Buying a new laptop is a daunting process. It’s also an exciting one. You may find that shopping gives you a bit of a buzz in your stomach or puts a smile on your face. There are so many cool laptops to choose from – and one will soon be yours!
Excitement isn’t all bad, but it can cause lapses in judgment. I see this happen all the time. Often the mistakes will be made by people who did the right research and came to the right conclusions – up to the moment they hit “add to cart.”
Sometimes these mistakes work out, but they can lead to laptop that’s entirely unsuited for what the buyer wanted to use it for. Let’s take a look at five commonly made mistakes, and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Thinking with your eyes
Laptops have had keyboards and touchpads for years, but there haven’t been many new developments. As a result, new buyers rarely put the user interface near the top of their priority lists.
That’s a shame, because all of our interaction with a laptop travels through our hands. Apple is the only company that seems embrace this fact, which is why its retail stores work so well: You can step into one, feel a MacBook, use the keyboard, and discover it for yourself.
There can be dramatic differences between the user interfaces on laptops, and you don’t even need to spend a lot of money to ensure you get one you like. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530, for example, has a great keyboard, good touchpad and includes a trackpointer. Using this laptop day-to-day is an excellent experience, yet the laptop can be had for as little as $499.
You may not want to make your final purchase at a brick-and-mortar store, but you should at least step into one before making a decision. Try out different keyboards. Use different touchpads. See how they feel, then make a choice.
Mistake #2: Choosing the wrong size
A college student recently asked me for laptop buying advice. However, spurred on by a parent’s promise of nearly unlimited funds, he purchased before we had time to talk — and bought a massive gaming laptop. I grinned and nodded as he excitedly told me about it, but I was really thinking “Do you have any idea what that thing weighs?”
Consumers often succumb to the allure of laptops that are too big – or too small – for their needs. These outliers are cool, extreme and less common than other models. For good reason. Laptops with a display larger than 15.6 inches are huge and difficult to move around, while those with a display smaller than 13.3 inches are cramped and uncomfortable.
If portability is not important to you, buy a 15.6-inch notebook. If portability is important, buy a 13.3- to 14-inch system. Laptops that are smaller or larger target niche buyers. There are some people who really do need small laptops, and some people who really can use a gaming behemoth. But the chance you’re one of the few is slim.
Mistake #3: Mesmerized by glossy displays
Most of today’s laptops come with glossy displays. These displays make colors appears more vivid and look nice in retail stores, particularly when the display is turned off. They also can make a laptop impossible to use in a brightly lit room. Outdoor use? Hah! That’s a good one.
Consumers often take gloss as a given because it’s so rare to find anti-glare displays in stores, but they do exist, and can be had at affordable prices. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge line provides anti-glare displays on a budget, as do Dell’s Precision laptops and HP’s ProBook line.
You can also sometimes find matte displays on other laptops, but usually only as an option on the manufacturer’s website. If you see a laptop in store that you like, go home and search online to see if the same model — or a similar one — is available with a matte coat.
Mistake #4: Got no game
Intel has committed itself to improving integrated graphics, but so far it’s only been able to keep pace with the increasing demands of new games. The company’s latest Intel HD 4000 component, which is standard in any laptop with a third-gen Intel Core processor, is notably quicker than the preceding Intel HD 3000. But games have becoming more demanding, as well, canceling most of the improvement.
If you want to play new 3D games on your laptop, you must consider an optional GPU from Nvidia or AMD. There are many different options. Check out Notebook Check’s GPU list if you’re curious about relative performance.
High-end gaming GPUs are obviously the quickest, but even a basic discrete GPU can double the performance of Intel HD 4000. You can expect to pay $100 to $200 extra if the GPU is an option, but some laptops come with discrete graphics standard. Lenovo and Acer are two companies known for packing fast GPUs into affordable laptops.
Mistake #5: Loading up on RAM
Manufacturers love RAM. It can be easily be expressed in a number, and bigger numbers are better. It’s also absurdly cheap, so packing in some extra gigabytes is an easy way to rake in extra profit.
Don’t consider anything above 4GB a benefit. If a laptop has more, that’s great, but don’t factor it in your purchasing decision.
Buying a laptop is complex, but you can find the tools you need to be successful. Our reviews here at Digital Trends are a good start. We’ll walk you through every feature of a notebook and how it performed in our hands-on testing, from display quality to performance.
We take an in-depth look at every laptop we receive. Everything from the user interface to the display to performance is evaluated.
Remember that you have options. You don’t have to buy that 17.3-inch laptop your local retailer is selling for a song. Hunt around the Internet a bit and you’re almost certain to find a similar price on something more suitably sized. The wrong laptop is never a good deal, no matter how appealing the price.