A good friend of mine asked me last week,"What's the best notebook to buy?"
I looked at him for a second and came back with what I thought was a particularly witty reply: For use as a door stop, a student's primary machine in a dorm room, a note taking device, a substitute home entertainment center or something that you can actually use on a plane?
I tried to explain that "the perfect notebook" is an illusive idea. You see, functionality is really in the hands of the user. Like most people, my friend thinks of notebooks as portable email terminals that must also be suitable for use as word processing system but wouldn't it be nice if they also had a great audio subsystem and wereable to play entertainment DVDs occasionally. While watching the Dodgers win a game against the hated San Francisco Giants, he was idly playing with a behemoth 17-inch notebook I keep in my front room. "This is nice, how much does it cost?"
I explained to him that I was rather fond of my HP Pavilion dv8000, that I liked its Altec Lansing audio system, keyboard and control lay out and its graphics performance, powered by an NVidia graphics controller that has the power to move pixels around the screen.He asked how much it cost again and I said "about $1,500 but I think it's worth it, even though there are a lot of notebooks out there that are about as expensive." I gave him a couple of DVDs to take home and asked that he return the notebook in three or four days.
His experience was exactly as i thought it would be. he loved the display and the audio, found the keyboard easy to use and liked this machine's versatility and yeoman like performance. What I quickly realized was that he wants a notebook that can be used as an entertainment device in his home and office and that he wouldn't be toting the machine on a daily basis. To him the 8 to 9 pound carry weight of a notebook with a 17-inch screen isn't , much of an issue. About the farthest he'll ever carry the notebook is from his house to his office,above his garage. He's one of the few people I know to whom I would recommend a big screen portable.
As he was getting ready to leave he stopped in front of my desk.
"What's that?" he said pointing to the Lenovo X41 tablet computer sitting on my desk's return.
"It's a tablet PC that doubles as a conventional notebook.And it's about half as heavy as the 17-inch screen you borrowed from me."
Like everyone who sees the X41 I use, he was fascinated by this notebook and intuitively figured out how to convert the machine into tablet mode and then came up with the normal suggestions on how he could use it-- for filling out forms, email and annotating documents he wanted to share with others. But he remained sold on the 17-inch notebook I had let him use.
He's about two days from buying a new notebook and right now he's over at Best Buy or Fry's banging on some other portables with 14-inch and 15-inch wideview screens. However, if I were a betting man, my money would be on his logging on to HPShopping.com in the next day or so and buying a Pavilion dv8000, which has a large hard disk, great video and audio, above average system throughput and performance and most importantly, does what he wants a notebook to do.
The things about notebooks is that they are immensely "personal" computing devices. Left to their own devices users will buy machines that they feel fit their needs and their pocketbooks and most of all their expectations. Not everyone buys a portable because it fits comfortably on the tray on an airliner's seat back, or because it has built in support of a subscription-based wireless service.
What's happening in the portable market is that manufacturers are being driven to deliver machines with great battery performance and incredible versatility. Users what Swiss army knife like functionality in their personal computers, M1- Abrams reliability and value. And in today's emerging market, form may be much less important than overall functionality, which is why the design of this form factor is less important than what fits in a basic hull or case.
My general rule of thumb remains the same, 15 years after I first specialized in writing about portable computing trends: A good notebook shouldn't weigh more than the basic infantry rifle I carried as a young adult. If memory serves me correctly that weight was 6.9 pounds, and i think this means that most of the notebooks that I think will define the mainstream are those bearing the Centrino label and which come with screens of 15-inches or less.
But whenever a friend asks me what's the best notebook, I always try to find out how they want to use it, what features are most important to them and how much money they want to spend. Given the state of today's market I'm sure they'll have multiple choices but eventually find a machine that fits their exact requirements.
Or so it seems to me,--Jim Forbes 05/14/2006 in rural Northern San Diego County, writing on a drop dead reliable notebook, connected wirelessly to my home network from 261 feet away.