Some accountants are so dedicated to the idea of portable electronics, they have even hurt themselves to prove it.Eighteen years ago, Tom Davis, CPA and owner of the Valdosta, Ga.-based CPA firm Tom C. Davis CPA LLC, had one of the very first laptops that was ever available to consumers - a $20,000 Compaq "luggable" with an 8086 Intel processor, 64KB of RAM and a 10MB hard drive.

While taking his overweight laptop out of the overhead bin after a flight, the heavily weighted machine suddenly rotated and took Davis' arm with it, tearing the ligaments in his elbow. The wounded CPA had to go in for surgery, but even a damaged elbow couldn't tear Davis away - pardon the pun - from using laptops. Today, he's using a much more scaled-down, 15-inch-screen, $1,000 Gateway Notebook and claims that he can't live without it.

And he isn't the only CPA who feels this attached to his laptop.

"Anything you can do on a desktop, you can do on a laptop," said Richard Oppenheim, CPA, CITP and owner of Oppenheim Business Group, a business and technology consulting group in the Denver region. "There isn't an application I can't run on my laptop now. What my laptop does is give me the option. I have choices."

Technology consultants and tech-savvy CPAs in public practice have been advocating the use of laptops for years.

During the period from Thanksgiving through Jan. 1, 2005, retail outlets in the United States saw the sale of laptops rise 24 percent over the same period just two years before, while the sales of desktop units slumped 7 percent, according to a survey.

However, this year marks a change in pattern for a number of CPAs and technology consultants who believe that laptops have actually decreased in value and quality over the last couple years.

These advisors are recommending that CPAs move their computers from their laps and put them back onto their desks for faster, more reliable and secure service.

Noted consultant Randy Johnston has given presentations at technology seminars across the country for the past 30 years, and is among those who cannot part with their laptops. He takes it with him for presentations and to CPA firms that he consults with through K2 Enterprises, a business and technology consulting group based in Hutchinson, Kan.

Normally a big proponent for the newest and greatest technology, Johnston now goes against his traditional stance and warned CPAs not to go out shopping for new laptops this year. "None of them got any better in the last year," he explained. "All the vendors actually have gotten worse, even the big guys like IBM and HP, who traditionally have done a good job - not this year," he said. "I love laptops. I have lived off them forever. Laptops in 2005, though, are of lower quality than in 2003."

Johnston went on to say that 2005 laptops were becoming more affordable, but at the expense of reliability and performance. "Dell being a good example," he added. "They are trying to drive cost out of their model by building their laptops cheaper and less reliable. You used to be able to get a good laptop; now you are seeing a whole lot more that laptops are failing with a little bit of abuse."

Carlton Collins, CPA, software consultant, analyst and president of Norcross, Ga.-based Accounting Software Advisor, agreed with Johnston. "It's a big mistake to buy a laptop today. What I find is laptops are slower, there is no fan in them so they overheat, and they are more expensive," he said. "I find that CPAs almost never or rarely use laptops at a client's office. What would be better to use is a client's browser if you need to in a pinch. With a small monitor you can't really work on a laptop; you need to get a big flat panel monitor that really smokes to get a lot of the work done. You spend more to get less with laptops."

New and improved!

Laptop providers like Hewlett-Packard try to resolve some of these issues with laptops today by creating features to enhance their designs for reliability, security and connectivity.

To protect new editions of its notebooks, HP has included a seal on the keyboard deck, said senior manager of product marketing for business notebooks Steve Schultis. This seal is a lamination molded into the plastic of the keyboard to protect against spills and other liquids entering into the notebook and causing damage.

Another reliability upgrade for HP notebooks this year is HP Mobile Data Protection - a shock-absorbing hard-drive mounting that allows a user to take the hard drive out of a notebook. This mounting from HP will also guard the hard drive from bumps and drops that could permanently damage the hard drive, said Schultis.

"This hard mounting reduces the transmission of shock to the hard drive by up to 50 percent from last year's model," said Schultis.

Intel announced its second platform for notebooks, Napa, earlier this year, and included information on how the new platform would help extend battery life. Intel hopes to reach a full eight-hour battery life for notebook batteries by 2008. Currently, HP, Toshiba, Dell and other major notebook or laptop providers carry additional batteries, called travel batteries. These batteries, at an added expense, extend the duration of a laptop session, in HP's case up to five-and-a-half hours, according to Schultis.

Dell, like HP, also is working to get better connectivity built directly into its laptops by partnering with Verizon to provide wireless LAN service. The partnership offers built-in wireless Internet connectivity, so no hot spots, wireless hubs or Internet cafés are needed for a CPA to connect to the Internet. CPAs can connect anywhere they can find a signal, much the same way a cell phone connects to complete a call.

"I find desktops faster, better for monitoring data. I have a lot of data processing, analyzing, and I don't like to put that data on a laptop, because God forbid it gets stolen," said Rich Lanza, CPA, CITP and president of Cash Recovery Partners LLC, an audit, anti-fraud, and assurance technology firm in Lake Hopatcong, N.J. "I keep most of my data locked on my desktop."

Added security is another feature that many laptop developers progressed on over the years. HP added fingerprint scanners on its notebooks; Dell sells notebook locks that physically lock a laptop to any piece of furniture or heavy object, in the same fashion as a bike lock; and Toshiba's Trusted Platform Module, a chipset and software application, works to provide encryption keys, passwords and user credentials for securing the user's hard drive.

A pain in the lap

But all these added features still do not cushion the physical discomfort that a user may experience from prolonged use of a laptop. Wrist cramps, neck pain from looking down at the computer screen, and slow-moving work due to the layout of both the keyboard and mouse are all complaints that accountants have had from using their laptops.

Both Oppenheim and K2 Enterprises independent consultant Tommy Stephens have fixed the physical discomfort and slow processing associated with using their laptops. When back in the office and not in need of taking quick notes, these two use laptop cradles, or docking stations, and peripheral keyboards and mice to set up their laptop like a desktop computer.

The docking station allows them to view their monitors head-on, avoiding neck pain, while using a standard-sized wireless or plug-in keyboard and mouse allows them the proper alignment for their wrists to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and maximize productivity. This laptop transformed into a desktop PC allows these two to keep the flexibility of their laptops without losing any desktop benefits, said Stephens.

"Using laptops is pushing the employees to get out of the office and spend time with the clients," said Stephens. "It's easier to work on location and from home. I don't know how I would do my job without my laptop."

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access