As the notebook/laptop category analyst at gap intelligence, I often get asked to recommend laptops for colleagues, or their friends and family. As a presenter of our company’s data, I am also used to seeing (and struggling with) the different issues that varying notebook styles may throw your way; especially when traveling and connecting to different systems.
Below are the 5 questions you should ask before buying a laptop, based on my experience in the industry. While some may come off as odd, they are designed to dwindle down your possible options, making your potential pool for comparison much smaller.
1. Do You Need a Numeric Keypad?
While this may seem like an odd question to start with, the answer typically will divide your options in half. Laptops with full numeric keypads are typically 15.6-inch or larger, meaning that if you need the feature for work/school, you are going to be limited to larger (and less portable) models. While there are companies that make USB-connected keypads that you can buy in a pinch, those who will constantly be utilizing the area may want to have it permanently affixed to their device.
Do You Remember Thing from the Adams Family?
2. What Ports Are You Expecting to Use?
Again, a weird question. But again, it is one that will often split your options in half. Smaller laptops under 14-inches often lack a variety of ports, including HDMI and USB (3.0/3.1/3.2). This means that you may be stuck with only a couple USB-C/thunderbolt ports and an SD card reader. While any port connectivity issues can likely be solved with adapters or dongles, if you’re looking to easily hook up to different displays and peripherals on-the-go (perhaps for presentations, wink wink), you may want to opt for a larger model with plenty of ports.
For an easy-to-see example of this issue, look up the ports for any Dell XPS 15 (15.6-inch) model versus any Dell XPS 13 (13.3-inch).
3. How Important is Battery Life?
Okay, a more reasonable question, but one that is not always straight forward, given the range in battery life that brands offer for their devices. While battery life on a single device will always vary by use case, I can make one recommendation: If you’re looking to maximize battery life, stay away from 4K/UHD models and stick with FHD (1920×1080). Ultra-high definition displays draw a lot more power than traditional full-high definition, and besides— do you really need 4K on a 14-inch screen? The answer, considering the lack of 4K content out there, is probably not.
Please don’t die before finishing season 3
4. Do You Plan on Doing Any Gaming?
Now we get to the good stuff. More and more, people are looking for devices that they can use for both work and play. Two important things to remember are that 1) gaming laptops are capable of all the same tasks as their consumer-oriented counterparts (if not more) and 2) many consumer laptops feature dedicated graphics cards capable of gaming.
While many people probably do not want to walk into their classroom or office with a fully decked-out, lit-up, flames-down-the-side, gaming laptop— there are actually gaming options out there that take a more discrete approach to gaming. Conversely, many premium, consumer laptops are packed with some decent graphics cards, though additional gaming features around the display or keyboard may be lacking for some enthusiasts.
In summary, if you plan on doing any gaming (or video editing) you will want a dedicated GPU.
Not all gaming laptops need the same bells and whistles
5. How Long Do You Plan to Keep the Laptop?
If you plan on upgrading to a newer laptop in a year or two, then included specifications can pretty much focus on the “now.” Are the included processor, RAM, and storage good enough for what you need to do right now? On the other hand, if you want to keep the device for as long as possible, you may want to step up those components in order to “future-proof” your device and make sure it is not outdated two years down the road.
Additionally, how long you want to keep the device may also impact the storage you decide to go with: HDD vs SSD. A hard disk drive (HDD), which is an older method of storage, utilizes a spinning drive to store your data. The physical spinning of the device causes the storage to wear down faster than newer SSD storage. However, HDD storage is often cheaper and more plentiful (with 1TB now standard on many devices). So if you are not planning to keep the devices beyond 2 years, it may be the right choice. If you are planning to keep the device for as long as possible, than a solid state drive (SSD), which stores data on microchips with no moving parts, is likely the better option. While this storage is typically more expensive and less plentiful (with 256GB as a common configuration), it is said to last up to half a million hours longer than HDD. Not to mention the other benefits including lower power draw, faster write speed, and lack of sound/vibration.
It’s not an exact representation, but you get the idea
I won’t even get into Intel’s Optane Memory, but luckily my colleague Kristina Broome, already did that in her blog.
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