I know it’s 2013 and as far as “mobile computing” goes, I’m supposed to be pinch-zooming and app-buying and poorly-typing on a tablet like the cool kids. And I do — my O.G. Nexus 7 (the 2012 model) sometimes makes a nice companion1 to my Galaxy Nexus Android phone, by being slightly faster and having a slightly better screen. However, over the 15 months I’ve owned the Nexus 7, it never quite became the second mobile device that I wanted. Useful, yes… transcendent, no.
I knew something was still missing, so I recently went and bought a small laptop computer, a Lenovo ThinkPad X230, to carry around. It runs Debian Linux. It does the things I want. It’s a wonderful thing to have.
I needed this because…
The laptop that the ThinkPad replaced was from 2007, and while a decent computer from back then would likely still be good today, my old laptop was not a decent computer, even when new. Back then, I didn’t know just how painfully slow an ultra-low-voltage, low clock-speed CPU could be… I guess I thought it being dual-core would somehow make up for it. Also, the cooling fan was a bit of a whiner, and would constantly and very vocally disagree with Linux’s style of power management. The darned thing would constantly sound like a mini-jet-engine — too obnoxious to use around people I actually like.
Low on power, high on noise — not a good combo.
But these days…
In the last half-decade or so, mainstream humans seem to have accepted the smartphone, and seem to be doing the same for the idiot camera (“tablets”). It’s the “Post-PC era,” or something. Plenty of people seem to be doing okay without spending much time on their general-purpose personal computers, but over time I realized that as I tried to go along with this trend, I was missing out. For me, a computing life centered around mobile “smart” devices was one of unacceptable compromise. Composing more than a couple of sentences without a keyboard makes me want to just not bother to write, devices without expandable storage make one dependent on rent-seeking “cloud” services, and the mobile app ecosystem has handfuls of well-known problems (privacy, lock-in, and so on).
There’s a place for these devices, even in my life, but they just don’t replace a general-purpose computer. Ever.
So I did this…
I made sure not to make last time’s mistakes when buying this computer. The i5 CPU is more than adequate, and I have a ton of RAM. ThinkPads are known to play nicely with Linux, because they’re used by that awesome kind of geek who figures that shit out (and wouldn’t put up with a jet engine laptop). It runs Debian Jessie (“testing”) with only minor annoyances — not perfect, but nothing I can’t handle.2
Hardware build-quality and durability are major plusses for an everyday carry machine, and that’s what ThinkPads are known for. And of course,
TrackPoint is truly the best way to mouse. A lot has been said about the new ThinkPad keyboards, and while this one suffers from the bullshit key layout (compare it to the awesome, ugly 1337-geek classic style), the keyboard actually feel pretty nice to type on, even if the bizarrely-placed PrintScreen key occasionally enrages me.
In the spirit of burying the lede, here are some things I intend to enjoy while toting around this rock-solid, large-screen-and-real-keyboard device:
- Full desktop OS that does all the things
- Better web browsing; approximately 1,000 open tabs
- Actually writing things, blogging silly ideas and such
- Tons of local storage (SSD + HDD = yay!)
- Semi-modern PC games, including lots of Humble Bundle goodness
- Interactive fiction, perhaps (now, where did I misplace my patience?)
- My most common tablet uses are as follows: gaming, viewing TV episodes and movies, and web browsing. I’m putting this in a footnote so as not to sidetrack myself, but it’s an important point. One of the best things about having the tablet was that it gave me another 16 GB of storage, on top of the 16 GB available on my phone. A lot of people seem to think that Google intentionally limits the storage available in their flagship devices to push people into using their monetizable “cloud” media offerings instead of local storage. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true, but honestly, the #1 reason I’d like more local storage in my devices is not to carry around more media, but more and larger apps — something you can’t put in the cloud.[↩]
- I imagine Debian Stable or Ubuntu would be better.[↩]
6 thoughts on “Yes, that’s a new laptop. Yes, I know what year it is.”
I FEEL YOU.
I do a majority of everything from my dinky little Metro PCS smart phone, which isn’t the best but isn’t the worst (a LG Motion, if you care to know) and the rest on a re-purposed Nook Tablet i installed android on, but, really, I find myself locked into lame crap like refreshing facebook or trolling twitter. I stopped reading as many blogs (even though I have blog reading capabilities) and stopped writing blogs and just MEH.
I need to sit at my computer and use it! For now, I have a Samsung N145 netbook, while not perfect, does a heck of a lot of things. I can also write on it. Which is important. There is no writing on a tablet or phone. Unless I am composing a text.
Go go laptop!
(At least a portion of) The universe understands me — yeah!
I also totally get where the mobile tendency you describe comes from. Just by virtue of having the device with you at all times, it becomes something you can rely on and form habits around how you use it. It’s too bad that these devices are primarily optimized (at least it seems) for consuming media rather than creating it; when most of us have an idle moment, we tend to look to see what we can consume. The mobile tools exist for creating stuff (text, music, video, etc.) on the go, but perhaps creation isn’t something to be done in the bite-size moments we have scattered throughout our days? Or that even if creating is easy, consuming is even easier?
A netbook is still a nice step up from smartphones and tablets. I didn’t think of mentioning it in this post, but I had one that was somehow faster and in some ways more pleasant to use than that last full-size laptop! There’s just some tasks that are better done with a full OS and keyboard, even if the device is limited in other ways.
I was thinking on the same line, I owned a powerful MSI GX 740 — unfortunately the hinges broke and was unable to replace it… As a Student I am really low on budget and need to decide on to buy a laptop that will give me good battery.. I am going for X230 in 2013 November, hopefully I will have the same kind of experience with Ubuntu.. Cheers to people who see beyond the hype.. :)
Thanks for the reply! The durability of ThinkPad hinges (check this out) was a huge selling point for me. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a laptop that didn’t have to be repaired at least once for hinge troubles.
I can’t imagine you’d have trouble with Ubuntu on this model. The only thing that wasn’t straightforward during setup was adding the non-free firmware to make WiFi work, but that’s just how Debian does things. I think Ubuntu may have the proper firmware included in the installer. (I bought my X230 with one of the Intel wireless cards, which are supposed to be better than the default ThinkPad-branded card.)