Notebooks/Laptops for the Professional Academic

Elizabeth Nowicki —  21 May 2007

I would be curious to know what laptops folks out there are using (with success).  I am shopping for a lightweight (lightweight!) laptop to tote around to conferences and such, and I have absolutely no clue where to start.  I do not use fancy stuff – just Word, Excel, Powerpoint.  And I refuse to use a Mac.  I fear change.  Old dog, new tricks, etc. etc.


6 responses to Notebooks/Laptops for the Professional Academic

    Elizabeth Nowicki 22 May 2007 at 11:20 am

    Wow, folks, thank you. Plus I have gotten comments e-mailed to me directly. Thank you for the feedback. Please keep adding if anything comes to you.
    I appreciate the explanation of the tablet. I had never thought of its value in terms of taking notes as a general matter. Generally, I take pages and pages of notes at conferences, on the hotel paper. I then stuff each day’s notes into my briefcase, ending up at home with an incomprehensible, disorganized list of thoughts.
    M.Hodak, I only look like I am twelve. I swear I am easing into old dog range.


    Liz, you aren’t exactly an old dog (I’ve seen your pic on the Richmond site). Get a Mac.

    AnotherAcademic 21 May 2007 at 6:18 pm

    I second the thinkpad recommendation. They’re bulletproof. But more specifically, for someone who will be sitting in presentations taking notes, I have to recommend the Thinkpad tablet-PC. It’s an ultralight laptop running the plain old windows we all know and love. But if you want to take notes via ‘pen and paper’ you swivel the screen around and write on it. Although you can have the computer translate your handwriting to text on the fly, the real value is in using the laptop like an electronic filing cabinet for your notes and just leave them as handwriting, with handwritten diagrams and all.

    The other big plus for the tablet is the ability to swivel the screen into portrait mode and take notes directly on PDFs. The portrait mode allows you to look at an entire 8.5×11 page without zooming or panning. Most folks read journals electronically, and until I got the tablet I was printing them out to highlight them / take notes in the margins.

    Another recommendation: microsoft onenote on a tablet. You can use the onboard microphones to record a lecture while taking written notes in the application. If you later want to review the audio you can select your handwritten notes and the audio will automatically forward to that point in time. It also indexes the audio, making it available to the search function. This all works surprisingly well.

    Anyway, even if you don’t find the tablet functionality to be that useful you’re still left with a powerful, well made ultralight laptop. Or at least that was my logic.


    Some more information is in order–when you say “lightweight (lightweight!)” do you mean, about 2.5, 3.3, 4, or 5 pounds? This roughly corresponds to 10.6, 12.1, 13.3, or 14.1 inch screens. Does it have to have a built in CD or DVD drive? What’s your price range? The lighter/smaller laptops tend to have smaller keyboards and worse battery life; what is the minimum battery life you’d be happy with (assuming you are just word processing.)

    A typical laptop nowadays is about 6+ pounds with a 15.4 inch widescreen.


    Get a new Intel-based Mac (MacBook Pro or MacBook). You can dual-boot OS X or Windows (or emulate Windows in Parallels – even cooler). Soon, of course, you’ll find yourself working in Mac land… Word, ppt, excel all are very similar anway on the Mac, only better. 🙂

    The X-series Thinkpads are quite small, but they are exactly fast, and you need a separate DVD-Rom.


    If you won’t go the Mac route, get a Thinkpad. The T-Series is pretty light and very durable.

    I’ve listened to dozens of people whine about how they lost thousands of dollars worth of work or missed a deadline because their $500 Compaq laptop from BestBuy died. You get what you pay for.