Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Laptop is Dead. Long Live the Laptop! (Technology)

It's an inopportune time to purchase a new laptop. Unless, of course, you know exactly what you want and have the courage of your convictions. By that, I mean there currently exists an abundance of choice when it comes to portable computing devices, many of which sport new form factors, operating systems, and user interfaces. Almost as important, many of these new devices are designed to support (or, more cynically, are designed to be locked into) specific entertainment and application "ecosystems". The gadget geek side of me is thrilled, as this provides endless entertainment, in the form of tech news, rumors, reviews, and comparisons, as reported by AnandTech,  Engadget, gdgt, or The Verge. However, the pragmatist side of me knows my MacBook is three-years old, and, while I'm perfectly content to continue using it (especially with the recent upgrade to a 256GB Crucial m4 SSD), if I had to replace it today, I'd have a very difficult time deciding what to get. I initially began thinking about this issue a few months ago, when trying to decide whether to purchase a new laptop, and while I ultimately concluded an SSD upgrade for my old machine was the best choice for me, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at what was available before coming to that conclusion.

I first looked for the closest direct replacement for my aging MacBook (Late 2009), which is the MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012). However, I've been less than thrilled with Apple and OS X in recent years, for various reasons, e.g. MacBook kernel panics that appear to result from Apple's Bluetooth device drivers conflicting with virtualization software, the skeuomorphic design elements introduced in OS X Lion, as well as the general iOS-ification of OS X, the push toward Apple-App-Store-approved signed software, but I digress. While most of my issues probably wouldn't be encountered by the typical user, let's just say that I was a Mac User when Apple was doomed, and, much to my chagrin, I am no loner an unpaid-Apple evangelist, preaching the virtues of owning a computer that "just works". These days, I spend most of my time using the operating system of the unwashed masses (i.e. Windows 7) and honestly, with how much of my computing experience now occurs in the web browser, the choice of operating system has become less significant. In light of the above, it didn't make sense for me to "pay the Apple tax" when buying a new computer, so I started to look at other options.

I was surprised to discover that no one was making a PC laptop that exactly met my standards. Every machine I considered seemed to require that I make compromises in some important aspect (e.g. display resolution, display quality, input device quality, battery life, etc.). I looked seriously a the Asus N series, Lenovo ThinkPad T series, and Samsung Series 7 machines, but didn't find any one compelling enough to purchase. Meanwhile, the iPad mini, new Kindle Fire HD tablets, Google Nexus tablets, Microsoft Surface,  and Windows 8 touchscreen laptops were released. After sifting through what felt like an endless number of slightly different products, instead of asking, "Which laptop should I get?" I found myself thinking, "Do I still need/want a laptop?". While I haven't spent enough time with Windows 8 to really know its virtues and pitfalls, it only took thirty minutes of "kicking the tires" at my local Microsoft Store to decide that I would only want to use Windows 8 on a device with a touchscreen. Further, I was able to determine that the first-generation Windows 8 touchscreen machines don't meet my exacting standards.

Notebooks and ultrabooks and tablets. Oh, my!

While I don't currently own an iPad (I could say tablet computer here... but I've already spent enough in the Apple App Store that I'm entrenched in the Apple ecosystem), this is not due to a lack of desire. I've thus far remained strong, telling myself that "really really wanting" an iPad isn't a good enough reason to buy one. I've been on the cusp of buying an iPad several times, however, until now, when I've reviewed my portable computing needs, I've found that a vast majority of what I want a portable computer to do, is either easily accomplished with my iPhone 4 or better accomplished with a full fledged computer. I ultimately decided that, lacking a compelling "traditional" Windows 7 laptop, and as the industry is clearly in transition, that it made the most sense to upgrade my MacBook. Also, while it's convenient to have a laptop available for lounging on the couch, traveling, and the occasional Torchlight II / Diablo III LAN party, I no longer need one.

The Laptop is Dead. Long live the laptop!

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