a brief play with one at the airport and Sony remain second only to Apple in terms of industrial design. It seemed reasonably specced (although I suspect the nvidia graphics chip uses shared system memory) but past experiences put me off Sony a bit. I’d post a link to the viao site, but quite frankly it’s so badly designed I refuse to give them any publicity for it. Anyway, it’s the S-series if you’re interested.

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