There’s a similar problem with keyboards. Apparently, people now want thin laptops, so there’s simply no room for the sort of typewriter-style keyboard the IBM ThinkPad X range used to provide. The need to slim down is now driving most laptop manufacturers to fit “isolated” keyboards with flat, widely spaced keys that are about as responsive as dead fish.
There’s nothing I can do about this. With PC sales running at more than 300 million units a year, laptop designers are driven by what the mass market wants. There’s less and less variety because they’re all aiming at exactly the same “sweet spots” for maximum sales. The relatively small number of big-spending road warriors is no longer of much interest.
And, come to think of it, I’m not a big spender any more. I can remember when laptops cost £1,500 to £2,500, and a few still do, but nowadays there are much cheaper options. You can buy a decent netbook for a street price of £200 to £300, and not many people want to spend more than £500 on a laptop. Even the computer enthusiasts tend to drop out at £999, leaving the “high end” for power-mad gamers.
Perhaps I should be willing to spend £1,800 on what I want -- which is basically my old X31 with the electronics upgraded to a modern specification -- but I’m not. My ideas on pricing have changed along with everybody else’s.
In the end, I bought an Asus UL30, because I’d already reviewed an earlier model for the Guardian and been impressed by the performance (much better than a netbook) and the battery life, which approaches 12 hours with very light use. There are things I don’t like about it, including the widescreen display, the isolated keyboard, and the extra 5cm in width over my X31. I particularly don’t like the silver colour: it looks more like a MacBook Air than a ThinkPad. However, the price was right: it was £349 from Carphone Warehouse. I can forgive a lot of things for that.
My allowance for buying a computer is £1 per day, which is less than I spend on either newspapers or coffee. The X31 has earned its keep over five years, including a memory upgrade, a second battery, and a new keyboard, bought cheaply on eBay. If the UL30 doesn’t do as well as that, I won’t worry. I’ll still be on budget if I just buy something else next year.