The 13 things the perfect laptop has to have

perfect laptop
Pursuit of perfection

Hopefully I don’t look like it, but I’ve been reviewing laptops since before the introduction of the first “notebook computers” in the late 1980s. I remember when the NEC UltraLite was the coolest, most portable computer around, despite numerous now-laughable flaws, including a 1MB silicon hard drive that completely erased itself every time you ran out of battery power.

In all that time, I’ve been searching for the “perfect laptop”— that ideal combination of maximum computing power, usability, and portability. A handful of relatively new devices – Apple’s new MacBook and iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface 3 come to mind – have made great strides lately. They’ve inspired me to create a new set of specs for the perfect laptop.

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Multiple screen sizes

Different people have different needs in a laptop. Some people need the smallest device possible, others need lots of screen real-estate to maximize productivity and media viewing. So the perfect laptop should be available in a range of screen sizes from 12 inches to 17 inches. (Oh, and touchscreen shold be an option at any size)

Current status: So far, no one machine offers the full range.

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No bezel

Whatever the screen size, though, it should take up the entire inside of the device’s lid—edge to edge. Perfection doesn’t leave room for wasted space, and the body of the laptop should be no wider than the screen itself.

Current status: For now, bezels keep getting smaller, but they haven’t gone away completely.

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Super-high resolution

I don’t care about the actual resolution per se, but pixel density needs to high-enough that you need an electron microscope to identify and individual pixel.

Current status: Fortunately, we’re getting pretty good in this regard.

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Viewable in broad daylight

Part of the point of a good laptop is that you can use it anywhere—and that includes the great outdoors.

Current status: Laptop and screen makers still have a lot of work to do in this regard.

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12 hours of battery life and wireless recharging

Basically, users need to be able to work all day without giving a single thought to the need to recharge. And when you do need juice, you should be able to do so with universally compatible wireless charging systems so you don’t need to tote around a proprietary plug and cable. 

Current status: Again, we’re making real progress in these areas, but we’re not quite all the way to worry-free, full-day usage, and wireless charging schemes remain fragmented with only a small toehold in the industry.

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Credit: Wikipedia
1TB SSD

Yes, I know large-capacity SSDs are expensive, but you shouldn’t have to worry about running out of storage space any more than you should have to worry about running out of power. 

Current status: This is obviously possible right now, it’s just a question of economics.

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Fast Wi-Fi and mobile broadband connectivity

The perfect laptop needs the fastest, most ubiquitous connections, including 802.11 AC and built-in mobile broadband. Heck, there’s no reason why the perfect laptop couldn’t work as a mobile phone. 

Current status: Again, this is perfectly possible today, it’s just a design and cost decision.

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Easy connectivity to peripherals, from big screens to external hard drives

Ideally, this would be wireless, but truly standardized ports and cables would also be satisfactory.

Current status: For now, though, while connectivity continues to improve, there is not even a hint of standardization.

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Light weight

The smallest models should weigh no more than 1 pound, while the biggest ones shouldn’t top a kilogram. We have to carry these things, people, and the extra weight is just excess baggage.

Current status: The new Macbook weighs 2 pounds, but it’s comparatively tiny. The tablet market—especially the Surface 3 and new iPad Pro—should point the way to what can be possible.

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Great, not just adequate sound

Most laptops sound fine with headphones. But even the bigger ones sound like rattling tin cans when you have to rely on the internal speakers. And they have no hope of filling a room with sound.

Current status: This won’t be easy in the confines of ever-smaller laptops, but maybe Apple can actually get something useful out of its $3 billion purchase of Beats, or someone can leverage some remote speaker technology.

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Rugged

The perfect laptop should be sturdy enough to stand up to the daily use it will receive. Nothing is indestructible, but it should suffer no damage when dropped three feet onto concrete. Similarly, it doesn’t have to be truly waterproof, but it shouldn’t be ruined if you spill a beer or a cup of coffee on it while working at the local café.

Current status: Ruggedized laptops are already available, but they add weight and bulk. Bringing those capabilities to the kinds of devices described here will take a radical rethink of materials and construction.

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Versatility

Sometimes you need a real laptop, but sometimes all you need is a tablet. It would be nice if those could be the same device. To be sure, that presents additional design challenges, but we are searching for perfection here.

Current status: Led by the Surface 3 and iPad Pro, there are plenty of convertible laptop/tablet combinations already on the market. But they still generally struggle to match today’s pure laptops, much less approach the standards we’re setting here. Perhaps the iPad Pro will rest that equation.

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Reasonably priced

Obviously, cost is no object in the pursuit of perfection. But a total price of $2,000 or less would make it affordable to many of the people who really need or want a laptop this awesome. 

Current status: Just about every laptop sold today falls under that mark, but adding all 11 of the capabilities listed here would likely push the cost into the stratosphere.