Laptop ergonomics really do suck

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (491 Words)

Laptops are great, of course, whether you’re travelling or just enjoying the flexibility of having a PC wherever you want in the house at any one time, instead of closeted in a fixed location. But if there’s one dimension in which they suck (barring upgradability - but then modern laptops are pretty nippy these days), it’s ergonomics. Laptops are excluded from the design standards that regular PCs have to adhere to, simply because it’s hard for them to comply within the form factor we expect.

I’m a little sensitive to ergonomics, having had bouts of RSI over the years, and of course my back problems.  However, I still love my laptops - particularly since right now the only Mac I have is a laptop, so that’s where all my testing for OS X has to happen. The reason I’m raising this today is that, despite having limited my laptop time in recent months because of my back, I decided it was feeling good enough in recent weeks to try to finish the OS X support for CMake this weekend. It took quite a lot of time over 2 days to get everything sorted out, but I did manage it, and was pretty happy about it. My back though - not so much; today it’s more painful than it’s been in a while.

The trouble is that I can either use the laptop on the dining room table, which places the keyboard and screen at about chest height - which strains my mid-back because I have to sit up pretty straight to use it (ie exactly what my physio says I shouldn’t do), or, I can use it at my stand-up desk or on my lap, which then hurts my upper back because you have to hunch your neck over quite far instead. For me, mid-to-upper back strain is the main problem, not lower back as is more common (trust me to be different), so this is straining the exact area I don’t want to.

Of course the usual way to resolve it is to use a laptop stand and connect a separate keyboard and mouse, but that pretty much defeats the object of having a laptop in the first place if you have to cart those things around & have cables trailing about. There are other more modest stands just for the laptop itself but I’m not entirely convinced about their effectiveness given how little they can change the configuration (if you’ve used one, please shout 😀)

It would be nice if laptops could start trying to address this. Maybe incorporating some kind of telescopic housing for the LCD, so you can put the keyboard and screen at the right height simultaneously. The main challenges with that are strength, space requirements and the centre of gravity I guess, but it would be nice. Or, maybe a simpler approach of just a detachable screen with fold-out legs or something. Am I nuts?