Hardware considerations. Price versus features

Today I was looking at new laptops and it got me rethinking my hardware strategy. Here are some of my reflections.

What got me thinking was more the situation that I am in than anything else. I shall be finishing my phd soon and for my postdoc I shall move to a different continent. Sharper prices and a different power outlet are enough excuses for me to consider buying a new laptop.

Once I started thinking, it actually made a lot of sense to me. What should academic be paying attention to are the things they use the most. Clearly, these are:

  1. The keyboard.
  2. The screen.

With keyboards, I am up to date. Investigating it in my free time I quickly discovered that mechanical keyboards make for an interesting upgrade. I am currently sporting one of the better models out there, a white Filco Majestouch 2 Ninja Tenkeyless, with Cherry MX Blue switches. Since the thing is too heavy to take with me, I already decided that  moving across the pond will be a great excuse to try out a different keyboard. I am going to get a Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2, as featured here. What is different with my current keyboard, is that it is even smaller and features Topre capacitative switches. If I don’t like it I will switch back to my Filco.


Screens is something different. I picked up on the relevance of this when the new iPad came out. I could not believe how much sharper and crisper text looks on it. I quickly switched my iPad 2 for a new iPad. That was 2 years ago. Since then, this technology is now broadly used in the latest laptops . Apple calls such screens ‘retina’, but that’s just a marketing trick. Bottom line is that all manufacturers have been upping their pixel count tremendously. In fact, Apple is running behind at the moment. Since reading is one of our primary objectives on the computer, it is of the utmost importance to get a pixelcount/resolution as high as you can afford. I therefore think it is time for me to take advantage of it, rather than keep using my (otherwise fine) Macbook Pro.

From the moment I made the move to Mac OSX, and quickly after also came to use iOS, I have been adapting to the ecosystem of Apple. In academia, many many others have done the same. There is a lot to say in favor of Apple, but there are also some very annoying aspects you have to deal with. On the hardware side, one of the most annoying ones is that they do not fit all the nice features into one device. You almost always end up buying two devices to get all the features you want. Another is that they overprice their products like no other tech company.

Take for example the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. When I stumbled across this product, already more than half a year old by now, I was amazed. It has a screen resolution that beats Apple products and it has the possibility of tilting the screen all the way around, until it folds and becomes a (admittedly heavy) tablet. All this for the same price as a low-end Macbook. With this, I could combine the functionality of my Macbook pro and my iPad into one. The only thing I would be missing is a small device to check e-mail, watch youtube, take notes, and snap pictures. For many that could be your smartphone, but I do not have one so I would need to buy it. It could be a smartphone, yes, but why not go for an iPod Touch? They just released the latest iteration and they now go as low as $200,-.

Did I not just say that Apple overprice their products? They still do, also in the case of the iPod touch. The latest one is not only similar to the 2012 version, but is actually downgraded slightly. This means it is far from certain how long the device will be usable; as iOS gets upgraded, slower products get pushed out because they simply cannot run the software. What is important to me is the camera on the 16gb version has been upgraded to 5MP, so I think I would be able to take decent shots of books and manuscripts. If I go for the Lenovo Yoga I may go for the iPod Touch as well.

If that is not enough ifs and buts, the software also comes into play. Going for the Lenovo means moving back to Windows. While Windows 8 seems to me to be a move in the right direction, Windows in general is not something I look forward to. Then again, it would allow me to use software like Shamela, Encyclopedia of Islam, etc. a lot easier.

So many decisions, and not a clear winner! I hope I am getting there. And I hope you will too, perhaps with this post as a bit of a help.

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