Laptop Portability

While using a laptop, this past month, I’ve come to realize some basic things which ruin my mobile experience and degrade it to merely a portable experience.

I’m really tired of ordered lists, so I’ll just put this in paragraph form:

The battery life on laptops is atrocious. Batteries have been improving steadily for the past ten or twenty years, but computers have been growing in power to match. Actually, the newer CPUs (especially Core 2) should only be using half to a quarter of what the old Pentium IV chips used. We’re talking savings of 150 Watt-hours.

A battery that lasts three hours (and, to be frank, that’s only if I’m conserving battery by keeping the screen dim; otherwise it’s two hours) is meant to be used only for emergencies. Essentially, the laptop is made to be plugged in. You unplug it, take it elsewhere, and plug it back in. You can use it while you’re travelling from one plug to the other, but that’s almost just an aside.

Now, the way they’re doing it isn’t all that bad. Not really. There are a few ways, however, that we can make it better. (And here I’ll use an ordered list.)

  1. End-user optimization – Installing a solid-state drive will reduce electricity usage, and you’ll get work done faster—which means you’ll use less battery waiting on things. You could also not use the CD drive (if what you’re using comes with one), and keep USB peripherals to a minimum. These things aren’t large power drains, though, and can only extend your battery life a bit. The more important things are accessible interfaces:
  2. The plugs – When you plug your laptop in, the prongs of the plug slide into narrow spaces inside the outlet. There they’ll be stuck until King Arthur comes along to help. What would help the ordinary person more is if manufacturers made a sort of finger grip that people can use to pull the plug out without yanking on the cord and fatiguing the wires. It might sound like a small thing to you, but think of it this way: If you have a box of cookies beside you, you’ll eat a bunch. If they’re in a jar plastered to a table in the next room, you might swing by a couple times for a couple handfuls, but then you’ll become too lazy. My point is this: It’s kind of hard to just pick up a laptop and go.
  3. The power adapters – I understand a laptop is a delicate piece of machinery, and that there must be all sorts of regulating electronics in that tremendous block of black whatsit, but does it have to be so unwieldy? All those gangly wires that you can only scoop up into a tangled mess? Nothing fancy has to happen with the cord. Having a spring-loaded spool to store any unused cable would be pretty beneficial, because I could just unplug, hold a button to slurp up the cords, and put the adapter back into whatever I use to carry my accessories. Maybe laptops can have a short cord that clips snugly to the back, so I can just plug it in whenever I sit down, without lugging anything else around?
  4. Weight – The industry has made great improvements in this area. Congratulations! I’ll also note that a hard-disk drive is a lot heavier than a solid-state drive, so that’s another reason to get an SSD.
  5. Devices – Things like mice and keyboards add a lot of bulk. The better idea is to have a well-designed keyboard and good trackpad. Both are limited, but there’s room for improvement. (I’ll talk about keyboards next). I think a good idea would be to make a usb port that swings flush along the side of the laptop, so you can plug in a flash drive and have it flat where it won’t stick out. SD cards can also be nice, and you can get those bluetooth mice with the usb button that only barely sticks out of the port. Because trackpads are so much worse than a mouse.
  6. Keyboards – The keyboards on all laptops today have settled into a crappy standard where the delete key is crammed into the top-right corner, and all those other keys are kind of mushed around the right side of the keyboard, wherever manufacturers can fit them. Then you’ll have a good inch of blank space around the entire keyboard, as if to say, “See? We weren’t cramming, because we fit it all with room to spare!” If they actually did have room to spare, they’ll cram the keys in as tight as they’ll go and then add a keypad. Most laptop users are used to not using the keypad, because there is none. If they wanted one, they would add a USB extension. Get a proper keyboard in, and the numpad out.
  7. Hinge – Way too many laptops have a solid hinge that you have to pry apart with both arms. That means it’s impossible to open if you’re carrying something, eating a sandwich, laying on one arm, holding peripherals, holding the laptop, or are otherwise not in a position to apply gravity-defying force. I’m waiting for the day the screen itself snaps in half when I put the laptop’s full weight on it. Rule of thumb: The screen of a laptop should open with less force than is required to overcome the weight of the laptop. In other words, I should be able to open it without wedging a finger under the lid and yanking upward on the screen several times, sending my laptop desperately prancing atop my desk. While running.
  8. External infrastructure – This has nothing to do with a laptop; but it’s still important, because your laptop experience will be ruined without the proper setup. Your wireless should work. Laptops today let you push your wireless switch to automatically connect to your wireless and get an internet connection. Without wireless, you have no internet, and that’s half the experience (it’s probably what you’re doing right this moment). If you have another computer with a larger drive which hosts all your files (and movies and such), then you’ll want some sort of network set up, and you’ll want the proper sharing permissions. This way, you can move seamlessly from computer to computer.

In the end, you’d be left with a laptop that you can easily pick up, use on the go, and plug in to any nearby socket. It doesn’t require you to lug around anything else (besides the power cord, and maybe an internet cable), but you can if you want. You can easily move from one machine to the other without losing your productivity.
Sounds great!


3 Responses to “Laptop Portability”

  1. Kevin says:

    The great thing with big, bulky Alien computers they can come with additional batteries attached for extra battery length because it is a gaming laptop but the problem is how big and bulky it is. You need alot of things and battery life to be able to match the power of an average good quality computer.

    • Some come with extended batteries, but what I’ve seen with laptops (three-hour span) and my DS (nine-hour span) is that you’ve either got to keep the battery in mind, or you can let it sit there for a few days before charging it, because you really aren’t going to have perfect-easy access every single day (especially while travelling).

      Cellphones solve this by going into a standby mode until you start using them. Not the half-a-minute-to-start-up-again standby that you get with laptops, either, but just a low-power mode where the screens turn off and the CPU doesn’t do much. Those things, as powerful as a ten-year-old desktop, can last for weeks on a tiny little battery.
      I think we can solve things by making phones with USB ports for a keyboard. Alternatively, we can get a machine with low amounts of DDR3, an Atom, an SSD, an OS with support for long-term standby, and a screen with an incredibly-variable backlight that you can use without any backlighting at all. The screen lighting takes up half the battery.

      Laptops are at the point where they’re just as good as desktop computers, so that there’s little reason to get an actual desktop computer (unless for the extensibility and expansiveness it offers). It’s true that gaming needs the current top-of-the-line technology, but the vast number of users don’t need anything more than 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 80GB SSD.
      That’s one reason I’m seriously thinking of getting a Windows 7 netbook.

      One more point: Laptops don’t need to be bulky. You can get an LED screen or OLED screen that’s so thin you won’t feel it, and you can replace any heavy hard disks with solid-state. The case also adds a lot of weight, so we’re seeing more aluminum and bamboo and whatever composites.
      Basically, it can be as light as you wish to pay for.
      Cutting down on the CPU or the RAM or the video card isn’t going to reduce your weight by more than a couple grams. The battery is also pretty heavy, which I guess was your main point, but we don’t actually need the extra power if we improve the screen.

      • Oh, also!
        The main reason laptops seem so much slower than desktops isn’t that they have less power; it’s that they have a much slower hard-disk. This means the operating system and all the start-up programs take longer to load.

        If it seems I’m pushing SSDs too much, it’s because they really are that important. Maybe I’ll make a post right now about SSDs.

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