It isn’t a secret that most claims of laptop battery life need to be taken with a grain of salt. From my experience, the average consumer doesn’t realize how much exactly battery life can vary based on 

  • Machine specifications (Display size and resolution, CPU/GPU configurations)
  • Battery size (WHr)
  • Battery technology (Most are Lithium-based but battery technology is constantly improving)
  • Power Draw (How many Watts each component is drawing at any given time and for how long)
  • Usage (The processes the end-user is running, their intensity and duration)

Claims listed on manufacturer websites occasionally will not include the specific conditions or tests that result in the numbers that they post. I’ve also read several posts of some very suspect claims of older machines getting very high hour counts for battery life. The one exception to this might be the individual that put actual Tesla Model 3 cells into their ThinkPad T420S to give them 129.7Wh with 0.2V under a 60W load.

T420S battery upgraded with Tesla model 3 21700 cells.

Assuming that this modification might not be for you, there are a few things to think about when looking at battery life statistics.

Get multiple sources of data.

While the manufacturer “should” be a reliable source of information on the product that they have created, battery statistics are often theoretical maximums and not “regular usage.” You will note that nearly every brand will list their battery life with the words: “Up to X.X hours” because they know as well as I do that you can drain any battery to flat under the right conditions in record time (Notebook Check drained the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano under maximum load under two hours). This isn’t entirely their fault or even misleading. Since how computers are used is varied so much, it would be exceedingly difficult to come up with a number that could be agreed upon as “normal use” that would apply to every user.

“After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p file of the Blender Foundation short film Tears of Steel—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system quits.” –PC Mag Review

By using a theoretical maximum it gives the consumer an idea of what the machine can be stretched to do in terms of energy conservation. If a laptop functioning at its leanest cannot produce the battery life you desire, you know it isn’t in the running. At the same time, knowing those lean conditions and deciding if they are acceptable for you are also a key part of the decisions. Some battery tests are far more theoretical than others. This is where reading and watching multiple detailed reviews to get an average is the most reliable method.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano battery statistics. Note how their results and test conditions differ from PC Mag.
Battery information for the Dell XPS 13. Due to the different screens available on this model, they list both expected maximums as well as testing conditions. Note the lower system specifications and screen brightness.

Try to find use cases and configurations similar to your own.

When looking for those reviews or videos, try to find similar configurations to the machine you are looking to purchase and similar use cases if possible. For example, the difference between a 1080p panel, 2K panel and 4K panel is quite significant when it comes to battery life. This can actually be the difference of up to 50% of your battery life. In 2017 Joshua Goldman published an article for CNET.com that showed this issue. It is also illustrated in the screenshot of the 9310 XPS 13.

For example, Dell’s XPS 13 outfitted with its QHD touchscreen lasts for just about 8 hours in our tests. Get the full HD display instead, though, and you’re able to get more than 10.5 hours of battery life. It’s the same for the HP Spectre x360, which is rated at 8 hours for the 4K version, but 16 hours with a full HD screen.

Set realistic expectations.

Battery technology has come a long way, but some of the claims of 19 -20+ hours haven’t reached realistic use cases in my opinion. Those numbers are often achieved with WiFi off, the machine on but idling or running a simple task and with screen brightness set to a very low level to reduce power consumption. Take a look at the PC Mag statistics and test data above to see that while impressive, how realistic is this situation for all users?

Understand it is a balance of finite resources.

When it comes to laptops, it is ALWAYS a compromise. It is a tug-of-war between weight, size, performance, affordability, durability, endurance and more. Resist the urge to believe what you know you shouldn’t to avoid disappointment and returns. Focus on what you really and truly need and how it fits within your budget. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Consider the power of Rapid Charge technology. 

Many higher-end laptops are now coming with some kind of Rapid Charge technology that gets you to full battery in record time. Rapid Charge often gets you the major of your battery back in 30 minutes to an hour, or your average lunch break. This is a significant factor to consider because if you have this technology at your fingertips, you might just need to consider how long your battery lasts for half the day, not the full day. My new ThinkPad X1 Nano has about half of the battery capacity of the Surface Book 2, but it is gentler on power consumption and the ability to Rapid Charge means I haven’t missed it at all. 

Are there other topics relating to laptop design that you’d like me to write about? Feel free to send me an email with your idea using the Contact form on this website or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading.

Modularity is something we haven’t truly seen in laptops since Intel decided to stop offering socketed mobile CPUs. Manufacturers often shoulder the blame on that, unfairly in my mind, but that is a topic for another article. Many users miss the days of taking apart every component of their laptop and replacing or upgrading components inside without having high levels of training in soldering and electrical engineering.

Enter the Framework Laptop announced today by a company of the same name. To see their press release, you can visit the link here. This small, but the growing team has revealed their plan to make a modular laptop available for purchase and plans to make it available in the summer of 2021. You will be able to buy the laptop pre-assembled or as a kit you put together yourself, which, I’m not going to lie, sounds like a blast.

One of the items that make the Framework Laptop unique instantly is its use of Expansion Cards. These appear to be USB-C connections that are recessed into the machine and allow the laptop to be configured with whatever ports you want, when you want. This reminds me of when the MOLLE system was introduced to the military and law enforcement community.

The Expansion Card. Available in a variety of configurations like USB-C pictured here, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD and more are planned.

This is a very exciting machine with a lot of potential. Framework has plans to set up a module marketplace where different components could be built and used with this machine to increase the longevity of the machine. It is certainly an ambitious project that I will be watching closely.

Running benchmarks and tests of this nature aren’t my normal thing since these tests are somewhat theoretical when it comes to real-world usage, but I can appreciate that people like to compare the numbers. For me, the main purpose of these tests was to push the laptop from a thermal standpoint to see how well it did under load.

PassMark Rating

PassMark Software – Display Baseline ID# 1373050

As shown in the Day 12 video update, thermals remained very acceptable, not climbing higher than 35.0C at the CPU underneath the laptop or at the vent exhaust port.

For more information on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, if you haven’t seen the first videos in the series, please consider checking them out below. If you’d like to buy one for yourself, please consider visiting Lenovo’s website through the links on my Affiliates page as I can earn a small commission that goes back to supporting the channel.

Crowdfunding has changed the way people create and experience technology. However, not all technological projects benefit from crowdfunding. Companies that choose to crowdfund tend not to have a lot of access to vendors and manufacturing long-term, so items are created on short lease contracts and in batches. In this article, I wanted to quickly describe some basic types of crowdfunding that I’ve self-defined in the hopes someone else might find it helpful.

One thing anyone considering crowdfunded projects needs to remember is: they are not a store and there is no guarantee that the product will be delivered. There is no recourse for the person providing the funds in 95% of situations and it remains the company’s choice on what they choose to do about bumps in the road.

Always remember that crowdfunding comes with risks and you should make decisions based on the evidence you have, not what you believe. That can be a tricky thing to differentiate between especially if you are really excited about something being offered.

All that being said, for sake of argument, crowdfunding in my mind fits into three broad categories.

Standalones: These are the projects that to me, crowdfunding does best. They work upon release and do not require additional support down the road. They don’t require consumables, servers or software updates to keep working the same way they first came out of the box.

An example is the Snoopa Vmate gimbal camera I backed earlier last year. While it has firmware updates and an app, it can be used directly from the camera, which should add to the lifespan of the device. Like several crowdfunded projects, I wouldn’t hope much for warranty issues or spare parts, but in the meantime, it was an expensive solution to get some unique shots I couldn’t otherwise get with my traditional camera setup.

Dependent: These are projects that I think are the highest risk. Beyond the initial launch of the product, they require additional infrastructure to function. That can be software updates or supplies that the company has to provide. The IoT movement has learned time and time again that your devices can become useless bricks if the update tap is turned off.

The Unihertz Titan that I backed a while ago had a variety of challenges on launch but managed to navigate most of them. Android 10 has been delayed rather significantly and while it has been released, can currently only be flashed manually or pushed to your device by request. Like any phone, its lifespan beyond the hardware will be dictated by the software updates and when they are cut off.

Independent: These are the projects that make a company sustainable. They might start out on crowdfunding sites, but due to success and a different business model, they break the mould and get access to continual manufacturing and can move into the big leagues.

Mobvoi comes to mind when I think about a company that has graduated from the crowdfunding platform. While I didn’t back their very first project, I did back the Ticwatch E and documented my time with it. Mobvoi has gone on to manufacture their own products independently from a crowdfunding platform. A version of the Ticwatch remains my daily driver for my smartwatch.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ramblings on the subject and perhaps you will find it useful when you are deciding which project you might back next or if you want to back your first.

In February 2018 after months of research, I went to a Microsoft Store and purchased a Surface Book 2 13.5″ i7 model to replace my MacBook Pro. With the warranty, it was a significant investment of just over $3000 CDN. I’ve used my Surface Book 2 every single day (documenting it in this video series) and up until the end of 2020, it did everything I needed it to do. However, my next laptop will not be a Surface Book or any Surface for that matter.

My Surface Book 2 with my MacBook Pro in the background.

Before we jump to conclusions, I’m not dissatisfied with my original purchase or even have buyer’s remorse in any way. The Surface Book 2 has served its role with me admirably without a single fault and I know from reading thousands of comments on my Surface Book 2 videos, that others have had issues. For me, here are the reasons why I will be moving on:

  1. My needs for a laptop have significantly changed. I think this is something a lot of people overlook when they get critical with directions laptop brands go. Laptops change, but so do we. With video conferencing being used more and more, a passively cooled i7 is showing some struggles. Oddly enough, some video conferencing platforms utilize the dGPU which is actively cooled and runs perfectly, but some platforms, mainly Google Meets rely on the CPU and integrated graphics and I’ve tried nearly every tweak out there to get it to cooperate. Running 25 tabs, several programs and conferencing software generates a lot of heat that it simply cannot get rid of. The need for a dGPU has also gone away and laptops with them are no longer a draw, changing the field of choices dramatically. A good screen, powerful CPU and solid battery life are specs that I am not willing to give up though.
  2. The Surface Book 3 was a bit too safe. I had high hopes that the patents that Microsoft took out that clearly showed some ideas they had for the Surface Book would be released in the third generation machine. However, like many others, I was disappointed that it was essentially just a chipset refresh with some other minor improvements to the hinge mechanism. That’s fine if you don’t already own a Surface Book, but for those that did, it seemed very lacklustre.

    Microsoft Store Front circa 2008 COLLINS: CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  3. The closure of the Microsoft Store. I’ve said this multiple times, but the closure of these stores was a huge blow for me. It was the only place to really go in my area to see high-end laptops and actually pick them up and get a feel for them before buying them. This was a huge part of making my original decision to buy the Surface Book 2 in 2018 because I could actually see it. For most other laptops I had to rely on reviews, videos and other marketing to try and decide remotely if it was worth the investment. Surface lost that advantage and now goes back into the pile of choices that I would now have to bite the bullet on and order blindly without ever touching the device.
  4. Changes in warranty service. The benefit of having a Microsoft Store nearby and a Business Warranty was if anything ever went wrong, I could walk in and get it sorted out very quickly. Now that isn’t an option. So just like I explained above, it is open season for whoever can provide the best warranty for my device in my region. Since this is a device I use for work and not personal use or hobby related tasks, that extra layer of protection means a lot to me. So whoever can provide the best service in that area is now a contender.
  5. I’ve learned a lot about laptop design. Three years is a long time and I have learned a lot about laptop design and what is truly important for my needs. I remain confident in 2018 I made the best decision 2018-me could make and I have no regrets. But knowing what I do now, I will make my next decision based on 2021-me and what he knows.

In conclusion, none of the reasons listed above are a negative experience with the Surface Book 2. In terms of what replaces it, I have narrowed that down to a select few machines and it looks like parts availability and timing will have more to do with choice. Regardless of that choice, I’ll be Thinking  Differently in the future.

 

My first time looking at a modern T series, specifically the T470s, I was struck by a burning question: what was the X1 Carbon doing if we had other ThinkPad series that were this thin and light? It seemed like other ThinkPads in the family were starting to steal the X1’s limelight. Thinness was traditionally a bit more distinct.

X300 internals (BusinessWeek Magazine 2008)

For those that aren’t familiar, the X1 and X1 Carbon lines were created when Lenovo took the X300 and wanted to change it from a halo product that cost thousands of dollars upon its release and make it more affordable without compromising the wow factor. They were successful and the X1 Carbon is seen by many as the flagship for ThinkPad that is often compared against its many rivals from Dell, HP and Apple. The T430s was the first generation to adopt the Precision Keyboard that first debuted on the X1, but this wouldn’t be the last time the Txxxs series borrowed from its popular sibling.

Now the Txxxs line has been around since the very beginning. Lenovo has gotten better and better making the Txxxs line thinner and thinner each generation. The T460s and T470s were 18.8mm thin. The X1 Carbon does remain the thinner (15-16mm usually from model to model) and lighter device, but we are measuring in a few millimetres and grams. Often some of the key differences between the X and T series now is what parts are available for each with the X1 variants having nicer screens either by default or higher-end ones available that aren’t on other models. The main point I’d like to make is there were fewer and fewer reasons to go for the X1 Carbon over the very strong internal competition from within ThinkPads’ own lineup.

Then came along the X1 Nano. Crazy thin and crazy light (13.87-16.7mm and 907 grams for the base non-touch model). Thinner and lighter than the X1 Carbon and only being beaten out by the X1 Titanium announced at CES this year for thinnest yet. Not only is it thin and light, which many laptops are these days, but its default configuration got my immediate attention. While the base model is expensive, it is well justified with all the bells and whistles that come standard.

X1 Nano internals.

Base specs give it a 450nit DolbyVision 2K display with an integrated IR camera for Windows Hello and 8GB of RAM as a minimum. Granted that RAM is soldered on and maxes out at 16GB but as a starting configuration, not too shabby. Intel 11th generation CPUs in i5 and i7 variants are par the course and a 57Wh battery for lots of screentime. News and review sites like notebookcheck.com have already compared it against the MacBook Air like its predecessor, just like in 2008. 

Honestly, if it had AMD options at launch (I have flimsy reasons to believe that an AMD version might be coming one day) I’d be tempted to cancel my custom-built and pick up one of these. I’d be making a few compromises on my original plans for a new laptop, but wow is this thing pretty. Nobody will mistake this for an X1 Carbon or T14. It’s the sort of “rabbit out of a hat” that I love Lenovo and ThinkPad for over the years and I’m glad to see they still have it. Hopefully, these distinctions will bleed down onto the X1 Carbon to make it a more unique choice like the Z61 did for introducing 16:10 to ThinkPad all those years ago.

 

As CES 2021 finishes up, there have been mixed opinions on having a tradeshow like this in an online environment.

Past attendees of the live event certainly had a lot to miss from the closed-door exclusive briefings but most importantly being able to collect their own media and get their hands on the devices being showcased. Quite honestly I don’t blame them for missing these things as at. It is the same reason why I was devastated when Microsoft closed its retail stores. Those were the only places in my immediate area to see high-end laptops. Most consumer stores only have mid-tier devices that just don’t do it for me. But that is a story for another article.

Vendors also didn’t get much of a break in terms of how much it cost according to this article published by WIRED. CTA, the organization behind CES of course needs to keep the lights on so a heavy discount for vendors to set up their virtual shops would have been ideal, but probably not practical. Several vendors chose to simply not exhibit at the show and instead opted for press releases on their corporate websites at the same time.

Then there are people like me. I am not allowed to take vacation time whenever I want and Laptop Retrospective is not my job. Put bluntly, a virtual CES is the only way I could and probably will ever able to participate without sacrifice like burning all of my available personal business leave days for the year. I have never been to the real show, so in many respects, I don’t know what I’m truly missing, although I can certainly guess. I’m just simply grateful and fully recognize that it is because it was online, I was able to participate and I think more voices at the table is nice, but more on that later.

I cannot say it was a flawless execution. Out of all the vendors I sent messages to via the CES chat system, only a handful actually responded (Razer, Energysquare and Maono were lovely to chat with, but sadly the only two I was able to reach). Being a small fry didn’t help I’m sure (although some seasoned professionals of CES also had their fair share of struggles on this front as well), but I think many companies were working on local time and that made it difficult to coordinate and I think because the whole thing was new to everyone, there were bound to be some issues. I also think many reps expected people to reach out to them directly, which for experienced veterans of CES would be a non-issue as they would know who to contact. However, as a newbie, it is really hard to know which team member is best to touch base with regarding your questions.

The real challenge running this kind of remote event is, once it starts, it can be very challenging to course-correct and keep everyone on the same page. I’d hope that if they continue to offer this service that they will improve it over time just like anything else. All of the above is quite understandable considering CES reports this being the “largest Digital Tech Industry Event” in history.

I suppose what it comes down to is inclusion. I doubt I’m the only person that truly appreciated CES being an inclusive event for those that could not travel, (in this case, everyone this year) despite the setbacks pointed out by myself others. I will be happy to see CES return to Vegas even though I won’t likely be able to ever go, but I hope that they keep a small door open for the possibility to continue to include virtual attendees that otherwise would not be able to make it due to a multitude of different reasons. Being a part of it, even a small part, was a really cool moment for me that I won’t soon forget. 

Thank you to all of the viewers and subscribers of Laptop Retrospective that gave me the statistics to be eligible to attend. I am very grateful for your support and viewership.

As some of you will know, I took a quick look at the GPD Pocket 2. While I shared most of my thoughts in the video I posted on YouTube there are some additional words I wanted to put to the page.

While I’m likely not the target user for this device in the sense that the compromises it makes I worry about, I think there is a look of good going on from a design point of view and even more places to improve.

  1. Cooling. It was pretty easy to get the fan up to 50dB making it louder than the laptop it was sitting next to on the desk. With the intake fan trying to suck air from under the device I suspect leads it to work extra hard. There is a button to turn off the fan, likely included to “address” this but I further suspect that will lead to thermal throttling. Apparently, there were earlier versions of the Pocket 2 with stronger CPUs that had even greater thermal issues. They were supposedly swapped out as most people were using the device for standard tasks like documents and email. They wanted to prioritize battery life and the target audience.

    GPD Pocket 2 diagram as seen on their official site. Note placement and clearance of the intake for the fan on the bottom of the computer.
  2. The “Human Element” needs additional work. While it might seem like a nitpick, opening the device so far is not easy. There are magnets and a strong hinge holding it shut and with no perch to place your fingertips, it is hard to open without the small worry of dropping it. Granted the design is using every millimetre of space they have, they still need to take into account the ease of use.  If you are a person with little dexterity I think it would be a point of frustration. While there is a good chance it was made that rigid to stand up being used as a touch screen, I think there is still room for improvements to be made in this area.

    A short GIF showing the less-than-easy opening process.
  3. They are very close to “getting it.” GPD did a lot of things right with this, a lot. The screen is amazing, the touchscreen and Blackberry-like mouse control work well (although the buttons require a fair degree of force). The battery life is quite acceptable and overall the build quality, with a few minor issues that aren’t visible, is excellent. 

I look forward to what a Pocket 3 could look like and how they could make it easier to use. Even if it wasn’t 7″ and got slightly bigger, I think it would give them room to address things like keyboard layout, fan noise/thermals as well as general performance. Until then, I think it remains a battle of function versus size.

One announcement at CES 2021 that in my opinion, didn’t get the discussion it deserves, comes from Energysquare which is a small start-up that wants to make wireless charging in laptops mainstream.

Laptop with integrated wireless charging. Note silver-coloured electrodes that make contact with the mat.

Wireless charging is growing more and more common with smaller electronics but in terms of larger ones, the pros and cons are still being decided. This hasn’t stopped Lenovo from jumping on board their plan to offer it in their next generation of ThinkBooks. Both the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i and ThinkBook 13X i will feature Energysquare’s wireless charging technology as an optional addon. But who will really benefit from wireless charging?

Wireless charging technology from Energysquare will be optional on the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i and ThinkBook 13X i
  1. Businesses. Work areas and meeting rooms where plugs are at a premium and playing “kick the cable” is leaving wear marks on your shoes would greatly benefit from this setup. Businesses running older units that don’t have the technology built-in might really like the idea of their “stick-on” solution. It would also reduce cost over time invested in charging cables.
  2. Heavy Home Office. If you do not travel a lot with your laptop, or if it comes home each night to charge then this is a viable option. Having a larger mat like the ones featured in Energysquare’s promotional material would make sense to place your devices on to charge without a mess of cables.
  3. Early adopters. If you sit on the bleeding edge of technology, you probably have considered or have mangled a piece of furniture to hide a wireless charging pad. This would eliminate the need to do so and also as OEMs support the integration of the technology into more devices, provide a sleeker, minimalistic look.

Just like several pieces of technology, however, I think there are some users who are still far away from benefitting from this technology.

  1. Travellers. If you are constantly on the move, taking a wireless charging mat over several chargers may or may not appeal to you. If the charging mat were flexible, lightweight and all of your devices were supported, then it might be a possible solution.
  2. Students. Whether in university or grade school, you are likely going to be surrounded by some dated tech and little personal space, so this might not be the best solution. However, perhaps in the future, there will be smart desks or collaboration tables that include wireless charging for student devices.
  3. The average user. I’m not sure the average person has fully embraced wireless charging yet and may not be until they are forced perhaps with the omission of a charging port from a popular phone brand. The benefits might not be known to the general public or the dwindling list of drawbacks as the technology gets better. Some of the accessories that Energysquare is developing though will make it more attractive and potentially change how we view the technology.
A simple desk lamp that can be placed anywhere on the mat and function could change how we think about wireless technology and our workspaces.

Needless to say, this is one part of laptop technology that I don’t believe is just going to be passing fancy.

Recently I decided it was time to replace my ageing Samsung monitors. I’ve had them for nearly ten years and faint ghosting was starting to occur which was distracting working with white pages or very dark ones. So the hunt began for their successor.

Last summer I had my first experience with a ThinkVision monitor via the M14 Portable Display. That piece of kit literally saved me a week of work. For more information, see my video on it below.

When it came time to pull the trigger, I decided I’d try ThinkVision again and scored two displays for under $500 CDN. The model I settled on was the ThinkVision S27q-10 which is a 27″ display with a 2K resolution. For detailed specs, see this sheet.

Two new ThinkVision monitors on a messy desk.

I have to say my initial impressions are amazing. The 2K screens are sharp and bright without burning holes in the back of my eyes while working in lowlight. They were also absolutely effortless to assemble. I hope to find some time to do a quick little video showing their unboxing and initial impressions. If you are interested in grabbing some for yourself, they can be found here.

By making a purchase through the link above, I may earn a commission through Lenovo’s Allifate program. These monitors were personally purchased and not provided by Lenovo.