What is the proper laptop for creative professional. Based on experience

I’m Ignat, 35 years old professional photographer (news/official/portraiture/architecture… whatever), DTP (printed stuff designer, from leaflets to art albums), TV cameraman, translator and writer; from Moscow, Russia. And a PC user with 25 years of experience. Here I’ll try to describe my vision of a proper laptop for work on the go.

I’m tired of Mockbooks, i.e., the futile attempts of other manufacturers to make their laptops as successful as MacBooks mocking their look and feel. The results are dreadful: keyboards are totally unsuitable for productive creative work, especially with large texts. Gluttonous displays, good for watching movies, but bad for everything else, including making movies. Few ports, some of which are next to useless. Little external ports, sometimes it’s only 2 USBs, one of them still 2.0.

My current laptop, a 2013 Toshiba KIRA 13, is almost as good as it may be in such conditions.
It is reasonably lightweight (1,5 kilos with power supply). It has three USB 3.0 ports (one of them always powered), one HDMI out, all six “editorial” keys (home, end, page up, page down, insert, delete, and even dedicated print screen key). No Scroll Lock, but no love lost here, for the 25 years of my UX I never used it.
It has backspace key, full set of F-keys and is even backlit. At the same time, it doesn’t have any kind of numpad whatsoever, even as Fn+NumLock combination (no NumLock key). Not that I need a numpad itself that bad, I need the capability it offers, meaning the input of whatever special characters and symbols, which in Windows is sometimes the only way to input them, aside from tedious copying them from the Character Map application. Currently I have almost all what I need with Ilya Birman’s Typography Layout (available both for Windows and Macs), and I even hard-engraved all the special symbols it contains, which worked out perfectly, they are even backlit.

It doesn’t have onboard Ethernet connector. I’m living with this using external USB to Ethernet dongle, but that is good only until I need all three USB ports… which happens.

Now, the display. I currently have 2560×1440 thirteen inch 16:9 display with multitouch capability, which is really nice overall, but suffers from color shifts under indirect viewing angles and has problems with color rendition even after hardware calibration (it isn’t IPS of any kind). Also, the 2K resolution on 13 inches is a bit more than it is good, unless and until all the graphics, videos and applications are adapted to Hi-DPI, which will happen as soon as never. And, yes, it is 16:9, which is good for watching videos of this proportions, but nothing much more for. Except that movies are either FullHD or 4K/UHD, as the 2K format didn’t find practical application in the industry for a number of reasons.

Specifications look like an older MacBook Air 13. The CPU is hard-soldered and cannot be replaced. RAM is hard-soldered and non-extendable. 8 gigabytes of it is still enough and, hopefully, that will last, but Core i5-3337U is not the best in show when it comes to processing large number of RAW photographs or encoding a FullHD video longer than 5 minutes with color correction and special effects, or 10 minutes without that and little fast motion. So I guess I need more powerful CPU… or better optimized software. Storage is 256 Gb mSATA SSD, replacement is possible. Battery is hard-wired and non-user-replaceable… but users are different, I can replace it. There is a cooler, which originally is faulty, but I managed to replace it with a Chinese clone, which is better than was the original by Panasonic. It has USB 2.0 SDXC-capable card reader, which only problem is that it is USB 2.0 and not 3.0/3.1/PCI-E.

Now, how I see my possible future laptop.
I’m happy with this keyboard even at present, although I’d like a numpad, even combined with a touchpad or Fn-keyed.
Most professional software in my areas of interest is produced by Adobe, and these guys still use a lot of vertical stuff in their interfaces. So, I’ll be happy with 1920×1440 resolution of the same 13 inch diagonal display. I need veritable color reproduction in the field, so display should be an LED-backlit IPS, bright and with adjustments for brightness and contrast more extensive than any OS or calibration software offer.
Since I’m not always producing stuff, but consume it as well, the display should be flippable. Here it is not (on a rival model from Lenovo, Yoga 2 it is, but there the resolution is even higher).

I like my laptop thin and lightweight (aluminum and plastic), but will like it no less if it will be seven millimeters thicker and 300 grams heavier with the benefit of more capacious battery (which should be easily interchangeable to carry spares when I need them), better display, an Ethernet port, another USB port (3.0/3.1 or C), fingerprint ID sensor, rear camera, 4G cellular modem and, ideally, an HDMI input with FullHD/60p capability for video capture and broadcasting in the field. Oh, yes, and no less than 9 hours of real battery life under top load with 100% brightness, 95% CPU usage, all wireless enabled and actively working under Windows 10.

So, dear developers, can my dream be made true for under US$1500?


Interesting set of needs. I don’t think that a large replaceable battery and ethernet port would be compatible with small and light. Although the Vaio Z Canvas has much of what you want and is fairly small.

Apart from the wish with battery life, it seems possible. If you calculate the power consumption of the setup at 95% CPU usage, assuming the CPU is 15w core i7, you’d need roughly 130 watt hour battery just to power the CPU ONLY! :smiley:

Now add everything else on top of it (display, ssd, ram rom etc) and we’ll be making a pretty sick battery.


In display part it is more or less what I need. 95% of AdobeRGB rendition covers all my needs and more, since I work for print and web intents. CMYK color space is only 76% of sRGB, and about a half of AdobeRGB, if I remember correctly.

Now to my personal opinion on Z Canvas.

  1. Two USB ports, even with onboard Ethernet with unknown card reader don’t fill the needs. Three USB ports is a minimum, sleep-powered or not.
  2. Keyboard lacks four dedicated editorial keys — after sixteen years of using stylus/touch devices I still prefer couple of PageDown presses to swiping or wheel scrolling. Especially when I can press the button with my right thumb (when using mouse) or with a pinky (using touchpad). Control+Shift+End/Home to select all the text from a specific point to the bottom/top in InDesign text box or MS Word file, or on a web page — I can’t do it with three fingers of one hand if there is an Fn key on the left. Old habits die hard. I don’t care if 90% percent of population prefers callousing their fingertips swiping, since I’m used to efficient work, and keyboard shortcuts were invented by really smart guys back then.
  3. It is more a tablet than a laptop (consumer device), so the display part is heavier and requires a stand (thoughtfully built-in), hence a need for a flat surface, which is an unavailable luxury when you have to do something quickly in a subway or regional train, or in a long-distance bus, or at some conference.
  4. Price tag. $2200, considering what I mentioned above is a bit much — people of my kind in Russia, even in Moscow, aren’t paid even half of what they get in the US or the EU.

Well. The battery is not THAT critical, at least stock one. External option (plugged into standard charging port, with several USB power ports, there already are such things from Chinese manufacturers) is fine too. Considering recent advances of Chinese developers, who now manage to squeeze twice the capacity in given space compared to what they did, say, seven years ago, I don’t see a 250 W•h battery occupying the volume of of two Sony BP-U90 batteries in three or four years as something impossible, especially if graphene-based battery technologies get practical application. LED development (both LEDs themselves and LED drivers) didn’t hit a wall yet, too, so we may expect higher brightness AND less power consumption in coming years.

My main concerns are keyboard, display proportions/resolution and set of external ports. Keyboards especially, their developers lost any sense of ergonomics after the advent of Unibody MacBooks. Even older Mac keyboards, desktop included, really lack the Delete key. So don’t make common mistake, six separate editorial buttons are THE great deal.
The only current smaller laptop available which has them and more or less all I need (generally, except one Thunderbolt 3 and one USB-C ports which require a set of adapters, considering only one conventional USB 3 and the lack of Ethernet port) is top-specced hp Spectre x360-13T 13.3". Probably this is my only option if anything irreversible happens to my current Toshiba in foreseeable future.

You may say that I need some fifteen-incher, where everything I need (except proportions and resolution of displays) is present in abundance, but my spine and muscles vocally protest against 15.6"'s size and weight. I have to haul a laptop together with complete DSLR-based photojournalist kit or ENG kit based around Sony PMW-200 camcorder (plus a video tripod, set of microphones, LED light panel with a stand…), and sometimes all of that (30 kilos of carry-on, 10 kilos of checked baggage — from my most recent experience, professional journalist imaging equipment is an exempt from carry-on limits in Russia, at least on Aeroflot flights and if you have valid press ID in your pocket to be more convincing, and that I do). I don’t have a car, nor I don’t drive. Vehicle would solve half of my problems, but driving around Moscow and closest suburbs means being always stuck in traffic jams, not to mention fuel, maintenance and parking costs even with used Russian-made small car like LADA Kalina, which may be found in reasonable condition for the price of that laptop… Even if I would drive, there are commercial flights to other places, where cars aren’t always readily available, and other circumstances.

Of course, I’m used to survive in different conditions, so if I need to send out couple dozen of images instantly, I’m using in-camera RAW conversion and USB OTG smartphone (another pain in my bum, there is nothing better for my needs than Sony Z1 Compact, or another Sony ** Compact, rooted and with custom hacked firmware), or an 8" Windows 10 tablet (cellular and USB OTG enabled) with a Bluetooth mouse if I need to do something remotely on my office desktop via TeamViewer (like minor, but necessary alterations to a 7×4 meter banner and sending it to printers, while sitting in a plane taxiing for takeoff). However, there are circumstances when I need a laptop and laptop only.

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