Laptop Frustration

I never owned a laptop until a few summers ago. I wanted to learn a bit about laptops and the differences from desktop systems. I thought a mobile computer might be useful. Not wanting to experiment in an expensive way, for $200 I bought a refurbished Thinkpad T400 with Windows XP installed.

My first lesson was caveat emptor when buying preowned laptops. The battery pack was useless beyond a few minutes. Thankfully I convinced the refurbisher to provide me a decent pack in return for no mention of the incident in online reviews.

My second lesson was, being a Thinkpad, I found the red pencil eraser button a nuisance. So much so that I disabled the gadget in the BIOS. While I have not yet physically removed the red gadget, more than a few times I have been tempted to do so because I keep stubbing my fingers and thumbs against the thing while typing.

My third lesson was that trackpads utterly suck at being friendly. I read a lot online about trackpads and while many people might not admit as much, trackpads are horrible from a usability perspective. Since my purchase I have been more aware of other people using trackpads and I watch their usage and behavior. Trackpads impact usability. Users do not use a computer as efficiently with trackpads as they do with the conventional and well tested mouse. Trackpads impeded efficiency and speed.

The external mouse remains the best tool for moving a GUI pointer and navigating context menus. One of my first responses then was to buy a USB mouse. I rarely use the trackpad.

Initially I focused on my original goal: learning the differences from desktops. That all went well. Eventually I began using the laptop as a test system and now have multiple distros installed. Keeping them all updated and synced is a challenge but I learned much in accomplishing.

The laptop did provide me a degree of mobility. Yet slowly, ever so slowly, I began to notice whenever I used the laptop I tended to get frustrated. My anxiety levels rose. Eventually I traced that behavioral response to the keyboard that is common with almost all laptops. While generally Thinkpads are considered one of the better selections for laptop keyboards, that did not change my reaction.

Laptop keyboards lack tactile response. They are about 90% of the size of a desktop keyboard, which tends to produce more typing mistakes. The keyboard layout is not the same as a traditional desktop keyboard, which means retraining memory muscle to accommodate the distinctions. I get irritated when using the directional keys on the laptop: the arrow keys, the Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys. I also much prefer the larger reverse L shaped Enter key, which the laptop lacks instead using a bar shaped Enter key.

For more than two decades I have used an Northgate Omnikey. A real keyboard. The difference between the Omnikey and the laptop keyboards is the proverbial night and day.

I have a Logitech Pro 2000 wireless RF keyboard. I bought the keyboard mainly to use with my HTPC. While full size, I find using that keyboard frustrating too. The reason is the lack of tactile response and bar shaped Enter key.

When I bought a refurbished Windows 7 desktop this past summer, the package included a typical inexpensive and low quality iMicro USB Basic 104Key English Keyboard KB-IM898KB keyboard. I dislike using that keyboard.

All of this leads me to wonder whether I am alone in these observations. I wonder how many other people are frustrated by the quirks of trackpads and cheap keyboards yet do not realize the source of their anxiety.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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