Here I am on the 7:17 a.m. train to Grand Central, typing my first blog post on my brand new refurbished Dell Latitude E6430 laptop. After a three-year gap, I finally have a new used laptop so I can pound out my prose on the train.
The gap started when my Apple PowerBook G4 became too outdated and gave up its iGhost. I bought it off Craig’s List in 2006, having gone through two Dell laptops over the years. While I wrote much of a book on the PowerBook, I never warmed up to the Apple experience. After it became impossible to use, I pried the hard drive out, spiked it with a screwdriver and jumped on what remained a few times, then left it on the recycling table at the Westport, CT, town dump.
Since then I’ve done fun writing on my home desktop, with a Lenovo CPU and Acer monitor. Still, I missed my laptop. My hour-long train commute gives me a great window for writing, away from the phone and Internet. From past projects I know I can be highly productive (like I am now, stopped at the Chappaqua station). The time had come to take the tech plunge.
That plunge can be a chore since I work on an inverted scale of time involved in consumer purchases. The bigger the decision or purchase, the faster I make it. Buying a slightly used Hyundai Elantra in 2005 to replace an unreliable 1986 four-door Saab was a breeze, compared to a computer or camera. I still have the Elantra, so when I make a tech buy, I’m in it for the long haul.
The opportunities for months of dithering are enormous. The laptop process lasted about four months, as I endlessly compared best-of lists from PC Magazine, ZDNet, Consumer Reports, Laptop Reviews and Amazon. I slummed through Craig’s List once more. I solicited opinions on Facebook, where I was whipsawed among fans of Apple, Acer, HP, Asus, and Lenovo. The one piece of tech wisdom that broke through my befuddlement came from a college friend, who urged me to get a laptop with an SSD drive, said to be quieter and more reliable than a hard drive. That made sense and I used this insight to greatly narrow my search.
(Just left North White Plains, what productivity!)
Then I made the rounds of test drives, laying my hands on laptops at Best Buy, Staples, Target and Walmart. Quickly I realized that size really mattered. The 11-inch screens were too small, the 15.6 inch screens were too big. I couldn’t see myself stuff one in a backpack. My 14-inch Lenovo work laptop is fine, but 15.6 inches for a laptop meant for mobility—I just can’t handle that. Like Goldilocks testing the porridge, I decided 14 inches was just right. Along with the mysterious but now required SSD drive, the field narrowed more. I also talked to my tech-savvy son, who uses a Dell Alienware gaming laptop, which makes perfect sense given that he is a video-game designer.
“A lot of the reviews I read Amazon say negative stuff about the laptops,” I breathlessly related to him, in tones usually reserved for those who discover a new prime number.
“Dad, that’s because the people who have had bad experiences are the ones who tend to post comments,” he patiently explained (cue gentle exasperation since he’s heard this from me before). “Just make a choice and it’ll work out.”
Sam had great advice that I promptly ignored. I kept flipping through reviews, looking at holiday specials, maniacally typing on laptops at retail locations in search of a digital love match. When would my fingers gently caress the right keyboard and ignite a passionate flame of creativity that the machine made visible? The dithering, I knew, seriously hampered creativity. After all, I can’t write if I can’t find the right tool, right? I had a ready-made excuse for double-barreled procrastination. No laptop, no writing, what could be better?
Finally, the reading and store visits and consultations with friends reached the saturation point. Unless a fully configured laptop fell out of the sky and bonked me on the head, I would have to make a decision. Or not make a decision and live with the consequences and the vain hope of writing on my desktop before or after my long work day
I found myself cycling back to Staples, long my go-to source for office supplies. The website listed SSD laptops with 14-inch screens, with the added benefit of using Windows 7, rather than the hip and trendy Windows 10, which I’ve never used. The refurbished Lenovos started looking good. The price range was fine, and I knew Lenovos inside and out because that’s what I use at work
I was ready to make a decision.
(Harlem-125th Street, I’m feeling productive this morning.)
Then I took a final (in)sanity check by reading the Lenovo reviews on the Staples website. They were mostly good, but a consistent concern was battery life. Given I would use the laptop on the train, I wanted a battery that could at least get me to Manhattan and back. This drove me to look at the Dell laptops. The Staples commentariat were uniformly positive.
Then I started wondering, maybe I should step up to new Dell, get the latest bells and whistles, whatever those are, rather than opting for a behind-the-curve refurbished model. I wrote down a model number and headed to a suburban Staples to look at the shiny laptop. But with the 15.6 inch screen, I knew it just wouldn’t be feasible. After all, I was looking for a machine upon which I could write and get web access, not watch TV or play games.
By process of elimination, I finally opened my eyes, heart and wallet to the love match laptop, a Dell with enough heft and weight to feel like a little Sherman tank but still fit in my backpack. I ordered, it came quickly, I set it up and loaded my trusty Windows 2003 software disk. Everything worked perfectly. The web access clicked in, I imported bookmarks and set up anti-virus protection, and now I’m banging out this post in an hour of fevered inspiration, which amazes me in that I really could translate thought into action and even stay awake on the train.
(Pulling in to Grand Central Terminal, time to disengage for now.)