This week in Mobile News Manor #19: Ugly laptops are taboo

This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week the talk was all about ugly laptops.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair amount of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

The gear

I missed writing this column last week as I spent most of that week testing the ThinkPad X1 laptop from Lenovo. It was under embargo until this week, so there wasn't much I could share. My full review of the X1 kicked off a firestorm of commentary over the looks of the X1, as my review compared it to the sleek MacBook Air. I made that comparison strictly because the X1 is the thinnest ThinkPad yet, as that is important to some mobile professionals who travel a lot.

The gist of the comments I received for comparing the ThinkPad X1 to the MacBook Air is that since the Air is so attractive, how dare I compare the ugly X1 to it? While amusing, these comments made me realize that with the attractive MacBook line of laptops, Apple has raised the bar and along with it the expectations of many consumers. Building a laptop with good components and good battery life is no longer good enough, consumers want them to be attractive, too.

I like good design as much as the next person, but I admit I was surprised how many folks feel that a laptop's looks are one of the primary attributes that goes into the purchase decision. A few folks told me that laptops are now accessories like clothing and gear bags, and buyers feel they make a statement about who they are.

I ran an informal poll asking readers how important looks are to the laptop buying decision process, and the results reflect the comments the review generated. While 61 percent of respondents claim the capability of the laptop is the main consideration for laptop purchase, the other 39 percent admitted that how attractive the laptop is does play a big role in the purchase decision. A significant 27 percent admit that they would pay extra for an attractive laptop compared to a similar model that is deemed as ugly.

This is not a scientific poll by any means, but with over 550 respondents these numbers have some merit. The poll demonstrates to me that even with a tech-savvy crowd like the readers of this blog, looks are pretty important when it comes to laptops. OEMs better take note.

The biggest gadget news that hit the Manor this week concerns the HTC Flyer tablet. This tablet is HTC's first product in the tablet space and it looks quite nice. The folks at HTC are sending one over for me to test, and I am excited as it should be here later this morning.

I am looking forward to giving the Flyer a spin as I have a definite affection for 7-inch tablets. My Galaxy Tab is still one of the most heavily used gadgets I own, and that is largely due to the form factor. The Flyer brings that form to a tablet running the Gingerbread version of Android, something I am excited to test. I am also a fan of the HTC Sense interface on smartphones, and the Flyer has the newest version of Sense updated to fit the larger tablet screen.

The feature HTC has built into the Flyer that no other Android tablet has is the pen that is used for digital inking. Being the long-time inking fan I am, this will be a great feature to test to determine how good the HTC implementation is for a first shot. I am particularly interested in the HTC note-taking app that uses digital ink made with the pen. The app syncs with Evernote, and this could be a great capability for mobile workers taking notes in meetings.

Apps of the week

I didn't find a new app this week that has caught my attention, or rather I did find one that I can't have. One of the biggest complaints about the BlackBerry PlayBook I am testing is the lack of apps, and the lack of a good Twitter app in particular. I saw a demo of the Tweedless app being run on a PlayBook and it looked like an app that would fit my needs.

Unfortunately, Tweedless is no longer available in the App World for the PlayBook. This is very surprising given how short a time the PlayBook has been on the market. I couldn't find a reason for the developer pulling it off the market but it is no longer available. If anyone knows what happened to Tweedless leave a comment. It is highly unusual when a new app goes away like this one.

Ebook of the week

This week I started a new detective series that is turning out to be pretty good. Darkness on the Edge of Town by J. Carson Black starts a series with Arizona DPS detective Laura Cardinal, and it is a good story of a serial killer who comes to the small town America. The novel brings the reader into the process of solving a brutal murder, with lots of twists and turns along the way.


That's the week as it went down in Mobile News Manor. I will try to get something written quickly about the HTC Flyer later today as I many have asked me about this unique tablet. This column will be back next week on Friday, so until then be safe.

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