10 common laptop-buying mistakes you can easily avoid

Watch out for these top-10 mistakes people make when buying a laptop

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.

Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.
Computing

Don't spend a fortune on a PC. These are the best laptops under $300

Buying a laptop needn't mean spending a fortune. If you're just looking to browse the internet, answer emails, and watch Netflix, you can pick up a great laptop at a great price. These are the best laptops under $300.
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for January 2019

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

From Samsung to HP, here are the best cheap Chromebook deals right now

Whether you want a compact laptop to enjoy some entertainment on the go, or you need a no-nonsense machine for school or work, we've smoked out the best cheap Chromebook deals -- from full-sized laptops to 2-in-1 convertibles -- with most…
Computing

Don’t even bother with the rest. Here are the only laptop brands that matter

If you want to buy your next laptop based around a specific brand, it helps to know which the best brands of laptops are. This list will give you a good grounding in the most reliable, quality laptop manufacturers today.
Gaming

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Computing

AMD Radeon VII will support DLSS-like upscaling developed by Microsoft

AMD's Radeon VII has shown promise with early tests of an open DLSS-like technology developed by Microsoft called DirectML. It would provide similar upscale features, but none of the locks on hardware choice.
Computing

The Asus ZenBook 13 offers more value and performance than Apple's MacBook Air

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the latest in that company's excellent "budget" laptop line, and it looks and feels better than ever. How does it compare to Apple's latest MacBook Air?
Computing

You could be gaming on AMD’s Navi graphics card before the end of the summer

If you're waiting for a new graphics card from AMD that doesn't cost $700, you may have to wait for Navi. But that card may not be far away, with new rumors suggesting we could see a July launch.
Computing

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

With a reported launch in 2019, AMD is focusing on the mid-range market with its next-generation Navi GPU. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 5.
Computing

Cortana wants to be friends with Alexa and Google Assistant

Microsoft no longer wants to compete against Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant in the digital assistant space. Instead, it wants to transform Cortana into a skill that can be integrated into other digital assistants.
Computing

Microsoft leans on A.I. to resume safe delivery of Windows 10 Update

Microsoft is leaning on artificial intelligence as it resumes the automatic rollout of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update. You should start seeing the update soon now that Microsoft has resolved problems with the initial software.
Computing

Stop dragging windows on your Mac. Here's how to use Split View to multitask

The latest iterations of MacOS offer a native Split View feature that can automatically divide screen space between two applications. Here's how to use Split View on a Mac, adjust it as needed, and how it can help out.
Computing

It's not all free money. Here's what to know before you try to mine Bitcoin

Mining Bitcoin today is harder than it used to be, but if you have enough time, money, and cheap electricity, you can still turn a profit. Here's how to get started mining Bitcoin at home and in the cloud.