A Tale of Four Laptops

When I was in college I started seeing the occasional laptop computer. Big, thick, clunky things they were; heavy brick-like objects with tiny screens and gigantic pricetags.

And oh, how I wanted one!

I always figured I’d be able to write more productively on a portable machine with which I could move around; even then I knew that working in a fixed space wasn’t always for me. Even if I had a place where I did most of my work, I didn’t want to have to do all of my work there. But a laptop remained an elusive goal, past college, into my working life, through the 90s, through the first years of marriage and the arrival of The Daughter and the trials of Little Quinn and the Star Wars Prequel trilogy and the move from the Southern Tier to Buffalo and more.

But finally, in 2007, the stars aligned! I was finally in a place where I could actually afford a laptop, via payments and a discount program The Store had with Dell. And thus it came to pass that Laptop Number One arrived.

I don’t have very many pictures of this computer, apparently.

Great SCOTT, that desk and workspace was a cluttered mess! I am by no means a neat freak but I get twitchy looking at that. (And as I write this my library is a mess again…sigh, it never ends….)

That machine was a Dell Inspiron, running Windows Vista. Remember Vista? Most folks I recall ever opining on Vista hated it, for some reason. I never had a major issue with it; to me it felt like most of the WindowsXP functionality with prettier stuff grafted on top of it. I got a lot of good work done on that computer, including, if I’m timing things right, the start of work on The Song of Forgotten Stars.

After three years I noticed that that machine was starting to show its age a bit. The battery was no longer holding charge so I had to always keep it plugged in, which wasn’t a super big inconvenience but enough of one, but for the most part that computer worked fine for what I used it for: writing, web-surfing, and watching media (at that time, still mostly DVDs). What eventually forced my hand to replace it wasn’t a failure on that computer’s part but the impending arrival of Windows 8. I read about Windows 8 and learned quite a bit about it and decided that I wanted no part of it. It just looked and felt weird to me. In the meantime, Windows 7 had arrived, pushing Vista aside, and now Windows 7 was on the way out! But I acted quickly and got Laptop Number Two, another Dell Inspiron, because I did not want Windows 8.

Awww, there’s Lester! I’d had this machine at least three years when this was taken, so note the shiny wear spots on some of the keys, especially the space-bar.

I’m guessing that I’m working on AMONGST THE STARS here, as a portion of that book was hand-written.

That machine was, so far, my favorite laptop ever. I loved that machine. I got seven years out of it, when generally anything over four years is borrowed time for laptops. That machine took a beating and, yes, kept on ticking; so much so that when its battery died, I actually paid for a new one and installed it myself. (No, this was not difficult in the days of externally-accessible batteries.) I squeezed every drop of productivity out of that machine that I could…

…until, one day in early autumn 2018, its memory failed.

Ugh.

Now, the first two laptops were direct manufacturer orders. I knew I was ordering them and used the Dell website to spec out the exact machines I wanted, and I had time to wait for them to arrive, because both were planned purchases. Not so the next machine, Laptop Number Three. The sudden passing of Laptop Number Two had left me in need of a working computer pretty much immediately, so I had to buy an off-the-shelf computer from Best Buy.

I don’t know that this is why my next experience was to be so frustrating, and maybe it wasn’t; I’ve heard various testimonials that Dell’s quality control has slipped in the last five years or so and that their machines aren’t nearly as reliable as they once were. I don’t know about that, but the Dells that I also bought for The Wife and The Daughter four or five years ago still work well enough (though The Daughter’s was a gaming machine, and those go obsolete very quickly).

Still, enter Laptop Number Three in October 2018.

Can you feel the ‘meh’ tonight….

I never warmed to this machine. It was frustrating from the get-go. It felt shoddier, somehow. It ran the stuff I needed it to run, but the screen was just OK. I always felt that the pictures that I took and processed on my phone(s) looked weirdly washed-out and rough when viewed on the computer. Also, that computer for some reason simply did not get along with our Fios router at home, so my Internet connection on that machine at home was unacceptably slow. I thought this a problem with the computer itself and actually took it to the Geek Squad at one point but they really couldn’t detect a problem, and I figured out that it was simply a weird issue with the home router when we stayed in a hotel and that laptop was able to suddenly stream Netflix like a champ.

I came up with a workaround at home for this issue: I would use my phone as a WiFI hotspot for just my computer. Which worked reasonably well, but this was an annoying kludge.

Then there was the fact that less than two years in, that laptop’s hard drive failed and I had to have it replaced. I got a solid-state drive this time, which was much more reliable, but the tradeoff there was I lost half my capacity, going from 1TB to 512GB. Ugh. (Nothing major was lost, as I have been religious about backups for many, many moons.)

More recently, that computer’s hinge started acting weird, so in order to close the laptop fully I had to do the normal closing thing and then I had to squeeze the back right hinge shut all the way. Otherwise the computer wouldn’t go to sleep. (Oh, and the battery died on schedule a year ago.)

So: I have been planning for the last few months to avail myself of Samsung’s Black Friday sales. Why Samsung? My phones are Samsung and my tablets are Samsung; I’ve had excellent experiences with Samsung products, even given their odd choices like the Bixby assistant and the bloat-ware they feel it necessary to load their stuff with. I read some reviews, did some homework, and narrowed my choice down to two machines: the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy Book2 360. (Samsung’s naming can be a bit…awkward. I actually find that clunkiness a bit charming, if I’m being honest.)

The Book2 Pro is a really good laptop and a step up from the “budget” kind of computers that the Dell Inspirons have always been. The 360 is a 2-in-1 machine, a laptop that can fold all the way around and become a tablet. I figured on the Book2 Pro because I’m just not sure that I need the 2-in-1 functionality…

…but then Samsung had a Fall Sales Event! And the Book2 360 was marked down $250!

So…voila!

Fully backlit keyboard and screen with the thinnest bezels I’ve ever owned. For several years I’ve been listening to bezel-thickness cited as a factor in various tech reviews; I never really got this until now.

Such a clean and sleek exterior! I may not decorate the lid with stickers and stuff, it looks so nice.

I can’t believe how THIN computers can be now! That’s my five-year-old Kindle next to it, for comparison.

I’m back to 1TB on my hard drive (and it’s a solid-state drive!). I’m back to a battery that lasts several hours. I’m back, baby!

I’ve only had this computer for five days, and I haven’t really started to dig into what it can do yet. I haven’t even tried the tablet mode yet, though I’m excited to do so. I’m also getting used to the keyboard. Layout’s pretty much the same, but the keys are slightly bigger and the trackpad is now centered whereas my last trackpad was to the left, so in the first few days I found myself unusually typo-prone. (This is another reason why my posts here have been pretty short this week.) The only major keyboard differences I’ve noted are that the Function keys are different, so I have to re-learn turning my speakers up or down, and that the “Home-End-PgUp-PgDn” quartet is no longer its own set of keys, but have been incorporated into the directional arrow keys as Functions. The End key’s new location is especially troublesome right now, because I’m used to it being in its standard spot right above the number pad–which on this computer is where the Power button is! So if I get mentally lazy and go to hit “End” where I’m used to it being, I put the computer to sleep. I’m not in love with that, but I suspect in a few months it’ll feel normal.

Another oddity with this computer is its ports: it has one headphone jack, and three USB-C ports (one of which is a “Thunderbolt” port and I don’t know what that means so yay, new stuff!), a micro-SD slot, and…that’s it. No USB-A, at all. Hmmmm. This particular detail was one that almost had me deciding to either suck up the $250 difference for the Book2 Pro or keep on waiting, because I still use a lot of USB-A stuff: my wireless mouse, all of my external hard drives, and other items are all USB-A. Yes, there are adapters, but than that’s just another thing you have to keep track of in your laptop bag.

Spoiler: I got the adapters and will keep track of them in my laptop bag. I’ve already got a little pouch for that kind of thing.

USB-A to USB-C adapter, with the dongle for my wireless mouse inserted. BTW, I am a big fan of the Anker brand as far as accessories go.

So far I love the screen, which is way more vibrant and detailed and color-graded than the last Dell; my photos look on this machine the way I think they’re supposed to look. Some reviewers noted the 16×9 aspect ratio of the display when 16×10 is more of a standard, but I’m honestly fine with it. And I really am looking forward to doing more of the other stuff this particular computer can do, like the tablet-mode and using it in its “standing tent” configuration to watch media. (Oh, and it comes with an S-Pen! That’s Samsung’s proprietary stylus, and it’s a cool add-on that I’ve already used a bit with my current phone. The only reason I don’t use it more with my phone is that my phone case doesn’t have a spot for it, so I have to keep it someplace separate. The S-Pen for the Book2 360 is magnetized and sticks right to the laptop lid! What will they think of next!)

I already spent almost an entire day downloading the contents of my Google Drive to this machine, and I’ve installed Scrivener; later today I plan to finally get back to Forgotten Stars V. There’s still work to be done: installing LibreOffice, seeing what fonts I need to track down, figuring what I’m doing for media storage (even though I have plenty of room I’m not sure if I want all of my music on the hard drive), installing DropBox and VLC Media Player and Windscribe (my VPN). So much to do! So little time!

But first, coffee.

This is the first photo taken with this computer’s camera! Video-conferencing hasn’t been a thing in my life yet, but I don’t rule it out. Hey, podcast producers! I’m available and I’m full of things to say, some of which are interesting!

Share This Post

This entry was posted in On Tech and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Tale of Four Laptops

  1. Roger says:

    congrats. when my computer dies, I’ll be sad. I’ve had it maybe 18 months, so maybe in a year and a half more.

Comments are closed.