My old netbook is dying. For some months it’s been telling me that ‘this device can perform faster’ if I plug it in to a high speed USB port, although there’s nothing plugged in. Over the past few weeks the screen has been doing funny things, too, looking as though it has sideways motion blur, for example, and it responds to percussive maintenance in the form of a smart tap, which is generally a bad sign for solid state electronics devices. So, time to move on. My previous netbook died at the beginning of 2011, so it’s had a reasonable innings of three years.
The netbook that died in 2011 was my first, and in many ways the nicest. It was a very compact little Toshiba. The keyboard was cramped, and the battery life was only three hours, but otherwise it was absolutely brilliant, and it enabled me to write on the move, without having to lug a great big laptop around with me. At the time, the trend in laptops was for them to be increasingly powerful, with a corresponding increase in weight, so that the average lap was no longer strong enough to support one. Getting a laptop onto the little tray table on a plane or a train was impossible, but for my dinky little netbook, it was doddle. On the Intercity train between here and London I could plug it in and write for the whole five hours, and on the plane to America it worked for the boring bit over the Atlantic. I even managed to install Microsoft Visual Studio on it, so that I could write software on the move, too. It was almost the computer I’d wanted all my life.
Unfortunately, the battery got tired faster than the computer, and after two and a half years, the original three hours was down to a bit over an hour, so I looked at getting a replacement.
The Samsung was a bit bigger, which meant that the keyboard wasn’t as cramped, but it was the battery life that seduced me. Nine hours. That’s London to Atlanta, even including the bits either end when you aren’t allowed to use it anyway. The only obvious disadvantage was that it used Windows 7 instead of my beloved XP, but I reckoned I’d get used to it. I worked out how to use it, and we got along almost fine. It was the touchpad that annoyed me.
Whoever thought that tapping a touchpad was a useful substitute for pressing the key below it should be taken out and shot. Slowly. There are probably people who can make it work, but most of the ones I know either use a mouse, or they take it into the shop to get the boy to disable the tapping. I’ve been a geek for more than thirty years, so I don’t need to take it in, though finding out how to disable it can sometimes be a bit tricky. However, once it’s disabled, it stays disabled. Except on the Samsung. For some reason, it reenables the tapping every couple of days, though the Control Panel still thinks it’s turned off. All you have to do is reboot, but if you’ve got lots of unsaved documents, trying to save them without highlighting great chunks and deleting them is a bit of a nightmare. I coped, but I never liked it as much as the Toshiba.
My new netbook is an Asus, but they’re no longer called netbooks. It’s apparently a ten inch laptop, but it’s almost exactly the same size as my old Samsung, so I won’t quibble, even though it’s eleven inches wide.
Windows 7 is now heading off into the sunset after XP, and we’re on Windows 8. A friend of mine who is a computer journalist described Windows 8 as ‘shit’, though probably not in the magazine he edits. My new Asus runs Windows 8. Besides the touchpad, it also has a touch screen, which makes for unpredictable fun if there’s a mark on it. Windows 8 looks as if it was designed for pre-school children, and even with the tapping on the touchpad disabled, great swathes of stuff get swept across the screen. Why does it keep thinking I want to know what day it is when I’m trying to close the window I didn’t want it to open in the first place? Another friend of mine tells me that I can have three screens in Windows 8.It’s a netbook. Why would I want to lug two monitors around with me? It was bad enough that it thought I needed two keyboards, the normal one, with the touchpad at the front, and a virtual pop-up one that would cover whatever I was trying to look at on the bottom half of the screen whenever I used the touchpad.
The Asus’s keyboard layout is slightly different from that of the Samsung, especially the location and size of the shift keys, but I suppose “\hello. \how are you?” will do for now. The writing on the screen of the Asus was smaller than the writing on either of its predecessors, but I was able to change the screen resolution to make it a bit easier to read. The new one is a bit faster to start up, but I expect that in three years time, when it’s had all its Windows updates and so on, it will have slowed down. Its battery isn’t quite as good as the Samsung’s, but it still works for five or six hours, which is good enough for most things. I’ll get used to it, but I’m dreading what Microsoft is planning for Windows 9.