Laptops make a comeback

Friday , August 01, 2014 - 9:29 AM

By LESLIE MEREDITH
Standard-Examiner contributor

The post-PC revolution, aka the rise of tablets as replacements for laptops, has faltered.

Tablet sales are crashing, while laptops may be enjoying a resurgence in popularity, Best Buy's CEO Hubert Joly last week said in an interview with Re/code. Even Apple showed a drop in iPad sales in its July quarterly earnings report — sales of the iconic device dipped nearly 20 percent from the previous quarter.

Joly attributes part of the slump to manufacturers who have not given consumers a reason to upgrade. But there's a deeper reason — tablets can't replace laptops. While the iPad is great as an entertainment device, whether that's watching a movie or flipping through Facebook feeds, they're tough to actually work on.

On the flip side, Microsoft gave PC users a solid reason to upgrade their machines. In April, the company terminated support for XP and launched an aggressive campaign encouraging people to buy new Windows 8 computers with full support and better security than previous operating systems. Further, you can buy a decent laptop for less than the price of an iPad. For budget-minded families, a laptop is a smarter choice than a tablet. (Confession: Last month our cat knocked over the iPad and shattered the screen, so that it is no longer usable without risking a nasty cut. My daughter seamlessly moved back to her laptop, and frankly, I have no intention of replacing it.)

If you're in the market for a new computer, and August is a great month to shop as companies are offering back-to-school specials, here are some buying guidelines:

First of all, don't be tempted to buy a Windows 7 PC, no matter how tempting the sale. If you're upgrading from XP, you'll run into the same incompatibility problems and end-of-support issues you've had with your old device. Buy a computer with the latest version of Windows 8 installed on it and accept the fact it will take some getting used to. Do that and you'll be primed for Windows 9, Microsoft's new operating system that could be released as early as February 2015. Windows 8 users will likely be able to upgrade, while Windows 7 users will probably not be able to upgrade.

Second, avoid hybrid laptops, which can be converted from a laptop to a tablet by removing or rotating the display section. The two-in-one devices were designed to compete with tablets. Joly said students find them particularly appealing, but I believe they're a waste of money. Premium two-in-ones such as Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Asus Transformers and Lenovo's Yoga line, run between $800 and $1,500; so-called affordable models hover around $600. A standard laptop without the tricky conversion feature and with the same internal specs will cost half as much or less.

Now you know what not to buy, so let's look at features you should look for in a new computer.



Consider a touchscreen display. Windows 8 and its successors are designed for touch navigation, similar to a smartphone and tablet. Using a cursor on a standard screen can feel clunky.

Buy the most powerful processor you can afford. Look for Intel iCore 3, 5 and 7, with 7 being the most powerful. While an iCore 3 may be sufficient for most users, you'll never regret having the extra processing power of a 5 or a 7.

Likewise, buy the biggest screen that suits your portability requirements. The bigger the display, the easier it will be to work for longer periods of time and to view wide documents such as Excel spreadsheets. If you prefer a smaller, and thus lighter weight, unit for traveling, take a careful look at the display resolution figures. A higher resolution will help offset a smaller screen size.

One of the best new basic models is manufactured by Dell, the Inspiron 15.6-inch touch-screen laptop with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. Best Buy offers this laptop for $380 with free shipping.

While it's easy to buy a laptop online, you should go into a nearby store to take a look for yourself. Compare laptops you like side-by-side and try the keyboard to make sure it feels comfortable to you.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past six years. She has designed and manages several international websites. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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