/ Technology

Are laptops getting worse?

Laptop and speech bubble

It’s a strange concept. The idea that a technology could be getting worse as time goes by seems unthinkable. But I think laptops are, and here’s why.

Consumer electronics is an industry constantly moving forward, and at a rate faster than any other. Tablets, smartphones, smarts TVs – all distant concepts a mere ten years ago, now firmly at the centre of our day-to-day lives and improving every day.

In fact, those three technologies are exactly why the current state of laptops is so noticeably lacklustre. A piece of kit that predates any of them by a good 20 years, laptops seem to be running out of steam.

Cheaper and cheaper laptops

Are laptops literally getting worse? Of course not. Processors are updated every year, displays continue to pack in more pixels, and lighter and stronger composites are working their way to the production line. But these are minor improvements to the average consumer. Compared to smartphones, for example, it’s as if the laptop industry is standing still.

Rather than striving for the latest innovations, laptop manufacturers are doing whatever they can to offer their products at a lower cost. Tablets and smartphones have made an irreparable and eternal mark on home computing. Most people nowadays, whether they are aware of it or not, probably don’t even need a laptop for what they want to do. It seems like the only way computing manufacturers feel they can compete is by slashing prices.

What good is a £300 laptop if it’s flat-out awful, though? Even around the £500-£700 mark we’re still seeing laptops that fill us with apathy rather than awe. Cost-cutting will always impact on quality, and there’s little way around that.

Laptops need a jump start

Which? laptop review scores have taken a noticeable dip over the past six months, and the same problems are endemic throughout all of those poor-testers. Big-name components that under perform due to poor optimisation. Terrible build quality and cheap materials. Dreary displays and muddy audio. It’s obvious that the money you save has been ripped from the production line.

In a time where laptop manufacturers, petrified of their own impending irrelevance, are doubling-down, consolidating, and offering you what you’ve already seen before for cheaper, the exact opposite is needed.

Today, brands like HP release upwards of 100 laptops a year. The differences between them are often indistinguishable, and that market saturation just means that you, the consumer, has a diluted pool of devices to choose from.

Like a shark, if a technology stops moving, it dies. Smartphones and tablets are now the great whites of the market, and it’s only a matter of time until they gorge themselves on the tender, aging flesh of the laptop. A serious re-balancing of priorities is urgently needed.

Do you think laptop manufacturers need to innovate more?

Yes (77%, 1,563 Votes)

I don't know (16%, 324 Votes)

No (7%, 133 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,020

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Useful links:

Which? advice on the best laptops to buy
How to buy the best laptop


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Desktop and laptop PCs are now a mature technology that is used for many workplace applications. I can’t imagine they’ll go away any time soon.

They may continue to fall in price, as did calculators.

Most of these PCs are built to last. That is great for sustainability but not the best news for their manufacturers (or for “technophiles” at Which?, eager to review “sexy” new products?)

Personally, I haven’t needed to buy a new a home desktop since the days of Vista (and I’m still using it). My newest laptop is from the Windows 7 era, but I prefer the build quality of my Vista era machines.

Your mention of calculators made me think of this image…


PS. This image embedded itself all by itself just by using the image link… handy if you’d also like to include an image in your comment!

Thanks Patrick.

My work calculator is the one shown in your 1999 & 2011 images – I’ve had mine since 1996; it still does everything I need and more.

I’ve not yet had an audio player chip implanted into my brain (as depicted in your 2011 audio image?) so I’m still using headphones as per the 1999 image. I have moved on from CDs though….

I have both tablet and laptop and use both as needed. I have to say though I do like my Acer laptop and would not do without it. It had Windows 8.1 on it when I purchased it but have now converted to Windows 10. I currently do everything from banking to recording on my laptop.

I too have an Acer laptop (new) and it is an appalling unit. It is very slow and will not allow Windows10 to be removed and if one achieves this then it prevents other operating systems from being installed.

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I think the world might miss Sony Vaio’s. A premium laptop brand that’s cheaper Macs. I still have mine (despite a penchant for over-heating).

Also, aren’t laptop manufacturer’s innovating by producing tablets or tablet/laptop mash-ups?

My Sony laptop does all I want (a bit slow at times, but who’s in such a hurry) and it is 10 this year, on Vista. However I realise I have been lucky for it to last this long.
Maybe I would go for a mobile device to replace it, but I’d still want the facility to link a large screen (apart from CAD, why shrink documents and spreadsheets unecessarily?), and a decent keyboard when I use it at home. But I’m not sure what is meant by a “mobile device”. I’d regard up to an iPhone as mobile, but not a tablet.

Anyway, what should I replace my ageing laptop with? Is Apple the only durable answer? (I like durable).

I believe there are some other good “business grade” laptops out there, but I have no first hand experience of any recent ones. I have seen several favourable reviews on the Dell XPS 13. In some ways that is quite a surprise, because my experience of mid-range Dell business laptops from a few years ago was that the machines were basically fairly sturdy but were let down by poor keyboards. Pretty much all the Vaios I’ve seen had great keyboards – and most of the Toshibas were good too.

I also have an old XP/Win2000 era Compaq that is “built like a brick outhouse” – it really is very sturdy.

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Thanks duncan. I hate ads (on TV as well) and it all sounds too controlled for my taste. To be honest I don’t need to carry a computer in my pocket – my laptop has stayed at home for years (so when I’m away convos get a welcome breather from my pontifications). Looks like I’ll think about a laptop again.

Hi Malcolm i’ve had my Vista for 8 years so nice to know i may get another 2 out of it! Just don’t want to part with it even though i get frustrated at times when it goes so slow!

Patience is virtue! Vista is the about the slowest version of Windows that I’ve ever used. Hence , Vista owners are the most virtuous PC owners out there 🙂

PS – Speed-wise, Vista really does benefit from having 2GB (or more) of RAM installed.

I have a MacBook Pro that is nearly a year old and I am very pleased with it. It has a solid state drive and runs very cool, and the battery life is excellent. The best feature is the trackpad, that can do different things according to how many fingers you are using. I thought I might miss the lack of an optical drive but it’s very easy, if rather slow, to install old software from disc via a wireless connection to another computer that has an optical drive. My biggest grouse is that you cannot simply swap the battery for a fresh one on modern Apple laptops. Even if the battery life is good, it’s not always convenient to plug in and charge a laptop.

My 2011 MacBook Pro still runs for nearly three hours on the battery despite having been through nearly 70% more charge cycles than the maximum quoted by Apple.

I appreciate that Apple laptops are expensive (my PowerBook G3 cost £2k in 1999) but considering how much use I have got out of every one I have owned they have been good value for money.

Oh, and I hate Apple as a company for all the usual reasons.

Wow, what a coincidence! My MacBook Pro is nearly a year old and I too am very pleased with it. I gave my 2011 MacBook Pro to my daughter a few weeks ago (to replace her still-working 2008 MacBook which she gave to her sister-in-law) and she’s very pleased with that.

By far my biggest grouse is the way Apple now focuses on ‘Pretty’ rather than ‘Functional’. Here we are in 2016 and, for example, Apple’s word processor still doesn’t capitalise the first letter of a sentence for you. Yet we’re treated “major updates” at least once a year that feature pointless gimmicks such as new icons and a screen font that looks nice but is harder to read.

Interestingly, Which sort-of confirmed this recently:

Mobile phones and tablets are more likely to be carried about everywhere and seen by other people so many want to show they have the latest model so makers keep updating so that people can waste their money buying the latest model more money than sense people again

Tony Latham says:
15 January 2016

PC’s are slowly but surely becoming outdated by the new smart phones and tablets, the PC “Bloatware/Spyware” scandal hasn’t helped either. Signs of creeping Big Brother?

I have a reasonably priced Lenovo Intel I5 laptop upgraded to Windows 10 and am very pleased with it. It is well built, reliable and really fast with Windows 10. I do have a smartphone(Samsung Note 4) and an Android tablet (Galaxy Note 10.1) but usually spend my time using the laptop.

My XPS 13 sometimes needs charging, which is irritating because I keep forgetting – it happens so infrequently. I have a house full of computers; Surface, XPS, Lenovo, HP – for a variety of reasons. The cheap to mid-range computers are boring, always useful but sometimes not built so well. The premium computers are astonishing. Stopped innovating? I’m not so sure. What is it specifically you are looking for?

garrett says:
17 January 2016

I havnt used a lap top or desk top in 2 years.i do everything including scanning and printing on my phone..

No innovation? What about the Chromebook? My Acer bought last year, £169 , weight 1.5 lbs, silent because of SSD and the cloud, lasts 12 hours between charges, does everything. Plug in a 1920×1080 screen and edit your photos with free software. All the software is free! I have never spent a penny. No anti virus software needed.
Bye bye PC, bye bye Windows, bye bye computer problems. And, everything is perfectly synchronised with my Moto E smartphone (£80) and Hudl tablet. If that isnt innovation I dont know what is?

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So Duncan, you’re saying there really _is innovation in this field.

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Brian F says:
17 January 2016

What is all this nonesense regarding high speed CPU’s , I have a 8 yr. old 17″ Toshiba with relative low speed CPU, Vista O.S. permanently sat on my desk which is more than adequate for my needs such as e,mailing , financial, purchases, general information, etc.
It would appear to me that a more sophisticated computer with high end CPU at vast expense would not provide much in the way of additional advantages.
In conclusion therefore, for the average home user cheap basic computer would be sufficient for most requirements.
I will carry on with my Toshiba which has given me no trouble for as long as possible, Vista has had occassional hiccups, reset, problem resolved.

I had a similar vintage 17″ Toshiba laptop running Windows Vista at work. It was very slow – I can still remember waiting until a blue circle stopped rotating and something happened. It also had to be restarted frequently. Windows 7 appeared and that overcame most of the problems and was significantly faster. Everyone who paid for Vista should have been offered a free upgrade to 7.

Down the years, I have experienced many work PCs that have struggled under the weight of their accumulated junkware, bloatware and corporate security applications. In such cases, removing and re-installing Windows every few years seems to help combat the degredation of system speed.

Anyone who really wants a zero-cost and actual upgrade, for Vista (or any other Windows version) can always try Linux. 🙂

There are some great free versions of Linux out there – and you can install as many copies of you like. So you can keep your slow old Windows installation for “legacy applications” and migrate to Linux for an improved user experience.

I’m a software developer – have been for almost 40 years and worked for myself for the past 31 years.
I never really became embroiled in the Windows craze. The nearest was working with MS-Dos and their multi-user version (name escapes me now). I then found Unix – SCO Unix to be precise. I developed loads of software using Cobol on small (386) machines using multi-user SCO Unix. The efficiency was phenominal. One project required the storage of 2,250,000 names and addresses, complete with ‘phone numbers and a selection of 6 (could have been 7) numbers. It was for a bingo-lotto game. I could access any single entry given a set of numbers, or process a range of entries sharing, say, 3 identical numbers in milliseconds.
An Intel 386 and then the 486 machines were not fast but Unix was highly efficient.
It was/is very reliable as well. Over the years a package I developed has been installed in perhaps 30 sites. None has ever suffered an Op. System fault.

I find with Windows (Vista) on my personal machine a shut-down every week or so helps. I generally leave it running 24/7 as I believe to do so reduces main board faults and this has been fruitful for my own users whose machines have rarely suffered hardware faults.

I think Windows has issues releasing memory back for use when some applications are closed. Shutting down helps in this aspect.

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Hi Derek, Thanks for your input about Linux
I good number of years ago a kiwi relation recomended it to me but locally near everyone was far from enthusiastic
Updates and OS system updates were well included in his descriptions
Any more helpful info or has/is anyone else using Linux and have anything to contribute

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Thanks Duncan. No I hadn’t realised you used Linux or it blew right over my head without notice
Yes my kiwi relation used the words Cheesey for Windows as in its full of holes
I’ll make a shortcut out of your link and maybe some snowy night I’ll have a go

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I think we all have a few of those dudes
Where I’m from we’re lucky to be here without having being driving to getting in a boat.
Still I’d consider Sutherland near anytime.
I can just see the sign at the road
Here, see me,,,,,I’m here,,,,,,,Just try it?????

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Modern generations raised on mobile phones are dictating the change to mobile devices as they are familiar with this interface. the problem for the pc interface was never meant to be mobile, the two formats should never have merged, the pc of 5 years ago was a lot more user friendly for those who have always used pc’s. this modern mixture of both tries to do too much, in my eyes is a mess, in the past I had full control of what had access to my pc, the only way to do this today is to stay offline. Not been cynical, but running online applications designed for the pc do not work as well as the modern aps on the same pc doing the same job, funny a few years ago could not tell the difference. If you do not accept Microsoft’s bloated software updates they will pull support, you are forced to change even when you are content with what you have.

Innovation required is of the practical kind. Easy access/low cost to upgrade memory or processor, better battery life, common charger connectors so you can borrow or use venue shared facilities rather than lugging your power pack around, faster charging.

I’m afraid I find my tablet and smartphone too hard on the eyes – I prefer my 17″ laptop screen. I only use the tablet and phone for surfing the internet. Most emails, letters, family history research and photo downloads and editing are all done and saved on the laptop and backed up weekly to an external hard drive. I also need the laptop to print as the my tablet requires a wireless printer. I bought a dedicated photo scanner last year and am currently converting old negatives and slides into jpeg files. You can’t do that on a smartphone!

Brian F says:
19 January 2016

Duncan, as you are very familiar with Linux I would appreciate your advice whether the system could be used to resurect a very old Advent tower with pentium 111 and 98 O.S. The computer was originally used on dial up and is still fully functioning, but has no Wi-Fi facility. I have a Wi-Fi USB dongle left to me by my ISP which I have not tried out on the computer. If there is no solution I will have dispose of same or keep until it becomes antique.

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I’m reading this with great interest. I’ve been looking at HP replacement keypads and they are as out of date as W98 and as cheap.
I’ll maybe have a laptop in every corner next year or better put wifey and I can have one for home each and one for Motorhome each
Just need the mobile internet thing sorted and we’ll be connected to the world without a landline too.
Keep it coming Duncan
I’ll not cry if BT/EE dont make money.

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The reports I’ve seen suggest that MS actually said that they won’t be patching W7 & W8 to work with any future CPU chips.

So the only version of Windoze that will “work” on newer h/w will be W10.

By the sound of it OSX, Linux, Unix (etc…) will be unaffected.

Linux has long been the preserve of the computer enthusiast rather than an operating system used by those who have no great interest in computers. Maybe it’s time for Linux to become more widely used.

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I know that Linux is widely used outside the home but perhaps this would be as good a time as any to bring open source computing to the masses who want to use a computer but have little interest in which operating system it uses.

You are totally wrong in saying the MS owns my computer. Apple does. 🙂

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I agree, Duncan. Like many academics I resisted using MS wherever possible. I should have gone open source but the easier option was Mac. I have just had my first security problem with an iPhone. I have just had a call from a friend who picked up my phone by mistake yesterday evening. 🙁

In its guise as Android, Linux is now very widely used.

Chromebooks also run a simple version of Linux and are ideal for those who have no great interest in computers.

Thanks Derek. Good points.