I work on my 'puter. I play on my 'puter. I communicate via the 'puter, often with people I have no real interest in communicating with. It's not even close, really. Dad's cool and all, but can he snare, in deliberate contravention of most copyright laws, a performance of "Atlantic City" from a 1985 stadium show in Italy, then play the song loud enough to rattle the legs of the desk upon which he sits? Heck, no. He once crashed the entire Eastern seaboard trying to order a pair of Dockers.
So I figured I'd check out the imaginatively titled Laptop to tell me what I need to learn about my friend, my mother, my secret lover: my computer. It turns out, however, that Laptop ain't exactly in the know, concerning itself less with laptops than with mobile information/entertainment devices in general.
Given the preponderance of such tchotchkes, that decision makes a lot of sense. Laptop, unfortunately, doesn't: it's a simplistic technology magazine seemingly aimed at technologically sophisticated consumers. The information contained therein, while not entirely useless, won't prompt anybody who's ever visited Engadget to alter his or her tech-media consumption habits.
In fact, the mag is more likely than not to insult the intelligence of such individuals. Showcasing Microsoft's beyond-DOA Zune in a "What's Next for 2007" feature? I don't care how long the mag's lead time may be; anyone who touched or saw that bizarro-world iPod in advance of its November debut knew it had no shot. Given the vague endorsement Laptop offers - "the Zune looks to be the big MP3 player of 2007" --- it's safe to say that the mag hadn't gotten its hands on one... unlike half the blogosphere.
That near-total absence of an insider feel cripples the January issue. "Business Edge" offers tips for the redemption of frequent-flier miles that would have been outdated two years ago. "How To" passes along advice for posting holiday photos via the standard, retard-proof online services, while the "Top 10 Tech Trends" propose "smaller notebooks" (!) and "faster broadband" (!!) among the innovations we'll see in the months ahead. When Laptop runs out of obvious hints to convey, it attempts to entertain with the same half-assed gusto, asking random folks on the street for their 2007 "technology resolutions." Here's mine: to pummel about the torso any stranger who asks me for my technology resolutions.
Additionally, Laptop doesn't do much in the way of legwork. The featured "What's Next" items as well as the "Arrivals" product blurbs appear to have been crafted almost entirely from press releases (bonus points: one of the "Arrivals" photos appears to be mislabeled). Neither the notebook nor the cell-phone "roundtables" feels conversational; both were quite obviously cobbled together from disparate written responses. If you want to present yourself as forward-thinking and authoritative, as Laptop sincerely does, you might want to get out of the office from time to time.
Meanwhile, this criticism isn't specific to Laptop, but I'll throw it out there anyway: A page of half-assed, back-of-book gaming or DVD coverage will not lure advertisers. Trust me on this. If Sony Pictures somehow happens upon Laptop's hackneyed 50-word review of "An Evening With Kevin Smith 2," they won't seize upon it as evidence that the title is deserving of advertising dollars. I can't decide whether the increasing number of magazines that do this are stupid or merely desperate.
The writers and editors of Laptop clearly aren't the former, as witnessed by the issue's exceedingly credible reviews of everything from e-book readers to video editing software. I love the succinct summation of one product as "a kludgy solution in search of a problem," even as I'm reasonably sure that "kludgy" isn't an actual word (on second glance, it is). Alas, that a throwaway line stands as the finest moment in the January Laptop probably tells you everything you need to know about the magazine.