Suggest a Laptop

I’d like to replace my “small laptop”, the one I use when doing a bit of development work on a train or in a coffee shop, and I’m having trouble finding something suitable. Can anyone suggest something I might have missed?

Things I care about are

    1. No bigger in any dimension than an A4 pad. (At the moment I’m using a Dell D420, which is almost exactly A4.) This currently seems to mean an 11″ or possibly 10″ screen size.
    2. Good keyboard.
    3. Touchscreen with a decent screen resolution, i.e. not 1366×768. The Dell is 1280×800 and, six years of progress later, I’m not prepared to trade even further down in all-important vertical pixel count.
    4. Should ship with Windows 8 but be able to dual-boot with a Linux install, run virtual machines, etc. So it must be a classic Intel PC rather than ARM.
    5. Quiet fan, no whining.
    6. Comfortable ergonomics, plain appearance (ideally not silver).
    7. To cost under £1000.

Also it should actually be possible to use it on a lap, like a conventional laptop. If it wasn’t for that, the MS Surface Pro with Type Cover (surprisingly good keyboard) would be an ideal answer.

Processor speed, storage etc are not criteria: any current laptop will do fine there. Battery life matters, but again most contenders are probably OK by my standards.

But there don’t seem to be all that many contenders. I’ve looked at a few things, including

  • Lenovo Yoga 11s — looks great all round, except it has a 1366×768 screen. Maddeningly Lenovo announced a higher-resolution version and PC World even listed it for sale, but it turned out not to actually exist. Otherwise I would have bought it already.
  • 11″ MacBook Air — also 1366×768, and I don’t like the keyboard or feel, and it’s a bit… um… conspicuous. And no touchscreen. No, the Air is a very good machine and I do have access to a company one already but, for me and for this purpose, if it was the only option I’d stick with my current Dell instead.
  • Acer Aspire S7-191 — this 11″ model was far too showy and had a crap keyboard, but what a wonderful screen. Acer improved the keyboard on the 13″ when they updated it this year, but instead of updating the 11″ version as well, they scrapped it.
  • Sony Vaio Pro 11 — cramped keyboard and rather expensive. It feels as if Sony were working a bit too hard on reducing size and weight. I’m suspicious about Sony, they tend to take things a bit far. I’ve had two expensive Vaios and, although both were lovely in some way, I wouldn’t buy another unless I was really sure about it.

Any ideas for laptops, or convertible tablet thingies, I might be missing?


Well, I’m pretty sure the computer I’m describing doesn’t exist.

The sticking point at the moment is the screen resolution: for some reason even though cheap tablets (and phones!) routinely have better screens, 1366×768 still seems to be standard for small laptops even costing significantly more.

The best suggestion I had (from Yves via Twitter) was for the Dell XPS 12 convertible. I hadn’t even considered another Dell and I’ve never much liked the look of the XPS with its flimsy-seeming flippy screen and nasty keytop font, but when I tried one I found it was much better than I’d thought — the keyboard feels really good and the screen has a proper resolution. But it’s just that bit too big, an inch wider than my old laptop, so it won’t fit in a couple of bags that I use, and that annoys me. Add the dodgy font and that’s enough to put me off it.

Toshiba make a surprisingly interesting sliding convertible, the Satellite U920t. This is a bit like Sony’s Vaio Duo sliders, a bit less slick to convert, but with a tough-looking adjustable hinge. Again it’s a bit too big and it only has a 1366×768 screen, but it has a satisfyingly solid feel and a better keyboard than I’d expected (Toshiba have previously made the worst laptop keyboard I’ve ever used).

Most of the tablet convertibles out there, those with a tablet that slots into a keyboard dock, have the disadvantage of falling over backwards when you poke the screen. So I didn’t go for one of those.

I compromised on the screen resolution, and bought the Lenovo Yoga 11s.

Apart from the screen, so far it’s fantastic. Beautifully assembled and with a nice keyboard and soft palmrests. Ooh, the palmrests.

The 1366×768 screen is a pity, especially in Windows 8 which doesn’t use subpixel antialiasing in many places (presumably because it has to handle screen rotation). If Lenovo do get around to making a version with a better screen, I will sell this one and buy it. In the meantime, I hope it will do me nicely enough.


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