Lorenzo Villani

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ThinkPad T480

Jul 28, 2018

I recently received a new work laptop. We needed one equipped with a touch screen for a particular project. Based on a colleague’s recommendation and an intriguing spec sheet we settled on a Lenovo ThinkPad T480.

It arrived suspended inside a recyclable cardboard box. Inside that box there was another cardboard box with the battery and a USB-C charger. That’s it.

The box

Lenovo's slogan For those who do

Lenovo is conveying a clear message with this thing: we don’t have time for bullshit like fancy packaging. This laptop was made for those who do. You are supposed to have the box dropped on your desk, open it, and start working immediately.

While I appreciate having a nice unboxing experience, such as those offered by Apple and Dell, I also fully respect Lenovo’s no-frills approach. It’s eco-friendly and leaves less garbage lying around the office. Ten points to Gryffindor.

This machine is super configurable. Want 16 GBs of RAM? 32? Want one RAM stick? Two? Want a second hard drive? What about choosing between a TN, IPS, touch or WQHD display? Having choice is nice, even though it’s a bit ridiculous to have so many especially when we are talking about 17€ options like the backlit keyboard.

This laptop has a wicked cool “bridge battery” system. It comes with a fixed internal 24 Wh battery and a slot where you can place a removable one. This allows you to hot-swap the battery while the system is running.

Lenovo images this portable machine with a clean copy of Windows 10 Pro. Only a driver utility and wallpaper were installed. I applaud Lenovo for this tasteful choice. Microsoft ships a lot of bloatware with Windows already, we don’t need any more of it. 1

The keyboard is… fine. It feels a little bit mushier than my MacBook’s, but it gets the job done. I’m totally unable to use the TrackPoint though: it immediately triggers a pain spike in my wrist whenever I use it, in a way that resembles RSI.

The touchpad is, again, fine. It gets a little better when used under Windows 10 with its “Precision Touchpad” drivers but it’s still miles behind the one found on any MacBook built in the last ten years. After all this time, Apple is still the undisputed leader when it comes to touchpad quality and feel. 2

The screen is a 1920x1080 matte IPS panel with 10 fingers multi-touch capabilities. It’s a bit dim (250-270 nits), especially under direct sunlight. It also lacks an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust brightness and contrast. The sensor is especially useful for traveling on the train, since lightning conditions change wildly during a ride. Needless to say, the MacBook has both a brighter screen (320 nits) and a light sensor. Only now I realize how much I relied on that feature.

One pretty big downside of this laptop is its fan. It’s constantly whirring even when the laptop is idle. It’s noisy. Again, this is in stark contrast with my MacBook, which is dead-silent even when compiling Qt inside a Windows VM. The noise can’t be heard in the typical office environment, but it’s annoyingly present when I’m working from home, which is most of the time since I’m remote.

All in all, I like this laptop and its straight-to-business approach. I like how Lenovo refined the traditional “ThinkPad shape” while keeping it true to its origins rooted in the early nineties.

This machine emanates a certain kind of business-y and enterprise-y vibe that’s hard to convey with words alone. Nothing sends a stronger signal that you are doing important stuff than typing on a ThinkPad.

It’s even better if you do it while wearing a suit.

  1. Of course I wiped the laptop clean to dual boot Ubuntu and Windows 10 about thirty seconds after booting it for the first time. 

  2. Moving the cursor with the index finger while having the thumb resting on the surface became possible only with Windows 10 updates released in the last year. 

Make MacBooks Great Again

Jun 18, 2018

I bought a MacBook Pro in early 2014. It was my first Apple laptop ever.

This machine is glorious. It’s a joy to use. The MagSafe connector, AirDrop, Continuity, Handoff, macOS, and plenty of other things all contribute to a pleasant experience.

It has served me well for almost five years. Superb touchpad and screen. I use it for development with Docker, VMs, and all that jazz. It gets a tad slow sometimes, but it’s almost as zippy as when I originally bought it.

After all these years of honored service, I’m looking to replace it with a newer model equipped with a larger SSD and a faster processor.

The problem is that Apple has seemingly stopped producing good laptops since 2016. It seems they are more interested in producing beautiful aluminum sculptures rather than catering to the practical needs of “pros”.

Newer models have many shortcomings: no more MagSafe, only USB-C ports forcing me to carry a bunch of dongles, and a smaller battery that lasts less than older models. It also still has problems with the anti-reflecting coating on the screen coming off after a while.

I could put up with most of these flaws, except for one: the keyboard. It is so unreliable that a single speck of dust can make it unusable. It’s also so hard to fix a key that Apple prefers to replace the entire top case when the keyboard fails. Since Apple doesn’t recognize it as a manufacturing problem, out of warranty repairs are expensive, as in several hundred euros expensive.

This problem is very real and happens as frequently as every six months. I don’t want a laptop that wants me to spend hundreds of euros in repairs every six months after the warranty is over.

The keyboard is the primary interface between me and the laptop. It has to work. It has to be reliable.

They now have a repair program and they say turnaround times are five business days or more. Being deprived of my work laptop for a week is unacceptable. Especially if you’re knowingly selling me a defective model.

Since they replaced the old, reliable, keyboard with the new version across the board, I have no other choice but to buy the same defective laptop.

I now have to choose between having a laptop with the latest CPU or one that actually works.

We are at the point where several people are discouraging others from buying the latest MacBook Pros, telling them to buy the 2015 model instead, or even older ones.

I find this trend worrying. Instead of improving its hardware, Apple is sacrificing everything in the name of making a laptop 1-millimeter thinner and 100 grams lighter. At some point, returns diminish drastically and we reached that point in 2016 already.

I’m in the lucky position of not being that much locked into the Apple ecosystem. I could switch to something else if I’m really forced to do so.

Having a lineup of products working well together is Apple’s biggest strength, but also its biggest weakness.

I bought an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and AirPods because I first bought a MacBook Pro. Not having a decent work laptop could be the reason for me to sell them all.

The iPhone becomes a bit less special without AirDrop, Continuity and Handoff. The Apple Watch can only be used with an iPhone. AirPods are magical, but only when used together with a Mac and an iPhone.

If I can’t take advantage of all the synergies between their devices, why have them all in the first place? I could probably do the same with way cheaper (but still good) pieces of equipment at that point.

Once I cross the line, it’s over. Apple can only push things so far before people start looking for alternatives.

Apple, it’s time to make your laptops great again.

Windows 10 Pro Review

Feb 14, 2018

This is Windows 10 Pro, immediately after installation:

Windows 10 Pro after installation

Notice anything weird?

No?

Here, let me enhance the image:

Windows 10 Pro ads

See all those red rectangles? Those are ads for third party products. What about the yellow ones instead? Those are ads for Microsoft’s own products.

Windows 10 Pro has a retail price, in Italy, of 259€. That would be around 320$ with today’s exchange rates.

Ads. In a product that costs 259€. Not to mention the constant nagging to install Office, use Edge, switch to OneDrive, try Cortana or update the system at the most inconvenient time (despite having set “active hours”).

Satya wants people to love Windows instead of needing it. I can’t imagine myself loving Windows when it tries so hard to push me away.