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.