keyboard blues

I’ve been struggling lately with computers and more specifically, what to do for a laptop. My daily driver is a Win 7 Lenovo T61, and it’s getting old. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the cpu isn’t powerful enough to run some software I want to run, so I’m looking at replacements.

(I don’t buy tech often, and when I do, I buy old/used/refurb and cheap as a rule because nothing devalues faster than a computer/tablet/cell phone.)

First up was a Dell XPS 12, one of those “flip it one way and it’s a laptop, flip it the other it’s a tablet” things. It’s a lovely machine, lightning fast, but the trackpad was not great and the high resolution small screen was just a little too small for me. On top of that, the flip function…didn’t. The physical part works fine, but if I wanted to use the computer in what I think of as “stand mode,” I would have to manually adjust the software so it’s right side up. So the XPS went back.

Now I’m trying another Dell, a 7000 series, 14 inch machine. It has decent specs; an i5 chip, six gigs of memory, a 500 gig hard drive. The screen is a little dim, but I can live with that, and the battery life is tremendous. However, the keyboard is a deal breaker; it’s chiclet style, which is bad enough, but far worse is the action – writing this note has been an exercise in frustration. Almost every sentence has one, and often more than one, word with extra letters or skipped letters. Also, the track pad – which was supposed to be a highlight of this machine – isn’t good. The “track” part is fine, but the click function is terrible; you really have to bear down, and even when you do, it’s hard to tell the click was successful. One of the most common tasks, left clicking on the track pad and holding it down while swiping through copy, is far more difficult than it should be.

Laptop manufacturers appear to regard good keyboards and track pads as premium items. I spent 20 minutes in a store Saturday trying out various machines, and none of them were very good at the most basic distinction between laptops and tablets, the ability to type a lot, easily. That includes cheaper Lenovos – the decent keyboards seemed to be reserved for $1,000+ models. What this means is – I’m going to have to buy T series Lenovos (or maybe Dell Latitudes) going forward, which also means either spending more than I want to, or buying older machines than I want to. I really hate spending money on technology.

(My Lenovo’s keyboard and track pad is so far better than anything else I’ve tried as to be in a completely separate league. My experience with Latitude keyboards/track pads is they’re good enough.)

All that said, Dell’s Chromebook is great value for the money. I’m using the four gig version and even though the 11.6 inch screen is a little small for my 58 year old eyes, as a content consumption device it beats tablets in most respects, though I’m disappointed I can’t listen to Audible titles because the cloud player requires a Silverlight plug-in, unsupported in ChromeOS. And no small irony, it’s a lot better machine for typing as well.



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