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The worst computer for a work-from-home life?

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led PC sales to its highest level in a decade (13.7%). For each desktop, however, four notebooks were sold. Does this really make sense in times of home office?

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The COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of retreating in Brazil, but we will turn the tide against the coronavirus one day. When this happens, it is expected that some habits created by this perverse period will be maintained. The work-from-home scheme is likely to be one of them. Even if the offices do not disappear, the experience we are having now is the ultimate validation that remote work serves companies and employees well. And if we’re going to spend more time like this in the future – entirely or not –, we need to have this conversation: the notebook is (quite for sure) the worst kind of computer for you to have while working from home.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led PC sales to its highest level in a decade (13.7%). Worldwide, 302 million computers were sold. In Brazil, the annual sales growth was also meaningful, albeit more modestly (6%). Altogether, 5 million notebooks and 1.3 million desktops were sold in the country, that is, one desktop for every four notebooks – even the most expensive notebooks. In the fourth quarter, the average price for a desktop in Brazil was BRL 3,782 (about $668); that of a notebook, BRL 4,299 ($760), a difference of 13.7%. The data are from a report IDC consultancy firm, which forecasts an even greater global sales increase for 2021.

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Mindful to trends, Dan Weil listed in the Wall Street Journal a series of changes that notebooks should contemplate to be better home-office tools. It is curious to note that several of them are already a reality on another computer type: the desktop. Remember him? The computer that comes in separate parts, with a PC (which is, effectively, the computer), keyboard, mouse, and separate screen, all interconnected by wires (or not).

I understand the resources of a notebook. You can take it anywhere (which is kind of useless at the moment, let’s face it); it allows you to work from your couch, lying in a hammock, or even from the bathroom (but avoid that, please, it’s disgusting!). It can also be re-signified for different uses besides work, like watching Netflix. Besides the logistical advantages, the notebook is already assembled, ready to use, super compact, and easier to understand.

These are relevant benefits, don’t get me wrong, and justify notebooks’ existence in many contexts. However, these advantages do not come for free. On the contrary, the owner of a notebook pays dearly for them. And, at home, all these gains lose much of the appeal they would have elsewhere.

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The biggest impact is on health. No matter how you use it, the notebook will always hurt your spine. Do you know those drawings that orthopedists love to show, teaching the correct posture when using a computer? They do not work with the notebook. It is impossible to have good posture using a notebook because the notebook format is naturally unsuitable for us, the humans. Yes, it’s nice to work one day on the sofa, another on the corner coffee table, but no one can handle such a routine.

At home, no matter how restless the professional is, the computer acquires a stationary status. Everyone wants or, at the very least, can benefit from a dedicated and tailored space for this purpose. This is where the old good PC comes into play.

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There are three obvious benefits of using a desktop: financial, ergonomic, and mental. The average values measured by IDC prove the first, but I go further. With the money left over compared to a notebook, you can invest in a webcam (something missing in many computers) or a larger screen. In 2020, the screens market had its best year in history, with 8.3% growth and 136.6 million units sold.

Depending on the price range of the equipment in view, with the difference, it is possible to purchase even an intermediate tablet to be used in situations where the notebook ends up being handy, such as watching videos on the sofa or reading the newspaper during breakfast. And with some other benefits: the tablet is lighter, less clumsy to hold, and often has a better quality screen.

The second benefit is that of health – your spine is (so) grateful. Remember the orthopedists’ illustrations: absolutely none of them show a notebook; all have a separate keyboard and screen. It’s not a question of style or aesthetic preference, believe me.

Finally, given its stationary nature, the desktop is attached to a house location, which helps keep life and work detached even when the two happen under the same roof. It sounds silly, but switching between the two modes is an essential skill not to go crazy, and anything that helps you in that sense is welcome

The notebook, on the contrary, has the power to transform any space into a working environment. The combination of battery and Wi-Fi antenna finds no limits and makes disconnecting from professional duties more difficult.

If you are in a WFH scheme, , chances are you are already working with a notebook. Although my brief argument was persuasive and convinced you that desktops are a better deal, there is no point in throwing away a functional notebook. What can you do? Converting the notebook into a desktop by purchasing separate accessories.

That’s what I do. The notebook, acquired almost six years ago, when mobility was something necessary in my life, gained the company of a good mechanical keyboard, an ambidextrous mouse, and a support that elevates the notebook screen to my eyes two years ago. It was a little expensive, but it is the best of both worlds – the comfort of a desktop and the mobility of a notebook – and can even be seen as a long-term investment, preventing future trips to the doctor and remedies for back pain.