Help me choose a new laptop

I’ve been doing all my development work on a late 2016 HP Spectre x360 for the past few years. Though a fantastic machine overall, it’s starting to fall apart: the screen backlight has partially burned out, the battery barely holds a charge anymore, and the trackpad sends a double or triple click when I press down on it. This thing has been worked hard and dragged all over the country and the world, so it feels like the time is coming for a replacement.

So I did what a typical OCD nerd does for a major purchase: I made a spreadsheet with all reasonable options and gave myself terrible analysis paralysis! 🙂

Analysis paralysis in action

For my research, I found two resources in particular to be invaluable: for its exhaustive long-form technical reviews, and Lisa Gade’s MobileTechReview YouTube channel for focusing on each machine’s overall user experience.

After nearly a month, I made my decision: the late 2019 Dell XPS 13 with a 6-core CPU which I figured would really speed up my code compile times, and the rest of the laptop seemed super high quality. Unfortunately, after it arrived I found that I did not like the feel of the keyboard: the key activation force was quite mushy, and the travel was low. But even worse, the display suffered from unbelievably terrible ghosting–which I had been warned about in reviews, but foolishly ignored–and it emitted an awful coil whine when in use. I sent it back. What a nuisance!

So I moved on to the second laptop in my list: the early 2020 HP Envy 13. I ignored reviews complaining about the trackpad surface not having a glass coating, which again was stupid: I didn’t like the feel at all of the rough plastic texture. But the rest of the laptop was solid, and the trackpad surface wasn’t a fatal flaw as these tend to smooth out over time in my experience. I decided to keep it. Not having yet wiped the disk to install openSUSE Tumbleweed (my current OS of choice), I performed the initial set of Windows updates just in case there were any firmware updates. It completed and I rebooted… and then the laptop became a brick! It was stuck in a half-on-half-off state, with the power LED illuminated, but no activity. The laptop could neither be turned on, nor fully powered down. I returned that one too.

So now I’m kind of feeling stuck. Out of two well-researched laptops, I’ve gotten two lemons, and I’m feeling like it’s time to reach out to the wider KDE community for assistance.

I need your help to find a good laptop!

What I’d like

This will be my one and only computer, used for both work/KDE development and also my personal stuff, so like Mary Poppins, I need for it to be practically perfect in every way (that’s not too much to ask, is it!?):

First, it needs perfect or near-perfect Linux compatibility; there’s no point in buying great hardware if it doesn’t work with your software.

Next, the built-in input and output devices that I’m going to actually use the computer with must be perfect:

  • Perfect keyboard: durable; firm key activation force; at least 1.3mm of travel, preferably more; firm bottoming-out feel; not too noisy; black keycaps that are not too large, with white lettering and backlighting; dedicated Home, End, PageUp, and PageDown keys for faster text editing; ideally dedicated media play/pause, forwards, and backwards keys. The keyboard is very important as I’m typing all day.
  • Perfect screen: 400+ nits of brightness; good refresh rates/no visible ghosting; close to 100% sRGB coverage; good color reproduction; must have touch functionality (I need to be able to test for touch friendliness with my and other people’s patches); 16:10 or taller aspect ratio preferred; full HD resolution is preferred, but 4K is acceptable. Size-wise, I like 13.3″ – 14″ screen sizes, but would consider a 15-incher if the case isn’t so big that it impedes portability in a backpack (more on that later).
  • Perfect trackpad: smooth, ideally glass-covered surface; aspect ratio matches that of the screen; button is durable and will last a long time; uses Microsoft Precision drivers on Windows (sign of good-quality hardware).
  • Excellent speakers: Reasonably loud, forward/upward firing, preferably four, ideally with some woofers for at least a bit of base.

Next, it needs to be powerful. I want 16 GB of RAM with excellent multi-core CPU performance to improve my code compilation times. This means good thermal management too, so that that performance can be maintained and the machine doesn’t damage its battery or other internal components with excessive heat, which I suspect happened with my current machine.

Also, I need for it to not have an NVIDIA GPU. I have no graphical needs beyond what an integrated GPU can accomplish, and don’t want to deal with Plasma-on-NVIDIA drama. Sorry, NVIDIA.

The machine needs to have a solid and durable metal case, as I will be traveling domestically and internationally with it multiple times a year (once the world beats COVID-19, that is). For similar reasons, it should be reasonably lightweight and get very good practical battery life. Extreme thinness is not required, but excessive thickness would be nice to avoid, as I like to travel to Europe for work events and conferences with only a backpack and no checked or hand luggage. An excessively thick laptop takes up space needed for socks and underwear (unless I’m going to Germany, in which case I wash them in my hotel room and dry them on the towel warmer! TMI… sorry-not-sorry!).

Finally, I want the laptop to not look stupid. No bling-bling effects, no gaudy blue and gold two-tone color effects, no flashing multicolored lights, no fake (or real) wood, no trying to look like an expensive watch or a traffic accident, no sharp chiseled edges–none of that attention-getting crap! Just a basic boring matte silver or gray metal case. Ideally it will not be a fingerprint magnet.

Within reason, price is not a practical consideration as this is a business expense for me and I am comfortable spending big bucks on something that provides my livelihood which I expect to keep for several years.

So given these conditions, what do people recommend? Help me, KDE community, you’re my only hope!