When it comes to computers, COVID-19 has sparked an interesting trend: last year, homebound users began seeking more stationary desktop devices. This temporary fad bucks the norm, in which laptop sales are on the rise. However, experts expect that desktop sales will drop again in the next few years, allowing the laptop market segment to hit almost $150 billion by 2025.
It’s easy to see why experts predict laptop sales will continue climbing. Portable and efficient, the modern laptop packs a powerful processing punch in a compact package. In fact, given the rise in demand, it’s safe to say you’ll need a laptop-buying guide to whittle down the immense spectrum of options!
That’s why we’re here to help. If you’re not sure what to look for as you sift through the endless range of laptop models, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you understand the qualities you should seek. Here’s what to keep an eye on.
First things first: when buying a laptop, your choice of operating system will often help you narrow down the options available to you.
Windows OS takes the lion’s share of the global market, meaning that you’re more likely to find a wider range of high-quality laptops to choose from if you opt for this OS. However, brand-loyal Apple users will also find that Mac OS works well with the robust line of MacBook computers, which in turn will pair well with an existing iPhone or iPad. Alternatively, laptop users looking for a fast and lightweight system that isn’t bogged down with unnecessary apps may want to look into Chrome OS.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to your operating system, as different users might feel more comfortable with the benefits of one system over the other. However, starting with this decision will make your choice easier as you jump into the next categories.
Type of Laptop
There’s a huge range of laptop types available these days, and while you won’t need to narrow your options down to specifics on the front end, it can help to consider whether or not you’re looking for a few features.
For example, do you need the added functionality of a touch screen or a 2-in-1 device? Users looking for the advantages of a tablet in the form of a laptop might want to consider getting a more flexible device.
Do you need an ultraportable computer? Travelers and business professionals often opt for ultrabooks and lightweight designs, which make it easier to work on the go.
Are you going to be doing heavy gaming on your device? High-end gaming laptops tend to be expensive, but they’ll offer the enhanced specs you need for a powerful performance.
Take some time to consider the laptop qualities you’re looking for in order to narrow down the type of computer you’ll need.
Don’t forget the role a brand plays when it comes to a new laptop! Top-tier brands offer a better build quality, better ongoing support, and a better overall value than mid-range options. In a decision between two similar laptops, always opt for the one from the more recognized and reputable brand.
In fact, some laptop brands even partner with major manufacturers to offer devices with stellar performances, such as Lenovo’s partnership with Intel to create premium laptops. For more info, check out this overview.
Though it’s often linked to portability, laptop size is an issue every technology user will have to consider when making their decision, whether or not travel is part of the game plan.
The size of your laptop is dictated by the screen size, and you’ll often find that these sizes come in a few categories: 11-inch, 13-14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch laptops. Note, of course, that your screen’s size will always be measured on the diagonal.
Larger laptops tend to have added storage, with larger processors than their ultraportable relatives. They may also have more ports and a heavier chassis.
Smaller devices, on the other hand, may be lighter and easier to handle, but they can sometimes lack the performance needed for more intensive activities.
Be sure to weigh your personal needs as you consider the size, as a great deal rides on this decision!
Your processor is the brain of your computer, which is why finding one that meets your needs is essential. Whether you’re looking for a device for light browsing or you need to do some processing-heavy video editing, your CPU makes a world of difference.
Intel is the tried-and-trusted brand when it comes to powerful CPUs. With its latest 11th-generation offerings—the Core i3, i5, i7, and i9—users can choose the amount of power they want to pack into their devices. Also worth mentioning is AMD’s latest 3rd-generation chips, the Ryzen 3, 5, 7, and 9 Series.
Note that newer generations from any brand tend to be better than older ones, so it’s always better to opt for a laptop running the latest CPU.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of your computer’s RAM, which acts as the system’s temporary memory storage. This is what allows your computer to perform immediate tasks, from simple browsing to application usage.
RAM needs differ a great deal, but most users will want to look for a device with at least 8GB of RAM for basic computing tasks. Power users will want to aim somewhere in the 16GB or 32GB range. It’s possible to upgrade the RAM of a purchased computer on your own or with the help of a third-party service, but you’ll need to make sure the device you’re buying offers the physical space to do so.
Your computer’s storage drive is as important as the RAM it has access to, as this is what allows your device to keep data indefinitely. Whenever possible, it’s always a good idea to opt for a laptop with a solid-state drive, or SSD. These options offer a far faster and more reliable performance than the traditional mechanical hard drive, and they can even help speed up your new laptop.
Some devices, like Chromebooks, offer little by way of storage, so it’s important to understand your computing needs before you make a purchase. You can always grab an external drive to supplement your internal storage, but it’s nice not to have to think about buying additional devices!
Because you’ll spend most of your time on your laptop staring at your screen, the display quality is an important factor.
In terms of the screen size, note that larger displays don’t always mean a better screen resolution, so it’s important to do your homework when it comes to the specs. However, you may want to note that larger displays do have a wider viewing angle, which means that users farther away from their devices can still see everything on the screen.
In terms of the overall quality, everything boils down to one thing: pixels. The more pixels crammed into your display, the better your screen will look.
Displays that run on 1080p, also called Full HD, are a good option, though sharper displays toward the 4K range may be ideal for users who work with multimedia. Don’t forget about the screen brightness, which should hit somewhere around 300 nits at a minimum.
All of the specs above factor into your laptop’s battery life, which can be a major consideration for many users. Unless you’re planning to station your device next to an outlet—as with a desktop replacement or gaming laptop—you’ll want to know how long you can go between charges.
Most users will want to find devices that can withstand a full workday, or eight hours, on a single charge.
Keyboard and Touchscreen
If there’s one factor you won’t want to get wrong, it’s your laptop’s keyboard and touchscreen. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to these features, which is why it can be so crucial to get your hands on a model in person to see how you like them.
Look for a keyboard with a comfortable key travel and enough space between keys, especially if you have larger hands. In addition, you’ll need to decide decide whether you prefer a touchpad with additional buttons for a right and left click.
Though it’s possible to work around missing ports, it’s always useful to get the connections you need on your laptop with less effort. Your choice in laptop size and functionality will play a role in the number and types of ports that can fit on your device. Depending on your needs, be sure to check for USB Type-A and Type-C ports, HDMI ports, headphone jacks, and Ethernet ports as you shop around.
Find the Perfect Pick With This Laptop-Buying Guide
A laptop is an investment—which is why it’s crucial to make sure you’re getting everything you need in a single lightweight package. With this laptop-buying guide, you’ll be able to whittle down your decisions when it comes to specs and performance to get the reliable device you need. Though it can be hard to find a laptop that checks every box, doing your homework can help you pick a model that offers the features you’re looking for at an affordable price!
Need more tips and tricks to help you make the most of your devices? Be sure to check out our other tech guides for additional insights.