Monday, February 01, 2010

Small, Medium, and Large

My three mobile computers, left to right: a smartphone (overpriced Apple iPhone 3G), a netbook (refurbished Acer Aspire One), and a laptop (piece-of-crap Lenovo Thinkpad T61p).

Lest you think I'm one of those ultra-early adopters who just has to have the latest shiny new gadget, let me point out that I acquired each of these machines for very specific reasons.

The iPhone (left) I got last May, right before our trip to Europe for Jeff and Marina's wedding. My old phone wasn't quad-band or GSM-capable, so I couldn't use it internationally; but that was also a convenient excuse to upgrade. My former employer had issued me a Blackberry for a couple of years, and I'd enjoyed having a "smartphone" to check my e-mail and calendar. For the record, the apps I use most these days are any of three Twitter clients (to access different accounts) and Google Maps--the latter especially for traffic updates, which our Prius' 2005 navigation system doesn't have. It's helped us on more than one Friday afternoon, when deciding whether to drive back from Portland during rush hour or wait it out somewhere.

The laptop (right) I got in early 2008, right after leaving my aforementioned former employer. I'd been using my work laptop, a very reliable IBM Thinkpad T43, for over four years, and I decided to stick with the same make. Or so I thought. Turns out that after Lenovo bought the Thinkpad brand from IBM, their products pretty much went to crap. I've griped and ranted about this before--the motherboard's already died once, as has the battery, and Lenovo's problems with wireless networking are well documented. But it did cost me a pretty penny, so I plan to run this clunker until it literally starts falling apart, and then I'll replace it with something better.

The netbook (center) is a recent acquisition from Woot. It's refurbished, but hasn't given me any problems yet (knock on wood). I got it for two main reasons: 1) to have a separate, dedicated webcam server; and 2) to have a backup portable unit when I need to take the laptop in for repairs again. (I fully expect that to happen at least once more before I retire it. I ponied up for the two-year extended warranty, and I'm going to get my money's worth, dammit.) Actually, there's also a third reason: to see if netbooks are actually usable in the long term. I played with an XO laptop a couple of years ago, and was not impressed with the interface, but the idea of a small portable that's actually useful continued to be compelling.

The funny thing is, the netbook has at least as much memory and processing power as both of my desktop machines (not pictured): a 2003 Dell PC and a 2005 Mac Mini (PowerPC, not Intel). They're both still creaking along, but playing full-screen video or running more than three applications at a time will bring them to their knees. I'm not looking forward to upgrading either of them, because it'll mean transferring a lot of data, reinstalling a whole mess of software, and probably a lot of cursing when things go wrong.

I like using technology. I'm not so excited about having to maintain it.

Finally, to answer the inevitable question: What do I think of the iPad? Meh. (Though it's been great for inspiring sarcastic hipster commentary.) As shown above, I don't really need yet another mobile computer right now. And especially not one that costs twice as much as my netbook did, but is only marginally more useful than my phone.

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