With the growing number of choices in laptops, understanding the differences that matter has become harder and harder. Here are some things to consider before making a decision about which one is best for you. The key is to understand how you will be using your new machine.
1) Screen size. The biggest trade-off for any laptop is the size. Larger almost always means heavier, and smaller means a reduced area for visual presentation. Laptops enable user mobility, and therefore smaller should be better. However, a smaller display can reduce productivity.
2) Network connection. Newer laptops are too thin to support the standard Ethernet cable. You will either need to rely on wireless connectivity or use a USB network adapter. Thinner, smaller laptops also have fewer ports for expansion. This limitation can be overcome by getting a docking station or USB expansion hub. If you intend to use an external monitor, a dock will make the setup more convenient.
3) DVD player. Thinner laptops don’t have a built-in DVD player. This is not usually an issue because most software is available via download. However, if your needs include being able to access DVDs from your laptop, you’ll want to get an external drive or to confirm your laptop actually comes with a built-in DVD player.
4) Hard drive. Many of the newer laptops are shipping with solid state drives. SSDs are noticeably faster but are known to fail sooner than standard hard drives. The size of the SSD is also usually smaller than the standard hard drive. If your requirements include having lots of software installed or having lots of data storage, the size of the hard drive may be a limiting factor.
5) Touch screen. Many newer laptops are shipping with touch-screen capabilities. Touch allows you to interact with the laptop more intuitively than with the mouse and does not require a pen. Touch screens take some getting used to, but offer additional flexibility. Once you’ve used a touch screen, you may find it difficult to go back to a machine that does not support this interface. Some laptop models will switch to tablet mode, which allows you to use touch or pen as if you are writing on a notepad.
6) Memory. Most of the thinner laptops have fused memory; i.e., the memory chip cannot be replaced or upgraded because the thin size requires it to be fused to the board. Make sure your machine comes with enough memory to take care of your needs until it’s time for the next upgrade. Four gigabytes of RAM is sufficient for most users.
Varying limitations and benefits make finding the perfect laptop harder and harder, but by understanding how you may use yours, you can make the process of selecting the perfect machine much easier.
The Mobile Attorney
Being mobile is essential to most professionals. If you expect to get real work done on the go, the trade-off between screen size and machine weight is a key consideration. Many of us don’t mind carrying extra weight if it means having a large enough screen to see better at a given resolution. Also, the type of touchpad becomes a major concern unless you are willing to remember your external mouse. A visit to a computer store to try out your machine before making a purchase is highly recommended. Remember: most computer stores do not display business-class machines; instead, computer stores tend to cater to the home or student user.
Below are recommendations for the mobile attorney (in no particular order). Evaluation of the laptops is based on business-class features, such as hard drive space, memory, security and connectivity for most frequently used features.
Dell Latitude series: Latitudes are business-class machines with a range of prices, features and sizes. Choose the 5000 series for 14″ to 15″ screens with plenty of screen area. Choose the 7000 series for lightweight portability. Some models support touch.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro machines are extremely thin and lightweight. They have a large SSD as part of the standard configuration. The touch screen and convert to tablet feature make this laptop stand out.
HP Spectre Pro: HP Spectre Pro is touch screen-enabled and converts into tablet mode using a 360-degree hinge.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is an extremely lightweight machine that supports pen and touch. SSD hard drive and memory options make this a versatile choice. The Surface model offers a detachable keyboard to quickly switch to tablet mode.
Apple MacBook Air: If you prefer Macs, the MacBook Air is an excellent choice. The 13″ MacBook Air is significantly lighter than the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro offers SSD and a 1 TB hard drive versus the MacBook Air, which offers half the hard drive space and flash storage. However, there as 1.5 pound difference in weight, making the MacBook Air easier to transport.
Docks and Ports
When traveling with your machine, you’ll quickly find that there are some built-in features that you regularly require which others may consider optional. If you frequently present to a group, make sure your machine has an HDMI port. Most projectors support HDMI. You can certainly purchase an adapter, but if you know you need a certain connection frequently, that’s one less thing to carry around. Similarly, most thin laptops no longer have VGA or DVI ports. You’ll need a docking station to use your large or dual monitor setup at home.
Many professionals use their laptops in traditional ways, e.g., with a mouse and keyboard, but an increasing number of users are moving to pen and touch technology. If you’ve narrowed your decision to a couple of models, invest in the model that supports touch and/or pen. The latest versions of Windows operating systems support both pen and touch.
Software and Support
No purchase should be made without considering the support required to install, configure and maintain your machine. Hardware costs are relatively low compared to the cost of acquiring capable IT support. Installing and configuring a new machine can exceed the cost of the machine itself.
If you are part of a firm, talk to your IT staff about options. A small tweak to a configuration could mean the difference to your tech. If your IT staff only supports Windows machines, certain purchase options are eliminated. Most hardware companies offer extended warranties and support where, if purchased, the company will send a technician on-site to replace defective parts, etc. Some hardware companies sell OEM (original equipment manufacturer) software licenses at steep discounts compared to buying licenses off the shelf. You can get Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Office versions at a much lower price than if you buy the license separately.