Hunting for a notebook

Love the packaging

What do you look out for when you’re looking for a new notebook computer? Though I’m quite at home with technology and am an avid follower of the scene, this question still caused me to stop and think for a bit.

What exactly was I looking for? Taking a step back, I began with why I was searching for a new one in the first place.

My existing notebooks were a 17-inch gaming notebook which I used for the office and a 13-inch Apple MacBook Air for travelling. One’s powerful but too heavy to lug around while the other is light but runs on a different operating system.

The gaming notebook is great for working on spreadsheets (which I don’t fancy), watching movies and playing games. While it’s a few years old, it still packs enough grunt to get everything done fast. The only negative was it’s weight, making it highly unportable.

On the other hand, the MacBook Air provided the portability, which is especially useful for my travel. I bought it after feeling the strain of carrying another notebook while on trips to the US. The Apple device is not as fast (it was bought in 2011) as the Windows-based notebook (which is designed with power in mind) but it was enough to get things done.

Why change

Toggling between the two computers involved backing up and copying my Outlook file whenever I have to travel, which was about once a month.

This means that I use a Windows computer most of the time. While I have no issue with macOS, it does take a bit of getting reacquainted every few weeks.

Outlook and Word also works differently on both platforms. The functionalities are generally the same but the little differences began to take its toll, particularly the cut-and-paste between documents and Outlook.

Since June, I’ve had to spend more time out of the office so I’m using the Mac a little more but what’s worst is the constant copying and backing up of files.

What I need

Having identified my painpoints, I have an idea of what I need:

  1. Powerful
  2. Portable
  3. Window-based
  4. Affordable
  5. Reliable brand
  6. X-factor

The research took longer than expected as I could not find one that matched all my requirements. How brands named and positioned their product lines also made the search a little challenging. I also turned to a well-known editor for his advice.

This is it

Just when I thought that nothing could match my criteria, I read about an upcoming notebook.

Asus had announced earlier in the year that it was coming up with its 30th anniversary edition. After pouring through the known specs in detail, I was quite certain that this was what I wanted.

The limited-edition Asus ZenBook Edition 30 was supposed to be launched in conjunction with an IT show in September. A quick check with Asus a day before the show revealed that the notebook’s already available in the store.

I drove to the nearest Asus store but could not find it on the display shelf. When queried, the salesperson pointed to an empty space on the shelf and said that was where the new notebook will be placed. He added that he could furnish me with the specs if I was interested to find out more.

Before I could educate the young man, his colleague said that the unit’s in the storeroom and she could get it for me after she’s done with a customer.

Ten minutes later, I became the proud owner of a brand new notebook.

Why I like this

My purchase was no impulse decision. Here are why I picked this over dozens of others:

  1. Powerful enough: It sports an 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8565U CPU supported by the NVIDIA GeForce MX250 GPU and 16GB of RAM — that’s enough horsepower for me.
  2. Portable enough: Weighing under 1.3kg, it comes with a 13.3-inch LED-backlit Full HD display with four-sided frameless NanoEdge design.
  3. Window-based: It runs of Windows 10 so I do not have to toggle between two operating sytems.
  4. Affordable enough: Priced at S$2,198, it’s a little ex for an average notebook but this is definitely not an average notebook.
  5. Reliable brand: HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer are some leading brands that I’ve used in the past. From my experience with my gaming notebook, Asus stands right up there with the best.
  6. X-factor: Now, this is where the Asus ZenBook Edition 30 is streets ahead of the rest. Imagine a notebook clad in pearl white leather and rose gold anodised diamond-cut edges and trim bar. The rose gold logo is futuristic and not so in-your-face. And it features a second screen on the mouse pad. While many have written this off as a gimick, I found it to be useful for viewing a messaging app or the Spotify playlist. Oh, the package also includes a matching mouse and leather notebook sleeve. Really nice touch.

After nearly three months of using the Asus ZenBook Edition 30, I simply love this. It’s everything I need and a little more.

When upgrading is unnecessary

Still good after all these years

Apple has launched a new iPhone. Google is expected to announce Pixel 4 on October 15. With every introduction of a new product, the message is crystal clear — buy, buy, buy! The question is — is it really necessary to get the latest toy? Is your current device good enough?

If vendors were to have their way, we would be upgrading every year or two.

It’s the computer industry, and later the smartphone makers, that seems to be driving the need to upgrade regularly — even if your PC/notebook/smartphone is working perfectly fine.

This is so different from the days of old when a television, electric fan or refrigerator can last for a decade or more. If it breaks down, you get it fixed. Buying a new one is only necessary when it can no longer be repaired.

These days, computer and smartphone are constantly bombarding consumers that the latest is the greatest (if it’s not, something must be very wrong, right?) and you need to upgrade. Even consumer electronic product makers are trying to get into the act.

Putting aside fancy new features and the feel great of owning a new device factors, the most important question to ask is “Do I need to upgrade?”

What difference will the newest chip’s speed bump make? How will the fingerprint sensor make my phone more secured? How much storage do I really need?

I have owned a MacBook Air since 2011 and a third generation iPad since 2012 (see photo above) and am proud to declare that I am still using them.

Here are the reasons why I did not upgrade:

  1. They are still working perfectly. Operating system updates have slowed them down a little but nothing’s changed otherwise.
  2. They do what I need them for. I use my MacBook Air for work and my iPad when giving talks. Both still function as required. They may not be as fast as the latest iterations but they’re good enough.
  3. I save money by not upgrading. There’s no need to spend on newer devices since these are still fine. Money saved can be used for other things in life — like getting other gadgets that I do not already own or travelling.

The point is that if I want to upgrade, the vendors must give me something that I could not do before but need to have. A faster chip, brighter/sharper screen or more connectivity options just doesn’t cut it.

In recent times, the only device that I’ve upgraded constantly was the digital camera. My first was a Sony Mavica given to me in 1999. It introduced me to the world of digital photography, Nokia phones notwithstanding. I was a proud owner bringing a box of 3.5-inch floppy disk drives with me wherever I went. For each 1.44MB drive, I can take about 20 photos. So a box gives me sufficient space for about 200 low quality images.

As digital cameras evolved, so did my expectations. I wanted higher quality images and upgraded whenever I could afford a better camera.

But, my latest digital SLR camera has been untouched for a few years. Why? Because the smartphone has made it redundant. My Google Pixel 3 can take excellent images at high resolutions. In fact, each image size is bigger than a 3.5-inch floppy disk.

Upgrading my digital camera was necessary because the image quality made a difference. But, there are many other products where newer versions do not provide enough justification for parting with the cash.