I realize this is a puff piece, but since I wrote this comment the topic has been rolling around in my head. This story of a mouse not sounding right and spending the polish time to fix it is the sort of thing I’m thinking about. Laptops are full of crisp edges that bite into wrists, plastic connectors that feel and sound like cereal box toys, hinges that stick and jump. So I thought this story might be a nice jumping-off point for a discussion on attention to detail, in or out of hardware.
If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
I’ve gone through probably 10 laptops in the past few years. I’ll buy one, test it out, and then return or sell it because there is usually some minor aspect that bothers me too much. Often it’s a mushy keyboard, a glossy screen bezel, a stupid charger, or it’s not silent and cool enough during normal usage. PC manufacturers (and most Android phone vendors) just don’t care about these details and now there’s a race to the bottom with pricing that seems to be killing off quality on previously high-quality product models and lines.
One laptop that I ended up keeping is an ASUS UX305 that I’ve had for about 5 months. The overall build quality is pretty decent and it’s made from aluminum, so it doesn’t feel cheap. The keyboard is solid, and the trackpad has a decent glide surface.
The only problem I’ve found with it is that the trackpad click sounded so hollow and cheap that I hated using it. It was much louder than it needed to be, and made the laptop feel cheap. It sounds weird to complain about something so minor, but it’s something I had to interact with possibly a hundred times a day. It bothered me enough that I took the whole thing apart to figure out how to insulate the trackpad mechanism from the case, so now when it clicks, it’s more of a solid thud than a tinny click. It took me a few revisions to get it just right, so there was still enough of a movement that I felt that it registered, but not enough that it was loud.
I still prefer my 11" MacBook Air for daily use, though. The keyboard, trackpad movement, screen reflectiveness, and heat/noise are perfect, and the MagSafe charger is ubiquitous. My only complaint is that the screen is not HiDPI and I’m constantly fighting with running out of space on the 256Gb SSD. If the next MBA has a Retina screen and they don’t use the stupid keyboard from the 12" MacBook, I’ll happily upgrade.
I don’t understand why Apple changed the keys on the new wireless keyboard, though. There are no vertical size constraints like in a laptop, so what is the point of the shallow keys?
Can second the UX305. I wouldn’t trade my X1 for one, but it occupies a space all its own on the price/quality spectrum. The edges are a little pointy though.
I never click the click pad. I don’t understand them. I can get the same effect by tapping, but without the whole apparatus jumping around.
Also dislike glass pads. Too smooth. My T430 has a very nice plastic texture with subtle bumps on it. Also have a Logitech touchpad which is glass, but nicely etched to give it texture.
I can un-second the UX305.
With a fan it would be a nice laptop. But it doesn’t have one, and the CPU spikes to 60'C and throttles itself to 800MHz within a few minutes of doing basically anything. It’s ok if you’re just coding and compiling infrequently, but opening facebook gives you a radiator in your lap.
Other niggles: the keys wobble slightly and I found that distracting, touchpad feels sticky, UK model is worse than US, SSD died after two weeks.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that as well. Though I’m inclined to say, it’s 2015. With few exceptions, if software causes my laptop to overheat, I’m blaming the software, not the hardware. (Back in 2004, when I had a pentium 4 laptop that couldn’t be kept cool no matter how fast the fans went, then I blamed the hardware design.)
Chromebooks aren’t for everyone, in large part because they’re really thin clients and not well suited to local development. But I recently acquired one and it totally changed my perspective on laptop construction. It doesn’t run hot, not even slightly… that means it can be made of high-impact plastic, and yet feel more sturdy than the expensive aluminum MacBooks I’ve owned. And it means that it doesn’t exhibit the thing where, over many thermal cycles, parts get a bit bent or out of alignment.
The ergonomics of mine (a cheap Asus) certainly aren’t at the level that a MacBook’s are. But they are markedly above the baseline that I expect from non-Apple laptops, and I suspect it’s because that’s a lot easier to achieve with a design that doesn’t push the edge of the silicon’s capabilities.
I’ve only had a few laptops over the past 10 years: various version of the Macbook Pro, a ThinkPad X200 and now a Lenovo W540.
I no longer have/use a MBP because I’m not a fan of the Apple ecosystem, but they certainly have the best crafted hardware. The trackpads are top-notch and the whole thing is very comfortable to use. The most recent iteration I used (early 2015) did the chicklet keyboard right and the whole thing was just solid. No jagged/pointy edges, smooth hinge action on the display, was a good weight, and didn’t run too hot. If it could run Linux/*BSD, I’d be happy.
My current personal laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad X200. I picked it up used for about $100. I’m quite happy with it, even though it’s rather beat up. It’s comfortable to type on (has the classic ThinkPad keyboard) and is light. I enjoy using it when I get the chance.
My work laptop is a Lenovo “ThinkPad” W540. I use scare quotes here because it’s a travesty the thing comes with that name. Easily the worst laptop I’ve ever used. It’s a boat anchor with an awful chicklet keyboard. First day I had it, the plastic on the back of the display cracked. The keyboard has a number pad for some reason I cannot fathom which makes you have to use it off-center. A second Windows/Super key has been usurped by PrintScreen, of all things. It gets quite warm and it’s size/weight make it very hard to use as a portable workstation. I also frequently open the optical drive by accident due to its placement and button sensitivity.
But the trackpad deserves special mention as truly terrible. It “clunks” instead of “clicks” and is so inconsistent with respect to sensitivity I do my best to not use it. When using the trackpoint “nib”, even the primary/secondary buttons are hard to hit correctly. Hitting a mouse button shouldn’t involve excessive concentration. (People tell me that I’ll get used to it. I’m assuming this is Stockholm Syndrome speaking.)
I do miss the attention to hardware detail in the MBPs. They are very well designed and engineered. I dislike the W540 so much that it’s actually making me dislike my job.
Very, very much design. (and mac)
And -iOS. Where are the mods???
Do it yourself!