This Is My Next Laptop PC

2015-05-11 08.12.56

For most of my working life I’ve used the same IT for work and personal use.  This might seem a bit strange to some people but it’s not for me, work and personal life have always been a blended experience for me.  I’ve always travelled a lot with work and I’ve never been prepared to carry two of everything, so that’s pretty much necessitated a single integrated work/life experience.

This means though that as I approach retirement I’ve had to replace all of my work provided IT with personal equivalents, in this post I’m going to consider the two main devices, replacing the ThinkPad X220 Tablet that currently powers the 27” screen in my home office and my ThinkPad x230 carry laptop.

I started my search with the replacement of the x230 laptop, which is by far the best laptop I’ve ever had and I’ve tried a lot.  I considered all of the main contenders, the new Dell XPS13 with it’s amazing edge to edge screen, the MacBook 12” ultra-light with it’s single USB-C port, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon with it’s sleek lines and larger 13” display, the Microsoft Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 and everything in between.  In the end I chose the x230 again!  Why?23258ba

  • Keyboard – I type a lot on my laptop and the keyboard on the x230 is perfection, compared to the Surface line it’s a night vs. day experience! and it’s better than all the alternatives by some margin
  • Size – The x230 is just the right size, anything wider causes me issues in the arm-chairs that I often find myself working in and ends up being too large for several of my bags (chosen for minimal size)
  • Weight – although the x230 is heavier than the new MacBook, it’s perfectly balanced and in a rucksack not much different, compared to the other alternatives it’s comparable
  • Screen resolution — Modern screens are too high a resolution, the 1024*768 resolution is perfectly fine for me, I really struggled with Windows 8/10’s terrible handling of the high resolution screen on the Surface Pro 3
  • Track pad — I can’t cope with track pad’s and much prefer the TrackPoint on the ThinkPad, the first thing I always do on a ThinkPad is disable the track pad to prevent accidentally catching it with my wrist, sending the mouse flying.  I’m also a huge fan of dedicated mouse buttons above the track pad, a feature that Lenovo removed on the X240 and X1 Carbon, but thankfully have re-instated on the latest models
  • Cost – A second hand, perfect condition, warrantied, x230 is a third of the price of an Apple MacBook or Dell
  • Repairability – The x230 is a breeze to repair and spares are easily available on eBay for a pittance
  • Upgradability – The x230 is fully upgradable, need more memory, a larger SSD, a longer life battery … again 24 hours later and it’s all sorted thanks to eBay
  • Flexibility – The X230 is incredibly flexible, multiple USB 3 ports, VGA and Display Port, Ethernet, WWAN, multiple batteries, docking station (second hard drive, DVD)
  • Fingerprint reader – The x230 palm rest has an integrated fingerprint reader which is superbly convenient and flawless in operation, it’s even better in Windows 10
  • Sunk investment – I already have several power supplies and spare batteries for the x230 and I have an external power pack and two 512GB SSDs as well as a spare 8GB memory stick that are all compatible.
  • Performance – Compared to the MacBook and the Surface 3 or even the Surface Pro i3 my x230 i7 with 12GB or memory is blindingly fast and copes just fine with dozens of Chrome tabs and virtual machines
  • Remote desktop – I depend on remote desktop to connect to my house server and my desktop from my carry laptop every day.  On high resolution screens remote desktop support is terrible, resulting in a tiny unusable display, but on a lower resolution 1024*768 display everything is fine.  There are workaround for this issue, but they involve compromises that I’d rather avoid
  • Robust – The X230 is pretty much indestructible, and since I carry it around on my back most days, with minimal protection that’s important

So that’s what I gained by sticking with the X230, what did I loose?

  • Battery life is not up to the best in class modern laptops, but then again I’m retiring so I’m not going to need more than 5 hours and if I do I can carry a spare!
  • The weight is a little higher than some of the alternatives, but then if I want to travel really light I don’t want a laptop, I want my iPad
  • Higher resolution display, although as I’ve mentioned this is not really a loss.  I’m very happy with the IPS display on the x230, it’s bright, colourful, and very readable, it’s also matt rather than glossy, which is a big plus!
  • Touch, unfortunately this is also not much of a loss.  I’ve used several laptops with touch (Lenovo Twist and Surface Pro) and neither provided a compelling reasons for me to want touch this time around
  • Pen, I liked having a pen for business purposes (reviewing documents mainly) but in retirement I can’t see much use for one unless I’m using it to sketch or take notes.  Unfortunately the Surface Pro is too big and heavy for this, I’m waiting for the iPad Pro!

I end up with after buying cheap and upgrading with components that I already owned?  A top of the range X230 i7 with 12GB of memory and a 512GB SSD, a wonderful IPS screen, a backlit keyboard and a brand new 4-5 hour battery, oh and 13 months of on-site warranty remaining.

So then I needed to replace the Thinkpad X220 Tablet that drives my big screen and media centre.  The decision was now pretty easy, buy another Thinkpad X230, but without the IPS screen, backlit keyboard and extra memory, hence much cheaper.  So I found one that came with a docking station to neaten up the wiring and allow me to connect either of my x230’s to the big screen, and DVD in seconds.

I ended up with another top of the range X230 i7 with 8GB of memory and I added the 512GB SSD I already had, it has a standard TFT screen (which is never used), a standard keyboard and an old battery, oh and 12 months of on-site warranty remaining.  Importantly the upgraded graphics on the i7 x230 compared to the X220T drives the Dell UltraSharp U2713HM very smoothly at it’s full 2560×1440 resolution, whereas the X220T struggled a bit

It makes me smile that suddenly freed from all employer constraints I end up choosing effectively the same hardware is before, but then consider the details and you will see that I didn’t really.  I upgraded to the IPS screen and backlit keyboard, I upgraded the SSD to 512 GB and I went for the i7 rather than the i5 processor and treated myself to a new battery.  All minor tweaks that resulted in a much nicer experience, actually the IPS screen is much more than a minor tweak, it’s fantastic!

What’s next? upgrading my ageing iPhone 4s and my iPad mini, but for both of those I’m staying put for now, awaiting Apple’s next generation of products in autumn.  My current plan is to go for the iPhone x Plus and the iPad Pro.

Note that I seriously considered moving from Windows to OSX, I’d tried OSX for a year previously and didn’t like it.  I could never get used to a whole set of inconsistencies compared to Windows.  Despite those annoyances and a lifetimes investment in Windows apps and knowledge I was tempted to switch.  I’m not a huge fan of Windows 8 or 10 and I’m impressed by the wave of excellent productivity apps that are being developed on OSX, I also like the integration of OSX and iOS.  In the end I didn’t switch because:

  • I’m committed to minimising how much I spend, my investments need to encourage me to do more of what I love and to be honest I don’t love tinkering with IT.  My worry was that any investment in OSX would result in a cascade of new investments in software and associated hardware, none of which would really add value to my life
  • I’m trying to move to web based apps on Windows, or at least apps that have a web app and a desktop/mobile app.  Many of the great OSX apps don’t have web apps.
  • I have a lot of sunk investment in Windows, all the family use Windows PCs, my home server runs Windows, my media centre PCs run Windows.  Moving just my laptop to Windows didn’t seem that sensible, it would be an island in a sea of Windows at home
  • I love Windows Media Centre and it’s remote control.  Although I’ve spent 3 months trying to switch to Plex I always come back to WMC.  It’s simple, fast and flexible and it means that I will be sticking with Windows 7 on my living room PC and Windows 8.1 on my desktop PC.  I will try and stick with Windows 10 on my carry laptop, but I might revert to Windows 8.1

Life is all about being satisfied with what I have and enjoying the simple pleasures in retirement and I think these decisions are nicely aligned with those principles as is the photo that adorns this post, the wonderful Filey Bay that I will be visiting in a couple of days.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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