Questions to ask yourself when buying a laptop

Having a laptop for computing on the go is a necessity, especially if you prefer something closer to a standard keyboard to the awkward experience of typing on mobile devices. Laptops are suited for working on large projects, helping your kids with homework, and enabling fun family time and games. When trying to determine which laptop best suits your needs and budget, consider these questions to questions to narrow your choices.

One of the most important factors in selecting a laptop is your lifestyle, including your working environment. Are you on your laptop once or twice a day to check email, or do you live on it 24/7? Do you travel a lot? If so, an ultra-light model might be a good choice. Are you taking your laptop on field studies and other adventures that require a more rugged design? Do your hobbies or work require that you use complex programs that take up a lot of memory? Develop a list of your preferences in a laptop based on how you'll use it. This will help you quickly evaluate models in different budget categories and feature levels.

Mac or PC?

One of your first decisions in selecting a laptop is deciding between a Mac and a PC. If you're a true Mac devotee, then the choice is already made and you can focus on Apple's laptop models. If you are more comfortable in the Windows environment, consider one of the many PCs on the market. When you're unclear about a Mac or PC, think about how you plan to use the computer. If you do a lot of editing (photos and video) or other things that benefit from high-end graphics capabilities, an Apple may be a good investment. Remember that many higher-end PC models offer those same capabilities, and for everyone else, there's a range of PC laptops to choose from.

Touchscreen or traditional screen?

Traditional laptop screens are much easier to evaluate. Look for models in which the screen is large enough for you to comfortably view, without making the overall computer too heavy or awkward to carry around. The clarity and resolution of a screen also is important.  Ideally, look for a laptop with a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768. 

A newer laptop innovation is the addition of touchscreens. If you enjoy this feature on your mobile devices, it may be time to look at laptop with a touchscreen.  Windows 8 products have many touchscreen-friendly features. When looking at different touchscreen models, consider designs that are weighted properly so that the screen doesn't tilt on its hinges when you touch it.

How often will you actually be carrying it around?

This might well be the most important question of all, because it narrows your options down in terms of size and weight. If you're frequently on the go (as in taking the laptop with you during daily commuting or on long trips), lugging around a heavy laptop probably isn't your goal. If portability is an ultimate concern, look at laptops with a 13" screen.

If you only plan on being on the go with the laptop sporadically, consider models with up to a 15-inch screen size. If your laptop is essentially replacing a desktop and rarely will be leaving your home, office or apartment, models with 17" or larger screens can be the easiest to work with. Just remember that battery life is often related to your computer's size; the bigger the computer, the shorter the battery life will be.

What's the image or style you want to project?

When you are considering laptops that are essentially equivalent in terms of capabilities and functions, they're all going to perform similarly. When that's the case, pay attention to the look and feel of the laptop. Like your mobile devices, the laptop is an extension of your personality, so consider models that you find attractive or that have the style you're going for. Some laptops come in a wide variety of colors, and others are more sedate and appropriate if you use them in a work context.

Which components are best?

You still need to pay attention to the guts of the laptop. The two most important components are the processor and hard drive. The processor determines how quickly your machine is able to run programs or perform multiple tasks at the same time.  The hard drive will determine how much data can be stored on your machine. As far as processors, the most common by far are those by Intel. There are three generations (previous, second and third) and then a range within each generation (i3, i5 and i7). As you travel up the generations and the numbers, costs increase, but so does computing power. Stick with third generation and aim for the middle, which will more than cover everyday computing needs.

Moving on to hard drives, your choices are the older HDD, with its spinning platter, or the cooler, quieter SSD drives that use the kind of flash memory found in an iPhone. SSD drives are both more expensive and have less capacity, so HDD are a good choice unless heat or weight are specific concerns for you. The larger the hard drive your laptops includes, the more smoothly it will function.

Finally, think through the ports and connections you'll need. You should probably have several USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and an HDMI video output port. With the widespread availability of Wi-Fi these days, an Ethernet port isn't essential, but can be helpful on some occasions. You'll also need to decide if want a CD/DVD player included in your laptop. While once it was a necessity, streaming media and cloud computing has slightly lessened the demand.

There's a huge variety of laptops out there to choose from, but answering a few simple guiding questions like the ones above will quickly narrow down your choices to a very manageable short list. When you're ready to upgrade your laptop, Sears' technology department offers a range of brands, models and accessories to meet all your computing needs.

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