The Lap, not the Laptop
I'm pretty happy with it. Pluses: Slim, elegant design. Nice screen. Starts up -- whether from cold or from sleep mode -- a lot faster than my Dell notebook. Switching to the OSX operating system is easy -- but then, I never needed any lessons to learn Windows either. Both are pretty self-explanatory. The built-in speakers aren't bad for a laptop. Stable. Pretty icons. The iChat is cool, especially the video ichat, which is very well implemented. I like the way the keyboard lights up automatically in the dark.
Minuses: Battery life is way inferior to my Dell -- less than half as long. Form factor is a bit large for actual laptop use. (I'd prefer something more like a 12" Powerbook, really, but Apple doesn't make anything like that). Not as crashproof as advertised -- I've had to reboot once or twice, because of Firefox crashes. Gets hot. No right mouse-button. (Yeah, you hit CTRL instead but it's not the same). No real delete key.
What would it be for you?
What the "best" laptop will be for different people depends on what they want from it. Bill Roggio would settle only for a Panasonic Toughbook (correction by Flavius Maximus) because it was sealed against sand and dust and was specifically designed for use in harsh conditions. He remembers dropping it onto a armor steel ramp from waist height. Try that with something you get out of Walmart. But it is comparatively heavy and hideously expensive. But it was the best for him. My own choice was a Sony VAIO VGN-TX27, an 3.5 pound device with an 11.5" screen I chose principally because it had a huge battery life (6-10 hours real) and a PCMCIA slot. The PCMCIA slot was needed to support a wide-area wireless card which allowed Internet access anywhere in Australia, somewhat similar to a Verizon card. This in addition to its built-in WiF and Ethernet slot. Like Bill Roggio's machine, it is overpriced for the performance spec. If the Toughbook exacts a premium for combat durability, the VAIO's claim to its somewhat excessive price lies in its portability. And portable it is. You can use it one handed standing, seated on a ferry, propped against a wall, sitting in a cafe or in a library corner. With an extra battery you can be power socket independent for close to 18 hours solidly connected. But. There's always a but. A small size means you will strain at the antlike characters on screen. And if you accept the VAIO's draconian power management features (which give it that magnificent battery life) you will have a heck of a time reading the screen unless you are in a sufficiently darkened location. And woe betide the man with large, sausagelike fingers. The miniature screen and miniature backspace/delete keys will make this VAIO a living hell for him.
Recently I've had people walk up to me to ask about the VAIO, largely I suspect, because of its carbon-fiber shell and the fact that Daniel ("James Bond") Craig used a bigger version in the movie Casino Royale. The truth is that it won't make James Bond out of you so much as blind, and unless you have the need to stay connected with a full-power PC only slightly heavier than a PDA you are better off with a more human-friendly machine. Technological advance will continue to make better models available, but I feel certain that the following suggestions will remain useful in selecting a laptop "as time goes by".
- Don't buy a laptop unless you need to. Desktops are cheaper and easier to upgrade. If you have money to burn, buy the biggest flat panel display you can find and the nicest chair you can afford and spend five minutes each day laughing at all the idiots hunched over their laptops getting migraines just cause it looks "executive".
- If you mostly commute between a home and regular office, or go from hotel to hotel, get a reasonably priced, big screen laptop. Since it is a short way from the parked car to the desk, portability is really a secondary issue. So get the most reasonably priced desktop-like, high performance laptop you can find.
- If you are like Bill Roggio and need something that will repel water, dust, shock and even the occasional low velocity fragment, pull out all the stops and get the latest model of the combat laptop. But be prepared to hump that piece of ironmongery. Of course if you really needed it in the first place then by definition you would be prepared to hump it and have the muscles to do it.
- If you are the kind of guy who needs to stay connected at all times, get both a desktop and a laptop. Then get the VAIO kind of laptop, which has the very opposite physical characteristics of the desktop -- with support for universal connectivity, vast battery life and real portability. Remember that if you can't hump a load like a combat infantryman, you will be hard pressed to carry anything over 6 pounds, including all the accessories for 8 hours, each and every day.