As you can probably tell from my previous reviews, I am a visual learner and I like simple, step by step instructions. This is why the idea of reviewing Laptops Simplified appealed to me. What’s not to like about a lavishly illustrated book that promises to be "Simply the Easiest Way to Learn?" As someone who recently bought a netbook (the first brand new mobile computer I’ve ever owned) I was hoping to learn all kinds of useful things that would enhance the portable computer experience. Did that happen? Let me tell you.
Big book for small computers
Laptops Simplified has pages that are larger than the standard paperback book. This makes the illustrations much easier to see, and leaves plenty of space for instructions and information. The author states that the book is for "the reader who has never used this particular technology or software application" and also for "readers who want to expand their knowledge." That had the feel of a generic introduction that could be used for any book in the series, but the book does indeed start by explaining the basics for a new user in a straightforward way.
Since the Simplified series is part of Wiley’s Visual series, the emphasis is on the illustrations and on keeping the information as concise and easy to understand as possible. There are plenty of screenshots, all of which are marked with numbered arrows that match the instructions on the page. Some pages have a "Simplify It" sidebar with additional useful information for people who want to venture beyond the basics.
Laptops Simplified starts off with a basic description of laptops, using a generic laptop as an example. There are pictures of the ports one is likely to find, including the PC Card slot and the modem jack, which are becoming less common on laptops as time goes on. Oddly, the book refers to the laptop’s screen as its "monitor" throughout, which might be confusing to the newcomer. There are general discussions of screen size, weight, memory and storage, processors, graphics, wireless capabilities and battery types. Some of this information is of little use, because a laptop is a package deal—the buyer gets what the manufacturer wants to put in. An indication that, generally speaking, one has to choose which attribute is most important and keep that first on the list, probably making compromises on other less important attributes, would have been useful. The discussion of the Windows Experience Index could be useful in making the right decision on which model to buy, if the manufacturer provides that information. Some of the discussion is aimed at high end gamers, who aren’t going to be reading a book like this. There’s a chapter devoted to using the laptop for the first time, but again, it uses a generic laptop. It would be much better for the new laptop owner to read the owner’s manual that comes with it and follow those instructions instead. There are good instructions for using Windows 7’s mobility settings and power management, and an explanation of the choices one has when shutting down (and what one can do by closing the lid).
Pretty much the entire rest of the book is devoted to generic Windows 7 instructions, nothing that is laptop-specific at all. While these are clear and well illustrated, the book does not go into the kind of detail that a new Windows 7 user would likely need. The Maintenance chapter talks about things like defragmenting the hard drive, which Windows 7 does automatically, and only briefly mentions safe ways to clean the screen. I was astonished to see instructions for popping the keycaps off the keyboard to clean underneath them. In my experience, this is something one does NOT want to do. Some key caps come off easily but have to be put on in a specific way, and once you’ve got them off the keyboard is not a good time to find this out. The Security chapter has brief instructions for password protection and file encryption, but anyone who wants to have a truly secure password and work safely and efficiently with encryption will want much better instructions than Laptops Simplified provides.
While Laptops Simplified has its good points, like the clear instructions and easy to read illustrations, it has just too many shortcomings to recommend. The larger pages and heavy coated paper are great for the illustrations, but out of curiosity I weighted the book and it is about 1.6 pounds (761 grams) and not something you’d want to stuff in a laptop bag for reference, assuming it would fit. The Before you buy chapter didn’t really make clear that one does not have as much freedom to choose individual components in a laptop as one does with a desktop computer. Too much of the book has nothing to do with laptops, and if one wants a good Windows 7 reference there are plenty of better ones out there (and we’ve reviewed quite a few). Save your time and money for a better book.