Outlet addicts: Laptop owners who don't get the concept

Outlet addicts: Laptop owners who don't get the concept

Summary: A familiar scene: A laptop user in a coffee shop or airport terminal with a power cord stretched out dangerously to the inconveniently placed outlet. Odds are that the laptop is already fully charged.

Power outlet
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

In the early days of laptops, battery life was horrible. Many of them would struggle to get two hours on a charge — and that was freshly out of the box. As those batteries aged, and it didn't take very long, those two hours would turn into one, or less. This short battery life conditioned users to never get too far from a power outlet, and we rarely used the laptop without plugging it in.

Fast forward a few years and the situation has vastly improved. Most laptops can last at least five hours on a charge. The days of racing from one power outlet to the next are behind us.

So why do so many laptop owners still plug in no matter where they are?

Outlet addicts admit to me that they get downright anxious if they can't find an outlet, even if their battery is full. They go from venue to venue, plugging in the laptop everywhere they land.

It's that conditioning in years past that turned a lot of laptop owners into what I refer to as outlet addicts. These folks immediately scope out a power outlet when they go mobile and arrange their work space around it. Even if they have to precariously perch their precious laptop to reach the outlet, then that's what they do. They will even string the power cord dangerously (often for fellow patrons) to reach the far-flung outlet. It doesn't matter how short a time they plan to work in a particular place, if the laptop is out of the bag, it is immediately plugged in.

You've no doubt seen this quite a bit if you work in public venues a lot. Like me, you've probably assumed that their battery was nearly empty and they desperately needed to top it off to get through the day. That's the only reasonable explanation for going to all the trouble to get plugged in, even exposing the laptop to possible accidents. Some will even ask patrons close to an outlet to change places with them.

I'll bet when traveling that you've seen more than one laptop user sitting on the floor next to what seems to be the only power outlet in the entire airport terminal. They've got the laptop propped on their knee or luggage, with the cord tethered to the precious outlet. Appearances are that they are charging their depleted battery so that they can work on the plane.

The truth is often quite different. I regularly ask these laptop owners in airports or other public venues if their battery is running low. More often than not, I am told that the battery is in fact full. They are just plugging in to keep it topped off just in case they can't find an outlet somewhere later.

Reality is that they rarely use the laptop in the manner for which it is designed, to work untethered on battery power. That conditioning mentioned earlier is in full force in outlet addicts, and they always have an overwhelming need to plug in. Some of them admit to me that they get downright anxious if they can't find an outlet, even if their battery is full. They go from venue to venue, plugging in the laptop everywhere they land. Just in case.

To be fair, those with older laptops may need to plug in as their old battery probably doesn't last very long. When I mention that my laptop gets six or seven hours on a charge, these folks get a wistful look and invariably comment that if theirs could do that, they'd never need an outlet. When I confess I never bring a power adapter with me on day trips, some of them get a look of panic at the thought.

I suspect that many of these laptop users are true outlet addicts, though. I'll bet they'd be plugging in all the time, even if they had a new laptop with six-plus hours of battery life. I see it happening all the time with new laptops tethered. Anxiety is an angry master.

I am convinced that this fear of running out of power on the laptop has been a driving force behind the rapid adoption of tablets. It's very uncommon to see any tablet user plugging in at public venues, thanks to the extended battery life the devices provide. When asked, a common reason given by tablet owners for switching to the tablet from a laptop is the battery life. The tablet has relieved the anxiety caused by the laptop. No outlet required.

Related story

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets

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  • Refill the tank of my car even if it's 1/3 full

    Why ? Because I don't know where the next gas station is ? It's that easy. Ask a Tesla car driver. She knows better.
    Same goes for laptops. As stated, old batteries often enough don't even make it beyond 1h and how does the author know whether the battery was fully charged or not ?
    • Exactly!

      Hence I am a proud outlet addict.
      • It's all about me

        I once heard a patient at a clinic I worked at complain there was no FREE WiFi for them to use and actually threaten to take their business elsewhere.

        People are getting out of hand with their devices on my opinion, and this is coming from a 15 year veteran of IT. Do you know what I do when my phone dies? I don't use is. Do you know what I do when I have a really important project to work on on my laptop? I use it at work or at home where I know there is an outlet if I need it, I don't roll the dice hoping there are available resources in a public place. Come prepared and take responsibility for your own needs, don't put the onus on someone else. We as a society seem to be 'all about me' and do not consider that maybe someone else wants to sit at that coffee table with their friends that you are tying up for hours on end (potentially losing profits for the business with your free refills), or maybe someone could trip over your cord, or perhaps do any of you consider that people don't want to hear someone else typing loudly or watching videos/listening to music without headphones?
        • Nobody cares what you do, Randy.

          • The Ambassador has spoken

            ..and I assume you have been elected as voice for the world? kthanksbye.
          • Here, let me fix that for you


            There. Another internet user saved from incorrectly using a meme.
          • Allow me to correct your correction.


            I've been using kthanksbye longer than the trendy internet MEME has been around. Thanks for playing.
          • kthxbai is keyboard warrior speak

            It is an acronym or cheeky abbreviation and has been around 12 years.
          • Can we just agree...

            ... on l8r?
          • I want to be like you, Randy.

            You're so awesome. Do you want to know what I do? Whatever Randy does. Because Randy is awesome.
          • Rational or a Ration of BS?

            Rational guy is not so rational in his/her/its responses.
          • Please tell me what I should think, Randy.

            Do you know what I think? Whatever Randy does. Because Randy is awesome.
        • Well said, randy -- and Mr. Kendrick's article speaks well, too

          I saw a lot of outlet addicts at the airports last week. They were mostly smartphone users, though. Didn't see but four tablets. Saw hundreds of very small netbooks/ultrabooks/laptops (less than 14"), and maybe one Surface (or iPad, not sure which).

          Moi, I took my 1.5 lb., 8.9" Acer A0A 150 netbook and two 9-cell batteries, and yes I took the cord but I never charged the thing during the four-day trip. The 9-cell battery is raised and clunky but it makes the machine much easier to type on, and provides extra room for the fan underneath, to keep the machine cool. If I had used it continuously, the two batteries would have together given me 16 hours. Each battery cost about $30. Charges fully in 2 hours or less.

          Normally I don't put the battery in the machine, when running on AC. For the duty cycle is the number of charges (about 300 of them).

          What freedom.
          • The duty cycle and the Kendrick ignorance.

            This is battery care 101 and applies to all LiOn and NiCads. You don't have to remove the battery brainout, leave it in, it will make sure the battery stays fully charged. A cycle is one full charge and discharge, if you keep your laptop plugged in with a fully charged battery, there will be zero cycles (with or without the battery). And pay attention here James, cus this is where you miss the boat... The fewer cycles you place upon your battery, the longer it will last, and it will hold charges longer (for those times when you don't have it plugged in). Occasionally (say once a month or so) it is good to do a full discharge followed by a full charge, this lets the computer know where the top and bottom of the battery are... Those people who plug in are actually doing it for a reason other than they may need to. All of my portables/gadgets stay plugged in when they are not on my person and moving and I never have battery issues when I travel and am away from an outlet for extended periods of time. (but I still plug in whenever I can/convenient)

            So what did we learn James? Keep it plugged in and your battery will be happier and last longer.
        • A rebuttal....

          I've worked in I.T. for over 20 years myself and I don't have a big problem with people going mobile with their devices. Every time I'm at a doctor's office, I'm expected to wait a huge amount of time to see the person I paid to see. The least they can do is provide free wi-fi. I mean, come on! I got my last wireless router free with a coupon Micro Center gave out last holiday season! This stuff is cheap to deploy!

          We've come a long way from having to work from a big, clunky machine taking up most of a desk. It's good to see people making efficient use of the time they'd otherwise waste while waiting for appointments and such.
        • Complaint

          I would not complain if there was little or no wait, otherwise I would take my business elsewhere without complaining.
    • Yup.

      Not only that, but the capacity drops after a year and most of us have laptops that are more than ONE year old. My laptop used to last 3 hours... not great, sure, but it's even worse now only lasting little over 1 hour. And laptop batteries are ridiculously overpriced. $150 for a battery? I think not, I'd rather just keep it plugged.
    • read the artical first

      read it.

      "I regularly ask these laptop owners in airports or other public venues if their battery is running low. More often than not, I am told that the battery is in fact full."
  • Performance

    The other side is performance. If you are only web browsing etc. then it doesn't matter, but if you are loading up RAW files from your camera into Lightroom, for example, then either it takes an age, or you tell the OS to ignore the power saving settings and boost performance, whilst gobbling through the remaining battery life at a rate of knots.

    There are a lot of times, when I'm on the move, that I need to do something require "turbo boost", which kills the battery. Likewise, on a trip to Ireland recently, I used the laptop plugged into the mains in my hotel room, not because I needed the performance, but because there was only 30% battery left and I knew the chances of me getting to a socket during the next days meetings was virtually nill, so I let it charge up.

    By the end of the meetings and typing up some notes at the airport, the battery was down from 100% to 15%, if I hadn't taken the opportunity to "top up" the battery in the hotel, I'd have been left high and dry.
    • RAW?

      Why do folks use RAW rather than raw. RAW is not an acronym, and we do not write RAW meat, RAW courage, RAW anything, we use raw. It is a raw file, not edited, not futzed with, same as anything that is classified as raw.

      Sometimes I think folks follow others without giving any thought to what others are saying or writing. Yes, I know it is raw of me to mention that.