6 Tips for buying the best laptop

By | October 12, 2016

Acer Chromebook 14

Not all laptops are created equal

Buying a new laptop is a very personal choice.  There is a lot of thought that needs to go into something you plan to carry with you all the time.  This is more than a device, it says something to you and about you.  If you plan to use it for work, for play, for whatever, it needs to fit your life.A laptop is a tool, it helps you accomplish something.  So you need the right tool for the job.  You need to ask yourself a few questions.  What do you need it to do?  What size is comfortable for you?  What kind of operating system, the software that powers the laptop, will meet your needs?  And most or least important, how does it look?  The last one is the most subjective, you might not think you care, but deep down we all do.  If the tool is ugly you won’t use it and you will have wasted your time and money.

Where to start with your search?  You could walk in cold to a store like Best Buy or Office Depot and just look at what they have on the shelf.  This could work, but I don’t think this would be the best place to start.  It might give you an idea of how the laptop looks in real space but not what it might be capable of.  I would recommend the trip to the store being your last step.

I feel one of you best strategies is to put together a checklist on what you want the laptop to do.  Let’s list the questions I asked earlier:

The Checklist

  1. What do I need the laptop for?
    1. Work
    2. Play
  2. Where will I use it most
    1. Home
    2. On the road – Out of the house
  3. What size? (laptops are classified on screen size)13 inch macbook
    1. 17 inch
      1. These are usually desktop replacements and the most expensive
    2. 15.6 Inch
      1. This is the most common size for laptops
    3. 13-14 inch
      1. This size is quickly becoming the more popular form factor
    4. 12 inch or less
      1. Super portable and light
      2. Usually, sacrifices some hardware specs for lower weight or smaller screens
  4. Which Operating System
    1. Windows – Still the most popular
    2. MacOS/AppleOS – Clean and considered easy to use
    3. ChromeOS – Simple and gets out of the way – One of the newest mainstream OS’s
    4. Linux – A little do it yourself – Doesn’t usually come pre-installed
  5. Material
    1. Metal – More durable and better looking
    2. Plastic – Many colors and usually cheaper
  6. Options
    1. Ports
    2. HD Screen
    3. Expansion slots

swift7-gallery-03

Let’s go through the checklist:

If you need a laptop for work. the most important stats for you are going to be Operating System and RAM.

If you will be using it more for play, by that I mean, surfing the web, email, watching Netflix or Hulu, doing some online shopping or blogging.  For play, your biggest stat is going to be the price.

Where will you use the laptop? If it is mostly at home, then battery life will not matter as much since you will probably always be near an outlet.  If you plan to use the laptop on the road, meaning coffee shops, hotels, worksites, etc.  Then battery life is going to be a major factor in your choices.

What size screen do you need?  17-inch screens are great and give you a lot of room to work.  I would usually only recommend this class of laptop if you will mostly use the computer sitting at a desk.  This size tends to be heavier and also more expensive.  They are not a really portable weight either.  17-inch screens are great if you are doing graphics or large spreadsheets since the available screen size allows you to see more of your work with needing to scroll horizontally.

  • 15-inch screens (usually listed as 15.6 inch) is the most popular size of laptop, it allows for a best of both worlds approach.  This size gives you enough screen size to work on big spreadsheets and graphics while keeping the weight down to make it a little more portable.
  • 13-14-inch screens are becoming a more popular screen size.  The developments in better screen panels are allowing for slightly smaller screens providing the quality of view that you used to only be able to get in the larger screen sizes.  I use a 14-inch laptop for writing this blog and for the majority of my computing tasks.  I find it to be a great fit for what I need to do.
  • 12-inch and smaller screens are what is called the ultraportable laptop size.  These are usually very light and easy to carry.  There is normally a sacrifice on how powerful the processor is and the build qualities.  This class of laptop also tends to be the cheapest.  They are great for a secondary laptop or an out of the house laptop.  Their smaller screens and processors can usually get much more life out of the battery.  They are great for putting in a bag and taking with you on a trip.

Which Operating System should you choose?  This is the one question that will get you about 100 different answers, all depending on who you ask.  I will try to take an objective look at the major offerings.  Keep in mind, the operating system is what allows your laptop to do things.  It is the layer between the software (programs/apps) and the hardware.

  • Windows is the most popular (by the number of machines it is installed on) in the world.  Windows is considered to be the standard in operating systems.  If you need an application chances are really good Windows has it.  This is the best option if you plan to use the laptop professionally or need the most support.  Laptops with Windows installed have are usually low in price since Microsoft works out deals with the laptop builders.  Normally Windows is the OS most people are familiar with.
  • MacOS/AppleOS is the second most installed OS.  It is only found on Apple built laptops.  It is a great operating system for people who need their computer to just work.  It tends to not allow a lot of user customization thereby limiting the learning curve to getting it running.  The limitation is that this OS is not as well supported by application makers.  Some software you might want to run may not be available on an Apple Laptop.
  • ChromeOS is one of the newer OS’s to come on the market.  This OS is developed and maintained by Google.  This OS is only available on a line of laptops called Chromebooks.  These laptops use the Google Chrome browser as the interface with the user.  These laptops are made to be used while connected to the internet.  They can be used offline but their functionality is limited.  If your primary need for a laptop is to use the internet for social media, email, blogging, or streaming movies and music, then this is a laptop that might work the best for you.  ChromeOS does not run major applications like Microsoft Office or other big name applications.
  • Linux comes in many different names and flavors.  You will not usually find a laptop with Linux pre-installed.  Most people install it themselves after they purchase a laptop.  Some versions of Linux like Linux Mint and Ubuntu are some of the most popular versions and are the most Windows-like.  Linux is a great OS for people who also just need their machines to work.  Linux provides for as much or as little customization over the OS as anyone could want.

acer-15inch-chromebook

What will the laptop be made out of?  There are a couple of options now, plastic and aluminum.  Plastic is usually cheaper and can be found in a spectrum of colors.  No more are we stuck buying a gray or black laptop, which is fine if that’s what you want.  The are a few finishes in the plastic also, from matte (not shiny) to a piano finish (very shiny) this really comes down to what you like.  As far as the aluminum laptops go, the metal is more durable and less prone to scratching or chipping if your laptop suffers the occasional drop.  Apple laptops all come in a solid aluminum case that is machined from one piece of aluminum.  Some Windows and ChromeOS laptops are starting to show up in aluminum now also.  The laptop I use, the Acer Chromebook 14 comes in two pieces of aluminum, it can be had in silver or gold colors. Honestly, this all comes down to what you like.

Options, now this is where it gets tricky.  I won’t go too far into the weeds on this and I would be happy to answer any questions down in the comments but for now, let’s look top-level.  Ports, you are going to want at least two USB ports.  USB 3.0 is the current standard and USB-C is coming up.  USB is the standard for connecting devices to your laptop.  Other good to have ports are full-size HDMI so you can connect your laptop to TVs or projectors.
Regardless of the screen size you choose, the screen may have different resolutions.  The higher the number the sharper the screen.  Don’t get really caught up in what the numbers mean, but you can look at the second number in the resolution as to how clear the screen is.  For example, the screen on my laptop is 1920×1080, 1080 tells you that it is Full HD, if the second number was 720 it is considered HD.  Apple laptops have a Retina Display that has a higher resolution than Full HD.  Some newer laptops have the new 4k HD standard in their screens, they are very expensive.  Here is an article that might explain screen resolution better if you are curious.

Once you answer these questions, the final one is to figure out how much you can spend.  The best bet you can make is to figure out your top price and look for a laptop that meets your needs as close to that price as possible.  A special note, once you buy your laptop, stop shopping for them.  It never fails that the week after you buy one, a bigger, better, faster model will come out.

A good laptop should last several years before you need to replace it with something newer and better.

What things would you recommend to be added to the checklist, what are stories of buying a laptop do you have?  Leave your comments below.  Also be sure to subscribe to the blog so you can be notified when new content is added!

  • APPRAISALSOURCE

    Thanks for providing this comprehensive checklist Mike. I will be buying a new laptop for my wife soon and this will help in narrowing down the choices.

    • You’re welcome. Good luck in your search. Let me know if I can help in any way.