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Is it OK to have a boring laptop?

Are laptops all about function, or does design matter more? A defense, of sorts, of the commodity computer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Here's a question for you: Are laptops becoming the ultimate commodity products? And, as such, does sexiness simply not matter anymore?

I say this because of the overwhelming response I got to a piece I wrote on why the 13-inch MacBook Pro needs to go away. I argued in favor of the Air's sleek design and equivalent everyday performance; many readers argued fiercely that the 13-inch Pro has features and functionality--more hard-drive capacity and more robust RAM, not to mention an Ethernet jack--that still make it a strong favorite.

I also say this because, at CES 2012, sexed-up laptops--aka "ultrabooks"--were the Theme of the Day. Everyone seems quick to come up with a New, Cool Laptop.

I've been encouraging forward-thinking laptop design, and yet I understand that laptops, in an age of ever-smaller, ever-cooler smart devices, just might for many be destined for a role as a reliable commodity device. Yes, I've been bored by laptops...and yet, maybe boring laptops are just what many people need.

Consider this the Steve Jobs "PC as truck" argument. We need PCs for most major tasks around the home: photo management, music storage, video editing...basically, everything. If you're using another type of mobile device on the go, like an iPad, or Android phone/tablet or something of the sort, then that laptop might be staying at home more often.

My own laptop has become a homebody; it rarely goes with me to a coffee shop or away for a weekend anymore. That's my iPad's job. Still, I couldn't live without my laptop. However, I guess I acknowledge that my laptop, by nature of staying at home, needn't really be a looker. It just needs to be a hard worker.

Presented for your consideration: the Lenovo ThinkPad T420, an utterly plain-looking ThinkPad. It's a reasonably fast performer with a strong battery life. It is, essentially, the Ultimate Boring Laptop. But it gets the job done. And, it's a sturdy, tank-like thing.

Of course, the argument might shift if you use your laptop as the go-everywhere device. MacBook Air owners, ultrabook fans, this is you. Odds are you might have a second computer at home, the one that does the heavy-duty storage and work tasks.

So, I ask you: does it matter whether your laptop is boring or not? Does it factor in at all?

Read my review of the Lenovo ThinkPad T420.