How to Buy a New Laptop
Black Friday and its deals are here. If you're in the market for a new laptop, this month may be a good time to buy. But it's not just price, brand and features that should determine your purchase; think about how you'll use a new computer and take a fresh look at your ideal device mix.
Holiday sales are usually designed to move old product to make room for new inventory or to entice shoppers into a store with a low-end item with an eye to upgrading them into a more expensive version. Either way, this may be fine if you know what you need and can resist an up-sell.
The Carolina Computing Initiative, an organization that provides computer solutions and support for more than 20,000 students at UNC-Chapel Hill set the following standard specifications for student laptops: Intel 2 Core Duo 2.0 GHz processor, 2GB memory, 120GB hard drive, DVD Read and CD Read/Write Capable, 1024 x 768 resolution or better, 16-bit audio, wireless (802.11a/b/g/n; note: "n" is the newest standard and offers at least twice the download speed of its predecessors), at least one USB 2.0 expansion port, but I'd suggest a minimum of two, and a minimum screen size of 12 inches.
For prolonged use, opt for a minimum screen size of 15.6 inches. The extra inch or two will make a big difference when viewing Web pages, documents and spreadsheets.
If you plan to use your laptop outdoors as well as inside, look for a transreflective LED backlit display. Indoors, the LED backlit display produces vibrant colors and good image quality. Outdoors, a push of a button turns off the LED backlights while the transreflective screen uses natural light to produce a display that can be seen in sunlight, unlike an ordinary LCD display that can appear almost black in bright light.
The keyboard is another consideration. Less expensive laptops often suffer from individual keys that skip letters when pressed, resulting in what look like typos. If you work with numbers, look for a keyboard that has the separate number key layout, usually on the right side of the keyboard.
One accessory that could make using a laptop more comfortable, especially if you are accustomed to a desktop set-up, is a wireless mouse . The USB connector is attached to the mouse itself ― slide it out, plug it into the laptop's USB port and get to work, no mousepad required.
Before purchasing a new computer, find out what software is pre-installed on the unit. Most laptops will come with a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office , but you may find a deal where Office is included in the purchase price. For comparison purposes, note that Office Home and Student is sold for $120. If you need Outlook for email, you'll pay $200 for Office Home and Business.
Other pre-installed programs may be useful, but oftentimes are considered "bloatware," meaning that they take up valuable space on the hard drive and are never used. After using your new computer once or twice, remove the programs you will not use. Open the Start menu, open Control Panel and select Programs. Open the uninstall menu to see a list of programs and uninstall any that are unnecessary.
There are so many Internet-connected devices available: laptops, netbooks, desktops, all-in-ones, tablets, e-readers and smartphones. Before you buy a laptop, take an inventory of your current device mix and consider new pairs.
Ask yourself, do I really want a laptop? An all-in-one desktop is my favorite computing device. It is similar to a desktop, but as its name implies, there is no separate tower. It is almost as easy to move from room to room as a laptop, but offers a typically larger screen and comfortable tabletop arrangement. A Lenovo H320 is on sale through Lenovo for $550. The iconic all-in-one, Apple's iMac, will cost about twice the price of the Lenovo.
A netbook may work for those who need a truly portable computer. I recently learned that my 15.6-inch laptop was too cumbersome for a convention and was fortunate enough to be traveling with my dad who offered to loan me the netbook we had bought for him last Thanksgiving. If you're buying a netbook, look for one with a larger screen than the standard 10.1-inches. I found that an 11.6-inch netbook made an enormous difference.
Tablets and e-readers are wonderful if you're looking for portable entertainment, but any job that requires a lot of typing, requires a keyboard and the ability to be set upright on a flat surface.
And one final note, do consider factory refurbished models. The savings are significant. Most refurbished products come with at least a 30-day warranty, which is usually sufficient.