Jack Schofield joins TrustedReviews from The Guardian, where he was Computer Editor and continues to write the hugely popular AskJack blog. He's one of the UK's foremost IT journalists and we're pleased to welcome him on board as a columnist. He tweets as @jackschofield.
One of the best things about the PC industry is that you can buy machines in all shapes and sizes from handhelds to warehouse-filling rack systems of the sort used to host online services. There are more than 10,000 PC manufacturers worldwide, and some of them offer dozens of different models at different prices. We’ve reached the stage where, for some people, “the best thing” is “the worst thing” because they can’t figure out what to buy.
You’d think there must be something for everyone, but that’s not the case. I know what I want, but I can’t find it at a price I’m willing to pay. And while I’ll agree I represent a minority market - in American jargon, I’m a “road warrior” - it’s one that used to be well served. IBM’s X series of ThinkPads and Toshiba’s Portege range, for example, were designed for us. I’ve used and loved models from each range over the past 15 years.
When you’re buying a new PC, it’s a good idea to decide what you actually need, because that instantly removes thousands of options. If you want an entertainment system with a Blu-ray player, for example, or a games machine with really fast graphics, or a convertible PC that doubles as a tablet, that narrows the field dramatically.
I was after an ultraportable to carry around all the time; something light with a long battery life. So far, so simple. But since I write for a living, I was also looking for a good quality keyboard and a good tall screen. On ultra-portables, those are becoming harder to find.
You probably ran into the screen problem when you last bought a TV set. Most of us have replaced our old 4:3 aspect ratio TVs with widescreen models, where the screen sounds “bigger” but the screen height has stayed the same. The same thing has happened with laptops as they have gone widescreen.
My antique IBM ThinkPad X31, for example, has a 12in screen that shows 1,024 x 768 pixels. Moving up to a 13.3in widescreen showing 1,366 x 768 pixels gives almost the same physical screen height and the same vertical resolution, so I can’t see any more lines of text on my virtual writing paper, or on any of the websites I visit. Unfortunately, the widescreen laptop has also increased in bulk and weight to provide extra width that is not much use to me. Well, a widescreen would be nice if I wanted to watch movies, but even if I did, that would only take up a very small part of my working day.