Opinion: Notebook PCs: The bigger, the better

The experts are wrong. Giant laptops rule. (Just don't put one on your lap.)

An unprecedented category of supersize notebooks with screens larger than 20 inches has recently emerged to challenge our decades-long preference for smallness in portable computers.

The reviewers and mobile computing experts tell us these monster notebooks aren't practical. They're heavy. They don't fit in standard laptop bags. They're too big to use on an airplane. They cost a fortune.

But I think the stars are lining up in favor of these monster notebooks.

There are three major players in this market: Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Acer.

These systems all sport huge, bright and sharp 20.1-in., 1,680-by-1,050-pixel resolution monitors with game-quality 3-D graphics cards; full-size or near-full-size keyboards; remote controls; loud, powerful stereo-sound systems with subwoofers; built-in webcams with microphones; built-in wireless and network ports; DVD-burning capability; large-capacity dual-hard drives; and every port and media card reader your desktop has. The features lists go on and on.

The Dell has an innovative handle that doubles as a monitor stand when you open it. The Dell keyboard is detachable, wireless and full size. The HP has a pop-out remote control unit. There are many other minor and subtle differences between the three. But they all weigh between 15 and 19 lb. and cost more than $4,000.

Monster notebooks sound daunting. And expensive. But there are three reasons why bigger is now better when buying a new notebook PC and why you might actually save money by buying one:

1. Giant laptops are now the only real desktop replacements

Every notebook sold these days with built-in drives and plenty of ports is marketed as a "desktop replacement." But have you seen your desktop lately?

Desktops these days have huge LCD screens, spectacular multimedia options, including hi-fi stereo sound. They have enormous capacity hard drives and DVD burners built-in. Desktops tend to have five or more USB ports, full-size keyboards, webcams, full-size mice, multimedia controls on the keyboard and plenty of options for plugging in multimedia peripherals.

The three giant laptops mentioned here are the only real desktop replacement notebook computers on the market. The others replace the limited, small-screen, quiet, boring desktop you had five years ago, not the modern, big-screen media-center desktop you have right now.

Buying a monster notebook means you can buy one PC instead buying both a desktop and a notebook -- without making compromises in computing experience.

2. Cell phones replace laptops for mobility

Pundits diss monster notebooks because they're too big to use on airplanes or at coffee shops. But the new reality is: You don't need to. Smart phones and iPhones are so sophisticated now that the computing you used to do with a laptop can now be done with your smart phone, especially if you take advantage of the great mobile foldable keyboards available for every major cell phone model.

You can use your phone for writing reports, replying to e-mail, surfing the Web, chatting with colleagues and friends. Why make sacrifices in your laptop experience for mobility when you've already got a mobile computer in your pocket?

3. Giant laptops replace an HDTV, too.

The quality of high-definition TV is so high that it no longer makes sense to spend a penny on a non-HDTV. So why would you buy a non-HD laptop? Especially if it can replace either your primary or secondary TV?

These monster systems have such big and good screens, such brilliant sound systems and (with HD options) play HD movies that might even look better than your TV, that they're perfectly reasonable alternatives to HDTV sets. They come with remote controls, so watching your monster laptop is just like watching your TV.

Here's why monster notebooks make sense

People think it's perfectly reasonable to buy and own an HDTV, a multimedia desktop, a laptop for mobile computing and a smart phone. That's four devices. Together, they can cost between $5,000 and $8,000.

My argument is: Why not instead buy a monster notebook and a smart phone. Together, these cost about $5,000, and take up far less space in your house.

Best of all, and unlike your desktop and HDTV, your monster notebook can go with you anywhere in the house, on business trips and to Starbucks. And all the while, you're enjoying the highest quality computing and entertainment experience without compromise.

It's time to rethink the unthinkable and consider the new reality: When it comes to notebook PCs, bigger really is better.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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