Fig 1)
My totally sweet new Lenovo

Fig 2)
Notice the totally amazing colors on the screen!  Well, probably you can't see them since you're probably reading this on a crap screen…
And for some reason my camera is taking grainy pictures…

Fig 3)
Check out the way the colors don't invert even though the screen is all the way down.

My super-sweet new laptop

After a year and a half of using my wholeheartedly inadequate Asus U50F, I started to realize that I needed a new laptop.  Gradually I had started to feel that I would rather shoot myself in the head than use my Asus  to do ANYTHING, and while I had generally chalked that up to hating computers in general and thinking they are a waste of time, I also noticed that I don’t feel nearly as horribly when using my office desktop machine.  I soon got over all the excuses that I was using and began to look at my Asus critically:  fact of the matter — it just sucked.  It never “started” sucking, it always did.  It wasn’t underpowered by any means, it just was always in a state of almost-broken, from the day I bought it from Best Buy.  (From the screen which weirded-out every time I plugged an external monitor in, to the HD which didn’t always spin up, to the battery which died after like 2 months, to the screen again, which only had a 2degree viewing angle.) Why did I keep it?  Well, the laptop immediately preceding it caught on fire after only one month (Thanks Rosemary’s cat!), and the one before that melted, so I wasn’t feeling like running back and changing it again.   But you know, sometimes you are just carrying around an unproductive brick for no reason and not using it, so its time to get a new one.

Much to my brother’s dismay I spent way too many months trying out laptops and involving him in the decision.  Seriously, he got a total headache from hearing me blather endlessly about all the options and dragging him along to test them out.  My primary metrics?

  1. It has to look super-sweet.  Like I’m a business professional with taste, not a crackheaded software junkie eating pizza at 3AM.
  2. It has to be light.  I mean, really really light.  1lb ultra-slim preferred, but willing to tolerate up to 3lbs.  4lbs is right out.
  3. It has to be fast.  Not “kinda fast for a netbook”, but financial simulation fast.  That means it has to have the fastest processors out there and be packing a lot of ram.
  4. The screen has to be amazing.  Not just amazing, but F’n AMAZING.  This low-contrast, low-viewing-angle crap just doesn’t cut it anymore.  I don’t want my eyes hurt just after turning the laptop on.
  5. Battery life needs to be off the hook, 7 hrs at least.
  6. Great reviews & sturdy.

Now to most of you, these requirements seem mutually exclusive and impossible to achieve in a laptop.  But the mark of a good captain of a starship is to set unachievable standards and then demand that your crew reach them.  Hear that Scotty?  I need warp drive in 5 minutes!   But more than that, I’ve had about enough of the laptop market selling and delivering crap to me and cutting every corner they could find — short of sending me the parts to a laptop and a stick of hot melt glue (read: “glue-gun not included”).

The Candidates:

  1. Macbook Air: After seeing how sweet my brother’s iMac is, I’ve really started to consider whether this is going to be the time to switch over to Apple.
    Cons: 1) Buying Apple is Buying an Open Wallet.  2) Though the apple fanbois will tell you that the Macbook Air screen is the best, the truth is it blows in the worst possible way.  It has a super low viewing angle before colors invert.
  2. Sony Vaio Z: This super-sleek+fast ultra-portable packs an amazing 1920×1080 screen into 13″ and 2.5lbs.  Don’t forget the dual raid SSD’s.  For a “regular type” lcd screen, it has pretty amazing color, brightness, and viewing angles.
    Cons: 1) Forget putting this on your lap — gets hotter than the surface of the sun.  No need for DOE to spend money researching Fusion in a Tokamak, just buy a Sony Vaio Z.  2) Sony.  3) $$$$ OMG $$$$$ 4) keyboard really sucks to type on.
  3. Sony Vaio SE: This more scaled back laptop is a little bit better than the Z.  It’s cheaper, a little heavier at 4.5lbs, but comes with most of the “good-standard” features of the Z, including a nice screen and raid SSDs.  Has an ok keyboard to type on, and looks sleek.
    Cons: 1) Also gets very hot.  2) Sony.  3) Edges are sharp and hurt my wrists. 4) Doesn’t have hot reviews.
  4. Lenovo X220 (non-tablet): The x220 is the only laptop in Lenovo’s lineup carrying the IPS type of LCD screen.  Unlike the LCD screens in 99.99% of laptops and monitors, IPS screens have a wide viewing angle and great color reproduction.  The x220 also is 3lbs and comes with SSD and a great keyboard to type on.  It has almost unilaterally amazing reviews & is also a Core i7 supporting up to 16G of ram.  Supposedly has legendary build quality, which is very important to me.
    Cons: 1) No backlit keyboard.  2) screen resolution is only 1366×768 3) no CD/DVD drive 4) Rumors of weird IPS/panel behavior.
  5. HP Elitebook & Dell Precision: These are the only other two laptops advertising an IPS LCD screen.  Both can be configured at will to have all the specifications that I listed above with 1 single problem.
    Cons: 1) Both weigh more than 8lbs.  If I want to break my back carrying around a desktop, I might as well get a dolly or a forklift for my backpack.  So these are right out.  The Dell fully configured is like 12lbs.
  6. Asus Zenbook & Samsung Series 5: Both of these ultraportables are a bit underpowered, though they certainly look sleek.
    Cons: 1) Unfortunately, they feel a little flimsy to type on (body flexes too much with keypress) and the screens while spectacularly bright, also invert in colors pretty quickly.  The Zenbook has pretty crap reviews on Newegg & Amazon too.  2) Both are reported to have problems with WiFi connectivity, which IMO is a laptop killer.

The Winner!  The Lenovo X220! (Fig 1) Though I seriously considered the Macbook Air, the “intangible cost” in additional Apple purchases, and the fact that it had a crap screen totally did it in.  Actually, having the crap screen really did it in the most.  Eventually the decision was between the Vaio SE and the X220, both of which had great screens with the Vaio having a slightly faster processor.  In the end, the Vaio was done in by the fact that everybody recommended against Sony’s terrible service & warranty, and the red warning sticker on the bottom “Don’t put on lap”.

I bought my X220 from Lenovo directly, over the phone, and they gave me a huge employee discount, so with the 160G Intel SSD, 720p Webcam, and basically all the upgrades, it came to only $1100.  The rep also downsold (as in recommended against) a number of upgrades even though I was suddenly under budget, which I appreciated.  So immediately after receiving the laptop, I totally upgraded the ram to 16G, which Lenovo supposedly didn’t support, and upgraded the SSD from the Intel 160G (Sata2) to the Samsung 830 (Sata 3) 500G drive, which is twice as fast using half as much power.  Of course the Samsung 830 cost 2/3 the cost of the laptop, driving the total price up to $2K.  But that would happen no matter the manufacturer.  Also, the Lenovo came with zero bloatware!  wow!  I didn’t have to uninstall anything.  Cons it still has:  Yeah, the screen is amazing (Fig 2), but it also has the weird artifacts people mention online and is slow to change contrast levels.  I think it uses some sort of contrast amplification to achieve blacker blacks when the screen is dark, but then when it switches to white or has colors on it, it takes a few seconds to adjust.  I’m mostly ok with it.  Viewing angle is spectactular (Fig 3).