Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What laptop should I get?

Assumptions

Admittedly, this is as question asked all over the place, and the answer is always “it depends”. So, I’m going to make some assumptions:
  • You’re a normal person, not a programmer like me.
  • You understand what being online is, but you aren’t overly technical.
  • You don’t want to spend a ton of money, but you want something that will last for the next 5 years if possible, 2 years at a minimum.
  • You think Windows is confusing, and have heard the Mac is easy and more secure, but you could go either way, since cost is a factor.
  • How much can I expect to pay?

Tablets

To be clear, it’s very possible you don’t need a laptop at all. A lot of people can get by with a tablet that has the a ability to offload pictures from your camera, copy music from your CDs or download music online, write Emails, surf the Web (and it is Web with a capital W, though more and more that is falling out of favor… dumb English as an evolving language), and play games, both online and on your computer. The iPad or Microsoft Surface RT would do all of these things (it’s slightly more difficult to get music and photos onto an iPad, but it’s possible if you do everything online, or have an old computer laying around to store files). I’ll make clear right now, I’m not a fan of Android, tablets or phones. While they are highly customizable, they are also highly confusing for a normal person, and almost everyone I know well that has an Android phone has had problems with it. So, find a Google fanboy to get recommendations there, but the Galaxy Note might be my only recommendation.

Laptops

This is easier than it may sound. Be ready to pay about $700 – $1,200 for a laptop.
There are a lot of cheaper options out there, but you absolutely, without a doubt, must get a laptop with a touch screen. Everything with a touch screen right now (except for tablets) are a minimum of $700. This will come down though if you’re patient. Within the next year (two at most) Apple, Google and Microsoft will all have operating systems which will be significantly harder to use without a touch screen.
This touch screen requirement also means Apple is probably out of the running. There are rumors the next MacBook will have a touch screen, as well as Google’s Chromebook, so you could wait. The Chromebook will be cheap, but run nothing you really want except for things you can consume, like games and surfing the Web. Apple’s will be hugely expensive, and probably have an interface similar to the iPhone/iPad. To be clear, these are all my guesses from what I’ve read recently, I may be entirely wrong.
With that said, right now I’d highly recommend Microsoft’s Surface Pro, or another “convertible” Microsoft laptop running Windows 8. If you’re lucky enough to have a Microsoft Store nearby, I’d recommend going in. They have a bunch of different laptops (of course including their own Surface Pro on prominent display), and I really liked Samsung’s ATIV with a detachable keyboard. Lenovo also has the Ideatab that looks excellent.
On top of it, the Microsoft sales staff are excellent! We went in before the Surface Pro came out, just to look at RT and get a feel for the keyboards. I and the sales guy got into a somewhat techie conversation, and he showed us every oddity you can do to make the Windows 8 tile interface usable. We talked and looked at their laptops, but he didn’t try and push anything on us, knowing I was not buying anything that day.
Best Buy may have more laptops to look at, and may be your only option if you’re not near a Microsoft Store, so it’s worth checking there as well. But the staff and offers by Microsoft couldn’t be beat. We even got the damage warranty there since the reviews were so good on their repair service, and it was cheaper than anywhere else by $150 (the warranty is 2 years for $99 right now, but will go up to $150). I don’t know if this will apply to other laptops or just Surfaces.
Full disclosure her, I have a Surface Pro. I love it, bought it the week it came out, but not the day (they sold out, and I drove store people nuts calling everyday) and can’t recommend it enough. It is either $900 or $1,000 depending on the hard drive size, but this is exactly what I want in a laptop. I so still need to buy an external drive to store my growing 500 Gb collection of photos, music, videos and documents.
You could also go with a laptop that doesn’t detach from the screen. One of the biggest reasons for this is you would probably have the ability to get a bigger hard drive, add RAM later, replace components (I mean, have your tech savvy sibling, son, daughter or in-law replace components). It will also mean the keyboard is heavier than the screen (the ones that detach all the computer innards are behind the screen, so it will be a little top heavy). Having the keyboard be heavier will feel more natural, but you will also get used to a heavier screen, we already do with tablets.
As a side note, the Surface Pro is the only laptop I know of which has a pen for input. Windows RT does NOT support pen, which is unfortunate. The FreshPaint app is stellar, and I’d think anyone into painting or drawing would love a Surface Pro with FreshPaint. Of course I jut saw Microsoft published FreshPaint, so I inadvertently seem like even MORE of a Microsoft fan boy. It is the closest thing I’ve seen to really painting on a laptop.

While Windows 8 is INCREDIBLY different from other versions of Windows, I am finding I prefer living with the tiles for everything, and don’t like going to the desktop as much. But those are details for another day.

Things to Look For

Here’s the low-down on what you should be looking for in you next laptop. If you want to avoid the jargon, and just get something simple, check out Widows RT or Windows 8. I promise, if you don’t know whether processing speed, RAM or hard drive contribute most to performance, you’ll probably be happy with either of these. But if you do want to compare, here’s what you should know:
  • Minimum of 4Gb RAM, I doubt you could find on with less
  • Any CPU on the market today will be fine
  • Solid State Hard Drive (it doesn’t have any moving parts, so less chance to fail – still BACK UP- and faster than any normal hard drive, but also smaller)
  • Something you are comfortable with. Not wither Windows is different from Mac, but something you like holding, it’s light, and you feel like you could carry it anywhere. Something you want to show off to your friends.
I hope this helps. If you were in my family, this is what I’d recommend, but I’m always open t having my mind swayed.
Peace,
-Tom

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