I have a serious interest in notebook computers. As a journalist I reviewed approximately 700 machines beginning with the Tandy Model 100. Over the years I tried to quantify what i thought made a good machine. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes, I failed.
To stay abreast of current technology and breaking trends I buy one new machine every 10-11 months. This means that a family member gets a new machine as soon as I move my file from the old platform to the new one. I still have a few more family members to seed, but by now there are enough serious portable computer users gathered around family holiday dinner tables to have frank discussions about what portable computer featured they want and which features they don't like.
So what's the overarching theme in what separates a great notebook from an inexpensive Asian knockoff. Reliability. Think about it, most notebook users live with their machines day-in and day-out. Also, most users don't take particularly good care of their portables. They toss their carrying cases under airline seats and drop them onto rear seats and cargo compartments without paying a lot of attention to how hard the cases land on a solid surface. Over the years, Ive seen people on planes or in meetings pull out notebooks with shattered cases, popped out LCD panels and and laughed when keys fly out of a just-opened carrying bag. I have one firm rule: invest and use a padded notebook case. Today my personal favorite is a Kensington Pro Xbrace. It's durable, padded and thoroughly supports my notebook. there's also enough room to carry my traveling detritus that accumulates on most trips-- paper back novel, a compact digital camera, My Treo 650, a notepad and pens as well as my medications. Truth be told, not only is the Xbrace durable it's also quite stylish.
When you use a notebook 24/7 you either learn to love or hate how you interact with it. And the primary interface for that on any portable computer is the keyboard. The notebook makers who seem to have paid the most attention to this are: IBM/Lenovo, Toshiba and Hewlett Packard/Compaq. My all time favorite keyboards have been those developed and used by Toshiba and Lenovo/IBM. Both companies have tried go deliver keyboard keys with a pitch that makes typing easier. Frankly, Toshiba is the at the top of my favorite keyboard list and, unlike virtually every other notebook I've e used over the years, I've never had a Toshiba keyboard fail. Pointing devices are important, particularly if you don't pay attention to where you place your hand on a keyboard. I gave up on Track pads long ago and happily embraced technologies like AccuPoint.
Weight is another issue in notebooks. I bought a 17-inch screen HP notebook when it first appeared but gave it away after only three trips. At 10 pounds (with it's charger) It was too heavy to easily carry abound) and it was too ungainly to use on planes.
My somewhat negative traveling experience with the 17-inch, HP notebook forced me to reevaluate what I really wanted in a portable. Over the years I had grown accustomed to top of the line Intel processors, so i eventually found myself living with a Pentium 4 machine. Since I had wireless in my home, i realized that what was most important to me was the portable part of the equation. And that led me to the Centrino brand with its Pentium M processor, which while slow when compared to the Pentium 4 family offers acceptable performance and a great portable wireless experience.
That decision also reduced cost of ownership and boosted reliability, both of which are high on the list of reasons why people buy notebooks.Centrino is rock solid when it some to reliability. Based on my experience it's one shortcoming may be video performance. In a perfect world, I want the same level of video performance as nVidia's chips deliver. Centrino falls slightly short of that, but I and the people I pass my notebooks to can live with it.
Battery life has become an issue for me as well. Over the years, I've only had one notebook that offered true transcontinental battery life, and this capability-- more than four hours of battery life with power draining features throttled down using power management controls-- is something of a holy grail quest for me.
After looking at what i want and going so far as to build spreadsheets with comparative features, I'm back to three hardware makers: Lenovo/ThinkPad, Hewlett Packard/Compaq and Toshiba. And the form factor I think I'm moving towards is a subcompact tablet PC. Weight and size are issues for me as are proven designs.
What's intriguing to me is that I'm logically being attracted to dual-core Pentium/Centrino platforms because of their improved battery life and boosted performance.
With any luck, the next time I write about this, I'll be describing a specific new machine and someone in my family will be singing the praises of an HP notebook they've just picked up at Rancho Bizarro Sud, my totally wireless home here on a hill in north San Diego County.