January 5, 2016

Cutting the Wrong Corner

A 2007 HP 6510b business laptop and a 2012 Acer Aspire One 756 Notebook

I recently bought a secondhand Acer to replace my ancient HP laptop. The notebook is an improvement in nearly all aspect over the old one:

  • It weighs half as much - important as I tend to bring this to school every day.
  • It's a bit faster especially on the graphics side, thanks to its fairly modern Celeron 877 CPU. Consequently;
  • The battery lasts longer

For 8,500 Philippine Pesos, it does my video editing, music creation, and basic 3D animation reasonably well.

It's also half a decade newer than its predecessor. However despite all the technical leaps in laptop technologies, I noticed a minor but personally annoying trend in recent laptops.

Who thought of the bright idea to combine the microphone and line out audio jack to one?

The emergence of tablets as a laptop killer forced laptop manufacturers to innovate and revolutionize the laptop form factor through touch screens, convertibles, and detachable screens. These are not bad, mind you as some people might find them useful.

Aesthetics must also be considered. No one would buy a laptop that looks like a potato. Manufacturers find ways to make their devices sleeker, thinner, and lighter. Again, not a bad thing.

But the combo audio jack 'innovation' pleases no one. There's no good reason to remove a 3.5mm hole for the sake of 'aesthetics'.

Though for most users, having just one audio jack means they can't accidentally plug their earphones on the microphone jack. But really, after using your laptop for a while, you'll know which one's the mic and earphone jack without looking. No need to dumb it down.

For amateur/cheapskate musicians like me, separate audio ports are convenient if not essential. Built-in laptop speakers and mic are crap for anything other than video calls and phonograph simulation. Entry-level music production demands external audio devices.

I bought a laptop for use as a mobile workstation. A portable desktop computer. Adapting the TRRS (Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve) to laptops, notebooks, and netbooks as if it's a tablet or a mobile phone is stupid because however you put it, a laptop is not a tablet or a phone.

A TRRS headphone connector and a TRS connector

It also doesn't help that there are two different standards for TRRS connections. Good luck figuring out which 'standard' your laptop uses, especially if you're planning to buy a Y splitter as a workaround.

Credit: David Miles

My current solution is a USB sound card. Heck if you can splurge some more, you can buy a full blown USB audio interface with multiple inputs and outputs.

But we shouldn't be worrying about this if not for manufacturers fixing what's not broken. Stop this 'form over function' crap.

And don't get me started on the new MacBook.