To be productive on my commute to work, I needed to find a small, reliable laptop. My need became more pressing because my quad core ACER — very soon after coming off warranty — began having significant power supply-related issues, a.k.a. randomly shutting down and then not starting up for hours.
On Friday I researched ultra books online and spent a few hours going to stores. After seeing dozens of models, I headed to the store with the laptop that met all of my criteria at the lowest price: the ASUS ZenBook. The Zenbook is a 13.3 inch computer weighing in at 3-pounds and measuring under 2cm thick (about 3/4″). The body is machined aluminum — so I immediately handed the sales guy a blank cheque, telling him to name a price, because that’s what consumers do whenever they see “machined aluminum”.
The processor is a bit underpowered and graphics are integrated — but I just wanted something that’s tiny yet great for typing with serviceable performance. My old quad-core will remain the workhorse. The new ASUS ultrabook has a hybrid 24 gigabyte SSD (solid state drive) and 500 gigabyte HDD (conventional hard drive with spinning disks). I would have liked to get a full SSD, but even the cheapest SSD-only laptops (which come with a measly 128 gigabytes of storage) were more expensive.
The closest competitor in my analysis was a Lenovo that had incrementally better specs, but it was about 35% heavier (which makes a significant difference when I’m carrying it every day); it was also thicker and the body was an inch bigger diagonally. In all, including Ontario’s ridiculous 13% VAT and eco-fees, I paid a smidgen over $750. A MacBook Air with comparable specs runs for a heckuva lot more than that. (Actually, I could only get a 128GB SSD model that weighs about the same and would cost $1200 plus tax.)
Windows asked me a bunch of questions. I turned off some of the recommended features to improve performance. (No, sorry Microsoft: try paying your software engineers to improve the user experience, rather than collecting free data from my computer.) When Windows finally started, it was like a dog’s breakfast. ASUS had its update system fighting with Windows. After a few required reboots (which were admittedly blazing fast thanks to Windows being cached on the SSD) I was in business.
First Impressions of Windows 8
Except I wasn’t actually in business yet because Windows 8 is freaking awful. That’s already been said in every review I’ve seen, but I thought it was typical “MICROSOFT SUX0RS!!!1!” propaganda from iFan journalists. Having used it, I can’t understate how awful this trash is. I now know what my Grandpa felt like the first time I helped him use a computer with Windows XP. I hope there’s something going on “under the hood” that justifies this train wreck because the interface is garbage, garbage, garbage.
Try using the apps on that Start screen — they open up bizarre-o world full screen versions of programs (sorry, “Apps”). After getting trapped in a literally blank email screen with no “X” button and Windows 8 flipping out because I hadn’t verified my account email yet, I put the cursor in the bottom left of the screen (Why? Who knows?) and somehow got back to the “Start” page. Then I used my last wit to press “escape” and thankfully ended up on a somewhat familiar desktop. Except there’s no start button. You need to move your mouse to the top right corner of the screen to get a menu that’s kind of like the Start menu of olde. Except that’s only part of the Start menu; I mean, why keep all those functionalities in one place when you can spew them incoherently across a half dozen different locations?
Give me back the start button! After Googling that exact phrase, I found out that Microsoft had an alleged reason for removing the Start button: “We are seeing people pin [applications] like crazy [to the task bar]. And so we saw the Start menu usage dramatically dropping…” That is their reason. Instead of Microsoft saying “Oh, great, by letting users pin stuff to the task bar we created a useful new feature!” they said “Oh, great, we created a useful new feature for users now let’s destroy the Start button because it’s a useful old feature!”
You get the point about Windows 8: I give it an “F”. Worse than that. I honestly considered trying to return this otherwise decent laptop.
[BONUS RANT: Seriously, Windows 8 makes no sense. I start up the computer, and I have to click a button to pop up the login screen. After logging in, I arrive at the weird new Start interface. Then I have to exit to the desktop. Why the extra clicking? Just let me where I want to freaking go in the first place. If I want to find a new app, instead of using the Start button I need to go to the right of the screen, click the "search" button, and then view a full screen search results page. The "all apps" screen is a bizarre new list with massive buttons where you see all the apps under each heading, rather than organized folders in a concise list.]
Secure the System
Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender which has apparently been expanded to include free anti-virus protection. I uninstalled the trial of McAfee (which was almost as annoying as the real life drama queen), activated Windows Defender, and then installed Norton (I had an extra license anyway).
Clear the Trash
ASUS, like ACER and the other low-priced PC manufacturers, apparently spend a great deal of time concocting useless software to load onto PCs. I spent a solid hour just uninstalling programs and rebooting. And look at all the amazing business productivity software ASUS included:
My computer didn’t come with a “low-end” free version of Microsoft Office unlike my last laptop. Because that’s where the future is — extremely expensive, unimpressive software suites designed to complete rudimentary tasks like writing. I removed the time-limited trial of Office. Thanks, Microsoft, for giving me the final push to adopt Libre Office.
I also downloaded the browser that, as it turns out, is the most optimized for Windows 8. PS it’s not Internet Explorer.
I haven’t gotten into this yet. It’ll involve installing Glary Utilities (which I’ve praised before) and running the optimization processes I talked about in that article.
So that was my Friday night; spending hundreds of dollars on a computer followed by wasting several hours to make it functional. Thanks Windows 8. Did I mention it’s awful?