Posts Tagged ‘laptops’

Laptop Portability

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

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!