Lamenting the state of laptops

I’ve developed a definite fondness for the Acer Aspire 1810TZ budget ultraportable that has served as my primary notebook for nearly a year. We’ve had some good times together, and because the system has just the right blend of portability, performance, usability, and battery life for my needs, I’ve found it perched on my lap more often than its predecessors.

The 11.6", CULV-powered Aspire replaced a 10" Eee PC 1000HA that I’d had for about 12 months. I’d always spent more on notebooks and kept them for several years, but I told myself that going the budget route would allow me to replace my primary portable more frequently while still saving money in the long run. With the Aspire and me approaching our first anniversary, I’ve been casually scoping possible replacements. Nothing’s really catching my eye, though.

I suppose I’d be more enthusiastic about trading up if I weren’t so bummed by a number of trends that have polluted the notebook market in recent years. Innovation seems to be stagnating, in part because manufacturers appear content to chase the lowest possible price points. I suppose my newfound purchasing strategy is partly to blame, but I’ve come to the realization that I am willing and even eager to pay a premium for a notebook that’s really done right. The problem is that precious few are.

Just what I want to see in a laptop screen: a reflection!

My biggest complaints center around the display. Decent screens are increasingly difficult to find, and good luck tracking down a laptop with an 8-bit IPS panel. There are some good TN panels kicking around, but most are saddled with glossy coatings that are highly reflective in normal indoor lighting. You need to crank the backlight brightness to avoid staring at yourself when using most notebooks, and some simply lack the luminance to overpower the muted mirror effect.

The rise of 1366×768 as the resolution of choice is also troubling. That’s a great pixel density for the 11.6" display on my Acer ultraportable, and it’s a good fit for 13.3" screens. However, 1366×768 adds up to barely more than a megapixel, and its stunted vertical span requires lots of scrolling while surfing. The absence of high-res display options on larger 14" and 15" systems is a travesty, especially when you move up from budget models or into desktop replacement territory.

Keyboards are another sticking point. Far too many are mushy, flexy, and otherwise lacking in precise tactile feedback. As a writer, I’m picky about such things. The fact that the keyboard on my two-year-old Eee PC feels better than what you get on a lot of newer, more expensive laptops is deeply disappointing. 

Do so few laptop users really want to be able to type in the dark?

Mediocre keyboards are especially frustrating in the dark, as is the surprising scarcity of good keyboard lighting implementations. I prefer LED-backlit designs because they have a sort of space-age slickness, but they’re incredibly rare and generally limited to premium models. Lenovo’s ThinkLight works nearly as well while being considerably simpler and arguably more elegant. However, notebook makers seem more interested in putting LEDs behind extra status lights for things like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi than they do in providing keyboard illumination. At this point, I’d settle for photoluminescent lettering that glowed in the light given off by a laptop’s display.

I can’t discuss interfaces without, ahem, touching on touchpads. My notebook is most often sitting on my lap while I’m mid-slouch on the couch, a position that doesn’t lend itself to comfortable mousing. That puts me at the mercy of the touchpad, and I’ve been lucky to be spoiled by the diverse range of scrolling options and multitouch gestures offered by full-featured Synaptics drivers. However, an alarming number of notebooks lack multitouch scrolling, and support for advanced gestures is even scarcer. I wouldn’t buy a notebook that lacked either, just like I wouldn’t settle for a mouse without a scroll wheel and back button.

Why provide a smooth tracking surface when you can impede finger movement with stubble?

The importance of a touchpad’s surface also seems to have been lost on some manufacturers. Tracking surfaces should be free of friction, but all too many are slightly tacky or textured in a manner that actually impedes smooth finger movement.

In too many cases, function is being sacrificed for form—and poor form at that. Whoever thought easily marred glossy plastic was a good idea for a device that’s handled constantly needs to be tried for crimes against good design. Some notebook makers seem to be getting the message and are moving toward finishes that hold their appeal outside carefully posed product shots. However, even some of the most practical aesthetic efforts to date still commit a cardinal sin by crafting the display bezel from smudgetastic glossy black plastic, which then becomes littered with fingerprints right before your eyes as you adjust the screen tilt to compensate for its inevitably narrow vertical viewing angles.

Fingerprints are hard not to see when they’re sitting right across from you.

Ugh.

At least the hardware that underpins notebooks continues to improve. The arrival of affordable ultra-low-voltage Intel CPUs has been a boon to the thin-and-light category, and graphics switching schemes have made it possible to get a laptop with great battery life for basic desktop tasks and plenty of graphics grunt for gaming. Nvidia’s Optimus tech is the most seamless and impressive on that front, but it, too, is plagued by penny pinching. Optimus’ potential is often squandered on derivatives of the GT218, which is the weakest GPU in the mobile GeForce lineup and the very same silicon behind the next-gen Ion graphics chip. The GT218 must compromise in-game detail to run most of the latest titles at acceptable frame rates, and it still can’t handle some. That’s a shame considering the wealth of pixel-pushing horsepower available just a rung or two up Nvidia’s notebook graphics lineup.

I will admit that there are loads of laptops on the market that do a lot of things right. It’s just that most get at least a few crucially important things very wrong. What’s even more frustrating is that the basics, which don’t have to cost a lot to do well, are so often neglected. Notebooks may be getting faster, but on the whole, I’m not sure they’re actually getting better. I guess that saves me the cost of a new one this year. While I can take some solace in knowing that my Aspire hasn’t been overrun by the next generation, I’m ultimately more disappointed that nothing in this latest crop has really caught my eye.

Comments closed
    • GrimDanfango
    • 9 years ago

    The problem for me is a simple one. Asus are the only manufacturer that address most of the basic tradeoffs in the right way, but they’re also the worst of the bunch for cheap plasticiness and poor quality glossy screens.

    My UL80VT was my first venture into full-fledged laptop territory (my only previous one being the Eee901). The reason it convinced me was:
    Decent dual core CPU
    Very decent G210M graphics (for the form factor)
    Thin, portable dimensions
    Huge long-lasting 8-cell battery
    Cost considerably less than £1500-£2000

    Asus were, and to some extent still are, the only manufacturer to cover all five of those points at the same time.
    If I really dug around, I could probably find a similar machine built with a decent quality brushed aluminium construction… but I’d inevitably have to pay double the price for the privilege!

    I’d be more than happy to pay up to £1200 for a similarly speced laptop built with a decent aluminium case and a matte-finish IPS screen (hah! not bleedin’ likely!!)
    If only someone would sodding make one!

    Maybe Apple will start to put their iPhone 4 style IPS screens into their laptops, and go back to matte screens… I might even consider defecting at that point. I’d just have to endure the big garish glowing fruit on the back slowly burning a hole in my soul.

      • Tamale
      • 9 years ago

      you can get a matte screen on the macbook pros

    • clone
    • 9 years ago

    request for a netbook setup: dual core atom with passive cooling along with passive integrated graphics, the motherboards laid out so that the coolers and fins are on “above” the keyboard so they can vent the air straight up when being used and don’t need any kind of fan…. will extend battery life, run cooler, and quieter.

    if the cooler is wide enough across the top notebook makers may even be able to use some more robust lower power cpu’s into the 10 watt range.

    move the keyboard “down” and get rid of the touchpad altogether or put it off to one side at the “bottom” and taper the keyboard down so the transition is gradual and easy on the hands.

    notebook request: improve the resolution of 13.3 in and above displays to 1440 X 900 and higher.

    • Afty
    • 9 years ago

    Aside from the display, buying a business class laptop (Thinkpad/Latitude/Elitebook) will generally address all of these complaints. Thinkpads for example do have crappy displays (but at least they’re matte), but they also have:
    – excellent keyboards
    – available high resolution displays
    – keyboard illumination
    – a thoughtfully-textured and large trackpad that supports gestures, not to mention the TrackPoint which many of us prefer
    – matte plastics and rubberized coatings that don’t show smudges

    Basically, if you buy a crappy consumer class laptop, you get what you pay for.

      • edh
      • 9 years ago

      I just ordered a ThinkPad W510 with the FHD display. Aside from the display, it has just about everything I could possibly need. Yes, it’s a bit heavy and a bit short on battery life. And, in spite of in being a ~16-inch model, it lacks a keyboard with the numeric pad. However, none of those were high on my priority list.

      What WAS high on my priority list and what the W510 does NOT have — nor does any other current, work-horse laptop — is a decent screen. Even the FHD screen is a chopped 16:9 instead of 16:10. Worse, it’s a crappy TN. Yet, they charge $250 extra for it. I’d have been willing to pay them $500~600 extra for the IPS screen I really wanted — no questions asked.

      I realize that not everyone wants a high-end screen; however, can’t such a screen be offered as an option? The panels do exist. And some of us would be willing to pay the price.

    • tygrus
    • 9 years ago

    I’d love to be able to mix-n-match the laptop chassi, keyboard, mainboard, graphics, screen. You could then vary the features towards games, office, kids or design. Make a DVD player that can also do some work or a games machine that suits travelling.

    These days, OEM’s are aiming for lighter and long battery life at the expense of the screen and performance. The mid range is bland and the top range weighs a ton.

    IPS blocks more light than the leakt TN. IPS needs more backlight for the same screen brightness compared to TN panels. economy IPS should be used as a better compromise. Can we then vary the brightness upto 350cd/m2 when connected (sunny) and 250 on battery.

    Can I choose between a plastic case or a reinforced metal case with rubberised impact zones?

    I sometimes want it thin & light but can I aslo have the option to make it a bit thicker to add the DVD, Express slot and a slightly larger battery?

    Dell used to give you more system options now you can hardly change anything.

      • adisor19
      • 9 years ago

      I noticed that about Dell as well. There used to be a TON of options when configuring the Screen, the BT, the WiFi etc. Now, you’re lucky if you can even pick a different CPU..

      This combined with the crap tech support really makes me wonder what Dell still has going for themselves these days..

      Adi

    • rxc6
    • 9 years ago

    reply fail.

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    Screens:
    TN is fine, actually, if manufacturers don’t keep using the cheapest and nastiest TN panels available.

    Trackpads:
    Agreed, a huge number of them are tacky/grippy/friction-coated when we want the exact opposite. Too many also lack features and/or “laggy”. On some laptops you can “dance with the cursor” where wiggling your finger over the surface at the right freqency gives the exact opposite effect on screen. FAIL!

    Keyboards:
    How hard is it to not make a keyboard flex? One aluminium sheet, one standoff post in the chassis?

    Gloss:
    I’ve already replied elsewhere about this, but aside from looking cheap and tacky even when it’s shiny, I believe glossy plastic and faux chrome would recede if every review and photo showed dirty, smudged laptops giving off grease-smeared warped reflections of the junk in the photo-booth or room they were pictured in.

    Resolution:
    Manufacturers need to realise that PPI is important. 105 PPI (1366×768 on a 13.3″) is about the minimum acceptable density for a laptop, and 130+ PPI is what I feel should be considered high-end (1680×1050 on a 15″ laptop)

    • Flying Fox
    • 9 years ago

    And 2 days ago in the shortbread the comments were blasting the article about sheep consumers buying cheap notebooks ruining the market? I think both Dissonance and that other guy are right. It is a sad state of affairs.

    Plus I want to bring more of those trackpoints back.

    • Shining Arcanine
    • 9 years ago

    Why do people need backlit keyboards? I prefer keyboards that are blank. My desktop keyboard is one of the Das Keyboard II that uses mechnical switches. It has no markings on its keys at all. Typists should be able to type without seeing their keyboards.

      • Flying Fox
      • 9 years ago

      With notebooks sometimes you may not be in the correct position to get that touch typing thing going. Besides, not every one is a touch typist. And then how many touch typist can actually do the number row and the F row? Then you add to the fact that the “other keys” (Ins/Del/arrows/etc) are not always the same with different models, you do have to look for them sometimes.

        • Shining Arcanine
        • 9 years ago

        While you have a point, I do not think backlit keyboards are a requirement in that area. A traditional keyboard with markings is sufficient.

          • Flying Fox
          • 9 years ago

          Not all environments are well lit enough. I prefer the ThinkLight approach than the whole keyboard getting backlit though.

          • Firestarter
          • 9 years ago

          Try using a laptop in the dark, you’ll either be wishing for a lit keyboard very soon or stubbornly pretending not to care.

      • ecalmosthuman
      • 9 years ago

      Typists? As in your average laptop user? HAHAHAHA!!

        • paulWTAMU
        • 9 years ago

        I’m a touch typist (including 10 key but not F row) but not on most laptop keyboards with thier non-standard sizes. Annoys me to no end. I do about 60-70 WPM on a real keyboard, and typing on a laptop is about as bad as typing with gloves on.

        • rhema83
        • 9 years ago

        Touch typists are a rare breed among the sheer number of consumers driving notebook sales.

    • ZGradt
    • 9 years ago

    Agreed. I do find the editors’ aversion to fingerprints funny though. They don’t bother me in the least, but I am a bit of a slob…

    I use an Aspire One most of the time for convenience, but I keep my 2005 15″ Dell Vostro (8600GT) around mainly for WoW in the living room. Even though the Vostro is a lot heavier than the netbook, and the battery is pretty much toast by now, it has 4 gigs of ram, a much nicer keyboard and trackpad, as well as a non-glossy display. I take the Vostro with me when I travel, and If I have room I’ll take the One as well.

    If I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, I’d like to get a nice 12″ or so laptop with the best of both worlds. I was looking for one of these at the beginning of the year, but settled on the Pine Trail netbook because it was so darn cheap ($240) compared to the more capable ~13 inch notebooks ($500+). Even then, I was worried that the notebooks I was considering wouldn’t keep up with the 8600GT in the Vostro.

    • xii
    • 9 years ago

    I agree with pretty much everything. I’ve never owned a personal laptop myself, I would like to get one now, and I’ve been looking for a year already. There are a lot of flaws, and some laptops come so close, yet there is always a giant deal-breaker.

    I admit to being picky, but still… It’s a crap-shoot, even when you’re willing to pay a bit extra. I don’t get why companies like Lenovo can put out such great (and expensive) machines and then fuck up something crucial like the screen. Apple with their “you don’t need buttons”-philosophy. HP with the glossy shells and crappy touchpads.

    It’s not really rocket science. Decent screen, keyboard, touchpad – we need to use the damn thing. No overheating or noise issues. Home/End/PageUp/PageDown buttons. These are all basics, and yet very few laptops pass those requirements; we’re not even talking about ports, resolutions or other specs yet…

    The only real “extra” requirement I have is either ExpressCard or decent Firewire support. Lots of the smaller laptops simply drop ExpressCard altogether.

    • swaaye
    • 9 years ago

    As someone who has been using laptops since they were boxy-but-practical beasts in the early ’90s, I’d say that all of these nasty changes have come due to the perception of shiny-glossy factor appealing to people. And it probably does sell them because most people laymen I talk to don’t see the problems that the gloss/shine/smoothness bring.

    The lit keyboards are actually fairly nice however. I have found that useful on occasion.

    • Tamale
    • 9 years ago

    even if the macbook pro gets the screen and trackpad right, its price premium for OSX and the ooo shiny factor still fails to include common ‘must-haves’ found on $300 ultra-portables, like 3+ USB ports (with at least one on each side), hardware switches for wireless radios, a normal HDMI/VGA/DVI video output jack, or even basic keys like ‘delete’, ‘home’, ‘end’, ‘page up’, and ‘page down’.

    Seriously, there’s such an opportunity here for manufacturers to hit a home run and they just keep missing it.

    make something like what I suggest here and people like Geoff and myself (and many others too, I’d wager) will stop whining:

    – HP-business quality keyboard with all the necessary keys in the right place
    ( §[< http://www.notebookreview.com/assets/16732.jpg<]§ ) - thinkpad trackpoint (you can always remove the rubber nub if it bothers you, but a lot of people love them, so why not include it?) - macbook pro quality trackpad - durable, matte surfaces - everywhere - IPS, matte display with really wide range of LED-backlit brightness - newest ULV platform with ion or similarly decent graphics - beefy battery for 6-10 hours of battery life - usb ports on each side of the machine - gigabit ethernet - sd card reader - headphone jack (2 preferably, but no mic jack needed) - built in webcam is a nice-to-have but not necessary - solid, metal hinges in any of these sizes with the appropriate resolution: 11" - 1366x768 12" - 1280x800 or 1440x900 13" - 1440x900 14" - 1680x900 15" - 1680x1050

      • Wirko
      • 9 years ago

      That would be a great DIY project if it wasn’t for a $5000 cost of materials.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 9 years ago

    Geoff, why do you keep all those stickers on your laptop? The first thing I do when I get a new laptop is to remove those tacky stickers. Especially the new ones that take up half of your palm rest.

      • Dissonance
      • 9 years ago

      I generally don’t. The pics in this post were pulled from our collection of laptop reviews.

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    Kinda whack complaint. just get an ultraportable from Apple/Dell(business)/HP(Business) and you should be set. The crap complaints here are almost all consumer retail sludge, of course they are going to suck. It’s like complaining about Presarios on the floor model of an Office Depotg{<.<}g

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    The biggest peev’s I have about most notebook’s is the lack of Gig network, crappy touch pads, glossy displays and poor viewing angle TN displays.

    More dedicated graphics options would be nice and more custom building like dell offers would be nice (do you hear that HP Canada)??

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 9 years ago

    Why would I need to be able to see the keyboard when working on it? I have a keyboard light on my Lenovo laptop have only used it a few times. I know where the keys are, so what’s the point?

      • crabjokeman
      • 9 years ago

      Good for you. However, there are those of us that still can’t type properly (and/or quickly) without seeing the keyboard, even with decades of typing practice.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    OK, y’all know what I want? (actually, I’m sure none of you care at all, but since I can post this, you’re going to get it anyway) I work on some visually complex stuff at work, and I frequently take work home (yeah, now divorced and /[

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 9 years ago

      HP has a lot of good options for their business line, but unfortunately, the options aren’t quite consistent enough. For example, you can’t get higher resolution screens on Probooks below 15″, only certain models can have the DVD drive removed, sometimes there is no larger battery option, and sometimes the larger battery option costs twice as much as X other model, even though it’s the same battery…

      It’s really sad that that’s about the best I know of. In the day and age where laptops should finally be able to replace desktops, you still can’t just can’t pick from logical choices.

        • dpaus
        • 9 years ago

        Agreed. And I found their on-line configuration & ordering process to be a nightmare compared to Dell’s.

      • Ryszard
      • 9 years ago

      I don’t think it’s easily doable at 13 or 14 inch, but at 15 inches it’s fine. Something like a Thinkpad W510 has dual-link DVI (via the dock), discrete graphics that doesn’t suck and an i7.

        • Dashak
        • 9 years ago

        Seconded for the W510. It’s on my wishlist.

        • dpaus
        • 9 years ago

        Yes, but the dual-DVI is only available via the dock (as you noted), so then I have to buy a dock for home and work (and those things are stupid-expensive for what they are), /[

      • rxc6
      • 9 years ago

      From what you describe. What you are looking for it is not cheap. The closest thing I can imagine is the Sony series Z. You can get an i7 620M in there, but the price is high.
      13.3″ and Full HD or 1600 x 900. It has the same problem with DVI-D being available only in the docking station, but has hdmi out that could help. This model is particularly expensive because they decided to use double SSD in raid 0.
      I have been looking for something similar to what you need and for me the envy 14 is the one closest to what I want. The Sony Z is too expensive for my taste.

    • Goty
    • 9 years ago

    I still don’t get all the glossy-screen hate. The reflection doesn’t bother me in the least (which is saying something, since I sit opposite a window in my office), and the increase in saturation is nice on otherwise miserable screens.

    Now, I’m completely with you on glossy bezels and chassis.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 9 years ago

      They vary. Some are like a mirror and it seems like more of them are that way over time. The problem is that you don’t get a choice. Instead of matte or glossy, now the options are glossy or mirror, for no reason other than for the “Ooooh, shiny!” effect on the Best Buy shelf.

      • Kaleid
      • 9 years ago

      Some of us do not want to see ourselves struggle when we for instance write essays…

    • blastdoor
    • 9 years ago

    Classic “you get what you pay for” situation here. If you have the $$ for a better computer, I suggest you spend the $$.

      • Damage
      • 9 years ago

      Not really. I think that’s what he’s saying: that you can’t pay more and be sure to get more. TN panels are everywhere, and their level of crappiness (it’s all shades of crap with them) doesn’t seem to track with price. See: expensive ThinkPads with abominable displays, cheap Samsungs with decent-for-TN ones.

      Same with keyboards and touchpads. The quality you get depends on chance as much as on the class of product, and sooo many keyboards these days are awful.

      If we could pay a premium to get an IPS panel or just a higher-quality, higher-res TN panel in some of our favorite laptops, we would. That’s almost never an option. Same for better keyboards, touchpads, and omitting glossy surfaces.

      You just kind of have to hunt through everything and look for the right combination, then hope it has the internals you want/need for performance and battery life. Paying more doesn’t guarantee much of anything beyond you having less money.

        • adisor19
        • 9 years ago

        I don’t know Damage.. you usually pay “more” for Apple products so their MBP like is actually very solid minus the 13″ which is still stuck in the Core2Duo world. MBP screens are very good and are worlds above in quality compared to the randomness of TN panels on PC laptops.

        I have yet to see a crappy LCD, trackpad or keyboard in the MBP line of laptops.

        Adi

          • OneArmedScissor
          • 9 years ago

          It also doesn’t cost anywhere close to an extra $800 for a decent screen. The point of contention is that you aren’t getting your money’s worth and that options are limited, not that a more expensive laptop isn’t better at all.

          If there were just an /[

            • blastdoor
            • 9 years ago

            Hmm… I see your guys’ points, in that it would be nice if you could just pay the extra $ for an IPS screen, holding all else equal.

            But it’s also true that if you want a high quality laptop, you can pay more for a MBP. So if you’re willing to pay, you can get a very good laptop. It’s just that you have to pay for more than just the particular component that is of interest to you. This is not a strategy that makes sense for people who have more time than money, but if you value your time, then it’s a strategy that really does make sense.

    • Krogoth
    • 9 years ago

    Geez, I hate it when nostalgic guys forget about the bad parts. Old laptops had issues of their own. WLAN antenna issues, lack of useful ports, no HDMI/DVI output, lack of wireless peripherals suited for laptops (namely mice), battery life, weight/size.

    The only reason IPS panels and fancy chassis job are a rarity is because of bottom line costs. Laptops are the “new” mainstream desktop. Desktop manufactures have to cut corners in order to grab mainstream sales. TN panels are “good enough” for average joe. They certainly don’t care nor need fancy chassis job.

    It doesn’t mean you can no longer get either option. You just have to pay a hefty premium for them.

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    I can only hope they have some good 9-10 inch bobcat laptops

    • Decelerate
    • 9 years ago

    Macbooks and Lenovo’s Thinkpad line are the only 2 brands i look at and recommend. Family members don’t get my free tech support if they deviate from that selection.

      • vvas
      • 9 years ago

      +1. ThinkPads address pretty much all the concerns mentioned except the display. MacBooks address all of them too, except you need to sacrifice some weight. Nothing else comes even close.

      In my case, because weight is an important issue for me, I think I’m destined to always have a used ThinkPad X-series off eBay. ThinkPad build quality at a netbook price. :^) I can live with not having the most cutting edge stuff.

        • demani
        • 9 years ago

        ++
        There are certainly some real issues with the MacBook Pros, but all in all they do a nice job. And I think it’s worth paying the extra $50 to get the matte screen (or rather, to get the screen you want-and there are aftermarket places who will pull the glass so you can have a matte screen on the 13″ models). Maybe don’t think of it as a Mac tax (or the Windows add-on tax) but just consider it a premium paid to get something that does its job pretty well.

        And Thinkpads are my other default choice (just depends on the user and their priorities). But honestly-once you venture past those two, everyone else is competing on price, and consumers love The Shiny (both literal and figurative). And the manufacturers need to make money in volume since (other than Apple and Lenovo) they aren’t able to keep decent margins, so even if they get one model right there is no saying the next revision won’t get some more Shiny added to it. And when margins get thin…yeesh…build quality can really go in the toilet.

        I also agree that a laptop is way more of an I/O machine than a desktop: you touch it, look at it- its a completely different buying experience: its buying the whole motorcycle rather than just the engine and frame. It seems like manufacturers are getting away from that, or maybe just trying to maximize thin margins by just using what the next guy does as the reference (like the story about McD’s vs. BK: McD’s spends a ton of money, runs traffic analysis, makes population estimates and consults census maps and tax rolls to determine where to put a new store; BK just puts one across the street from McD’s).

    • The Dark One
    • 9 years ago

    Are the integrated graphics so bad that the only way to get decent performance with an Aero desktop is to cut the resolution? When a family member of mine got a shiny new Asus laptop, the one thing that glared out at me was how limited the resolution and screen size were. With all the toolbars that were enabled in the web browsers by default, it felt like half the screen was already gone.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      No, any halfway modern IGP is fine with Aero.

    • ludi
    • 9 years ago

    First, if you have an 1810TZ, what’s the rush to upgrade? I’ve had mine for over six months and I’d like to get at least another 18 months out of it. It’s not like you’re going to be playing StarCraft II on such a small display, anyway. Save that for the desktop.

    Second, I don’t completely agree with the notion that touchpads should be completely friction-free. How, then, besides the mouse ceasing to move, do you know when you’re actually on the touchpad without looking? The touchpad should have some sort of texture, and a boundary line, that clearly defines its area by tactile feel alone. (Some vendors have responded to that complaint by recessing the touchpad area, which works reasonably well I guess.)

    • Inverter
    • 9 years ago

    What do you expect, nearly the whole market is heading in the direction of “cheaper”, not “better”…

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    I agree with Geoff regarding some of his gripes about laptops lately. Yes, fingerprints are everywhere, and he’s already said everything there is to say about it. In one word: Ugh. Also, It’s hard to look for a laptop with a matte finish screen. And yes, not only do the displays suck, but I wish they’d also stick with standard resolutions because today there seem to be more resolutions available than there are laptops in the market. Before, we only had 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768 and 1280×1024. It’s so muddy nowadays, honestly, I’m not tracking them anymore. I have some praises and some complaints to add, however.

    Good: Good to see keyboards with those gaps between the keys. They’re easier to clean because things that get stuck between the keys are easily removable, while those that get inside the key recesses are, well.. at least you can never touch them anymore. Also good is the fact that laptops are pretty much affordable for most people nowadays. For the same money you spent on a laptop 15 years ago, you can buy a good laptop today and still have enough to buy a powerful desktop.

    Bad: I hate it when laptops have their ports in front of you. If you’re sitting on the couch and the thing’s on your lap, you have to take care that you don’t put excessive pressure on the cables connected in front or else you might damage the ports, especially true with audio jacks and USB ports. And yes, USB ports located at the rear suck, too. Just put them all along the sides, thank you.

    Oh, and yes, please stop putting all those crappy trial software packages like McAfee and all those crap listed in ‘Add/Remove Software’.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 9 years ago

      All those crappy trial software packages are part of what makes the laptops cheaper. It sucks for the average schmoe who doesn’t know enough to uninstall them but for the tech savvy it’s a fairly painless discount that just requires a little time spent once to uninstall.

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 9 years ago

        Even if they came pretty much clean, I’d likely still reinstall Windows and the drivers just because it takes longer to hunt through all the default settings than using a configured disc image.

        Things like those Norton popups are infuriating, but “strangely” enough, if someone asks me to get rid of them and I tell them that they can surely handle it theirself, they always figure it out.

          • ludi
          • 9 years ago

          Reinstall Windows…with what? They don’t come with basic install discs anymore, just the quick-restore stuff and frequently even that only comes on a disc if you run the utility to burn one. So you’re just going to be reloading the same default software package unless you have a spare, complete Windows CD available. Most people don’t.

            • d0g_p00p
            • 9 years ago

            I would take a wild guess and say that anyone who purchases a new laptop and wipes the disk as soon as the laptop is unboxed will have a genuine or a custom install disk based off a retail disk for clean installs. It’s one of my main reasons to always keep my MSDN subscription up to date.

            It beats sitting there for hours uninstalling misc software packages and resetting windows back to default. Even then you are still left with installer residue and bloated/broken registry settings.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 9 years ago

            “Reinstall Windows…with what?” Oh, I don’t know, but possibly with something along the lines of the “configured disc image” I mentioned in the very post you were replying to. :p

            They don’t need to come with a Windows disc. There’s just about no point at all.

            • demani
            • 9 years ago

            Yeah- but those usually reinstall all the “bonus” software too- so what’s the end result?

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 9 years ago

            *double face palm*

            I am not going to make a disc image that includes a bunch of crapware.

            • ludi
            • 9 years ago

            What he and I were both saying, however, is that a configured disc image is all that most people have access to.

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 9 years ago

    I want a MacBook Pro with Win7 on it — I used my roommate’s MBP last week and really liked it. Still prefer Win7 to OSX though.

      • esterhasz
      • 9 years ago

      The problem with Win7 on MBPs is that they already get quite hot in OSX and with the power saving implementation on Win7 working out a lot less well with that hardware (in the ballpark of going from 8W to 11-12W) the buttom really gets too hot for my taste…

      That said, it really does seem that the MBP line addresses many of the gripes Geoff talks about…

        • Skrying
        • 9 years ago

        They’re the only units that come close. Hell, the MBP’s for their price premium on the 15″ and 17″ models are easily some of the most unique products in the laptop world right now. I was strongly considering getting a 15″ unit because all I play anymore is WoW and SC2 so the graphics chip would be fine. But… I’m not willing to give up $2000 for the 512MB memory vs the $1600 I could for the otherwise just fine “bottom” configuration MBP 15.

        Honestly it has me confused why Apple can achieve the battery life numbers they do considering the hardware they put in their units when no one else comes even close unless you start talking CULV based units (significant drop off in performance I need).

          • vvas
          • 9 years ago

          They can achieve such high battery life numbers because they control the whole stack. Apple is fanatical about small details like that, and because they are the only company that controls both the hardware and the software of their laptops, they can do optimizations that other laptop vendors can only dream about.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 9 years ago

            They also use 77.5w batteries, roughly the equivalent of 8 cells, as their standard, whereas Best Buy class laptops they’re often compared to may state “6 cells,” but actually only have a 40-44w capacity.

            I would argue that the battery is more important than anything else. At the same screen sizes, even AMD’s quad-core laptops are not wildly far off from the average CULV laptop in power draw for light use. All the minor software tweaks you can throw at them won’t measure up to outright doubling the battery capacity.

            Asus tends to use 8 cell batteries, and a lot of those even beat netbooks in battery life, but they’re about the only one that makes that standard on particular models, and it’s not universal for all of theirs.

            Laptop makers need to get a clue about really straightforward things like that, but I don’t think people care. They just want it to be cheap, and corners will be cut. It’s just sad because batteries are dropping in price, and the “X cells” deal falls right in line with the numbers game they like to play for advertising, but they’re not really going for it.

      • adisor19
      • 9 years ago

      Nothing’s stopping you from putting Win 7 on an MBP.

      Adi

    • ltcommander.data
    • 9 years ago

    Apple may not be the end all and be all, but with them able to get 10 hrs of battery life out of a standard voltage processor, I would really like to see what they can come up with in the 11-12″ space using CULV processors and probably a nVidia IGP or GPU. At the very least they should be able to address the keyboard, touchpad, and glossy plastic case issues.

    EDIT: With all the good things I’m hearing about the Acer 1810T, I’m going to pick up one of those Olympic Editions that are now often on sale. I was thinking of getting a 1830T, but I’m hearing the battery life is shorter with the new Arrandale processors ~6hrs instead of ~8hrs of light usage for Penryn. So I’ll just stick with the 1810T and a 1.4GHz SU9400.

      • paulWTAMU
      • 9 years ago

      my mother in law just got a macbook pro. Love the keyboard, hate the touchpad with the heat of 2000000 suns. godawful thing.

        • Tamale
        • 9 years ago

        wow that’s weird.. I hate the keyboard, love the touchpad lol

    • Spyder22446688
    • 9 years ago

    I shuddered with horror when I read Lenovo plans to discontinue its X300 line. The only way you’ll get my X301 is if you pry it from my cold, dead hands. Sturdy build. Matte finish. 1400×900 @ 13.3″ heaven.

    • tam1138
    • 9 years ago

    I’m quite satisfied with my 13.3″ Thinkpad Edge, and it seems to address most of your complaints. Sadly, the screen is not fantastic and the keyboard is not illuminated, but it’s matte, Synaptics, good keyboard, gigE, etc.

    • _Sigma
    • 9 years ago

    I had all the same problems when I recently did a laptop hunt. Add criteria for weight and it becomes even harder.

    I ended up getting a 2010 13.3″ MBP and running Win7 on it 100% of the time. Ended up being a fantastic combination, addressing all the points (except for the glossy screen—bleh!). Also ended up being cheaper than many of the other alternatives I was looking at (Dell Latitude lines for example).

      • Aelieas
      • 9 years ago

      The amount of times I have had to defend my 13″ MBP 2010 purchase is incalculable. How they emphatically badger me with requests like “Why buy a 13″ *overly sardonic tone* MAC *overly sardonic tone* when you can get this 13″ with similar stats for $200 less?”. The answer I am so overly tired of stating is “A computer is an I/O machine and I grade one on it’s ability to deal with my input and give me the output I want in a timely and elegent manner. A laptop has the further constraint that once it has met the above property, it must be portable, durable and reasonably light”.

      What am I losing by stepping down to a laptop that is $200 cheaper? I may still be getting a system that has the ability to provide me with timely calculations yet hindered by its I/O devices. Poor keyboard and poor touchpad means it takes me longer for me to interact with the device, marry that with a poor screen that must have it’s angle adjusted constantly and may not be able to be used in some lighting environments and hence the systems way of talking to me is shot to shit as well. As for the secondary constraint, MBP’s are built into a lighter, stronger, more durable and smaller package.

      So the ultimatum becomes, would you save yourself $200 and receive a device that fails most constraints necessary to be classed as a computer and achieves a lesser degree of success in the constraints necessary to be classed as a laptop?

      INB4 apple hate: Apple does charge a premium for it’s laptops but the moment a competitor releases a laptop that has comparable performance and design, that still meets my requirements, for a similar or cheaper price is the day that I will probably sell me mac.

      RANT: OVER AND OUT.

      • vipw
      • 9 years ago

      You threw out the weight criteria also? MBP 13 is 4.5 lbs (2.04 kg)… That’s what kept me from buying one.

        • _Sigma
        • 9 years ago

        I wanted lighter…but it really can’t easily be done in the 13″ class.

    • Mentawl
    • 9 years ago

    Am I very much in the minority in thinking that a 1366*768 resolution panel is just about right on a 14.1″ or 15″ screen, but is far too fine a dot pitch on an 11.1″ panel? I use my laptop with my glasses on, so my vision should be pretty reasonable, but I’d never want to use a higher res than 1440*900 on a 15″ panel, or a similar DPI on a smaller/larger panel. I’m very comfortable with a 1920*1200 resolution on my main PCs 24″ panel, and really like my sister’s old laptop, which is a 12.1″ Dell with a measly 1024*768 resolution LCD.

      • Wajo
      • 9 years ago

      I work on a 1920×1200 15.4″ screen, so I’m very much not in your camp 🙂

        • elmopuddy
        • 9 years ago

        Yep me too, an old D820, nice resolution, but the screen is not bright at all.

        Very hard to find 15″ laptops with hi-res.

      • Rakhmaninov3
      • 9 years ago

      I agree with you!

      • ltcommander.data
      • 9 years ago

      I agree that 1366*768 on a 11.6″ screen is a bit small, but something like 1024×600 just isn’t a very useable resolution nowadays. I would prefer to see some 11.6″ notebooks having a 1280×720 resolution since that seems like an ideal compromise for that size screen.

      • BlackStar
      • 9 years ago

      If you don’t feel comfortable with high resolutions, just increase your DPI setting. In an ideal world, UI elements should have the same size *regardless* of resolution (higher resolutions simply offer higher fidelity for text and vector graphics). Too bad Win7/Mac OS X still suck in resolution independence (Linux is in a better state).

      As for me 1680×1050 is the lowest I can accept on a 15.4” screen. 1360×768 on 11.6” sounds about right, although I’d prefer 1280×800 on 12”.

      • vipw
      • 9 years ago

      You should be complaining about your software.

      You are saying that a screen can show too much detail, but that’s not a bad thing. No one complains that the iphone4 screen is too sharp.

        • Mentawl
        • 9 years ago

        No, but you don’t get iPhone4s with varying sizes of screen either – Apple has the advantage there of only having to setup the GUI for a single resolution (or two or three, if you consider the iPhone3/3G/3GS/iPad etc).

        Windows, on the other hand, comes with a “standard” DPI setting, and screwing with that can screw with some other things – I agree with BlackStar (#21) that GUI elements -should- be resolution independant, but they’re simply not nowadays, and so a dot pitch that is most favourable when combined with the Windows default DPI is what I’m referring to, and what 90%+ of consumers are interested in too.

        • stdRaichu
        • 9 years ago

        This, times a million. It shouldn’t matter what resolution your screen is, as long as the OS and applications are capable of scaling accordingly. Thankfully MS finally got this right with NT6… but there’s a whole crapload of apps that expect DPI to be set in stone from here to eternity.

        IMHO, 1366×768 on an 11″ screen is about as low as I’m willing to go in terms of dot pitch (also an 1810TZ owner) – I’d like a fatter “workstation” laptop in the 15″ ballpark to replace my creaky nc6400 but the almost complete lack of screen options leaves a bad taste in my mouth; being able to see individual pixels /[

          • barich
          • 9 years ago

          You can get 1920×1080 on a ThinkPad W510. If you want to go refurb, you could get a W500 with a 1920×1200 screen.

          Still a crappy TN panel, but at least the pixels aren’t the size of Legos.

      • codedivine
      • 9 years ago

      Well, I use a 1366×768 screen on a 11.6” laptop and it suits me just fine. The only time I had trouble using it was when I was sleep deprived for 48 hours and had trouble opening my eyes 🙂

      • sreams
      • 9 years ago

      I completely disagree. 960*640 is not much less, but it works great on a less than 4 inch display (iPhone). More pixels are better. If you can’t read it, increase your font size.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    Crappy, and I don’t just mean TN itself but beyond what’s ‘bad’ for desktop TNs these days, displays are what I would lament the most. I have always preferred IPS desktop displays, the defects in other panels even when they are ‘good’ ones just irk me too much, but at leat give us a TN that’s decent! Oh, and not glossy in a laptop please where you can’t control the environment and it’s meant to be used anywhere and everywhere.

    Oh and Geoff – please take ugly pictures of the glossy everywhere laptops all fingerprinted up for your reviews. You always mention it in the text but then give us the prettiest ‘marketing style’ photos you can. I understand there is pride in taking high quality photos but please ‘keep it real’ and make the downside of glossy surfaces more obvious. Manufacturers might even take a hint from it if all their product sample reviews show fingerprints.

      • Rakhmaninov3
      • 9 years ago

      +1 Hah!

      • Tamale
      • 9 years ago

      THIS!!

      • Chrispy_
      • 9 years ago

      +3

      Seriously, glossy plastic not only collects fingerprints, but the warped reflections highlight the manufacturing defects in the “not quite flat” surface

      I want laptops to look like crap in reviews if they are likely to look like crap in daily use!

    • cygnus1
    • 9 years ago

    Basics… like gigE networking… so cheap, so easy, yet so often left out

    Sry if I’ve harped on that lately, just been buggin me on my laptop

      • Joel H.
      • 9 years ago

      That’s only an issue if your home network is actually capable of GigE speeds. This may not still be true, but at least a few years ago, the lower end ‘GigE’ routers only supported that standard at the wall–transfers from port to port were still 100TX.

        • cygnus1
        • 9 years ago

        considering i’ve seen 5 port gigE switches for $15… it really can’t be all that expensive…

    • kizzmequik_74
    • 9 years ago

    Oh, god, those dimpled touchpads. I recently had the dishonor of having to help someone set up an ASUS K40IJ with one of those dimpled touchpads. Hated every second of it. They require so much pressure to work, and it’s pretty difficult to move your finger across it due to the friction.

      • Sunburn74
      • 9 years ago

      I have never had a problem with my asus dimpled touchpad. There are options you can adjust to change the amount of pressure you need in the ELAN settings.

      Personally, I think the writer is just a candy ass with too much time on his hands. I really don’t know what he’s talking about, especially when he’s using asus laptops as the posterchild for his gripes. Geez, my asus ul30vt is pretty damn sweet, glossy 1366×768 TN screen and all.Don’t turn your personal problems into flaws in a laptop. If for some reason you can’t turn on a light in order to type on your laptop, you’re either already thoroughly screwed with no hope or don’t need to be typing on your laptop and instead need to be focused on things like sleep and making love to your wife.

        • Skrying
        • 9 years ago

        When you work with technology for a living suddenly all of those “candy ass” complaints become real big deals.

          • Sunburn74
          • 9 years ago

          Yeah but for whom are the majority of laptops made for? I assure you, they aren’t made with Geoff Gasior in mind. The truth is the majority of people who own laptops (or even PCs in general) have no idea what the resolution of their screens are. I once asked a lady who worked in the graphic design industry who recently received a 3000 dollar Mac Pro workstation to use at home (for free) what the specs were on it, and her immediate response was “uh… It has a 27inch screen?”. Again I said Mac Pro here, not all in one iMac. I bet, you literally could replace half the capacitors on her mobo with sunflower seeds, and dog’s teeth and assuming the PC still worked, and she’d probably think not too much of it.

          I understand some people are picky (which is why the high end of the laptop market caters to their whims), but its unfair to extrapolate that pickiniess to culv netbooks. Thats like stating a honda civic should have heated seats just because you once drove a Mercedes E series that had them. The truth of the matter is laptops these days are getting really good to where even if the average joe who knew nothing about nothing needed a laptop and were to pick almost at random, he still wouldn’t really get a lemon.

          Like I said, my Asus UL30VT has been a marvelous purchase and I can understand the writers complaints, but he’s still a candy ass for complaining about wanting to type in bed in the dark.

            • Skrying
            • 9 years ago

            No one is asking that laptops only be made for us. There’s simply no options on the market. You cannot get a matte screen and also get other options you want. It doesn’t matter if you are willing to spend the money on a premium unit. No units exist that meet Geoff desires.

            Your “thinking” is unbelievably frustrating. It basically comes down to “You’re not in the majority so shut up.” That’s outragous.

            • Trymor
            • 9 years ago

            I guess arrogance and anger don’t work well together

            • Olreich
            • 9 years ago

            Give me the average laptop consumer and a laptop that has all of the features wanted, and the one that doesn’t. I’ll bet you they want the featured one, with the smooth trackpad, keyboard with good feedback, and lovely matte screen every time. Because I’ll make sure to touch that glossy one all over, close the lid after using the keyboard, and use normal indoor lighting. The matte finishes remain sexy, the glossy ones lose quality extraordinarily quickly (literally 5 touches can take a sexy laptop and make it ugly). When the quality is *that* low, and can be fixed for $20 price premium on a $300 product, it is possible to sell that $20 dollar premium to the majority of users.

            But the point remains that even the fanciest of laptops come with glossy screen with low backlighting, no luminescence on keys (a requirement with glossy screens, since the lights have to be off to see anything on them), and a cheap non-multitouch trackpad with dimples. So, one has to object.

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 9 years ago

        hahahahaha. well….said.

    • Atradeimos
    • 9 years ago

    FIRST!!!!1!!!11!!!ONE!!!!!

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      ‘#1’ as in ‘most pathetic’??

      • hapyman
      • 9 years ago

      If you are going to rejoice in being first, at least say something intelligent that adds to the discussion.

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