Breaking News

Tech's cult of thinness needs to end

Tech's cult of thinness needs to end

Gadgets are getting very thin again.

These past few weeks have been the latest victims of an endless campaign toward making our devices as thin as possible, whatever the results. Samsung's Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus - undoubtedly going to be some of the most popular Android phones of the year - are thinner than last year's models and lag behind disappointing battery life. The new Dell XPS 15 is "extraordinarily thin and light," but lasts barely four hours on a change and is almost as hot as the sun. And the OnePlus 10 Pro is a flagship smartphone that can somehow be pulled halfway with your bare hands.

It seems that despite chasing the thinnest, lightest phones and computers for more than a decade, despite the loss of battery life, cooling, and durability, companies still haven't learned their lesson.

The science here is not complicated. All other things being equal, putting a bigger battery - roughly - in your phone or laptop means you'll be able to get more battery life out of it. A larger laptop has more room to keep it cool. And if your tool is thick, it's hard to cut it in half.

Obviously, this can vary greatly by hardware, software, firmware, and a myriad of other factors (there's a reason Apple's iPhones tend to have smaller batteries than their flagship Android counterparts but are still competitors on battery life.) But in general, if you run the same software on two different batteries, the one who gets the bigger battery pack wins.
And yet, manufacturers are still chasing Dragon to make the thinnest, lightest device possible. Dynabook has just announced its Porte X40L-K, which aims to be one of the lightest 14-inch laptops ever made — but that weight has to come from somewhere.

But it should not be so. Yes, light and thin devices are good, but as with everything in life, there is a balance. Take one of the greatest worshipers to the altar of thinness: the apple.
Apple spent the year full of attempts to slim down its laptops somehow: swapping in its thin (and absurdly fragile) butterfly switches or Excise ports in favor of an all-USB-C setup. It was trying to pack even more powerful (and power-hungry) parts and a bigger, better display into its computer all at the same time. And after all, the company's laptops were worse for it.

But the company eventually caught on, first removing the butterfly switch and going back to the bulkier scissor switch and then getting even bigger and heavier with a 2021 redesign. The latest 16-inch MacBook Pro is about 9 percent heavier than the older model and thicker to boot, despite the fact that Apple's new Arm-based chips take up less space than their older Intel CPUs and discrete GPUs . Apple could have thinned out, but it chose not to. Instead, it created a laptop that's a bit thick, but one of the best laptops we've used with battery life and cooling that no other computer on the market can touch.
Or take last year's iPhone 13 lineup. The 2021 models were thicker and heavier across the board than the iPhone 12 lineup from 2020, in large part after Apple admitted that customers wanted phones that could last a full day on a single charge and had a bigger battery. It worked - and the iPhone 13 was a better device for it, despite being a fraction of a millimeter and a few grams larger. Samsung's Galaxy S22, on the other hand, made a different choice, making its latest phone gradually thinner but scorching battery life.

But the race to the bottom of technology is a losing game in the end. Even if you can make a laptop as thin as a few sheets of paper, battery life will burn out quicker than a matchstick, too (almost when heated). And if you can somehow manage to address the first two issues, the tradeoff in the fragility of such a product will ruin it immediately.

It's time to end the cult of consumer tech thinness so that the phones and computers of the future can move — literally — toward bigger and better things.

No comments