This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below.

Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56.

https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml

One of the longest-running metrics for keyboard quality, especially on laptops has been key travel. While key travel plays an incredibly important part, I’ve had a hard time believing it was the only one. I know for example that there are many fans of what is considered the classic IBM/ThinkPad 7-row keyboard before it was changed to the design we have today. When that design changed occurred, strong opinions emerged and that didn’t result in any significant change to key travel. If you want an in-depth look at the differences between these two keyboards, I strongly recommend this article from Laptopmag.com: https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/thinkpad-type-off-is-lenovos-new-island-style-keyboard-better-or-worse

Lenovo at the time also published a 5-pager which you can read here: Lenovo-Keyboard_Change-Is-Hard-Why-You-Should-Give-In-to-the-New-ThinkPad-Keyboard They outline the work that went into the redesign of the keyboard if you have never read it.

In the article above they examined several different metrics and came to the conclusion that the newer keyboard was not a step backward. In fact, the key travel between the two keyboards is identical, but the strong opinions remain for some, thus another factor must be at work. Now, getting back to our article from the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.

The present results suggest that key travel alone does not predict biomechanical outcomes and that key mechanism and activation force are also important factors in key switch design.

The results from the study were very interesting considering the common trend among reviewers and I suspect the industry as a whole is to discuss key travel as the main metric to measure the quality of the keyboard. Many companies like Dell have come up with some interesting ideas such as the use of magnets on their keyboards to maintain a good tactile feel while reducing travel. Others like Apple have ended up being in the news over their butterfly switches and their failure rate.

Specifically, the 2 devices with the same short travel (0.55 mm) had the largest differences across most muscles, though this difference was relatively small (<1.0% MVC). These 2 devices differed in activation force and mechanism: Tablet S had a dome switch mechanism and a higher activation force than Notebook S, which had a butterfly switch mechanism. Similarly, this study found that key travel distance was not strictly associated with typing force, typing performance, or perceived experience, as Tablet S was associated with the worst results across these measures compared with the other 3 devices.

In short, other factors such as the switch mechanism and how it relates to activation force potentially play a larger role than just key travel alone. Some might wish to equate a longer key travel with a greater activation force but that isn’t how spring mechanisms work.

Cherry MX Brown Switch Components. Note the spring included that makes up the core of the force required. Daniel beardsmore / http://deskthority.net/wiki/User:Daniel_beardsmore, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Let us consider the classic example of a keyboard with an actual spring in the switch for sake of simplicity. If we look at Hooke’s Law which is used to calculate spring constants, F = -kΔx where F= force in Newtons, -k= Spring Constant and Δx= the change in spring length, we can see from this relationship that depending on the spring, we can change how much force is required for a specific change in distance. Now for further math-related content regarding keyboards and force, I strongly suggest you spend some time looking at the work done by Javier De Leon at the University of Alaska.

http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/211_fall_2018/Javi_De_Leon/javier_deleon/Title_Page.html

If seeing classic  keyboard switches gutted are your thing, you might want to check out this article that shows the switch designs of several classic ThinkPad keyboards including the 701C

https://deskthority.net/viewtopic.php?t=15457

Turning out attention to the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which has key travel of 1.35mm, the mechanism gives it a positive typing experience. One of the “key” criticisms of the newer ThinkPads is the reduced key travel on the thinner models. While thinning a laptop down objectively leaves less room for key travel and some traditional activation mechanisms, we shouldn’t count out innovation to find solutions to these problems.

With pre-orders open to most countries for the Framework Laptop, I’ve been reading some criticism (some serious, some not) on the module design that Framework has created.

Some have stated that the creation of these “pockets” in the body of the laptop is a gimmick and does not truly add meaningful functionality, but I am tempted to disagree. While the concept is simple to execute, it has large implications on how these machines can be configured.

One way to look at this is to peer back into history when, not at computers, but military load-bearing equipment or LBE for short. It wasn’t until recently that this equipment adopted a similar idea to the Framework Laptop known as modularity. Many armies traditionally have had bags or satchels and at best, sewn on pockets to a vest or harness, but these pockets could not be moved or swapped out, so every soldier had the same equipment, but not the same mission.

Over time this got better, but the position and availability of the pockets were often limited to proprietary systems that offered no interchangeability.

Diagram of the Canadian ’82 Pattern web gear. While somewhat configurable, you were limited to the pockets that were created for it and placement on the belt only.
The Canadian Forces “Tac Vest” that was issued after the ’82 Pattern was not a large improvement. All pouches were sewn on with the exception of the bayonet carrier and two large side pouches. There was no compatibility with other systems.

The standard practice of MOLLE and other systems brought about huge change in how a soldier could configure their gear. Using a “basket-weaving” style method, you could now swap pouches and pockets to change up the load of equipment you carried without too much difficulty. To me, this is what Framework is trying to do with their laptop.

The MODULAR FIGHTING ORDER CARRIER RIG (MOFOCR) from CP Gear. This can be configured and reconfigured in any way the user requires. Only limited to the pouches they have on hand. Compatible with multiple systems.

In short, I am hoping more people are willing to give this concept a chance. It has a lot of merit to be able to configure the machine to perform in a variety of different situations and tasks where ports truly matter. It could also impact how businesses would deploy a fleet of machines and be able to swap ports between them. Not to mention if a module is used frequently, it could also reduce wear on the USB-C port that would otherwise be used with a dongle on a frequent basis.

Since I first posted about the Framework Laptop, many details have been released. Here is everything we know so far about this laptop. Currently, Framework is preparing for pre-orders. You can find out more information in their article here.

Feb
25

The Framework Laptop, a modular laptop in 2021

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 […]

1. 1080 Webcam

The Framework Laptop will have a 1080P 60fps camera. Produced by Partron  in South Korea, it will have the following  specifications:

  • 1/6″ OmniVision OV2740 sensor
  • 80° diagonal f/2.0 four-element lens, using a blue glass IR filter for improved colour performance
  • Realtek RTS5853 camera controller
  • Hardware privacy switch for the camera and microphone array
The camera and microphone array. Image from Framework Blog.

2. The Motherboard

The motherboard planned is designed to be removed and replaced with other motherboards of the same form factor. It also sports:

  • Removable memory modules
  • Tiger Lake CPUs at launch (i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, i7-1185G7)
  • Thermal system designed for 28W continuous load
  • 65mm x 5.5mm cooling fan
The motherboard from the Framework laptop. Note the larger cooling fan and dual memory modules on the same side of the board. Image from Framework Blog.

In terms of other items such as SSDs, WiFi cards and more, see the summary below:

  • You can buy  the Framework Laptop without RAM, SSD or WiFi so you can use your own parts
  • M.2 2280 PCIe Gen 4 NVMe (up to 7,000MB/s and write speeds of up to 5,300MB/s)
  • Prebuilt models will ship with Western Digital’s SN730
  • 2 SO-DIMM sockets supporting DDR4 DRAM at up to DDR4-3200. Maximum of 64GB of RAM over 32GB modules
  • Prebuilt models will ship with Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron
  • WiFi is handled by support for 2×2 WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E modules through an M.2 2230 socket

3. The Keyboard

The keyboard of any laptop is an essential component as you spend more time touching it than any other part of the machine. Here is what we know about the keyboard on the Framework laptop:

  • 1.5mm key travel
  • Backlit
  • Keyboard and top decks will be available for purchase
  • US English, UK English, International English, French, French Canadian, Korean, Chinese Pinyin, Chinese Traditional, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin American, and Dutch Belgian variants are being planned
  • Completely black and clear keyboards will also be available
The keyboard of the Framework laptop. Image from Framework Blog.

4. Storage Expansion Cards

One of the eye-catching design choices of the Framework Laptop is the expansion modules. These allow for functionality and ports to be swapped on the fly through the use of the USB-C form-factor. Several modules like USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD are already planned and now they have added storage to this list. 250GB and 1TB are the current sizes being tested.

  • Cards being made by BizLink and Phison
  • U17 Flash Controller, N28 NAND
  • 1TB card exceeds 1000MB/s read and write
  • 250GB clocks in at  1000MB/s read and 375 MB/s write
Storage card about to be inserted into one of the slots on the Framework Laptop. Image from Framework Blog.

5. 3:2 Display

Let’s get right to the point. This display looks amazing. To remove it, simply remove a magnetic bezel and four fasteners.

  • BOE’s 13.5” 2256×1504 LCD
  • 1500:1 contrast
  • 100% coverage of sRGB
  • Lay flat design (180-degree hinge)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • DC mode backlight controller to avoid flicker
  • 400 nit 
  • Bezel colour options available
The Framework Laptop flat on a table with its 180-degree hinge. Image from Framework Blog.

6. The Power Adapter

Power adapters are important, for without them, you have a paperweight. Here is what we know about the adapter that will be bundled with the Framework Laptop:

  • 60W 20V/3A USB-C (USB-PD 3.0 and PPS)
  • Developed in partnership with Phihong
  • 58mm x 58mm x 27mm
  • Modular cable options for different regions and is replaceable from both ends or the brick itself
The inside of the Framework charger. Image from Framework Blog.

I first encountered the name Steve Hamm when I was doing research on a ThinkPad to track down and cover for the channel. I had consulted several lists to see what would be some fun and unique models to try and acquire that weren’t overly expensive. There are some really cool ThinkPads out there, but some are simply not being sold online or if they are, go for significant amounts of money, ready for museums.

I settled on learning more about the ThinkPad X300 and quickly, after a few searches in a variety of places, one of them being YouTube, I found there was little in the way of recent coverage and discussion about the X300 and its underappreciated role in laptop design. However, one of the items I did find was a talk that Steve Hamm gave on the Microsoft Research channel. You can find the full video below.

After watching the first hour of Steve’s talk, I was intrigued. Steve had been a technology journalist for over 20 years at the point to wrote “The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer.” Then I saw the cover of the book and found a digital copy of the dust jacket. The book was primarily focused on the X300, I thought I couldn’t have asked for a better resource. At the end of the project, it was a tie between the treasure-trove of the book and talking to David Hill (who was the head of design at the time for IBM/Lenovo) about the X300.

The front cover of the book featuring the Lenovo ThinkPad X300.

One thing you need to understand is the book is more than just about the X300. If you want to understand the history of portable computing or ThinkPad development, you need to read this book. The stories and people that he interviewed for the book at first might not seem interconnected but it helps you build an understanding and appreciation for what Lenovo was able to accomplish in the X300. Going all the way back to the early days of portable computing up to what was the present day at the time of publishing gives a crystal clear picture of the significance of computers like the X300. This isn’t just about one laptop, it is a history of mobile computing.

Steve had exclusive access to multiple key people on the X300 project, David Hill included. Originally he was at Lenovo to interview the chairman who just recently completed the purchase of IBM’s PC division. His schedule was packed, but he had a few minutes where he was taken down to the design lab, this is where he and David would meet for the first time. When I spoke to David Hill, he told me about how far Steve’s access went.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They brought him down to the design lab and said, “Hey, this is Steve Hamm, he is from BusinessWeek Magazine, he’s got like, 20 minutes, can you show him something?”

I’m like, okay. So I said, “So what can I show him?”

“Well he’s on a Non-Disclosure-Agreement so you can show him anything.”

So I showed him what were were doing and he was so fascinated with it, he said, “I want to write a book about it.”

So we gave him a complete, insider view of exactly what was happening. He went to Japan and he went to Italy and he met with Richard Sapper, he met with Naihtoh-son. It was kind of funny, I had an interlock call with Naihtoh-son we had a regular kind of call when meeting about various kinds of topics and he said, “Hey do you know this guy Steve Hamm?” and I said “Yeah I do.”

“I met him in Japan, he knows everything.”

I said, “Yeah, he does. We’ve been talking to him and showing him all this stuff. What did you do?”

“Well I figured it must be okay, so I showed him everything.”

David Hill would go on to say that this was completely counter to anything that IBM would have ever allowed. If you haven’t seen my video review of this book, please consider watching it below.

Steve mentions this in the Microsoft Research video above when he talks about the book, but one of the great things about “The Race for Perfect” is he was able to interview and get these accounts first hand from the people that were there with very few exceptions. I will leave the final word with Steve Hamm as it personifies how I felt when I sat down with David Hill to talk to him regarding his role in the X300.

These people are incredible inventors and they need to be remembered. 

-Steve Hamm

I hope you enjoy the interview, it was a lot of fun talking to Steve and I am infinitely grateful for the generous gift of his time and sharing. For those looking for an audio version of the interview, you can find it below or click here for the mp3.

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.

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 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.

Alan Kay, the brain behind Dynabook talked about laptop weight before the word laptop came into common usage. I remember reading in “The Race for Perfect” by Steve Hamm♦ when researching the ThinkPad X300 a story about him testing weight that people would be willing to carry:

“Using a book as a model, Kay taped together a cardboard mockup of what the Dynabook computer might look like, and filled it with lead shotgun pellets until he decided that he
had reached the limit of what people would be willing to carry around. The optimal weight he decided on: two pounds.”

Two pounds for reference is 907 grams or under one-kilogram. It wouldn’t be for decades after Kay’s measurements that computers would be that light.

At CES this year, there are several manufacturers chasing after the one-kilogram laptop. Both HP and Lenovo have put new entries into the ring to challenge the LG gram. Here is a short breakdown of these two challengers.

 

HP Elite Dragonfly Max

Reportedly coming in under one kilogram is the HP Elite Dragonfly Max. Little is currently known about the Dragonfly Max beyond what is in the table below. Out of all of the laptops, it is the only one that hasn’t been released and pricing isn’t currently available. I’ve included the fine print regarding its inclusion into this comparison in the chart below.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

Not shying away from the lightweight competition is the long-rumoured and awaited X1 Nano. Unlike the HP Dragonfly Max, fully spec’d out only puts it 1g over the one-kilogram mark. While it might lack in ports, it has the nicest screen available between the three models and is also tied for the thinnest on the list. It is also the only one that features Thunderbolt 4 and a touch screen.

The first laptop that most people think of that made the weight part of the branding is of course the LG gram, which I talked about in an earlier article here. The only one that is fair to compare by weight is listed below:

  Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano HP Dragonfly Max LG gram 14
(14Z90P)
Display Size 13-inch 13.3-inch 14-inch
LCD

13.0″ 2K Touchscreen (2160 x 1350) IPS, glossy touchscreen with Dolby Vision™, 450 nits, 100% sRGB

13.0″ 2K (2160 x 1350) IPS, anti-glare with Dolby Vision™, 450 nits, 100% sRGB

13.3-inch HD (1920 x 1080) display WUXGA (1920 x 1200) IPS, DCI-P3 99 percent (Typical)
Aspect
Ratio
16:10 16:9 16:10
Weight
  • Non-touch: 1.99 lb / 907 g
  • Touch models: 2.14 lb / 969 g
  • WWAN non-touch: 2.07 lb / 939 g
  • WWAN touch: 2.21 lb / 1001 g
Under 1kg. Weight will vary by configuration. UHD panel or HP Sure View Reflect, 32GB memory base units, WWAN, 4-cell battery, and 512GB SSD or higher not available on configurations starting at less than 1kg. 999g (2.2lbs)
Size
  • Non-touch: 12.72″ x 8.54″ x 0.55-0.66″ / 292.8mm x 207.7mm x 13.87-16.7mm
  • Touch: 12.72″ x 8.54″ x 0.56-0.68″ / 292.9mm x 207.8mm x 14.27-17.2mm
 Not currently known. 313.4 x 215.2 x16.8mm
(12.34 x 8.47 x 0.66 inches)
Battery 65Wh 4 cell. Not currently known. 72Wh
CPU 11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
GPU Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Memory 8/16GB
Up to 32GB 8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)
Storage M.2  SSD slot (NVMeTM) 1TB Max M.2 SSD slot (NVMeTM) 2TB Max M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)
Colour Black, Black with Carbon-Fiber Weave on top cover (available on Touch models only) Dragonfly Blue, Black White, Silver, Black
Keyboard Backlit Backlit Backlit
I/O Port

2 x USB4 Thunderbolt™ 4, Headphone / mic combo

USB 3.1 charging port, 2 x USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports,  HDMI 1.4b USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD, ThunderboltTM 4), USB
3.2 Gen2x1(x2), HDMI, microSD/UFS, HP-Out
USP Fingerprint Reader, Optional: WWAN LTE 5G / LTE 4G CAT9, WLAN: WiFi 6 AX201 802.11AX (2 x 2), Bluetooth® 5.1, Hybrid infrared (IR) / 720p HD with webcam privacy cover

Optional 5G, 5MP webcamera

Fingerprint Reader, DTS X
Ultra, Wi-Fi 6

Please note I have attempted to leave the text untouched in terms of how it was formatted in the original press releases.

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