How To Buy The Right Laptop (Early 2017 Edition)

laptop buying guide 2017
Your next laptop need not cost a fortune

While many of us are content with a desktop, there are others who live the nomad life. Who keep traveling and working at the same time. For such people, a laptop is a necessity. In fact, a growing number of people would like to buy a portable working machine as the benefits of a portable computer are immense. So what are the specific qualities one should look for when choosing such a vital device? This laptop buying guide for 2017 is for everyone – from the casual user who only wants to surf the web and stay connected to the workaholic who’s creating, editing and sharing content from a trusty laptop.

The problem arises when there are so many options available in the market without clarity on what laptop is worth buying for what purpose. There are dozens of brands with sub-brands and plethora of customised specs for the same kind of laptop. How can one choose one laptop with full confidence? So, without further ado, let’s look at what determines a good laptop and who should buy what kind of laptop.

1. Build quality

We cannot stress enough on how crucial the build quality of a laptop really is. You will be using this device as your daily workhorse, packing it in the backpack, then putting it on your desk, getting work done at a coffee shop, watching movies on the couch. All these scenarios might leave a few scratches and blemishes on the laptop. So pick one which uses good quality materials and has a good service track record.

Just like the metal used in a Ferrari car is vastly different to what you’d find on a Honda City, you’ll notice that even the metal used in different laptops is of different quality. The same goes with plastic too. So spend a few minutes at your local retailer and really feel and understand how well these laptops feel structurally, as there is no point in investing in a fragile-looking piece of equipment.

laptop build quality
Laptop so tough, you won’t be able to smash it open

This would also be the moment where you decide what size laptop you’d ideally want. The sweet spot is 15″ but these can be a bit bulky to carry around. So look at the weight and thickness of the device too because you can easily end up spending more than 30-40 minutes on any given day with the laptop weighing down your shoulders, in your backpack. Smaller laptops with 13″ and even 12″ screens tend to be lighter and easier to carry around but there is a slight compromise on the screen real estate.

2. Specs that matter

Once you’ve figured out the brand’s approach to build quality, it would make sense to directly jump and look at the specs. Everything needs to be considered here. Right from the screen size, to the actual technology used in the display, to the innards that make the laptop tick. Let’s break these down.

The screen and display tech

While choosing the size of the display is really a matter of choice, look for the sweet spot if it gets confusing. If you’re a working professional looking for a laptop that will serve you mostly for the work you do, then a 15-inch machine is what you should look for.

“We are not even close to finishing the basic dream of what the PC can be.” – Bill Gates

Display tech, on the other hand deals with the actual technology used on the display panel. Although LED panels are quite popular, there are still some laptops running on LCD. Choosing an LED panel here makes much more sense as it is low on power consumption and great on battery life. Other things that resolution, a colour-accurate screen and glass type should also be looked at. Higher resolution displays will help in displaying more windows at any given time. If you’re a creative professional then it certainly helps in getting a laptop with a minimum of 1920x1080p resolution.

CPU, GPU, RAM, Storage etc.

Now getting to the innards. Intel is the dominant CPU maker for the past decade and only now in 2017 has AMD made a real push to get their powerful CPUs out in the market again. But since Intel is the current leader, check for a minimum of a Core i3 processor if you wish to do even mildly intensive tasks on your laptop. Not only will such a laptop be able to keep up with technology coming in the future but also helps with multitasking.

Laptop internals

A GPU, or a Graphics Processing Unit (aka Graphics Card) is essentially needed only if you’re a video editor or a hardcore gamer. OEMs generally pick the appropriate graphics card to go with the CPU they’ve chosen and position it for the appropriate user. The trick is to look at the graphic card configuration and realise that the higher clock speed generally gives better performance.

However, performance and durability don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand and that is why it is important to do a little more research before finalising the laptop you want.

3. 2-in-1 hybrids or regular laptops?

With the advent of Windows 10, some OEMs have found newer ways to reposition laptops. They can now be ‘transformed’ into a tablet or simply by swivelling the screen, you can use only the screen for multimedia. The Surface Pro series from Laptop is a good example of such a hybrid device, where the keyboard is essentially an accessory that can be used by attaching it to the screen, with the help of magnets.

via GIPHY

Now, this is a neat concept and one that can be useful only for rather limited use cases. Having a touchscreen laptop is key to enjoying the experience of a display only mechanism. However, it might not be the most comfortable experience of carrying the machine around as both the keyboard and screen are two independent units.

One of the most famous people in tech from our era, Steve Jobs, had an interesting take on touchscreen laptops, though –

We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical.

4. Operating System experience

For laptops, the major players are Microsoft and Apple, when it comes to software. Windows has been the most popular Operating System (OS) in India though macOS has steadily gained a lot of users in recent times. Google has lately entered this fray with their cloud-based Chrome OS, which runs almost entirely on the Chrome browser.

Although choosing one is a matter of personal experience, the broad audience for these OS’ can be classified as follows

  • Windows user: Those who prefer tweaking and customising, looking for hardware upgrades and don’t mind putting up with the odd bug here and there.
  • macOS user: Those who prefer everything laid out perfectly and don’t want to deeply customise. Can compromise on upgrade liability but not on quality.
  • Chromebook user: Those looking for web-based research, working largely on surfing, mailing and communications.

5. Of ports, battery life and drives

Not too many people pay attention to these and there’s a good reason why. Let’s look at ports, first. Each laptop usually has a couple of USB ports, maybe 1 HDMI port and then a headphone jack, SD card reader and a charging port. But if a laptop has checked all the right boxes above and doesn’t have that one port you wanted, will it be a deal breaker? In one word – NO. Why? Because there are always alternatives like USB hubs available.

Don’t be afraid of the dongle life

It’s the same with battery life and optical drives too. Of course getting a laptop with a bigger battery is the way to go but if the form factor is just right for you, then you will have to make do with a slightly smaller battery in your laptop. There’s only so much a manufacturer can do and the laws of Physics can’t be bent.

Ready to buy?

We hope this has helped you in making the choice for your next laptop. If you’re still unsure about anything specific then do leave us a comment. Also, share this article with those you think might be benefitted the most.

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Thinker. Tinkerer. Writer. Editor. Many hats, one heart. Several roles, one goal. You get the picture. Right?

3 COMMENTS

  1. I have a budget that allows me to go for either an i5 processor or 8 gb of ram. What should i choose? Is i3-8 gb combination better than i5-4gb?

    • Hi Jaidev,

      I’d recommend going for a better processor, especially if you’re not using too many tools/software at the same time. But, if that is the case then you’ll be better off with more RAM. It really depends on your use-case, in the end.

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