OPINION: If you’ve bought a laptop recently, you’ve likely been impressed with how skinny it is compared to the chunky portables that filled up Currys shelves just a decade ago.
Thanks to new processors with more efficient thermal performances, as well as the move from HDD to SSD storage solutions, laptop manufacturers have been able to shave down chassis and create more portable designs.
Such a move has lots of benefits. Nobody wants a laptop that’s too heavy or large to carry in a bag, as portability is its main appeal over a desktop computer. And skinny laptops generally look far more stylish than their chunky counterparts.
But certain laptop manufacturers are starting to push this trend too far. Take the upcoming Craob X laptop for instance, which is only 7mm thick. While it looks fantastic and takes the weight down to an extremely portable 862 grams, it’s also had to make major sacrifices – such as removing every single port.
Need to stick in a USB stick to transfer over a file? You’re out of luck. Want to plug in your wired headphones to listen to Spotify? Afraid not. You can’t even use a charging cable to power up the laptop, as you’re forced to use a wireless charger instead, which are notorious for being highly inefficient.
To be fair to Craob, it had the clever idea of adding all of the ports onto the wireless charger instead, so you can still use wired peripherals if you fancy. But I’m sceptical whether they’d provide the equivalent performance when connecting directly to the laptop.
Essentially, this comes down to whether having such a skinny laptop is worth sacrificing the convenience of ports and I’m personally unconvinced. But to be fair to Croab, which is seemingly a new start-up company, it’s done a good job of standing out from the crowd and being noticed. I’m less forgiving with more established laptop manufacturers.
I’m a big fan of the Dell XPS 13 laptop, which frequently tops our Best Laptop ranking, but I still can’t get my head around Dell’s decision to omit the USB-A port. Back in 2019, Dell told me that it decided to ditch the rectangular port in order to achieve the thin design. The company does at least bundle a USB-C to USB-A dongle in the box, but that means you’ve got to carry the accessory around with you, which is an unnecessary faff.
Apple is another company that has decided to ditch the USB-A port, as it’s absent from both the MacBook Air M1 and the latest MacBook Pro. Apple and Dell would likely argue that USB-A is an outdated technology, with USB-C offering faster speeds and a wider range of functionality.
While that’s true, that doesn’t change the fact that many peripherals are still being designed with USB-A cables. And while you could just buy a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, they’re usually more expensive and aren’t as responsive as a wired alternative.
I’d personally prefer it if Apple and Dell made their laptops slightly thicker, just so they could include the USB-A in their port selection. I doubt it would make a noticeable impact on the weight and other slender laptops have managed to feature the legacy port, including the Acer Swift 5, Surface Laptop Go and the Galaxy Book Ion, so there really is no excuse.
But Samsung isn’t innocent in this debacle either. It has also made huge compromises in order to squash down the height of its laptops. The Galaxy Book S launched back in 2020 with a Snapdragon 8cx processor, which has such a good thermal performance that there’s no need for a fan. This enabled Samsung to make a laptop that measured in at just 11.8mm thin.
But there was a big problem, as the Snapdragon 8cx didn’t play nice with Windows 10. This meant some apps weren’t compatible, and those that were, ran at sluggish speeds. That’s a big compromise for buyers to make, just so they can have a super-skinny laptop.
Even Microsoft made this mistake when creating the Surface Pro X, which used an Arm-based chip in order to make it even skinnier than the Surface Pro laptops. It was met with lots of underwhelming reviews – we gave it a 2.5 out of 5 rating – as the performance issues once again reared their head. Fortunately, Qualcomm claims that the rollout of Windows 11 is helping to alleviate a lot of these compatibility issues, but that doesn’t change the fact that Samsung and Microsoft jumped the gun.
So while it is of course great to see laptops becoming skinnier and skinnier over time, I’m hoping that manufacturers stop prioritising this obsession over the needs of the end user – ports are still important and nobody wants to encounter performance issues just for the sake of a slightly thinner chassis. And after all, there’s nothing wrong with being a little chunky.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.