After a decade of falling sales, the Covid pandemic has seen traditional PC sales reach the highest level in that time. Continue reading
Gartner says 84.1 million PC were shipped in the third quarter of 2021. That’s up one percent on the same period a year earlier. Which doesn’t sound much, but last year saw the most buoyant PC activity in almost a decade.
There was a shortage of suitable laptop chips during the quarter which acted as a brake on sales. Business desktop PC sales were strong.
Chromebook sales fell 17 percent in the quarter – the biggest drop Chromebooks have seen to date.
Gartner now counts Chromebooks in its PC shipments.
Lenovo remains the top selling PC brand. The company’s shipments grew slightly faster than the market at 1.8 percent, but ended a run of five quarters of double digit growth. Lenovo suffered from component shortages.
HP shipments fell 5.8 percent. Poor US demand for Chromebooks was partly behind this. It too faces supply chain issues.
Dell saw strong growth. Gartner puts this down to the company being stronger in business PCs than in consumer models. This was were there was more demand.
Apple grew 7.4 percent. Gartner says the company’s M1 based models have been well received by the market. It says an expected product refresh – which will be announced next week – means some Apple customers put purchases on hold.
Worldwide PC vendor unit shipment estimates for 3Q21 (thousands of units)
3Q21 Market Share (%)
3Q20 Market Share (%)
3Q21-3Q20 Growth (%)
Microsoft is now rolling out Windows 11. Gartner says this will have limited impact on business sales as large buyers tend to be conservative with software upgrades. The research company forecasts a weak fourth quarter with demand driven more by replacements than new buyers.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation may be pricey but it is one of the most powerful laptops you can buy. If you need raw power, this delivers.
At a glance
|For:||Graphics performance, great display, keyboard and build quality.|
|Against:||Sound quality and webcam could be better. Pricey.|
|Maybe:||Battery life, screen ratio. Non-touch screen.|
|Verdict:||Packs the most Windows laptop power into the smallest package. Good choice if you need the grunt.|
|Rating:||4.5 out of 5|
|Price:||From $3530, as reviewed $5400.
Who is the ThinkPad P14s for?
Lenovo engineered the ThinkPad P14s for demanding users who need mobility. We used to call them power users.
It offers Intel CPU options that, when added to the Nvidia Quadro T500 graphics processor, are more than powerful enough for heavy duty work but not the most demanding workloads.
There are 17 and 15-inch models for people who need bigger screens. These can get big and hefty.
With a case that is 18mm deep and 330 by 230 mm elsewhere, the 14-inch model is the most portable P series model.
On the move
You might choose this if mobility is your priority.
While it is ideal for serious on-the-go photo or light video work, if you work in animation, CAD or need heavy video rendering you may prefer a less mobile computer with more grunt.
It would be good for scientific computing in the field and number crunching through large databases. Developers would be a key market and people who need to demonstrate creative work.
If you are reading this and think the price tag is outrageous; you are not the target market.
This machine is overkill for everyday computing. If your work means spending time waiting for calculations to finish, then you’ll see a return on your investment in weeks.
Above all, it’s a ThinkPad
Lenovo inherited the bento lunchbox inspired ThinkPad design when it acquired the brand from IBM in 2005. It has run with it ever since.
While Lenovo has tried other ideas, ThinkPad remains a classic premium business-focused laptop design. ThinkPads tend to be robust, but they are not tanks.
It’s a physical format that suits a powerful workstation.
The ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation is made to get work done. It looks that way from the moment you unpack the box.
Black and red
You won’t be surprised to hear the ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation keeps the black plastic case with red trim.
It includes the tiny, red, joystick-like TrackPoint controller which, once you adapt to using it, moves the cursor around the screen.
In case that’s not enough, there’s an excellent three button TrackPad. Because I’m a touch typist and prefer not to move my hands away from the keys, I find the TrackPoint works best. Both TrackPoint and Trackpad are accurate
No-one beats Lenovo when it comes to laptop keyboards. That’s true with the P14s keyboard. There is plenty of key travel for touch typists. Each key is sculpted and backlighting is best in class. It feels right.
The review model has a 14-inch display. Inside there is the 11th generation Intel Core i7–1185G7 processor. It has 32GB of Ram and 512Gb of storage. We mentioned the Nvidia Quadro T500 4GB graphics card earlier.
Lenovo sent the model with the UHD (3840 by 2160 pixel) display.
That configuration adds up to a New Zealand list price of $54001.
By any standard this is a lot of money for a laptop. Yet the second generation ThinkPad P14s i is no ordinary computer.
There is a base model P14s for NZ$3530. It’s hard to see who might choose that over a more conventional high-end laptop. This technology comes into its own when you pump up its specification.
At 1.5Kg the P14s is light for this class of 14-inch laptop. That achievement is spoiled somewhat by the small 65w power brick and cables that add another 320g. Yet you won’t stretch your arms moving it around.
It feels robust enough to be hauled around town or, if you’re flying at the moment, on to planes without any worries. There’s a small amount of flex in the plastic case which can soften blows.
Given the premium nature of the ThinkPad P14s, the bezels are large by the standard of modern laptops. The aspect ratio is 16:9. Lenovo missed a trick here2.
The non-touch display on the review laptop is nothing short of stunning.
It is luscious and bright, has high 3840 by 2160 pixel resolution, great colour and fast response. Thanks to the 500 nits of brightness, you can read the screen fine in sunlight.
White coloured areas on screen can glare at times… you may need to adjust the brightness down if you are in dark conditions.
There are no applications in my armoury that could begin to trouble the ThinkPad P14s. I tried video editing, page design and audio rendering software without ever seeing any signs of stress.
While it handled almost everything with ease, there was one area of less than stellar performance: Video calling.
Many laptops have inadequate webcams. That’s to be expected on low-cost computers. You might expect better from something that costs more than five grand.
Lenovo’s 720p webcam is poor. 720p is about 0.9 megapixels. That’s a fraction of what you might find even on a modestly priced mobile phone.
For comparison, my iMac has a 1080p webcam which is 2.1 megapixels. I thought that was low. My iPad has an 8 megapixel front facing camera.
In practice, P14s webcam pictures are blurry with washed out colours. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a boss who has shelled out for an employee to buy a P14s wondering where the money went.
Likewise, the P14s speaker and microphone are adequate, not outstanding. I found I needed to use earbuds to get better video call performance.
Lenovo has the balance between portability and battery life about right. The processor, GPU and screen consume plenty of power and yet I could get close to ten hours between charges. I haven’t attempted to measure battery life when driving the system harder, no doubt it would drop.
Bits and pieces
- The privacy shutter is a nice idea, but it was hard to find, hard to use and feels like it will be the first thing on the laptop to break.
- I’m not going to dismantle a $5400 review laptop, but looking at the screws on the case, this would be easy to take apart if you want to upgrade components.
- Wi-Fi 6 support is welcome. Should be a minimum in any 2021 device. It may pay to upgrade your wireless router if you buy this computer.
- There’s a fan in the case, but you wouldn’t know it. My home office is quiet, but it was rare to notice any noise even when more demanding tasks might need extra cooling.
- The P14s includes 12 ports – there’s a list on the website spec page. You probably won’t need a docking station with this, but Lenovo offers plenty of options if that’s your preference.
Verdict: ThinkPad P14s i Gen 2 workstation
Lenovo has crafted a top quality, premium Windows workstation for professionals who need power while on the move.
It looks good, feels good and delivers on the promised high performance. Mobility and battery life are on a par with less powerful laptops.
This is not a laptop for everyone, the price makes that clear.
The Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H is not going to set hearts aflutter. It’s a standard 15.6-inch Windows 10 laptop with no frills and a couple of minor niggles that might put you off.
At a glance
|For:||All the important features are here.|
|Against:||Lacklustre trackpad performance, flimsy screen lid.|
|Maybe:||The 16:9 screen ratio can be a blessing or a curse depending on what you need.|
|Verdict:||It’s OK, but canny shoppers can get a better laptop for the asking price.|
|Rating:||3 out of 5|
|Price:||Around $1800 although you should check the footnote.1.|
The ghost of Toshiba
Those of you who bought a Windows laptop more a decade ago may remember the Satellite Pro.
Toshiba began using the name when the Japanese laptop brand was at its peak in the early 1990s. Over the years Toshiba’s reputation lost its shine. It couldn’t keep pace with the competition. Toshiba didn’t go out with a bang; it faded from the scene.
Sharp picked up the remnants of Toshiba’s business in 2018. It uses its Dynabook brand to sell Portège and Satellite Pro models.
The Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H is the first model from this line we’ve seen to date.
If it’s indicative of where Sharp plans to take the range, then don’t expect Dynabook to shake the market.
Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H – acceptable business laptop
While the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H is an acceptable business laptop, it is not special. It looks and feels dated next to today’s Microsoft Surface devices or MacBooks.
It’s closer to what you’ll find buried in the less interesting pages of catalogues from HP, Dell or Lenovo. There’s no polite way to put this, the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H is dull by 2021 standards.
That’s OK. There’s a market for boring laptops. Not everyone cares about being seen with the smart brands or the sharpest looking hardware. A segment of users want to get the job done without any frills or thrills.
Ordinary looking… ordinary performance
There is nothing cutting-edge here. You won’t find anything special. It doesn’t have great looks, yet nor is the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H hideous.
As we will see there are a couple of minor positive points and a few niggles.
Everything about the Satellite Pro C50-H is ordinary. This makes it a safe choice for people who are conservative about buying technology.
If there’s a major disappointment, it is the price. You might expect a computer that’s this ordinary to come with a killer price tag.
That’s not always the case here. You couldn’t describe the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H as inexpensive. At the time of writing, one retailer is asking NZ$1832 for the laptop, another has it as a special for $1530.
The higher price will buy a similar specification from brands such as HP, Dell and Lenovo. You could buy a base model MacBook Air for a few dollars less if that appeals to you.
It’s competitive at the lower price, but remember, this is a special deal that may not last.
Screens are central to any laptop experience.
The Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H has a 15.6-inches full HD matt display with thin bezels.
In practice the display is bright enough for everyday work, but the colours don’t sparkle the way they can.
Dynabook has opted for a wide 16:9 screen ratio.
The maker describes the C50-H as a business laptop. A wide 16:9 ratio screen is good for watching movies and dealing with applications like spreadsheets. It’s lousy for writing documents.
Writing works better on taller, narrower displays. Human eyes struggle to track text over a wide measure. If you spend more time than number crunching look for a squarer shaped screen.
One other point: this is not a touch screen.
The screen feels flimsy compared with other laptop models. When you open the laptop it wobbles.
By their nature laptops move about a lot. If you are a mobile worker, you might prefer a more robust construction. It does not feel like close to $2000 worth of computer. It’s still disappointing but less unexpected on a $1500 device. Yet, on its own, this is not a deal breaker.
Despite being flimsy, the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H weighs in at 1.75Kg. That’s heavier than most modern laptops. You notice the heft when carrying it around. To be fair, the higher than normal weight is, in part, down to a larger than usual screen.
Like almost every other laptop, the makers skimped on the HD webcam. This is no worse than you’d find elsewhere.
A bigger screen means there’s space for a full size keyboard with a number pad. That’s good and another plus for people who work with spreadsheets.
Beneath the keyboard is an off-centre trackpad. There may be an ergonomic reason for it being off-centre, but it’s not a good look.
The trackpad is large, which is a good thing but that’s the only positive.
Dynabook’s trackpad is slow and unresponsive. It feels sluggish and, in practice, you can get sore wrists using it for long periods. If you buy this computer, you may want to add a mouse.
Inside the box is an Intel Core i7 processor with four cores. There’s 16GB of Ram. This combination is not good enough for the latest games, but this is not a gaming device.
There’s more than enough power for business applications. You can spend the same money on a Windows 10 laptop and get something that turns in better benchmarks. Unless you use niche power-hungry apps, you won’t notice any difference.
That’s not true compared with working on the M1 MacBook Air which is in the same price range and runs much faster.
The built-in speakers are inadequate for playing music but are ample for Zoom calls and business applications.
Dynabook’s documentation promises 10 hours of battery life between charges. That’s true for business applications, you might get an hour or so less if your spend hours watching streaming video. There’s an old-fashioned charging plug.
Verdict – Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H
Reading back through the above, you’ll realise this is not an impressive laptop, but nor is it bad. It would be ideal if you need a wider screen for spreadsheets or similar applications.
When it comes to a decision to buy, the price is central. At $1832, the high end of the range of current prices, you could get more computer for that money elsewhere.
Meanwhile you would struggle to do better if you can find the Dynabook Satellite Pro C50-H selling for $1530. At that price it’s a reasonable deal.
“They’re not good in any industry they have to compete in or have to be innovative in. They can buy and they can copy, like they just did the other day, again, with another thing. What did they borrow from? From Clubhouse or whatever. They just can’t do anything innovative.”
Facebook may look invincible. Yet as Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway discuss, it could face a rough future. See: Why Facebook Is the Most Vulnerable of the Tech Giants.
It’s hard to like Facebook. At its worst, the company’s business model depends on manipulating emotions. At times it does this in dangerous ways. The more it seeds fear, loathing and misinformation, the richer it gets.
When it’s not undermining democracy, Facebook makes money by spying on its users. It then sells the fruits of its espionage to the highest bidder.
Facebook has no respect for its users.
Over half a billion Facebook customers have details leaked
Last week we heard the personal details of over 530 million users are circulating online. Facebook treated the issue as a public relations problem, not a security breach.
To put that leak into perspective, 530 million people is around seven percent of the world’s population.
Facebook says it has no plans to notify users of the data leak. At no point was there anything resembling an apology or an admission of guilt. So far it has focused on deflecting blame.
The leak may be old news, Facebook says it is. It says it fixed the problem. Yet it underlines the lax attitude and incompetence. A company packed with high-paid engineers should be able to protect user information.
There’s evidence that Facebook has known about the problem for a long time.
To date the tech giant has skirted past crisis after crisis. Everyone knows you can’t trust Facebook.
Each act of incompetence or cynicism looks like it could be the last straw for certain users. Each time the business recovers and moves on. It is not going any time soon.
The latest news is also unlikely to sink the company. Although if you listen to what it says, you might think otherwise.
Facebook has made a lot of noise about Apple’s privacy plans for iOS 14.5. Anyone with an iOS app must warn users about the data they collect.
Judging by Facebook’s squeals, you’d think transparency will destroy the world’s economy. As the Wall Street Journal puts it: Apple and Facebook Clash Over Ads, Mom-and-Pop Shops Fear They’ll Be the Victims.
Facebook launched an ad campaign insisting that those who will be most hurt by Apple’s changes are small and medium-size businesses, which represent the majority of the social network’s more than 10 million advertisers.
If their business depends on lying to users, that’s not a real problem.
Swisher and Galloway end their discussion acknowledging that for a potentially vulnerable business, it remains popular with investors. That’s true.
Facebook isn’t going to fall overnight. There’s enough wealth in the business for it to switch its focus and remain huge. Microsoft did this when it flipped from PC software to cloud computing.
After years of decline, PC sales picked up in 2020. They should remain above their long-term trend this year.
What happens after that is less certain.
As the pandemic spread, companies sent employees home to work. Schools asked students to continue lessons online. Zoom became a household name as many of us attended video meetings or classes.
Two forces combined to boost PC sales.
First, many people could no longer get by sharing a laptop or desktop PC.
It’s fine sharing when you need a PC for a few hours a week. The rest of the time a phone or tablet, a workplace computer or a games console does the heavy lifting.
Sharing isn’t ideal when your employer or teacher expects you to be online for eight hours a day.
Working in a lockdown needs closer to one computer per person.
This simple change expanded the PC market beyond anything anticipated before lockdown.
PC sales are upgrades
A second force was that old laptops sitting in cupboards weren’t good enough for long-term working from home.
Many 2020 PC sales were upgrades.
Sales that year could have been higher but for shortages and supply chain challenges.
There’s likely to be a spillover this year.
Expect more upgrades as employees adjust to spending more time working from home. For years people didn’t care about the home PCs experience. Their desktops and laptops were secondary.
Overnight everyone neeed better video calling. They wanted brighter screens, faster computers, better sound, better everything. The PC experience mattered again.
When you realise this is how life will be from now on, this becomes more important.
And less mobility means less emphasis on phones. It’s no accident the 2020 trend for phone sales was towards less expensive, smaller models.
Squeezing out value
For close to a decade we hung on to PC hardware for longer. We skipped upgrades because they added little that improved everyday life.
That’s likely to change. We can expect shorter product lifecycles, more frequent upgrades.
Where possible families will edge closer to the one PC per person goal which allows everyone to work.
Another element in this will be company hardware purchases. This will drive the market. Firms that give employees better work from home computers will see higher productivity. They will have better engagement.
Rising PC sales mean fresh ideas
It would be fair to say falling PC sales went hand-in-hand with a slump in innovation. Digital brands diverted their best design and engineering brains to growing markets. Phones, tablets, cloud computing, AI and the like got their attention.
This may not change as much as when the PC boom was racing along. Yet, we can expect fresh ideas to better match the new role played by PCs.
Take the cameras on the front of laptops used for video calls. They are way behind the cameras used on even modest mobile phones. It means poor quality video images, at times coming from odd angles. Any PC brand who can sort that out will find a ready market.
PC sales may never soar again, but they may bump along at a higher level than if there had never been a pandemic. We may even see market excitement. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?
Apple sent a M1 MacBook Air for testing in late November. I’ve spent the last two months using it as my everyday mobile computer. This write-up is not a conventional product review, it’s about the experience. View it more as a glimpse into a possible mobile computing future.
At first sight there’s little to tell the new M1 MacBook Air from the most recent model that now sits in the cupboard. There was no choice. It had to go in the cupboard. If they sat side-by-side on the desk I’d need to open both (or mark one) to know which is which. From the outside they are peas in a pod.
In fact its worse that that because when I set-up the new MacBook Air, I copied all the settings from my old one. Which means the opening display on both is identical.
The only physical difference are the small icons printed on the F4, F5 and F6 function keys. You have to look to notice. They show controls for MacOS’s Spotlight search, dictation and Siri features.
A globe printed on the function key at the bottom left of the keyboard tells you this can open an emoji picker. It’s not something I ever use. That’s because I learned to use Command-Space to open Spotlight. Apart from testing that they work, I have yet to use the other new functions.
There are a few more clues to help distinguish the two MacBooks. The M1 model is much faster. We’ll come to that in a moment.
The battery goes for hours longer between charges. We’ll look at that in more depth later.
Apple’s M1 MacBook Air is cooler and quieter. There is no cooling fan. It doesn’t need one. Mind you, the fan on the older MacBook Air doesn’t kick in until you push the hardware. With my writing work, that’s not common.
I’m a journalist. I spend the bulk of my MacBook time writing. I prefer lightweight writing apps over the big, sprawling word processors. Yet there are jobs where I have to use Microsoft Word. In normal use none of the writing apps in my toolbox draw on enough resources for the cooling fan to kick in.
Goodbye humming fan
To get the fan humming I’d need to run a media creation app or do a demanding spreadsheet or database task. It also hums when playing games.
That said, the old MacBook Air can still warm up during a lengthy work session. After two months with the M1 model, I’ve yet to detect the merest hint of processor heat.
Given that I spend the bulk of my MacBook time writing, I didn’t expect to get much of a performance kick from the M1. After all, it doesn’t help me type faster.
Yet, in practice there are dozens of small processor intensive tasks that now work faster. I rarely used dictation on my Mac. It wasn’t great. It is now. The new MacBook Air shows how much processor speed changes that experience.
Likewise Siri. Because I’ve been a touch typist for years I tend to use keyboard commands others might prefer speech.
Movies load faster. Complex web pages perform better. On the odd occasion where I need to edit a photo, clip audio files or chew through a lot of data it all happens at speed.
I’ve never had a problem waiting for a MacBook Air to wake-up when I open the lid. It happens in a few seconds. With the M1 model, it happens in fewer seconds. That’s not a big deal, but I like it.
The other effect is more subtle than that. I’ve learned not to have more than a handful of apps open at any given moment and to not push Safari by opening lots of tabs. That could test my old MacBook Air. These restrictions have gone. when. testing this, I got bored opening new apps and tabs long before the new Air began to struggle with the workload.
You can benchmark the new Macs to get interesting looking figures. These numbers may mean something to certain people. Yet I’d argue everyday use matters more: The new Macs offer a much improved experience. It feels more fluid, more natural, there’s less of a gap between what you might want from a computer and what you get.
One aspect of the M1 Macs that worried users was the 16GB limit for system Ram. The MacBook Air never had more Ram, but MacBook Pro models could have 32GB. Desktop Macs could have 64GB.
In the event, it’s not an issue. M1 Macs have a design that does more with less Ram.
To my surprise I found I ended up more excited and enthusiastic about the new M1 MacBook Air than expected.
The new normal
The problem with performance boosts is that higher speeds soon become normal. As an acid test, I fired up the old MacBook Air. I wanted to know different the new experience was. The test confirmed it, the M1 MacBook is much better.
There’s a link between a fast processor like the M1 in the new MacBook Air and gigabit fibre.
Few, if any, everyday applications that push a gigabit fibre connection to the limit. Yet having plenty of headroom means you’re never going hit a speed barrier. Likewise, even if you have modest computer needs, there are times when headroom is useful.
Say you’ve spent months working from home on gigabit fibre. Then, say, you return to the office and a more modest connection speed. That connection now feels laggy and flat, even though it may be fast by accepted standards.
That’s how the M1 MacBook Air feels after using the Intel model.
One reason I switched from Windows to a MacBook Air seven years ago was the improved battery life. I could get more than ten hours from the MacBook. The Windows machine it replaced struggled to do three hours.
At that time I had a job working part-time in an office. I’d take my MacBook on the bus and work a full nine-hour day without hunting for a power outlet. Two years later the MacBook could still last the entire working day. It changed how I worked.
The Air had enough battery life for a long-haul flight. Enough to work in the Koru lounge and for the trip to, say, Singapore with a few hours of down time for naps or meals.
Apple’s M1 MacBook Air almost doubles that time. I won’t be taking any long-haul flights soon, but, if I did, it would get me to Barcelona or Paris.
Working from home, I can go a couple of days without charging.
This is the start
It’s interesting to realise that Apple used its new processors first in low-end models. There are M1 models of the MacBook Air, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac Mini. The message isn’t that subtle. If Apple’s low-cost laptops are this fast, what can we expect from more expensive models?
Which leaves us with another question. How is this going to affect the Windows laptop and PC market? At the time of writing, Apple’s low-end Macs are at least a generation ahead of Windows computers. When Apple releases its Pro model computers that gap could be wider.
Let’s stop and qualify that last paragraph. The NZ$2200 eight core M1 MacBook outperforms almost every Intel-based laptop. This includes models costing twice as much. There may be faster Windows laptops out there. Good luck finding one.
Intel can’t build a fast fanless Windows laptop. The Air is silent. If that matters to you, that’s an Apple advantage its rivals can’t match.
When I first switched back to Macs from Windows, I configured my MacBook to dual boot Windows and MacOS. I stopped doing that years ago. If there’s a spare Windows licence in my home, I can no longer find it.
Reports suggest a MacBook Air runs Windows faster than native Windows laptops. That has to rattle Intel.
Last week Intel responded with its own set of cherry-picked benchmarks in an attempt to prove… well, it’s not clear what that goal was other than to muddy the waters.
No doubt Intel will respond. But from a computer user point of view, you now need a powerful reason to choose a Windows laptop over a MacBook.
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