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What laptop should you buy?

Posted by james on March 7, 2007

People keep asking me which laptop they should buy. Usually it's because their current laptop just turned into a smoldering pile of burnt plastic and oh-so-priceless digital photos now lost forever. I used to hate this question, because I knew deep down it didn't matter. Most laptops are made by the big manufacturers in Taiwan (which you've never heard of) and then rebranded as a Dell, Compaq, Gateway. So then it came down to the support provided by the company behind the badge, but now that isn't worth much either. The companies that used to be ranked #1 are now the worst-offenders as far as support goes, usually due to read-from-the-list “technical support" (in the way that the instructions for my toaster are “technical support"), and language barriers (to put it nicely).

But now that's all changed. Lots of companies are horrible and I still recommend staying away from some of the more popular ones. Dell is one of the worst in my books. They're still a bit pricey, though you can find decent deals (there's a different one happening just about every week), their hardware is some of the worst I've seen as far as reliability (known motherboard shorts that they simply replace but don't fix, harddrives crashing repeatedly) and their support is nothing short of moronic. I've called in with specific questions about my laptop (why does it turn on by itself and overheat till it burns stuff?) and gotten answers like... have you tried rebooting? What version of windows are you using? I actually was short with the person on the phone, and would not try their “suggestions".

Compaq and HP have the bargain bin, and their laptops seem cheap, good “value" (ie. lots on the paper for the price), and have fancy features. But their reliability seems to be pretty poor, don't know about their support. Toshiba seems middling... a bit more pricey, a bit more reliable, but I have seen quite a few of them turn to toast as well.

The bottom line is here: buy a Mac. You don't even have to run Mac OS X if you're paranoid and averse to change... just go get <a href="http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/">Bootcamp</a> which turns your Mac computer into a bona fide Windows computer (have to buy Windows separate), or get <a href="http://www.parallels.com/en/products/workstation/mac/">Parallels</a> and run Windows and OS X side-by-side. Yes, it really does work (imagine pressing a button, having your OS X slide to the left while Windows slides in from the right... and keep on working. It's that slick).

Check out the <a href="http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore.woa/6104003/wo/UUo8YYHBhAlw2ZHbJEKDl7NEUSw/">MacBook refurbs</a>. They're good-as-new (everything replaced by Apple) and quite a bit cheaper. This is probably what I will do personally when I get a new laptop.

If you really don't want to get a MacBook (so slick... built in camera! Yuppie-friendly design!) then get a <a href="http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/catalog.workflow:category.details?current-catalog-id=12F0696583E04D86B9B79B0FEC01C087&current-category-id=19C791A03AF24034A0011B825513BCED">Thinkpad</a>. It's no longer IBM, it's Lenovo (Taiwanese manufacturer, I think) but they still have a high reputation. They're ranked #2 (after Apple) for reliability and support, and it's a bit of distance between the top two and the rest of the pack. The IBM's are business machines; no card readers, no MP3 players that activate when you bump it in your backpack, no built-in cameras (boo). Their utilitarian, thin, well-built, and are just decent. If I don't get an Apple, I will get a Thinkpad. I had a T40 for a while at work, and I'll probably go with the T60.

You'll look at these, then look at the $400 Compaq in the local CompUSA ad. It's very tempting, sure. But not many people buy the bargain-basement cars that are under $10k; most people look for the most “reliable" economical car. These laptops are a bit more expensive than the competitors, but they'll last. Lately the average lifespan for a laptop has been about 2-3 years that I've seen. Sometimes less. At this point people give up and just think that it's time for an upgrade. It may be, but it should be a choice of “I want something newer", not “I want something less burnt and melted-plasticky".

Some very interesting reading:
<a href="http://www.roughlydrafted.com/RD/Home/78CDDBA5-60D3-4AA7-8C24-3375B070A5DD.html">Study on using MacBooks</a> as Windows-only laptops in a business environment.
<a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2006499,00.asp">PC Magazine's Readers' Choice: Notebooks Survey</a> - shows Apple on top, followed by IBM/Lenovo. Ignore #3, they're evil.


Posted by james on March 3, 2007

(post.rating: 7)

IMDB   Apple Trailers

Suspenseful, though it's not a typical twisty/action oriented spy flick. The three big roles (Ryan Phillipe, Chris Cooper, Laura Linney) all do well and seem well matched to their roles. I think I've seen all three in other movies before where they've seemed like weak actors, but this movie does them justice.

I kept waiting for the blow-out, the all-action finale where everything finally comes to a climax... but it wasn't that kind of movie. It was more of a really engaging story than an action flick. Nice.

Review: Palm Treo 650

Posted by james on Feb. 28, 2007

First, I wanted to get something that would keep me organized. I tried a Blackberry 7100t <a href="rant.108">(my take on it)</a>, but I just didn't like the austere business-like UI design. I'd owned a few Palm handhelds before and liked the calendar and touchscreen, so I figured I'd give it a go with the <a href="http://www.engadget.com/2004/10/24/treo-650-is-official/">Treo 650</a>. And it would've been ok, if it actually worked...

The overall software design is ok, although it's a bit dated now. The UI is simple and easy to get used to, the only real drawback being that it's a one-program at a time system. You're browsing the web (or trying to... more on that later) and a text message comes in. So you go to the text message, which really means that you exit your browser and open the text program. When you're done with that, open the browser back up and reload the page (wait ... wait... 3 minutes goes by) and keep going. Fun! It's like someone slapping your book closed every time you look down to write something in your paper. The system even handles videos well, especially with the free players (TCPMP, etc) and even does a halfway decent mp3 job (albeit with TCPMP's horrible interface).

By far the worst thing about the Treo is the unreliability of the whole thing. Make a call, hang up. Send a couple text messages, then open the internet browser... CRASH! The phone reboots, wait 20 seconds, the phone has to reconnect, wait another minute, then reconnect to the network, browse to a page, start reading. The phone will crash at the simplest functions (though thankfully not often during a call), making it a huge pain in the butt to use. I'm on the road and I missed my turn or can't find my street. No worries! I'll just fire up Google's incredibly awesome (no joke!) GMaps for Palm (the flat-out best app for palm, almost saves the Treo) and look myself up on the map and find the nearest... CRASH! Some crashes are due to 3rd party programs (not Palm's fault) but most are due to the OS itself and the built-in apps. Come on Palm... it's been years, and you still can't figure this out?

The hardware is alright, comfortable and useable although a bit think. The keyboard is bad at first, then you get used to it. It's never great, as it's hard to hit the incredibly tiny buttons right on without hitting a few others too. How's the sound quality? Tin can + windtunnel.

So the good programs: TCPMP (free video/mp3 player, does good but a bad interface), Opera Mini (unstable, but loads faster than the built in browser), Google Maps for Palm (Awesome!). Bad programs: everything built-in (with exception of the actual phone bit, and the text messenger... but even those sometimes). Overall, it has almost completely disillusioned me with smartphones and makes me wish for a well built flip or slider that just does phone, can look up some email and maps, and keep a rudimentary shopping list for a few hours.

So we have a decent bit of hardware crippled by Palm's complete lack of support for the softare. Why even bother to build something nice if you're just going to fill it with garbage? It's like building a BMW, but then coming to the interior and covering the seats in garbage bags. And then crashing every time you try to check internet (which, taken literally, is probably pretty likely).

So, anyone want to buy a used Treo 650? Call me up!

PS. After using an old <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1674081,00.asp">Dell Axim x50</a> (running Windows Mobile 2003) for just a few days, I can say; there's better out there than Palm, much better. Palm has had it's day and it passed a long time ago.

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