Should I buy a non-touch-screen laptop?
March 12, 2014 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I've found a brand-new, well reviewed Dell laptop that I am confident will do the basic family things I need done (email, web browsing, streaming video, photo stuff, tracking finances, etc.). With my credit card points, I can get it for $268. My husband is worried that non-touch-screen laptops will be obsolete really soon, and thinks maybe we should pay more for a touch screen. I am seeing articles saying things like "in 2 years, 1/4 of all laptops will have touch screens," which makes me think mouse/touchpad and keyboard will still be viable even 5 years from now. What do you guys think?
posted by staggering termagant to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just got shipped a touchscreen laptop at work by accident, believe me, the mouse and keyboard aren't going anywhere. Touchscreen navigation is wholly inappropriate for business use.
posted by Oktober at 8:28 AM on March 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

If you are getting a Windows 8 laptop and are comfortable using the Modern UI interface, a touch screen would come in handy. If you plan to spend most of your time in the desktop, the touch screen is effectively useless.

It will be some time before a touch screen is really useful for any actual work.
posted by rocketpup at 8:34 AM on March 12, 2014

Everything will be obsolete really soon. That's just how technology do. What makes sense is to get what you know will work for you and your purposes now, because you will be the one using it and you will be using it for things you need now. It really doesn't matter what will be out there in 2 years if the thing you get is still personally useful to you. If you want the laptop and can use the laptop and can afford the laptop, it makes sense to get the laptop!
posted by phunniemee at 8:34 AM on March 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've used a couple hybrid (touch + KBM) machines and they're still (mostly) for niche applications. Touch accuracy is terrible compared to mouse (not the fault of the machine, but a fault of our finger size and the fact that your finger is obscuring the contact point), so once you have a KB+M in front of you, even if it's a crummy trackpad or nubbin, you almost never have a reason to move your hands and touch the screen.

It's useable for some applications where fine control isn't an issue (touch this play button on youtube, etc.), and for the few applications designed for it, but I haven't found it a compelling feature at all. I suspect we're a long time away from having a critical mass of applications, usability issues aside.
posted by introp at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's not going to be a time in the near future when everything is designed for touchscreens to the exclusion of mouse/keyboard controls, because desktops continue to exist.

Having a touch screen might be a nice bonus, but it's not at all a necessity and it isn't going to be.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:35 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, when the tablets first happened I had a moment of trying to touch my screen, but then I went back to normal. Tablets are great for ebooks, and a few types of games, but the keyboard definitely isn't going anywhere, and the mouse (or even trackpad) allow for a precision of interaction that the finger greasing up the screen doesn't. And allows for hover: I can never remember how to munge the XKCD URL to see the hover text on a tablet.

And "obsolete really soon": I figure technology has a 3 year lifecycle.

We have several tablets in our household. Mrs. Straw bought a fully decked-out one with detachable keyboard and everything, I think it ran her on the order of $600, and after a few weeks went back to her much older 17" laptop and I haven't seen it out since. I'm still using a first gen iPad, largely for ebooks because the web browsing experience is better on my cell phone.

Get the technology that solves your immediate problems, and know that for text entry the keyboard will be around for many years.
posted by straw at 8:36 AM on March 12, 2014

There is no chance that non-touchscreen laptops will be obsolete in five years. People will still be using mice to do work for a long time after that.
posted by cincinnatus c at 8:37 AM on March 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

laptop + touch screen = gorilla arm
posted by komara at 8:38 AM on March 12, 2014 [10 favorites]

Also, if there are cats in the house, you absolutely don't want a touch screen. That is, unless you don't mind the cat resizing the screen, or randomly deleting things off your apps bar, or...
posted by thomas j wise at 8:42 AM on March 12, 2014

Response by poster: These are all great answers, mainly I think because they are telling me what I want to hear! I already thought about gorilla arm -- the angle of the laptop screen seems so uncomfortable for poking, but hadn't considered things like accuracy. Also, I have small kids and am not excited about them smearing up the screen with their sticky little fingers (spilling juice in the keyboard, I'm used to). Thanks for validating my cheapness, everybody.
posted by staggering termagant at 8:43 AM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Most of the time, for most tasks, a keyboard and mouse/trackpad/trackpoint/trackball is a markedly superior interface to a touchscreen and probably always will be. I see touchscreens as a nice alternative for devices where size and weight are more important than interface usability – that is to say for smartphones and tablets, where having a hardware keyboard and pointer is not practical.

This may gradually change as touchscreens improve and we continue to learn how to design interfaces for them, but I think not; the fundamental limitations of a touchscreen like poor haptic feedback, fat cursors, and the necessity of visually blocking whatever it is you're trying to click on are strong limiters. They'll continue to get better and more common, but there are some inherent advantages to a hardware keyboard and pointer that aren't going to go away anytime soon.

Also, there's zero chance that anyone is going to be making any laptops without keyboards and trackpads anytime in the next five years. I mean, if you take the keyboard and trackpad off of a touchscreen laptop what you are left with is essentially a tablet! Tablets are great, and many people are buying and will continue to buy tablets instead of laptops, but if what you're after is a general-purpose computer that does the things you're talking about in the post, you're probably still going to be happier doing them from a keyboard and trackpad. I can't see anybody making applications for laptops and desktops (which are also still going to be around in five years) that require a touchscreen, at least not important ones, especially since a cursor can do most of the same things and do them better.

I use my non-touchscreen laptop pretty heavily. I also use my smartphone pretty heavily. (I don't own a tablet, though my smartphone has a 5.5" screen that makes it almost tablet-like.) I have never wanted a touchscreen on my laptop, though I have often wished I could magically have a proper keyboard and mouse on my smartphone. Case in point: I read this thread on my smartphone, started to respond, and then realized I was going to have to type more than a couple sentences and came over here to my laptop to type out this reply because it would've been a huge pain on a touchscreen.

Get the touchscreenless laptop if you like it. You'll be fine.
posted by Scientist at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Touchscreens on real computers are a solution in search of a problem. They suck in all kinds of ways on "smart" phones and tablets, and they suck much worse on anything bigger. Mice are not broken and don't require fixing or superseding, and this is so regardless of the fact that most UI designers currently working appear to be afflicted with everything-is-a-phone brain worms.

To buy technology because it's trendy is to be scammed, pure and simple. If it doesn't solve some problem you have, you don't need it. For people past their toddling years, mice and/or trackpads and/or trackpoints and/or trackballs are a far better solution to the problem of on-screen item selection and control than touch screens will ever be.

Mice exist because they work better than the light pens that preceded them, and the ergonomics of a touch screen are remarkably similar to those of a light pen. This makes touch screens a huge step backward from an ergonomic point of view.

Given a screen that's set vertically in front of me at a comfortable height for sustained use, I can think of absolutely no reason why I would want to occlude my view of it with a finger it's uncomfortable to keep raised that high and which also leaves unavoidable smears on its surface. It's bad enough already just trying to keep my reading glasses clean.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on March 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a touch screen windows 8 laptop. I use the touch screen for scrolling, hiking my fingers around the back of the screen and scrolling with my thumb. I also use the touch screen with the Netflix and Skype apps. And then occasionally for clicking. Mostly I use the track pad. I also use more keyboard shortcuts than I used to cause navigating windows 8 can be annoying. So I do get use out of the touchscreen but it's a minor benefit.
posted by carolr at 10:18 AM on March 12, 2014

If, and it's a giant if, someone invents a killer-app that everyone (who uses computers like you'll be using yours) must have and that only works on touch-screens, someone will invent an affordable touchscreen peripheral that plugs into your laptop's USB 3.0 (or Displayport, or both) port and does the thing that the killer-app needs. Because whatever the killer-app is, there's going to be a huge segment of people who will look at the price of the new laptop they'll need to buy it and say "no thanks," but who would look differently at a cheaper peripheral touchscreen. The cheaper thing might be a few hundred bucks, but you're not looking at a new laptop purchase yet, so you win.

Besides, for all anyone knows, touchscreens could end up having been a brief diversion on the way to visual-immersion, or hand-tracking from a headset or something you wear around your neck, or direct brain interface, etc.

Whatever happens, you're in the same boat as a whole lot of people, basically most of the people who aren't early-adopters. The market will respond accordingly.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:23 AM on March 12, 2014

If the laptop comes with Windows 8, get a touch screen. Windows 8 (and 8.1) is annoying without one. If you're getting Windows 7, you'll be fine without it.

Also, touch is intended to be an add-on to the keyboard and mouse (for scrolling, opening apps, app switching, etc.) and not a substitute, so the gorilla arm thing doesn't really apply.
posted by cnc at 11:28 AM on March 12, 2014

He's probably right that 1/4 (or more) of laptops will have touchscreens in 2 years. He's not right in assuming that will be useful or mandatory.
posted by chairface at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2014

I have a touchscreen laptop, and it's a nice option to have, but there's a huge layer of development between where we are now and where you would feel like NOT having a touchscreen was an issue. For the time being, unless it's a really small laptop, reaching over the keyboard to touch the screen is something you wouldn't do throughout a browsing session or whatever, hovering your arm in the air over the keyboard. Reaching for a corner of the laptop screen when it's attached to a keyboard is even more awkward.

So that sort of means it's going to be a secondary method of navigation for at least a while. My personal, completely uninformed speculation is that what's next is not the touchscreen laptop but the thing that's more emphatically a big tablet that attaches when necessary to a keyboard -- which is already a thing, but not yet a standard thing. That's what I expect will eventually be the standard thing for business or writing or whatever isn't just iPad stuff.

For now, a touchscreen laptop has a large and kind of entertaining element of novelty to it, but you certainly don't need one.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2014

I use a logitech T650 trackpad with Windows 8.1 on my laptop. It doesn't replace a touchscreen but makes using some gestures possible - at $50, I found it to be a nice addition. You may not find it that useful if your laptop has a large trackpad built in though.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:44 PM on March 12, 2014

I have a touchscreen on my laptop, and while I do use it, it is definitely not my primary means of interacting with the computer. Windows 8 was kind of a bear to use without one, but most of those issues were fixed in 8.1 (and more fixes are coming in the next update, as I understand it).
posted by Aleyn at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2014

One size does not fit all, nor does one appliance fit all needs. It is ludicrous to envision a touch screen desk machine; it is equally ludicrous to envision a big-enough-to-use keyboard sticking out of a pocket.
posted by Cranberry at 2:19 PM on March 12, 2014

I recently bought a laptop which happens (I didn't seek that option out, it just happened that way) to have a touchscreen, and it's a mildly amusing toy for a bit, then I want a mouse. I figure if some new cool game comes out in the next few years that needs a touchscreen appeals to me, I'm set, but other than that vague hope it does nothing for me.
posted by The otter lady at 2:29 PM on March 12, 2014

I initially thought this question was going to be "i'm looking at a good deal on a laptop that comes with a touch screen but i don't care about that".

Touch screens on laptops are fucking moronic, and will continue to be for a long time. They're trying to shoehorn the tablet experience onto laptops because it's the New Hot Thing. It's just as dumb as tablet PCs were in the early 2000s, honestly, but minus the usefulness of being able to at least use a pen with photoshop and stuff.

Tons of people will have touchscreen laptops in a couple years because the cheapest ones from walmart and best buy will come with them. Not because people want them, or will even use them. It's very similar to how a lot of people have smartphones now because they were free with upgrade, but a huge swath of people only use the phone, texting, and the camera pretty much and occasionally an app some friend showed them.

Windows 8.1 update 1 is already rolling back to the "classic" windows a bit and tuning it even more to use a mouse.

So in my semi-educated opinion as someone who works in IT/supports windows/etc, i think that the pendulum kinda overswung. Keyboards and trackpads are going to be around for quite a while.

Hell, i think a good canary is the fact that there's no touchscreen mac laptop, but that's a whole other argument...
posted by emptythought at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why would non-touchscreens be obsolete? I can't think of anything I do on my computer that would be easier with a touchscreen. Beyond playing games or drawing, I can't say I have found anything that is better on a touchscreen than a computer. Generally, all normal computing activities are very cumbersome on a touchscreen.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:12 PM on March 12, 2014

I am typing this from a touchscreen laptop, that I have a mouse plugged into. I use the touchscreen when I'm out and sans mouse, otherwise the mouse is plugged in for all the reasons people have said. It's not as precise to use the touchscreen, although it is intuitive.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:32 PM on March 12, 2014

Windows 8 is clearly built around the assumption that a touchscreen will be available, which makes it kind of irritating to use with a mouse. But it absolutely does not follow that it's therefore less irritating to use with a touchscreen, because touchscreens are irritating to use, period.

So if you have Windows 8, you're going to be repeatedly irritated by it until you install one of the many Start Menu replacements that let you turn the idiot Metro nonsense off altogether, after doing which you can pretty much totally ignore all the New Phone-Mode Hotness and just get on with using your computer like a computer (provided you don't install Office 2013, at any rate - if you must use MS Office, stick with Office 2010 for as long as you possibly can).

StartIsBack is cheap and gets good reviews. StartMenu8 is free and works fine for me, though I've heard stories from others about running into annoying quirks. Classic Shell is free and you can get it via Ninite, which is truly the best way to obtain any of the software it can install. None of these third party offerings are hamstrung by Microsoft's unwillingness to admit that the whole Metro thing makes no sense at all except on a shitty touchscreen, which means that unlike the half-hearted Start menu replacement MS was forced to put back into Windows 8.1, they will actually work as you expect them to.
posted by flabdablet at 10:24 PM on March 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just as a data point about obsolescence, 30% of computers still use Windows XP, which is a sprightly 13 years young this year.
posted by danteGideon at 4:32 AM on March 13, 2014

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