Top 5 laptop pet peeves

Commentary: There's no such thing as a laptop that won't drive you at least a little crazy. Here's what gets CNET's experts riled up.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
4 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

In its idealized form, your laptop is untethered, free to embrace its potential as a mobile computer, going from lap to desk to table at will. In reality, we've got to pause and plug these suckers in sometimes, which is where one of my top computer pet peeves comes from. 

We've all figured generally where the space bar should be on a laptop keyboard (and most of the other keys as well). The same goes for where the touchpad should be and other basics. But every time I go to plug a new laptop in, I have to play hide-and-seek to find the power port.

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My pet peeve: Pick a side for the power plug!

Sometimes it's on the left side panel. Sometimes it's on the right. Sometimes it's on the back, because of course everyone loves rooting around back there, hoping the power cable doesn't pop out and slip down between the desk and the wall. 

I did a quick survey of laptops currently in the CNET Labs. I found seven with left-side power ports, five with right-side ports; and two with rear ports. 

One mitigating factor that gives me some hope for the future is the move to USB-C ports for power, which often means ports on either side can be used. Except for the MacBook Air, of course, which only has USB-C ports on the left side. 

After calming myself over this port-pocalypse, I reached out to my fellow PC experts at CNET to see what seemingly minor laptop annoyances drove them up the wall. 

Lori Grunin's pet peeves: Keyboard layouts and display angles

I'm sensitive to keyboards: If they're mushy, have nonstandard layouts or smaller than normal keycaps, I just don't want to use them. It also makes me a little nuts when the shift row -- the symbols beneath the numbers -- on a backlit keyboard don't light up. To a lesser extent, I also hate when the touchpad doesn't have an illuminated outline. And when a laptop needs a wrist rest so you can type comfortably? No. Just no. And a corollary peeve is a touchpad that's not consistently responsive.

Then there are the displays. If you can't push them back to about 20 degrees off vertical, they're too cumbersome for lap work. Another issue in the cumbersome category are two-in-ones with power buttons on the side; I invariably turn off the power while rotating them. Along those lines, I hate side power buttons that are so flush with the surface that they're hard to find and press.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Josh Goldman's pet peeve: Proprietary port problems 

Proprietary power connectors just need to go away. Most companies have thankfully moved to USB-C for power on many models, but it's time for them all to make the switch on all laptops (power-hungry gaming and content-creation machines aside).   

Speaking of USB-C, I'm not a fan of the disappearing connections available on mainstream laptops in favor of dongles and adapters. I want less to carry around with me -- not more -- and it's just a miserable experience to not be able to connect directly to an external display or Ethernet. And if you make a laptop with a color-accurate display and discrete graphics, it should also have an SD card reader. 

My biggest pet peeve, though, is messing with the keyboard layout and key size. I'm a touch typist and few things are more frustrating than reaching for the left shift key and hitting an up arrow instead, or reaching for the backspace only to put a bunch of equals symbols in my sentence. 

Fox Van Allen/CNET

Scott Stein's pet peeve: Custom keycaps, please 

Why can't I replace the keys on a laptop? Keyboards are so... key... to laptops, it's crazy that the keys are basically bonded to the frame. 

There are some laptops that offer swappable keyboards or magnetically-attached accessories. But keyboards should be as easy to snap on or replace as Nintendo's Joy-Cons are to the Switch. It would minimize breakdowns, offer options (Mechanical! Thin keys! Crazy LED screen keys!), and just make me less stressed.

Stephen Shankland's pet peeves: Apple missing delete key

Apple does a lot of things right when it comes to laptops -- its trackpads are second to none -- but for goodness sake, give me a forward-delete key. Fn-Backspace is an awkward combination for deleting text to the right of my cursor. It's something I do hundreds of times every day. My workaround is to use Karabiner to remap the option key on the right side of my MacBook keyboard into forward delete. If Apple can't find a way to shoehorn a forward-delete key in, I'd happily sacrifice keys for tilde, slashes, brackets, equals or caps lock.

I'm delighted Apple got the memo that we want our inverted-T arrow keys back, though. It's so much easier to feel your way around with half-height left and right arrows. Now Google , Microsoft and everybody else with full-size left and right arrows need to follow suit.

I'm all for innovation, but not so it stops me from using my laptop on my lap. When you're putting CPUs and batteries and other heavy components in the screen, laptops on my lap are prone to tipping over backward. Kickstands are awful for the same reason. I'd need femurs about 6 inches longer to keep the Google Pixel Slate screen upright.

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