Do I really fit the laptop use case?

I’ve almost had this laptop for a year now. Feels like a good time to evaluate how good or bad of a purchase it was.
My main concern is that for the majority of my usage scenarios, laptops actually are the suboptimal solution.
In buying a laptop again, I had hoped for several benefits, namely:

  1. That I would be able to move the machine around when I needed to. That I would be less “tied to the desk”
  2. That it was quiet
  3. That it would be powerful enough for all the things I need it for

Looking back, I’m not sure all of these benefits were fully realized. It is true that I can take it around anywhere when I need to, (and I have on many occasions), but there are still some limiting factors.

  1. I have lots of peripherals.. keyboard, mouse, external monitor, external hard drive, etc. while all these are not strictly necessary, it seems most of the time I’m using the machine, I’d prefer to use these if I can.. which esentially turns it into a desktop.
  2. Battery life still isn’t good enough.. so I have to bring the power adapter around. This, for me, makes it feel that it’s not truly portable.
  3. There just aren’t many situations where I go out and need a full computer. 80% of the reason I leave my appt is either for a) going to work, b) grocery shopping, c) going out to eat. During these times, I rarely need a computer. And if I do, it doesn’t have to be that great.. something with email, a decent web-browser, and ssh would do.

Aside from those reasons, I think the other major disappointment is #3 from the first list. It’s just not powerful enough. When I bought it, it seemed like it would be fine, but then Aperture came out, and iTunes videos came out, and 1080p h.264 came out.. I keep wondering what it would have been like to own a dual g5 instead. Maybe this is just due to bad timing with the PB still only having g4’s when I bought it.
So in conclusion, maybe laptop’s just aren’t meant for me. I tried the desktop + PDA thing before, but I think the flaw there was that my PDA didn’t have connectivity (well, it had wi-fi, but in practice, that was only available in my room, which made it useless. The next solution I probably need to try is desktop + connected PDA/smartphone.
Though I write this as I’m sitting on my comfy ikea chair (definitely not possible had I gone with a powermac).. I compare myself to my friends who use smaller laptops but take them everywhere. I look at my own and notice that it’s got a layer of dust because it’s been sitting on my desk for the past two weeks.
The other way I could possibly go, of course, is to get rid of my external monitor.. and try to be a laptop only person. Aside from the small problem that I feel like I need at least one display device around to debug my media center when necessary, it just feels like an uncomfortable solution overall. Can’t really put my finger on exactly why though.
Maybe it helps to enumerate the solution space:

  1. desktop only: This is how it was in the good old days. Didn’t have much problem with it, cuz that’s all you could hope to do. These days, it’s useful to have at least email access while on the go, so not really a good solution here.
  2. desktop + laptop: Tried this in school. Had the sony 505Z + my regular desktop. Ended up using the desktop 99% of the time. A couple caveats: wifi wasn’t really prevalent at the time, the battery life of the sony was pretty shitty, and there were terminals all around campus anyways so there wasn’t much point bringing a laptop around.
  3. desktop + pda (non-connected): Tried this with the Zaurus. The Zaurus also could be connected at times (like when I was on campus and had my wi-fi card) but it was annoying to have to carry it around along with my cell phone. Also, it’s email client blew. I ended up using the terminal + ssh + pine. When it was offline, it seemed utterly useless to me. Maybe I got the wrong PDA.
  4. desktop + pda/smartphone
  5. laptop + pda/smartphone: This seems redundant. Synching between two portable devices seems like a hassle. At least with a desktop, you can assume the location of one endpoint to be relatively fixed.. with a laptop, it just sounds like an organizational nightmare.
  6. laptop only: haven’t really tried this yet.. but having a single point of failure kind of scares me. Also, laptops are too easy to break.

What I want when I’m at home is performance, reliability, durability, and cost-effectiveness. What I want when I’m on the road is connectivity, basic functionality, and durability. The more I think about it, the more the desktop+smartphone seems like the right solution…
Or maybe the real answer is: trying to use a laptop like a desktop is just a bad idea. If I’ve got a laptop, I should maximise its usefulness as a laptop, and purposefully not keep it tied to desk because I wan’t desktop-like features. But then if I try to use my laptop as my main machine (which I do now), that means the external 20inch monitor I have will just go unused.
I hate how you just can’t have it all. You either get devices that are on the two extremes (a la a desktop and a smartphone) and hope the combination ends up as something useful.. or you get a laptop that does a mediocre job in all situations and live with it.

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