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What Makes Laptops and Netbooks Look Cheap?



Over the years I”ve had a chance to go hands on with hundreds of mobile devices, too may of which look and feel cheap. I generally only plunk down hard-earned cash when a computer or any other gadget is well-built. Manufactures can throw all the gigabytes, megahertz and megapixels in the spec sheets that they want, but if it feels cheap I’m not buying.

What feels cheap is a subjective judgement call. My friend Avram Piltch of Laptop Mag and I had an email discussion on the topic and he came up with a list that covers quite a few of my pet peeves.  Does anyone really like over glossed notebooks, sub-par webcams and keyboards with so much flex that a rodent could use them as trampolines?

A trend towards gloss started a few years back that some manufacturers have kicked into overdrive. Glossy lid, glossy display, glossy bezel, glossy touchpads,etc. They might look nice on store shelves, here’s not a single benefit to all this gloss out in the real world.

Cheap consumer PCs are cheap for a reason. Manufacturers have to take shortcuts to hit low price points, but it wouldn’t cost much, if anything, to fix a lot of these common problems.

If you want a definition of what doesn’t feel cheap, simply pick up an enterprise grade business computer. Devices like the HP Elitebooks, ThinkPad X and T Series, and Dell Latitudes are all examples of computers that are rigid and built to last. I really wish the consumer arms of these giant PC manufacturers would borrow ideas from their business-oriented counterparts.

What are biggest pet peeves when it comes to consumer devices?



  1. borax99 (Alain)

    09/24/2010 at 12:37 pm

    You’ve definitely hit my two biggest pet peeves. I would reverse the order: I will not buy a laptop with a crummy keyboard, but if it has a superior keyboard, I may compromise and accept a glossy screen. Did that last year, when I bought a budget Lenovo that had a fantastic keyboard yet was covered with gloss everywhere, including the screen. The sad fact is, though, is that no matter what precautions you take, you will always end up getting what you pay for …

  2. Dave

    09/24/2010 at 12:43 pm

    I used to work for a laptop manufacturer.

    Retailers like Best Buy are to blame for crappy retail boxes. They play the manufacturers against each other to get a real low price. This forces the manufacturer’s to look for ways to lower costs, instead of grade A components, they may use Grade C components, ie hard drives that would not meet a corporate laptop standards would be used in a consumer laptop.

    Dell, Acer, Toshiba, HP and Levovo all fight for marketshare, if they can sell more laptops via retail channels, there marketshare increases.

    The other issue is that most laptop’s are manufactured by contractor’s like Foxconn who treat their employee’s like crap.

    Also, if you are trying to hit a $500 sell point, how much engineering time would be needed for these laptop’s, the $ 1500 laptop will always get the best components, more engineering, better support, better care in manufacturing, better testing.

    No Fortune 500 company will deploy 50,000 laptops that will last 3 months and be in and out of repair centers like the crap you see at Best Buy, MicroCenter, etc…

    Consumers need to realize….you get what you pay for

    In recent times, I buy off lease business class laptop’s, they outlive the crap my friends purchase at retailers.

  3. ChrisRS

    09/24/2010 at 12:51 pm

    You said “If you want a definition of what doesn’t feel cheap, simply pick up an enterprise grade business computer. Devices like the HP Elitebooks, ThinkPad X and T Series, and Dell Latitudes are all examples of computers that are rigid and built to last.”

    I agree, but wouldn’t it be nice if the average person copuild actually see and “Pick one of these up?”

    Where would the average person do this? Purahase on line, then return?

    • Dave

      09/24/2010 at 1:06 pm


      You are correct that this is a challenge, most VAR’s do not have storefront’s. You could check with CDW or Insight to see if they have inventory.

      If you can find a local used computer retailer, sometimes they get good off lease products, the IBM/Lenovo’s sometimes are refurbished by IBM before they can resold.

      This means sometime new screens, new keyboards…etc

      It may not be the latest and greatest, however, sometimes a laptop that sold for 2K can be purchased for $600 and provide 1 or 2 years service.

      Some still have manufacturers warranty.

      I purchased a Thinkpad T61, purchased a 2 battery, absolutely an awesome laptop.

      I expect to get 18 months out of it…it runs all the software I need.

      Only exception might be someone looking for gaming system, older unit do not have i7 type processing and the fastest graphics.

      I would still put my T61 up against 90% of the crap machines sold by retailers today.

      By the way, if you go the used route and buy a business grade laptop, NO CRAPWARE…trial software…no Windows Home version

      • ChrisRS

        09/25/2010 at 1:34 am

        Thanks, I’ll look around.

  4. Joe

    09/24/2010 at 3:00 pm

    I completely agree, our X200 tablets are workhorse machines which have taken a beating over the last couple of years and still perform admirably. For discerning consumers (and any business users) we couldn’t recommend Lenovo highly enough.

  5. Nameless

    09/25/2010 at 7:36 pm

    As one person put it, “Business-class is built to last.”

    Looking at the Gateway E-295C/C-140XL I’m typing this post on, I don’t really have any complaints with the keyboard by laptop keyboard standards (still would rather have buckling springs if I could justify carrying around one of my Model Ms around, though), but there are a few areas like this plastic part on top of the screen, where the latches hook into when in slate mode, that reek of cheapness. Also, I’ve had to retighten a couple of screws on the hinge twice already.

    The main thing I do not like when it comes to shoddy build quality would be poor tolerances. Keyboards whose corners flex more than they should, parts that don’t quite line up and one has an edge jutting out noticeably (as with the E-295C’s plastic part), mouse buttons that feel loose, etc.

    That said, I’m keeping the E-295C because it packs a lot of power at a low price, and I don’t see myself replacing it for at least two years. But after handling models like the HP tm2, HP 2730p, Toshiba M750 and Fujitsu T5010, I’m starting to really think about what I want in a convertible Tablet PC. (Too bad that the only one with half-decent dedicated graphics is the tm2, though even the Intel GMA HD integrated into the die of the Core i5/i7 would be an upgrade from the craptastic ATI HD 2300 at this point…)

  6. Chuck

    09/26/2010 at 9:42 am

    I agree, I have a Thinkpad R61i I actually got in the consumer sector (Circuit City 2007 before they went under) and with a $400 discount (neither T61 or R61i series Thinkpads sold then when put side by side with glossy consumer laptops) and it is a outstanding machine 3 years on. For more portability I also have a Acer netbook and the gloss on the screen is the biggest turnoff. I can tell the difference right away. (looking to replace it with a Lenovo X100e).

    Like I mentioned above, the gloss does attract people to buy them and by using crappier components it makes the replacement cycle even shorter. That is good for the bottom lines of Best Buy, etc… as you keep getting repeat business.

    I walk through Best Buys every few months and just look at what they have on the shelves and most models are getting styled really ugly compared to the matte styles of a traditional Thinkpad, way too much gloss, status lights in odd places, odd colors, cheap feel, so utter crap.

    When my R61i passes on I do plan to replace it with a newer T or L series Thinkpad and my Acer netbook will be replaced with a Lenovo X100e ultraportable. Black and matte is the only way to go.

  7. Georgi Bonchev

    10/22/2010 at 10:30 am

    If i read this a couple of months back, I wouldn’t agree with you. I own Asus F5SL which is very low end notebook. It has no glossy surface and was OK when I handled it with care. But recently I noticed that the front bezel has cracked near the hinge and the other hinge is loosen. And the notebook was just sitting in a case – no dropping, no significant pressure applied. I just can’t figure how it happened. And since I have powerful desktop, the notebook is used only in university and when I travel. It has at least 1-2 years more to live, based on hw specs(cel m550, 3470, 2gb ram – enough for light autocad and 3d max on the go). My next laptop will definitely be a business class rugged and lightweight, because these things can live up to five years if you invest a little more in the beginning.

    NO to glossiness and 1366×768 screens!!!

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