Buying a Notebook? Must-Haves.

Notebook Computer
Notebook Computer (flickr cc: Craig Jewell)

Notebook computers have changed a lot in just a few years.   There are a few improvements on most consumer models that you shouldn’t live without.   Here are a few things to look for in your next laptop:

  • LED Screen

An LED backlit screen uses, you guessed it, LEDs rather than something like CCFL tubes.   An LED screen provides a brighter picture with whiter whites and richer colors.   LED screens are more durable, have a longer lifespan, and consume less energy.   They are thinner and allow the overall size of the notebook to shrink.   LED screens take less time to warm up, as the laptop’s picture often appears quicker when bringing your computer out of sleep mode.

  • Small Power-Brick / Adapter
    -N8-)
    Eee PC Adapter (flickr cc: -N8-)

One of the favorite things about my original Asus Eee PC was the small power adapter.   Rather than having two separate cables and a large brick to carry around/unravel, the Eee PC had a simple wall-mounted adapter.   It was much easier and quicker to whip out the Eee PC adapter and plug it in.   The Eee PC adapter also used less space in my bag.   The design is similar to what we see with current cell phones, and many computer manufacturers are adopting this style.

  • Magnetic Latch / No Latch

Another complaint of the older notebooks I’ve owned is the clunky, mechanical latch.   Thankfully, most manufacturers are getting away from this design and opting for a magnetic latch or no latch at all.   The Apple MacBook is a simple design that implements the magnetic latch.   Some smaller laptops and netbooks don’t use a latch at all.   This is more or less a convenience issue rather than anything that impacts productivity.

  • Magnetic / Quick Release AC Power Plug
    37prime)
    Magnetic Power Plug (flickr cc: 37prime)

Not to ride the Apple bandwagon but the MacBook also has a very well implemented AC Power plug.   The magnetic design allows for a quick release if ever someone trips on your computer’s power cord.   Too many times to count, myself or someone in my home, including my dog, has gotten tangled in my computer’s power cord.   If my notebook did not feature a quick-release plugin, it might spell certain death.   A quick-release plug allows the power cord to separate from the unit without bringing your laptop tumbling or crashing to the ground.

  • SSD (Solid State Drive)
piesto)
SSD (flickr cc: piesto)

Despite their higher costs, Solid State Drives are becoming cheaper and more prevalent.   SSDs are more popular because they are less prone to wear out over time.   A standard Hard Disk Drive has moving parts that wear or slow as your computer ages.   The HDD can also fail due to jolts or hard bumps that can occur when transporting your laptop.   SSDs also consume less energy and are often faster than traditional HDDs.

  • Webcam

Webcams are pretty much the norm on most consumer laptops these days, and I’d say they’re one thing you shouldn’t do without.   If nothing for the simple fact of videoconferencing over your favorite messenger client, such as Skype, webcams provide better communication and entertainment.

Things that will be must-haves soon:

  • WiMax/Wireless Broadband Support

Thanks to the popularity and proliferation of the netbook, it’s my guess that many wireless providers will soon realize the potential WiMax/wireless broadband market.   Although many wireless carriers offer data plans, they are still a little pricey and have monthly limits.   As the demand to be connected continues to grow and prices of mobile devices drop, hopefully wireless carriers will offer reasonable plans without download limits.   Look for wireless internet capabilities to one day be standard in netbooks and traditional laptops.

  • Multitouch Support / Inking Capabilities

The success of Apple’s iPhone, interest in Microsoft Surface, and the mention of inking support in Windows 7 point to a future of touch.   Although the Tablet PC has struggled to gain mainstream popularity, devices like the HP TouchSmart PC show the strong consumer desire for touch-enabled devices.   A few manufacturers are beginning to take note and release reasonably priced tablet netbooks and laptops.   As always, the rumor mill continues to hum of a someday Apple tablet.

  • Instant-on Operating System

An instant-on operating system is an OS that allows a computer to boot in under 30 seconds, providing basic computing functionality.   An instant-on operating system helps blur the line between computer and appliance.   Ultimately, the goal of a Personal Computer is to be personal, something that you can interact with on a daily basis without waiting or thinking about what you’re doing.   The features listed as must-haves integrate notebooks into our lives.

All of these features will eventually become standard options for new laptops and hopefully netbooks down the road.   Consider these options if you’re looking for a powerful, well-built notebook computer and want something that won’t become obsolete in a 6 months.

What are your must-haves in a notebook?

7 Comments

  1. Sumocat

    10/29/2008 at 7:32 am

    I can’t believe you grabbed a photo of a notebook off Flickr. Aren’t there already a thousand notebook photos here on GBM? :P

    Back on topic, for my next notebook (which of course would be a Tablet PC), I must have the following:
    1. active digitizer. Touch or multi-touch would be a great secondary option, but I really must have an active digitizer for inking
    2. powerful processor that can step down for power saving. I use my tablet as my all-purpose PC, so I need it to perform both on-the-go and at-the-desk.
    3. Magnetic latch. You are so right about this. My mechanical latch sucks.
    4. Big bright screen. LED backlight for sure, but also I love my 1440×900 14″ widescreen display. I could maybe step down to 13″ with the same resolution, but no lower.
    5. SSD. I think it’s still a luxury, but by the time I upgrade, the price should be low enough to make it a must-have.

    Reply

  2. davidm

    10/29/2008 at 8:47 am

    Umm… battery life? There are very few notebooks that can support more than 3 hours of battery life. For anyone who is a student or travelling, this is the whole point of a notebook computer. Allowing the CPU to properly step down to minimal values is a big part of this, but battery tech is holding us back since they’re big, expensive, and their capacity decreases over just a year.

    By the way, I’ve had two Macbook Pros, both had problems with the magnetic power supply. I’ve also had two Thinkpads, and neither has had a problem with the non-magnetic connection. And I’m a clumsy person. Since the Thinkpad power supply can disconnect in two places, it will always disconnect in one or the other, avoiding damage. Whereas the magnetic latch is too high tech and in both cases has had to be replaced due to burning (!!!!!!!). I will give Apple generous credit where it’s due, but too often they go into fetish territory, and compromise other aspects (eg the lack of ports on the MBA,and the horrible under-engineered latch on the original MBP).

    Reply

  3. Metatone

    10/29/2008 at 9:48 am

    All good stuff… but somehow it’s the tradeoffs that cause the problem.

    Graphics card options on true portables (13″ and below screen) are getting better. However, information about the relative performance of the options in Vista etc. is also pretty scarce.

    Yes, I know I want the impossible, since I want my laptop to be able to do various emergency edits on multimedia things, but at least let me work out which gets me closest to what I need.

    Do any non-netbooks actually have a nice compact power supply?

    Does anyone list total weight of laptop+PSU for comparison?

    Reply

  4. ignar

    10/29/2008 at 11:05 am

    I haven’t seen that compact power supply outside of early Eee PC. I certainly prefer a compact one, but if a little bulk assures much faster charging, I’m fine with that.
    I think 30 seconds is still quite a long time to wait. I wouldn’t even call 3 seconds waiting an instant-on. That said, I have had good result with standby feature both on XP and Vista. I know standby is not always reliable on some laptops (so reliable standby could be another thing to be added to the list), but when it works it’s pretty close to instant-on and most time, impact on battery life is negligible.
    Also the fan noise level should be considered. Since laptops are meant to be used close to users, noise level is much important than in desktops. Personally, I’d rather use hot laptops than noisy ones. my Eee 1000h has overly sensitive fan which annoys me quite often. Thankfully, someone wrote a program that allows me to control fan speed manually and I’m a happy user again.

    Reply

  5. Sumocat

    10/29/2008 at 12:11 pm

    You guys know that “must-have” is not the same as “wish-we-had”, right? We’d all like to have better battery life, better graphics, and real instant-on, but those are wish items, not must-haves. C’mon people, let’s see some must-haves.

    Reply

  6. Gordon Cahill

    10/29/2008 at 4:35 pm

    MUST haves for me…

    1. Active/passive digitiser. I use both extemsively every day. I use the touch screen as quickly as I can use a mouse. And the active……
    2. Big power, small package. 12″ screen and a fast, processor, 4GB ram support, etc. I move around a lot but need to use fairly power hungry programs everywhere I go. Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere. I usually have power supplies to use though and I can always go to a lower power setting if required. If I need a bigger screen I have a 24″ monitor in the office. Would LOVE a full power 10″ tablet.
    3. Versatile power supply. (already have this). The smallest power supply I have is for my Sony UX. The best is my kensington universal. Charges everything I own, tablet, Mini Note, Sony UX, iphone etc. Works on AC, in the car and on planes. So I carry only one power supply when I travel, not 4 or 5.
    4. Instant On. I’m happy enough with sleep mode. It works great on my tablet. Use it exclusively. But it crashes my Mini-Note and booting or resuming Vista from hibernation is driving me nuts, to the point I’ve nearly stopped using it.
    5. Express Card slot. I have three devices that I interchange regularly. Super usefull to me.
    6. Full set of wireless capability. Not sure about WiMAx as it’s not taken off in Australia. And as I move between a few computers I’m going to need easy access to my 3G sim card or I’d prefer the USB modem I have now. But BT, WiFi and even infrared are all usefull to me.

    Gordon

    Reply

  7. davidm

    10/29/2008 at 6:07 pm

    Good battery life is a MUST HAVE for me. I am delaying my next purchase, even though my current computer is flaky, until I see a model that has good features and good battery life, because in some scenarios I need at least 5 hours. I’m sure this is a common case for students or travelers who do not have constant access to power outlets. It’s silly to claim it’s not an important feature for everyone.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *