New Laptop, Windows 8, and My Thoughts On Both

I finally made the plunge and purchased a new laptop. The primary motivation for this purchase was my little Acer finally succumbing to the dark forces that eventually claim all computers.

The Acer was a quick purchase meant to replace my dying Dell Inspiron, the computer that served as my main PC for so many years that I literally wore grooves into the plastic with my wrists. I wish I still had that computer so I could take a picture of it and show you. Alas, I do not.

The Acer served well in the fact that it was dirt cheap, having been purchased as a refurb from a friend for about $100. Unfortunately, it was also ridiculously tiny; I think the screen was roughly nine inches? The keyboard was cramped, even moreso since I’m a pretty big guy with accordingly large hands. Even worse was the fact that I just looked kind of ridiculous as I typed away on that little thing, because nothing is more important when you’re a writer than everybody knowing how cool you look as you write.

Here's the little Acer with a beer bottle (and a shot glass) for scale. It is tiny!
Here’s the little Acer with a beer bottle (and a shot glass) for scale. It is tiny!

It always seems like it’s the wrong time to buy a piece of technology. If you’re an early adopter, you get to enjoy finding all the problems that QA missed that won’t get fixed until version 2 rolls out next year. If you wait until version 2 or 3, you are virtually guaranteed that you’ll purchase a device that is on the verge of obsolescence because something new and exciting is about to be announced. This is commonly referred to by sociologists (not really) as “the iPhone Paradox,” in that all times are the wrong time to buy a new iPhone.

I was wholly uninterested in touch screens on laptops until I saw someone play Artemis on a touchscreen and immediately coveted such technology for myself.

My new toy is the HP Envy TouchSmart M6 Sleekbook. I only remember all of that because there’s still a little sticker on the corner telling me that’s what this machine is.

Size comparison for the Acer and the HP (and the beer bottle!)
Size comparison for the Acer and the HP (and the beer bottle!)

Having a touchscreen on a laptop is pretty awesome. Having to deal with track pads was always one of those things about laptop computing that was a hardship to be endured. Being able to flick through pages with a swipe is very satisfying, although there are particular actions (like clicking and dragging) that are still better on the pad. Having both means of control is nice, as opposed to being limited to one or the other as you might find on a tablet.

The downside of a touchscreen is the fingerprint smudging. I’m keeping my microfiber cloth that I use for my glasses in my laptop bag to clean the screen it still attracts fingerprints at an insane rate. If you’re the kind of person that can’t stand typing or reading through a dirty screen, this may drive you mad. I find that it only annoys me for things like watching videos or movies which are activities that don’t involve a lot of browsing. Nevertheless, I can already tell I’m going to be wiping this thing off daily.

Windows 8 has been a fascinating experience. I can now understand why sales are pretty abysmal at the moment. The transition from Windows 7 to 8 is unpleasant. For the first few hours, I was frustrated by my inability to do basic commands that were effortless in 7. The feeling was that the operating system just kept getting in my way which is something your OS should never ever do. Even after I figured out how to do something, the feeling was still that I could do it more quickly and easier in 7.

There’s definitely a learning curve here and I think that is 8’s biggest problem. I didn’t want to learn how to use Windows again. I already knew how to use Windows. In fact, one of the reasons I stuck with Windows rather than going to Apple was precisely because I didn’t want to learn a different operating system. That probably says more about me than anything else, but I imagine that the archetypal Windows user doesn’t want to interact with their OS any more than is strictly necessary. This might indicate that we’re all troglodytes compared to Apple users; certainly, it suggests that we don’t want to move outside of our comfort zone, which 8 forces us to do.

After a few hours, however, my experience with 8 improved considerably. There are several features that I think are really neat, like being able to swipe through screens very quickly. The Metro hub (or Start page, or whatever they’re calling it) is also nice. I like being able to customize that space, although I’m probably predisposed to liking the Metro tile interface since I’ve been familiarized with it through my Windows Phone.

There are still a few things that are very frustrating. Chrome hides the taskbar when it’s active which means I can’t see a clock while I browse. This is rather irritating and there doesn’t appear to be a fix available.

Is Windows 8 better than 7? Overall, I’d say no; my primary criterion for my operating system is that it stays out of my way was much as possible. I want it to be invisible and effortless; I don’t want to think about what I want it to do. Windows 7 is still my gold star because it just works and it works relatively quietly and unobtrusively.

I realize that this is a difficult feature to sell a product on (you won’t even notice that it’s there!) but that’s what I like. That being said, I don’t hate Windows 8. There are several features that I’m really enjoying, especially the complete integration between my Xbox and Zune accounts so that all my digital content is in a single ecosystem. 8 is designed with the touchscreen in mind, which is nice since I have a touchscreen; I imagine if I didn’t, my opinion would be considerably less sanguine.

Since I specifically wanted a touchscreen laptop, I think I would have gone for Windows 8 even if a Windows 7 version had been available. I still prefer Windows 7 for my desktop PC and I hope and pray to the gods of technology that nothing happens to my desktop that forces me to replace it with a Windows 8 machine.

One final note on the HP Envy itself; this is the first blog post that I’ve written on this machine and the keys feel awesome. It probably sounds strange, but any writers in the crowd will understand. There is a very large difference between a good and a bad keyboard. This HP has a very good keyboard and typing on it is a pleasure.

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10 thoughts on “New Laptop, Windows 8, and My Thoughts On Both”

  1. Have you had a chance to play any games on your new system? Or do you have a desktop for such things?

    As for your statements on the keyboard’s feel…let me just make the cryptic remark that I *intimately* understand that detail of computer design.

    1. My desktop is still my main gaming rig. I do have Steam loaded onto the laptop and I might try to play WoW at some point, just to see if I can. I put a new video card in my desktop last summer (or so) and I can run WoW at ultra settings with a solid 60 fps even during raids.

      The only game I really want to try on the laptop is Artemis, both because it’s much easier to bring a laptop to an event like that and because when I saw a guy doing the Engineering station on a touch screen, it was AWESOME.

        1. I’m so goddamn excited, I can’t wait to play next Monday.

          I’m thinking that either engineering or comms will be the best stations for a touch screen. Which stations have you played on the iPad?

          1. I’ve played engineering and helm on it. Engineering was much easier (I like to set lots of presets…), helm is actually way more intuitive on a touchscreen, and I found I could very easily do evasive maneuvering and fly-by’s in combat. We had a couple iPads at that game, and I saw someone on comms with it, and they seemed to be doing well. Honestly, the only position that I don’t think benefits from a touch screen is Science. Effective use of hotkeys for the science officer trumps a touch screen any day.

    1. Thank you, but why the condemnation? Although I’m not in love with Windows 8 the way I am with Windows 7, I don’t think it’s a horrible platform. The main thing it has going against it for most Windows users is that it’s so very different from previous iterations. The Start button, for example, has been around since before Windows 95 (I can’t remember how the previous versions were differentiated). Taking something like that away is going to feel like meddling with 20 or so years of operating system familiarity.

          1. That’s a good point. I had completely forgotten about NT. But looking up the Wikipedia article on the Start Menu, it looks like it was simultaneously released on Windows 95 and NT 4.x (NT 3.x was the first version of NT).

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