5 usability issues to look for in a laptop

By September 27, 2010 March 22nd, 2016 General

For a recent laptop purchase, I tried to find some information on what to look for but could only find the usual tidbits such as choosing energy efficient components and the right size screen. What I really wanted to know about were the features and issues that would affect my documentation work. Since I would be using the laptop mainly for writing documentation and editing images, I didn’t need anything super powerful or fancy.

Well now that I’ve been using my laptop for a few months, I thought I’d share with you some of the issues that I’ve come across.

Wide screens: Unfortunately someone has decided that all monitors should now be geared towards playing HD movies. But when it comes to productivity, you generally need a monitor that is taller, not wider. Widescreen has been a major issue on my laptop’s 15.6” monitor and I would love to get my hands on a 4:3 screen. For a number of tools I find I’m forced to needlessly scroll up and down hundreds of times throughout the day to access different parts of the GUI because they don’t fit on-screen vertically. It’s something I’ll have to live with, but for some may warrant purchasing a larger screen size to accommodate a higher resolution.

Shiny screens: I really wanted to be able to use my laptop outside on sunny days. Unfortunately the glare of its shiny screen makes it virtually impossible to see the image, no matter which angle you sit at. I’m not sure how much better a dull screen would be, but I’m certain it would be significantly better. If this is important to you, I suggest borrowing some laptops to see how they look outside.

Keyboard layout: Being able to type efficiently is important so I placed a lot of emphasis on the keyboard layout. In particular I really wanted a full sized left shift key. Most laptops only have a ½ width left shift key, causing me to hit the wrong key all the time. It may seem minor, but purchasing a unit with a full sized left shift key turned out to be a huge factor and I’m glad I found a laptop with one. Unfortunately I’ll have to live with ½ height function and cursor keys, but those keys aren’t used as frequently. As for the numeric keypad which some machines lack, you could probably live without it, but it’s really nice to have. More generally I would advise trying to find a keyboard layout that matches your desktop PC, and be sure to try typing a few paragraphs with the in-store demo before buying.

Angular display: All LCD’s darken a bit when viewed at different angles. But with laptops you are always moving around them or tilting the screen. I have found this can make it difficult to distinguish font colors at different angles – in particular the different shades of blue used in Word’s heading styles. This might be something to investigate when trying out a laptop at the store, especially if you need to match color pantones.

Wired Mouse: I made the mistake of buying a wired mouse, based on the premise that I’d never have to worry about replacing batteries when travelling with my laptop. Well I wish I’d bought a wireless mouse because I find its wire always gets tangled with the laptop’s power cord when I carry them – every time guaranteed. If you do get a wireless mouse, look for one with an ultra slim USB adapter. This will allow you to leave the adapter plugged in while transporting the laptop, without the worry of the adapter falling or breaking off. A wireless mouse will also allow you to control a Power Point presentation from anywhere in the room.

Join the discussion No Comments

  • Tony Chung says:

    Great tips, Dana! I totally agree with you on the 1/2 size left shift key. What’s the point, eh?

    Wireless mouse: A lot of laptops now come configured with bluetooth networking cards, so a bluetooth mouse makes the most sense in these cases. This saves you from having to use a USB port to host the receiver.

    Wide screen: Because my laptop is for more than work, I don’t mind the wide screen aspect ratio. However I do agree that a good vertical height is realy important. I don’t know which brainiac decided that laptops should show a page height of 766, 800, or even 900 pixels. I need at least 1000 pixels of vertical height in order to read most documents without scrolling.

    Other considerations: What are your mobile use cases? If you like to work in coffee shops as I do, then you’ll need a laptop with a long battery life or the ability to swap out batteries mid-session. My PCs all started with 2.5 hour batteries, one has dwindled to 45 minutes, the other to 6.

    My next machine will be a MacBook Pro 15″ with 1680×1050 matte display, mostly because I love the battery life on these beasts.

  • admin says:

    I agree – battery life is another important consideration. Out of the box my battery only lasts about an hour or so.

    The shiny screen problem has struck again, as I found it can be very difficult to view the screen when in a shiny room, such as in Starbucks. This problem is even worse when two people are trying to view the screen from different angles. Ironically some manufacturers boast that the shiny screen is a “feature” and actually charge extra for it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.