If you’re the observant type, you may have noticed that over the past couple years, fewer and fewer computer manufacturers are calling their portable models “laptops.” In fact, if you look at Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro Web pages, you won’t find the word laptop anywhere; instead, you’ll find frequent usage of the term notebook . Why is this? Most in the industry agree that it’s because today’s portable computers run so hot that actually using them on your lap can be not only uncomfortable, but downright dangerous, especially for men. If you’ve used a recent laptop—er, notebook —you surely understand the concern. (Apple goes so far as to warn users of their latest notebooks: Do not leave the bottom of the computer in contact with your lap or any surface of your body for extended periods. Prolonged contact with your body could cause discomfort and potentially a burn. Yikes!) To be fair, such temperatures are largely unavoidable given today’s technology and market: Consumers demand ever-more powerful processors, and such processors produce lots of heat; in a laptop enclosure, the heat doesn’t have anywhere to go. But acknowledging this fact doesn’t make your lap feel any cooler.
Yet over the past weekend—a blessedly long one here in the U.S., thanks to our 4th of July holiday—I spent a good deal of time with my MacBook Pro on my lap: In addition to arranging a few family photo albums in iPhoto and catching up on some email, I used the laptop around the house to update our home inventory for insurance purposes. And I did all this without a bit of discomfort from heat. How? Through the magic of a lapdesk. No, I’m not talking about the fancy contraptions with “ergonomic” shapes, neoprene cushions, and laptop-specific designs that sell for as much as $150. I’m talking about the same kind of lapdesk I used as a kid to fill in crossword puzzles in the car and do homework on the couch. The one with a thin wood or plastic top and a fabric “beanbag” bottom. The one I picked up at Target for $9.99.
At 24 by 16 inches, this particular lapdesk is big enough to hold my 15-inch MacBook Pro while still leaving enough room to the side to use a mouse instead of the trackpad. The beanbag bottom is as comfortable as it gets, adjusting to different laps as if by magic. And unlike many of the fancy-schmancy “laptop desks” I’ve seen that offer “better ergonomics” by raising the back of the laptop to angle the keyboard—which actually puts more strain on your wrists—these cheap-o lapdesks offer a flat working surface. (Although if you prefer your desk angled toward or away from you, you can simply shake the beanbag’s “beans” to the back or front, respectively. How’s that for advanced technology?) It’s even got a fabric handle!
Best of all, you can get one of these handy laptop desks anywhere from Target to Toys’R’Us, from Wal-Mart to Walgreens, and you’ll likely pay only $10 to $20. And you can still use it to fill in crossword puzzles in the car and do homework on the couch. Can those $100 metal laptop platforms make the same claim?
The biggest drawback of these inexpensive accessories—besides the fact that some of the beanbag patterns, like the one in the picture above, are quite hideous—is that you can’t exactly take them with you when you travel; if you need something for on-the-go lap protection, the smaller (and more expensive) products may be worth looking into. But for burn-free legs at home, one of these lapdesks will be money well spent.