I'm not saying I'm an impressionable tool of mass propaganda, but those recent Microsoft ads really got to me. While some folks hated the (short-lived) Bill Gates--Jerry Seinfeld series that kicked off the campaign, it cracked me up. It also got my attention, and the subsequent "I'm a PC" ads closed the deal: I've been thinking maybe it's time to buy a laptop.
But which one? This may sound crazy, but I haven't had a Windows PC since I wrote a cover story for this magazine nearly seven years ago about the first flat-panel Apple iMac. These days, I have enough Apple laptops, desktops, iPods and iPhones to make my house look like a deranged version of an Apple Store. Like most tech snobs, I continue to believe that compared with Windows, Apple's OS X operating system is easier to use, more stable and more fun for the average Joe.
Still, I concede that the average joe prefers Windows computers, which account for more than 90% of the machines on the Internet, according to the Web-monitoring firm Net Applications. (Apple's got a little less than 8%, though it has recently surged in laptop sales and now commands a little more than 10% of that market.) That's why many new gadgets I've wanted to write about (a sport watch from Garmin, for instance) and software (Google's Chrome browser) work with PCs only.
So during the past six months, I've been testing different Windows laptops--from huge ones with drive-in-theater-size screens and every conceivable feature to shrimpy "palm tops" that weigh less than a teacup Chihuahua--trying to find the right PC for me. I've concluded that HP's EliteBook 2530p comes pretty close to my ideal Windows machine.
I'd like a better travel laptop than my 17-in. MacBook Pro, and the 2530p has a 12.1-in. screen (as measured diagonally) and a total weight starting at only 3.2 lb., ideal for Virgin America's economy seats. As with most HP business-class computers, you get a slate of useful little features, like a teeny LED night-light at the top of the screen that pops out to illuminate your keyboard, minimizing spousal irritation. A fingerprint reader allows you to bypass password protection and log in to the laptop, or even to websites, with a thumb swipe. And a nifty built-in business-card scanner lets you line up a card along the front edge of the machine, tilt the laptop's screen down and snap a picture of it; included with the laptop is software called Presto! BizCard that imports the text of the business card into your contacts file. There's also a Gobi chipset that allows you to connect to high-speed cellular networks, available by subscription in the U.S. from the likes of AT&T and Verizon, when wi-fi networks are unavailable. There's even a slot for a SIM card for pay-as-you-go cellular networks abroad.
This laptop, which has been out on the streets for a few weeks, is specifically designed for the road warrior who needs a rough-and-tumble machine. The brushed-aluminum skin is scratch-proof, and this semiruggedized model meets the military's standards for durability, having been drop tested from 30 in. off the ground at every conceivable angle. That means if you fumble the 2530p and drop it at airport security (as I've done before, dimpling the corners of two MacBooks), an accelerometer senses the plunge and locks the hard drive into place, protecting your data.
The only thing cooler than that would be to have a bulletproof hard drive that is unfazed by any drop. And that pretty much describes the drive on the model I've been testing (which comes out in October): the 2530p is outfitted with a spiffy new "solid-state" drive (SSD) that costs $650 more than the old-fashioned spinning hard drives used by our forefathers (making this model likely to cost about $2,500). With no moving parts, SSDs boot up and respond quicker, run quieter and give off less heat, all of which improves battery power. Indeed, this laptop gets up to eight hours on a standard six-cell battery. My MacBook gets less than half that.
Like most hard-charging businessmen, I couldn't wait to use that battery power to watch DVDs on planes. But when I loaded a movie, I got an error message. Turns out the version of Microsoft Vista I have requires a $25 upgrade to watch DVDs! Later I found out that HP includes a patch for the laptop, but that made me think of all the things I disliked about Windows. Guess I'm probably still a Mac--not a PC.