I wrote an article previously that mentions noise cancelling headphone being one of the most expensive investments in your gadget arsenal next to your laptop and smartphone.
A laptop is most likely your biggest wallet burner, yet is a purchase that can pay dividends over the long term if researched properly.
By keeping your goals in mind for what you currently are and may be using a laptop for in the future, you can choose a unit that’s most tailored to your needs.
Here are the 14 tips for choosing the best laptop for your needs:
- Choose your favorite operating system
- 2-in-1 or standard
- Check the ergonomics of the keyboard and touchpad
- Pick a suitable screen size
- Get a decent processor (CPU)
- Make sure there’s enough RAM for handling multiple tasks
- Find the display clarity that matches your preferences
- Think of how many ports you will need
- Be mindful of hard drive storage
- The type of connectivity required
- Graphics cards that can handle the visual front
- Battery life that stays powered through the day
- A laptop that is compatible with same-brand devices
- Bottom line budget
Finding the right laptop that is perfect to you can be an overwhelming shopping endeavor, but with some pointers to look for it can be a rewarding experience.
Follow along this simple guide below and pick all the best categories that apply to your needs.
1. Choose An Operating System
Choosing an operating system should be at the top of your list. If you tend to like one computer over another, but is powered by a software you are not familiar with or do not prefer, then that unit is essentially out of the question.
With so many great laptop models on the market, picking your ideal operating system will allow you to narrow your laptop choices to a manageable number.
The three main popular operating systems on the market include Apple Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, and Google Chrome OS.
(Side Note: There is also an OS called “Linux”, but it can be installed on top of all three operating systems so therefore, should not impact the purchase decisions of any laptops)
In the past there used to be complaints about the speed, reliability, and security between each of the systems, but all three have been optimized to the point that it should come down to a matter of your preference.
2. “Clamshell” vs. “2-in-1” Configuration
Today’s laptops feature a wide array of different usage styles and each deserves its own look based on your needs.
The recent tide of hybrid 2-in-1 laptops allow the screens to be bent, drawn on, and detached. They can also go back into traditional clamshell mode too.
Many PC laptops will have a hybrid 2-in-1 style, but that added capability usually comes with a price premium and a slight performance decrease.
If bending a laptop backwards and using it as a drawing pad sounds cool and innovative to you, or if having the keyboard being detached from the screen so that the display becomes a stand-alone tablet sparks joy, then a 2-in-1 laptop is for you.
The benefit of a 2-in-1 laptop where the screen becomes its own pad, like the Microsoft Surface Go (Amazon aff. link), is that it essentially replaces the need to also have a tablet.
But if you are an Apple fan and want to have that same flexible 2-in-1 feature, consider purchasing an iPad and using a case that types too, like this magnetic smart keyboard from Apple (aff. link).
3. Screen Size
The real estate size of a laptop screen should also take great consideration on your shopping list.
Screen size preferences differ based on the tasks that you wish to perform on the laptop you are choosing.
For example, if you favor light portability, a small desk footprint with very light duty email and internet browsing, then most laptops with an 11-inch screen size will fit the bill nicely.
On the other end, if you are a serious gamer and do not mind carrying a bulky unit around (if at all), then a 17-inch laptop is more suitable for you.
Many 13 and 15 inch laptops can be configured in similar fashions and handle equal amounts of workload. A decision for a laptop among this mainstream category will most likely come down to visual and portability preference.
If you’d like to learn more about the differences between screen size and laptop performance, I wrote an in-depth blog post covering this topic even further.
4. Keyboard and Touchpad Feel
Blogging, article writing, lengthy college papers, you name it. A laptop may look great on the outside and inside, but if typing is even a slight consideration then ergonomics should be a priority.
Like cars and trucks, laptop keyboards and touchpads also come in different shapes and sizes.
Some laptops have keys that are very close together and smaller touchpads to favor the smallest, lightest size for travel.
Others have spacious pads with wide open keyboard layouts.
Another factor to consider is how much travel or “play” the keys and clicker have.
Some people prefer shorter key travel that simulated a quick, clicky feel, like the new apple MacBook Air, while others like longer-travel keys that resemble an older school keyboard, such as the Lenovo Thinkpad.
The decision between these differences really comes down to preference, as most have similar keyboard layouts.
5. Battery Life
Newer laptops have vastly improved battery technology that allows them to be used most all day without the need to be charged.
Lighter duty laptops that aim for sheer portability advertise battery life that lasts over 8 hours, as long as there is email, web browsing, or music play.
Larger laptops usually advertise longer battery life because they not only contain bigger batteries, but also have more components that can make tougher tasks more efficient on power.
Based on what you are planning on doing with your next laptop, if you travel a lot, or if its hard to find an outlet where you are, then play it safe and get a laptop with plenty of battery life.
Be sure to read reviews of people who already use the laptop you are thinking about buying and see if the battery life matches the advertised time.
Another thing to consider is that larger laptops with bigger batteries tend to have bulky chargers. So if this unit is sitting on your desk on the charger and not moving for a while, then the additional size and weight won’t make a big impact.
6. Processor Speed (CPU)
Many budget laptops will come with Intel’s i3 or i5, and are the mainstream chip of choice.
Intel’s i3 has been known to be quite slow in some cases for tasks that require marginally more than just reading an email.
I highly recommend purchasing a laptop that has at least Intel i5 or higher so that it will stay capable of powering through workloads in the long term.
For power users that require more juice, Intel’s i7 and newly launched i9/10th generation chips are a must so that your computing tasks are run efficiently.
Intel and AMD also make CPUs for budget friendly/slim portable laptops, like the Core M and E Series.
These are created to use very low power and produce low heat. This makes fanless operation possible, but at the cost of accomplishing larger workloads smoothly.
7. The Importance of RAM
We live in a world where multi-tasking is the norm, and doing so in the realm of laptops is no different.
You probably want to get more RAM, since that is the brains behind handling multiple jobs at once.
Lower-end and some super portable laptops will only come with 4GB of RAM. But if you can I highly recommend upgrading to at least 8GB or ideally 16GB.
Even if you are watching Netflix with a side of email reading, you will be so happy that you went with the extra RAM, as apps will not crash, and will in fact run smooth.
If you are a movie/music editor or plan on using the laptop for gaming, then you should aim more for 32GB or 64GB.
8. Hard Drive
Have you ever bought a smartphone and ran out of storage space?
Like RAM, you will probably want more storage space then you think, otherwise the need to purchase additional hard drives will arise.
Most smaller and budget laptops will come with 64 or 128GB of storage space, and is fine for if you surf the web and pull information online like email or a Google Drive.
Movies, music, photos, apps, and games take up a significant amount of memory. And if your needs contain some or all of these factors, then you should consider upgrading to at least 256 or 512GB of space.
Some higher-end laptops also feature a solid state drive (SSD). Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs utilize a flash memory with no moving parts, so data transfers, document recalls, and boot ups are much much faster.
For longevity’s sake you should consider making this rather pricey, yet worth it, upgrade to a SSD, and you won’t have to worry about hard drive failures or slowdowns ever again.
This one also comes down to mostly preference but can become a necessity when visual art is at the forefront of what you do.
If you are budget conscious and are only looking for a laptop that does a few minor tasks without much visual, then a standard 1080p display will do just the job.
But if you enjoy watching movies, have difficulty seeing, or need that extra edge in gaming, then a 4k display will provide the clarity that you are looking for.
Frame refresh rate is also another factor to check out. Most laptop screens have a 60hz refresh rate which is great for most instances. 120hz will reduce lag noticeably if you are playing a first person shooter or need to hit the record just right on your music track.
Think about how many gadgets or accessories you are currently plugging into your laptop.
You may appreciate the fact that a laptop has more than 2 standard USB ports, like a microSD, ethernet, or HDMI port.
But these models are starting to go to the wayside and favoring a new standard for all: USB-C.
USB-C is making waves because it is able to handle multiple tasks in one port, like charging, data, and visuals.
You might like a certain laptop for the factors listed above or below and find that it doesn’t have enough ports.
Consider purchasing an adapter that has the extra ports that you are looking for, like this excellent USB type C to type C, 2 USB-A, and HDMI port adapter that’s under $30 ( Amazon aff. link).
Are you planning on using your laptop in an area that always have wi-fi, or will you have to travel on the road without it?
If cellular connectivity for your laptop is a need then you should consider finding a unit that comes with it.
Know that if you do choose a laptop with cellular connectivity then you will have to pay for its own signal line and data usage, just like a smartphone.
If you have a wi-fi hotspot, like on an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, then you can also just purchase a wi-fi only laptop and connect to your smartphone as a hotspot.
Make sure your smartphone has plenty or unlimited data, as laptops can use more data than mobile-optimized websites and apps that are designed for these devices.
I touched previously on the amount of pixels most laptop screens have and if you might need more pixel density and refresh rate based on your needs.
Graphics chips are also important when it comes to displaying those extra visuals that may be required.
If you are not planning on using your laptop for gaming or playing with 3D objects like for CAD or architecture, then the internal graphics unit will do just fine.
Otherwise, consider purchasing a laptop with a dedicated graphics card for smoothness and minimal jutter.
13. Device Compatibility
Consider what devices you already own in your gadget portfolio. Are they mostly Apple, Google, or Microsoft brand?
If so, you may want to consider a laptop that is built by the same brand as your other devices.
Laptops are sharing many of the same smart capabilities as tablets and smartphones, including voice assistants, smart photos, and intelligent music playlists.
Apple in particular is great at this device-linking, and you will love owning a MacBook if you already have an iPad or iPhone.
With the same Apple iCloud account, you can wirelessly share photos, text messages, internet tabs, Apple Music playlists, calendar updates, maps, notes, contacts and reminders between all of your devices.
Microsoft and Google laptops also have this shared capability with their respective devices, but I really enjoy how seamless Apple creates this compatibility for absolute every new device that you purchase.