I finally bought a new laptop last week. I had been working off a Dell Studio XPS 16 for almost three years.
When I purchased the Dell, my biggest concern was performance and size – I essentially wanted a desktop replacement, and I got it. The “big Dell” (as I’ve come to call it) was wonderfully fast with a dual-core 2.8 GHz processor and had a nice big screen. But, you paid dearly for this in battery life, size, and heat.
I had the extended battery, which hung down off the back and made it uncomfortable most of the time. Still, you only got three hours max even with everything on power-saving mode. And the heat produced was just crazy. You couldn’t work with it on your lap for an extended period, and if you put a pillow down to insulate yourself, you could hear the fan chugging away trying to cool it down. Even then, you could feel the heat through the pillow – the machine was really a mini-nuclear reactor.
My role has changed at Blend – I’m doing more sales and consulting (and, consequently, more travel) and less hardcore development. Because of this, I decided to go as far in the other direction as I could with the new machine – I wanted the smallest size I could get, and the longest battery life.
I briefly considered a MacBook Air, on which I would run Windows. I really hate Apple as company and culture, but their hardware is first-rate. However, I just couldn’t bring myself f to do it, for philosophical reasons, as well as the single-button mouse/trackpad (I really do use all three buttons on a Windows mouse), and the fact that I’m pretty sure at least some weirdness would pop up from running Windows on a Mac long-term.
It’s been about a week, and I’m still getting used to it, but it’s a fairly amazing machine. Some highlights:
- It’s tiny – like, really, really tiny. It’s a half-pound lighter and a tenth of an inch thinner than a MacBook Air. I believe it’s even thinner than my first-gen iPad.
- Despite the size, it feels solid. It’s some kind of metal (titanium?), and really has a feeling of substance to it.
- Battery life is astonishing. At the lowest possible power level, it runs over eight hours, and will sit on standby for almost 10 days. (Mind you, at this level it runs Office apps pretty slow, so this isn’t practical for any substantial usage.) As I write this, I’ve been working on it for 2-3 hours – it claims to have 72% of the battery left, which it calculates at 6 hours, 48 minutes of life remaining.
- It doesn’t seem to produce any heat. That’s not an exaggeration – as near as I can tell, when I use it on my lap, my body heat is actually heating it up, not vice-versa. I don’t even think it has a fan.
- It’s instant-on. When you lift the lid, it will produce a Windows logon screen even before you have the lid all the way open. I timed it from pressing “Restart” to getting a fresh login screen – so, a full shutdown and full startup cycle. That took 32 seconds. Closing the lid is so much more non-committal than my old Dell.
- It has a SmartLogon feature that will log you on by face recognition. I haven’t tried this yet, and don’t know if I will. Typing my password is not a big deal, and at the office the laptop sits to my right side, so I don’t know how well it would recognize me.
- It comes with a snazzy Kevlar-looking carrying case, about the same size as a manila envelope. There are also two adapters (see below) that come in their own matching pouch. Packaging in general was very cool; very Apple-like. Unboxing seemed like an event.
There haven’t been any real downsides yet, but there are some oddities that may or may not suck as I keep working with it. The jury is still out on this stuff:
- There’s no optical drive – no CD, no DVD (hell, where would they put it?). I might miss this – it was nice to be able to watch a DVD on my old machine. But, I do this less and less, so I don’t think it will be a huge issue.
- The keyboard took some getting used to. You have to be more deliberate than usual when typing. I made lots of mistakes at first, but I seem to be doing fine now.
- There’s no standard VGA port. Instead, there’s a VGA-to-Mini VGA adapter.
- Likewise, no Ethernet port, just an Ethernet-to-USB adapter.
- No HDMI port either – it’s micro-HDMI instead. It didn’t come with an adapter, so I’ll need to find one.
- Surprisingly, the screen size hasn’t been an issue. It’s small at 13.3 inches (they have an 11.6-inch version too), but resolution is 1600 x 900, which is more than enough. I really haven’t thought twice about the screen size, which I find surprising, since I’ve traditionally been a sucker for a huge monitor.
- It seems to take a long time to charge the battery. I timed it at about 1 minute, 15 seconds per 1% of battery life. So, a full charge would take two full hours. Joe tells me this isn’t bad, but I swear my old Dell could go to a full charge in an hour. In this sense, the new machine feels a lot like my iPad – a super-efficient battery that stores a lot of power, but which takes a long time to replace.
- The keyboard is so small that several keys are invoked in conjunction with a “fn” key. This includes keys I use a lot, like Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End.
- The “Delete” key is right next to the power button at the top right of the keyboard. Hasn’t been a problem yet, but you have to think it might be.
Finally, here’s one thing that I already know will suck.
- The keyboard is not backlight or illuminated. Working in the dark is a real problem. If I crank up the screen brightness, this can make up for some of it, but it’s still not great. I might get a little book light to clamp on it, and carry that in my laptop bag.
Other than the dark keyboard, the machine seems fantastic so far. The combination of size, battery life, lack of heat, and instant-on really make it feel like more of an iPad than a laptop. My use of it is about a casual as my iPad, whereas firing up my old Dell involved much more…friction. When you turned that thing on or shut it down, it required a fair amount of commitment to either course of action.
Let me use it for a month or so and I’ll post a follow-up. With any luck, I’ll still be in love with it.
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