10 common laptop-buying mistakes you can easily avoid

Dodge the biggest laptop-buying mistakes with these handy tips

top laptop buying mistakes guide

Even if you’ve owned a few laptops and know what features you like, that doesn’t make you immune to some of the most common laptop buying problems. We can all be suckered in by a pretty screen, or high-end features, even if we don’t really need them. That’s what this guide will help you avoid and make sure that what you’re buying is what you need now and in the future, and not something that’s beyond your budget or necessities.

Here’s our list of the most common laptop buying mistakes, so you can leave all potential regrets at the door. If you’d rather have some help buying a desktop, these are our favorites in 2018.

Buying the cheapest available laptop

There are some great budget laptops out there, but just because they’re cheap, doesn’t mean they’re going to do the job you want or have all the features you need.

Let’s say you’re deciding between a dual-core and quad-core processor. You want to run many applications at once, but you chose the dual-core processor because it’s a little less expensive. Now you have a system that’s not as powerful as your needs demand, and that problem will plague you until it’s time to buy again.

Rather than jumping for the lowest price, it’s best to find the laptop that will actually serve your needs and then cross reference that with your budget.

Paying too much

test surface book 2 15 inch vs macbook pro 2016 hero 1200x9999

Conversely, the best laptops in the world might tick every box, but if you pay for features or hardware you don’t need, you’re just wasting your money.

Chances are good that if a laptop strains your budget, it has something that you don’t need. A new MacBook Pro with top-specifications can cost up to $6,000 — but very few people need 4TB of storage space on their laptop. You can get yourself the same machine with the exact same specifications apart from less storage for half that price, and you can get plenty of cheap storage from an external drive.

Gaming laptops can be notoriously expensive too, but if you’re only playing indie games you don’t need all that hardware. Buy what you need, and try not to go overboard.

Buying a laptop “for today”

It’s an old bit of advice, but it still holds true. Unless you are obsessed with getting the latest tech, a new laptop should last a few years, and likely more if you want to save money on another purchase. Instead of buying a laptop exclusively for your needs right now, you should buy one for where you will be in a couple years.

You might be tempted to opt for a base model for its low price tag, with something like 4GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive. That’s going to limit its long-term appeal, because it will quickly run out of storage space and may not handle multiple applications well. Going for a step-up model with a bigger drive and more RAM is probably a good idea.

Ignoring ports and compatibility

Dell XPS 13 9370 review | Ports on the left side of the laptops
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Not all laptops include the ports you depend on. Many modern laptops, like our favorite Dell XPS 13, only have Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports. If you need USB-A or an SD card reader, make sure your chosen laptop has those specific ports before buying, or budget for an adaptor.

Opting for the highest available resolution

how the xps 13 beat odds and became best laptop in world dell cover

A device boasting a 4K display is certainly worth more than a cursory glance, but its not always the right choice, as smaller screens don’t let you enjoy the full benefit of the higher resolution.

Worse still, 4K screens can have a big impact on your device’s battery life. Many 4K notebooks have lackluster endurance with higher resolution screens and really, you don’t see a lot of benefit. Unless you’re buying a super high-end gaming laptop or one with a huge screen, we’d recommend 1080p for savings on your wallet and battery life.

Not trying before buying

If you can, always give the laptop you’re considering a proper test drive before buying. Many everyday laptops are available for testing at big, brick-and-mortar stores such as Apple, Best Buy, and the Microsoft Store, allowing you to fiddle with the touchpad, keyboard, software interface, and other components that substantially differ from model to model.

It’s easy to overlook the importance of features absent from the spec sheet, such as the touchpad’s responsiveness or the visibility of a glossy screen in daylight, and there’s just no substitution for getting a real hands-on feel of what it’s like to use.

If that’s not possible, buy from an online store with a strong return policy.

Thinking size doesn’t matter

Size matters, especially when it comes to a laptop. Whereas a bigger display allows for a more expansive and often better viewing experience, it also cuts into the portability factor. A laptop’s size often determines the size of the keyboard and trackpad, meaning you’ll likely be cramped when opting for a laptop measuring less than 13 inches.

The best way to figure out what you need is to consider how you’ve used laptops in the past. A smaller ultrabook may be a viable option for frequent travelers, but for those looking for a standard laptop, you’ll probably want to opt for one with a 13.3- or 14-inch screen. If you rarely leave your home with your system, consider a 15.6-inch model for maximum screen real estate.

Becoming obsessed with one specification

Tunnel vision is bad news when buying a laptop. While it’s fun to pit spec sheets against each other, avoid picking out one particular specification as your favorite and only looking at that factor. While you should have a baseline specification in mind — to make sure that you get the performance you need, don’t obsess over maximizing on any one specification.

It’s easy to be excited about paying a little extra for double the RAM, for example, but most people don’t need any more than 8GB unless you are using some serious software for work purposes.

Likewise, don’t become obsessed with battery life, resolution, processor speed. If you’re on a budget, and most people are, you’ll need to learn to balance a variety of hardware. Make sure the laptop you want has the features and hardware you need, anything else that comes in under budget is just a bonus.

Not buying enough power

Surface Book Pro

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Ultrabooks have risen to become one of the most popular types of laptops, and it can be very tempting to automatically assume they are the best choice for you. They’re lightweight, small enough to fit easily into a briefcase or backpack, and the prices of many models — especially Chromebooks — are some of the lowest around. What’s not to love?

While most people will find the performance to be more than enough, creatives and professionals might need workstation-class hardware to handle the intensive software needed for their job. In particular, you may need something with a powerful graphics card, while most 13-inch ultrabooks use an integrated one.

Assuming a 2-in-1 is the same as a laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Pen 2017
Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

Tablets, 2-in-1s, and laptops are distinct categories. They aren’t interchangeable. While you can perform many tasks with a tablet and keyboard that you can with a laptop, the similarities soon end. Tablets remain far more constricting when it comes to multitasking, fast web browsing, using complex apps, or running demanding software. Their keyboards can be overly cramped too.

Just because something has a screen and keyboard doesn’t mean that it can do everything a laptop can. This is the opposite mistake of getting focused too much on one spec — if you ignore all the specs, you’ll start making assumptions about what the machine can do, and that’s dangerous territory.

The bottom line

Buying a laptop is complex, but if you do so with care, you should land yourself a great piece of kit. Our reviews here at Digital Trends are a good start, where we 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 and evaluate every laptop we receive, including everything from the user interface and the display to performance and overall design.

Remember though, buying the right laptop for you means just that. Read everything you can about a prospective purchase, but when it comes time to break out your credit card, make the purchase that makes the most sense for you. And shop around for the best price too. You might be surprised what kind of deals you can find.

Computing

AMD will launch anniversary edition Radeon VII and 2700X to celebrate 50th year

Ahead of its new hardware lines launching this summer, AMD will celebrate its 50th anniversary with special editions of its top-tier gaming hardware: the Radeon VII and Ryzen 2700X.
Home Theater

From game consoles to 4K UHD spinners, these are the best Blu-ray players

Streaming may be popular, but the disc isn't dead yet. To get the very best picture and sound quality from your system, you need to be watching Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, and these are the best Blu-ray players you can buy.
Computing

These business machines can rival any consumer laptop in style and function

These laptops have the reliability, performance, and battery life you need whether you're at your desk or flying across the country for a meeting, letting you to revel in a function-first approach.
Computing

You won't want to miss these deals on some of the best laptops around

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Gaming desktops are powerful, but they tie you down to your desk. For those of us who prefer a more mobile experience, here are the best gaming laptops on the market, ranging from budget machines to maxed-out, wallet-emptying PCs.
Computing

Here's everything you need to know about setting up your wireless router

Want to get Wi-Fi working in your home, but don't know where to start? Here's a quick tutorial outlining the four basic steps needed for most routers. You'll be browsing on your laptop from the couch in no time.
Product Review

Without 4K or Core i9, the new Razer Blade Pro trades features for polish

Razer hasn’t updated its 17-inch gaming laptop for a couple of years, while showering most of its attention on the smaller sibling. The new Razer Blade Pro takes a lot of cues from the 15-inch model, stretching it out for the big screen.
Computing

Intel’s new Core i9 processors bring 8-core power to laptops

Intel announced a new line of ninth-generation mobile processors that bring eight-core Core i9 processors to laptops. In addition, the company announced a slate of new desktops CPUs that bring the rest of the lineup up to date.
Computing

Pain in the wrists? Type in comfort with one of these great ergonomic keyboards

Long typing sessions can leave anyone's wrists aching, but if you have one of the best ergonomic keyboards, that doesn't have to be the case. Our list of favorites will support good typing posture while being comfortable to use.
Computing

Lenovo Legion, IdeaPad gaming laptops sport 9th-gen CPUs and 16-series graphics

Lenovo is expanding its gaming laptop range with a line of new Legion and IdeaPad notebooks that sport Intel's latest, ninth-generation Core CPUs up to an i7 and a choice of Nvidia graphics with options for everything up to an RTX 2080…
Computing

Asus launches a fleet of ROG gaming laptops with 240Hz screens and 9th-gen CPUs

Asus launched updates to nearly every gaming laptop line they have, ranging from the high-end Zephyrus to the budget-level TUF Gaming. The naming schemes might be hard to parse, but there are some impressive options in Asus' new lineup.
Computing

Nvidia’s new GTX 1660 Ti and 1650 graphics cards for laptops start at $799

Nvidia announced the GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1650, two new mobile graphics cards to flesh out the Turing lineup for laptops. These GPUs don't have the ray tracing capabilities of the RTX 20 series, but start at much lower prices.
Computing

Microsoft reverses decision and extends lifeline to MS Paint for Windows 10

Microsoft reversed its decision to deprecate the classic MS Paint software on Windows 10. Microsoft announced on Twitter that the mainstay free image editor that comes pre-installed with Windows will live on for now.
Computing

Acer gives Predator, Nitro gaming notebooks CPU and GPU upgrades

Acer's latest gaming notebooks will be getting a processor and graphics boost. The company announced that Intel's ninth-generation mobile CPU and Nvidia's GTX 1660 Ti will land on the Predator Helios 300, Nitro 7, and Nitro 5 laptops.