Tips for Using a Laptop Computer


In the early days of personal computing, desktop devices integrated the screen and keyboard into a single unit, and this resulted in widespread complaints of musculoskeletal discomfort. By the late 1970s a number of ergonomic-design guidelines were written, and all called for the separation of screen and keyboard. The reason was simple: If the keyboard was in an optimal position, the screen wasn't, and if the screen was in the optimal position, the screen wasn't.

Consequently, laptops are excluded from current ergonomic design requirements because none of the designs satisfy this basic need. Therefore, it's important to pay special attention to how you use your laptop.

Using a laptop is a tradeoff between poor neck/head posture and poor hand/wrist posture. Occasional users will have less risk of problems than full-time users. Because the neck/head position is determined by the actions of large muscles, you are better off sacrificing neck posture rather than wrist posture.

Occasional Users

For occasional use: 

  • Find a chair that is comfortable and that you can sit back in.
  • Position your laptop in your lap for the most neutral wrist posture that you can achieve.
  • Angle the laptop screen so that you can see this with the least amount of neck deviation.
  • Consider using an external keypad that allows for easy repositioning.

Full-Time Users

If you use your laptop at work as your main computer:

  • Position the laptop on your desk/work surface in front of you so that you can see the screen without bending your neck. This may require that you elevate the laptop off the desk surface using a stable support surface, such as a computer monitor pedestal.
  • Use a separate keyboard and cursor positioning input device, either as one unit or as separate units. You should be able to connect a keyboard and mouse directly to the back of the laptop or to a docking station.
  • Use the keyboard on a negative-tilt keyboard tray to ensure a wrist neutral posture.
  • Use an external larger touch/number/gesture pad, an external touch pad, or a mouse on an adjustable position mouse platform.
  • Follow the postural guidelines for working at a computer workstation.

Laptop Dimensions

Many laptops offer large screens (15+ inches) and can work as desktop replacements; however, to help you choose the best size, think about where you will most use your laptop. The larger the screen, the more difficult it will be to use this in mobile locations (e.g. airplane, car, train). There are a number of smaller notebook and ultra-portable laptops on the market. Consider issues of screen size and screen resolution. A small screen (e.g.,12.1 inches) will be useful in mobile settings, but if the resolution is high (e.g., XGA: 1024 x 768), make sure that you can read the screen characters and can easily use the input device to point to areas on the screen. The smaller the laptop, the smaller the keyboard, so make sure that you can comfortably type on a keyboard that may be only 75 percent of the size of a regular keyboard.

Laptop Weight

if you are a mobile professional who will be frequently transporting your laptop, think about the weight of the system. The word system means the weight of the laptop plus the required accessories (e.g., power supply, spare battery, external disk drive, zip drive, CD-R, DVD etc.). Many lightweight portables can become as heavy as regular laptops when you add the weight of all of the components. If your laptop and its components together weigh 10 pounds or more, you should certainly consider using a carry-on bag that you can pull along. If you want a smaller bag and can comfortably carry your laptop, consider a good shoulder bag design.