Why Laptops are More than the Sum of Their Specs

By Deane Barker on March 21, 2010

I’m beginning to wonder why I ever bought a laptop over the Internet.  I’m actually on my second laptop from Dell.  I don’t think I’ll do this again.

The laptop performs great, and has been really stable (calm down, Mac fanboys).  But what I’ve learned is that you have a fairly close ergonomic relationship to a laptop.  A desktop is a big, bulky thing that sits under your desk.  You have very little interaction with it.  But a laptop, you feel.  It sits on your lap, you carry it in a bag over your shoulder, you move it around the office and around the house.  You get much more physically intimate with a laptop than a desktop.

So, for this relationship to work, the laptop has to fit you well ergonomically.  This one…doesn’t.  A couple things –

For some reason, Dell saw fit to make the leading edge of this machine…sharp.  You know the edge of the laptop, below the keyboard, right where your palms rest when you type?  It’s sharp.  Not sharp enough to cut anything, but sharp enough that it digs into my palms when I type for a long time and generally drives me nuts.  (One reason why this may be a problem – I have big hands, and I think my palms hang back further from the keys than a normal person.)

And the extended-life battery – it hangs down in the back.  So it’s like a keyboard stand that tilts the whole machine up, towards me.  This is not a big deal when it’s on my desk, but on my lap, the battery digs into my thighs rights above my knees.

These are two things I just couldn’t have foreseen or predicted when ordering a laptop over the Net.  The extended battery thing, maybe.  But the pictures would have all shown the standard battery, which doesn’t have that problem.  As for the sharp edge – how could I have possibly predicted that?

Next time I buy a laptop, I’m going into an actual store.  I’m going to pick a machine, sit down with it, and type for a while.  I’m going to move it around, open it, close it, and put in a bag over my shoulder.  I’ll do this for a couple machines, until I find one that I’m reasonable sure is physically compatible with me.



  1. Hello – I am on the Dell design team, and I RSS your feed. I would be interested to know which model you bought – it’s always good to get feedback – good and bad.

  2. Jonathan: Studio XPS 16. Seriously, why the sharpness on the leading edge? Really, really want to know the justification on that one.

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