Lewis Mumford, a critic and historian of technological civilization, has written that art and engineering were separated in the fourteenth century. Before that, engineers were artists, and vice versa. (See his Technics and Civilization, p. 219.) Yesterday, Apple registered a win in courtroom over Samsung for copying too much of Apple’s design of iPhone and iPad. (That, how much Apple originally had taken inspiration/copied from other manufacturers was not decided upon.) What remains clear is that the tools we use have a deep impact on our actions, and on our thinking and finally also to our societies. It is good to think about our tools sometimes, and also consider how tools figure in our thinking.
My two main daily tools are my smartphone (I use actively both Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S2, not taking sides in that argument) and my laptop. It is difficult to say which I use more. The smartphone is probably taken up more often, for small things, quickly checking up something, for checking in somewhere, for checking other people’s check-ins or statuses. But laptop is the one I would not get very far without during the working day. My correspondence, my main calendar interface, all my projects, documents and materials reside in its memory, waiting to be reorganised and recombined and expanded upon with a few touches and key-presses.
In May 2009 I started to use Vaio Z series laptop (Vaio Z31WN, to be precise), and have not looked back since. The art of engineering that is put into Vaio laptops is probably not going to evoke similar degrees of cult following like that of Apple ones, but for a person who prefers Windows OS over the Mac/OS X one, there did not use to be a better option. Today, there are dozens of ‘ultrabook’ portables which all claim to have good combination of light, solid construction, long battery life, fast SSD storage, bright screens and speedy processors. Working on ‘state of the art’ on that edge has thus got more interesting – if you are into that kind of things, that is.
After some comparison work, I have concluded that for my particular needs, the new version of Vaio Z series is probably the best option still. I travel a lot so light design is a priority, and I work with videos, photos and other media in the production side (in addition to the basic Word, Excel and web design stuff), and then there are also all those games I should be analysing. My eyes are not as good as they should be, so a really sharp screen that has wide viewing angles is also a must. Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina Display is sure an interesting machine, but it is too heavy for me, and as I said, I do not like OS X as a work environment (I get stuff done in a PC, but keep hitting on walls while on a Mac). Thinkpad X1 Carbon has solid build, and is thin and light, but the tests tell also that its screen is so-and-so, as also is the battery life. Vaio Z has its own issues (the keyboard and trackpad for example are not the best you can find), but its combination of good screen with lightness and capable performance fits my needs best.
The mid-2012 Vaio Z has been tested here and there, but there are some exiting options that have not been addressed in review so far. One of them is 4G/LTE connectivity option that is interesting to an active traveller. (According to this German page, it appears to support 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz, as well as 2100 and 900 MHz bands: http://m.heise.de/mobil/meldung/Subnotebook-mit-integriertem-LTE-1576015.html?from-classic=1.) The premium screen option is Full HD and the long life battery claims to keep going for 14 hours (depending on use, of course).
My original plans were to do the Vaio upgrade in 2013, but there are reasons (both push and pull, financing and research needs) that suggest earlier date. I have been in talks with Sony Europe (really talking with them multiple times, which was not my original plan), and it is interesting to see whether we are able to close a deal on a specified system at all. The experiences so far have not been exactly promising. The Sony web store gives me cryptic errors regardless of the browser used, calls to the customer service go to Belgium where they tried to recover (unsuccessfully) my Sony account, then resorted to taking the specs of the Vaio over the phone. In the next step, their system was unable to process our EuroCard (MasterCard). They did send me an invoice by email. The invoice needs to be processed by due course through the university administration, which takes at least a week. Sony informed me that the order will expire after ten days. Placing an order to a web store need not be quite this exciting, I think.
It might be that the 15th Anniversary Edition of Vaio Z laptop is the proud paragon of Japanese electronics engineering, but there are still gaping holes in their overall customer experience, unfortunately.