Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Changing the Laptop Game

A new generation of laptops is out, with very similar specs. IBM's new T-series, the Sony Vaio Z1 series, and Dell's Inspiron 600m all offer seemingly simple upgrades over previous generations of notebooks:

Sub 5 pounds (4.5 - 5.0 across the three)
Fast processors (1.5-2Ghz Centrinos)
Integrated wireless
Fantastic battery life (~ 4 hours)
Integrated CD-RW/DVD drives
Superb screens -- all three offer 14.1 inch SXGA+ 1400x1050 screens. Just to be clear -- this is almost twice as many pixels (1,470,000) as a high-res 1024x768 screen (786,000)

So what, you say? That's what I thought. I've been using my trusty March 2000-era Vaio F-480 for four years now, and I loved it. It was only its increasing mechanical creakiness from about 400,000 miles of use that finally made me buy a new laptop -- and I had no real expectations of a life-changing experience, because I'm not an early adopter tech-head.

WoW!! Was I surprised?!!

My new machine -- a Vaio Z1VAP -- is phenomenal. The keyboard is better than any I've used, even better than the wonderful one on the F-480. My one (small) beef is that the absence of separate home, end, pgup, and pgdn keys makes fast editing difficult -- these are critical keys for sentence, line, and paragraph selection, and pressing ctrl+fn+down arrow is a hack. But this gripe is utterly washed away by the entirely new usage patterns I'm seeing after just two days. The battery actually, uh, works. I can go places with no adaptor -- the thing is light enough to carry and forget about. The screen is incredible. Not only is the resolution surreally sharp, it's brighter and whiter than any display I've ever seen. I assume that the other two machines are using similar quality LCDs, and the difference from 1024x768 is incredible. You truly can no longer see individual pixels in most situations.

This thing is going to change my working life. I spend hours a day in PowerPoint, and I can now see so much more in nearly every view. I spend hours day in email, and I have screen real estate like I never imagined. I am now actually considering buying a Tablet PC, because for the first time in years (since, oh, 1995, when I got my first laptop) I have actually had my user experience significantly changed by new hardware, and I am now open to the idea that additional value might actually exist in a different and innovative hardware configuration.

Go buy one. You can get "low end" versions of all these machines for about $1300, and anyone who's doing anything remotely productive on their PC will get real benefits right away.