How Thin Does Your Laptop Really Need to Be?
As laptops go on extreme diets, you need to ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice in ports, power and battery life.
How do I put this nicely? Your laptop could stand to lose a few…ounces.
It’s the truth: Compared with the new wave of insanely thin laptops, even your once-svelte MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13 looks like Garfield after a lasagna lunch. Apologies if this causes them any self-esteem issues.
Earlier this month, HP began selling the Spectre, “the world’s thinnest laptop,” according to the company. At 0.41 inch thin, it’s as flat as a single breakfast pancake—bananas not included. More impressive, it doesn’t skimp on processing power, like Apple’s new MacBook does.
HP executives have focused their efforts on out-innovating the premium laptop maker. Yes, the MacBook is 0.1 inch fatter than the Windows 10-powered Spectre. To the naked eye, that means nothing. Even with a 5X magnifying glass and tape measure, I could barely spot the difference.
It’s why I’ve long felt technology’s thinolympics has been a waste of time. “Our new product is so much thinner than the competition that you can fit one more sheet of paper into your messenger bag! You’ll need to make room for the charger, though, since we cut out some battery. Sorry!”
The equation has long been: Thinner + lighter = poorer performance + shorter battery life. Both the Spectre and the MacBook, updated in April, still require you to make some sacrifices. But the trade-offs no longer outweigh the benefits of owning a laptop that could double as a cheese knife—if that’s what you want.
Other than the headphone jack, the MacBook has just one USB port—and it’s not even the kind you’re familiar with. The size of a Tic Tac, the USB Type-C port is used to charge the laptop and attach peripherals, including an external display.
We’ll get over the limited port situation just like we got over the disappearance of DVD drives. (Remember those?) But in the here and now, there are two issues.
First, since the port is uncommon, you can’t do things you take for granted, like plugging an iPhone into your computer with the regular USB cable. Second, one port just wasn’t enough for me. The best solution? Purchase a hub with full-size USB ports and an SD card slot, like the $50 Hyperdrive USB Type-C 5-in-1 Hub.
Apple should take a page from HP’s port playbook: The Spectre has three USB Type-C ports along its back, two of which are capable of handling more power than the MacBook’s. And if you buy the Spectre from Best Buy, a USB-Type-C-to-regular-USB adapter is included in the box.
The MacBook and the Spectre represent the laptop stripped to its barest parts: screen and keyboard. Yet they’re not like the tablet-keyboard combos, which fail at the whole sitting-on-your-lap thing. The traditional clamshell design makes these a pleasure to use—if you can get used to a few ergonomic shortcomings of their own.
The MacBook’s sturdier, more attractive build is tarnished by a keyboard that looks like it’s been flattened by a dough roller. To make the underside razor-thin, the keys were chopped off and redesigned with a mechanism that aims to recreate the feedback and bounce of real keys. It took some getting used to, but three months in, my hands were so comfortable, it felt a little weird going back to the MacBook Air.