With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us and Christmas just around the corner perhaps you’ve kept your powder dry before splashing out on something electronic?
Whether you’re planning to buy a laptop, smartphone or tablet PC for yourself, your children or grandchildren here’s a pre-Christmas shopping guide helps you make an informed choice.
First-up we’re looking at laptops and subsequent blogs will cover smartphones and tablet PCs.

Choosing a laptop

The first think you’ll notice when thinking about buying a laptop is the bewildering array of choice. Do you make a decision based on a manufacturer because you’ve heard they’re good, or do you wander around the aisles or cruise online, close your eyes and point?
The first consideration you should have is what do you want the laptop for? Is it a gaming laptop for a nephew, do you want it just for accessing the internet, will you watch movies on it, is it mainly for working on and will it be used at home or as you move around outside?

Size

If mobility is portability is your priority, you’ll want to go for a smaller sized laptop. These are thinner and lighter than their larger counterparts.
  • Consider laptops that have a screen that is either 12.5-inches or 13.3-inches in size, and weighs between 1kg and 1.5kgs.
However smaller-sized 13.3-inch machines often don’t support the same high-end Intel Core i7 CPUs or discrete graphics cards you find in larger models.
  • If you need long battery life, you’ll have to look for something larger than 12.5-inches or 13.3-inches
If you are looking for graphics power you’ll also probably need to consider a larger size.
  • Laptops sizes tend to start at 11.6-inches and way up to 17.3 inches.
  • Many brands and OEMS like HP, Dell, ASUS and Acer tend to offer three display sizes - 13.3-inch, 15.6-inch and 17.3-inches.
  • Some vendors sell laptops that fall outside these sizes including, 12.5-inches and 14-inches.

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Form factor

Laptops come in different formats, or form factors, as it’s traditionally know
Ultrabooks are slim and lightweight for mobility but generally don’t have high-end performance.
  • Notebooks provide a good mix of power and portability.
  • Convertibles are similar to notebooks expand on this but include the ability to fold away the keyboard and use the laptop in tablet mode.
  • Traditional clamshell and gaming laptops are bulkier but usually provide high-end performance.

The screen

  • Touchscreens are now common and they can make some tasks easier than others. But they can also add glossiness to the screen which leads to reflections. As such they’re not ideal for gaming or watching movies.
  • The higher the resolution numbers the better the display quality. A 1920x1080-pixel resolution is ‘full high-definition’. Some laptops provide 4K resolutions, the highest of all, but you’ll find these models are expensive.
  • Some laptop screens come with IPS (in-plane switching) technology. This provides widest viewing angles and the best user comfort.

Keyboard

If you’re going to doing a lot of typing you’ll need a good keyboard on the laptop.
  • Look for a comfortable layout with full-sized keys and some space around the arrow keys.
  • Make sure the keyboard is also backlit, so that you can use it in dimly lit environments.

Processors

The processor is the engine of any computer and largely determines how much you can do at any one time and the speed at which applications respond.
Intel’s Core-based processors (or CPUs as they are commonly referred to) are common in laptops:
  • Core i3 – these are found in entry-level laptops
  • Core i5 – make up the majority of mainstream computers
  • Core i7 – provide high-end performance
Some larger laptops use Intel's i9 Core processors but the cost is notably higher than a laptop with an i7, i5 or i3 Core Processor.
You’ll find that some laptops also come with AMD processors. These mirror the performance of Intel Core processors though some AMDs are designed to deliver high-end graphics.
Watch out for low cost laptops that run earlier generation Intel processors (Celeron, Pentium Dual Core, Core Solo, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad).
  • These processors are considered outdated hence the lower cost.

RAM

More Random Access Memory (RAM) allows for more applications to be run at the same time and for more data to be quickly accessed. This is useful for editing photos or watching videos.
  • 8GB RAM should be a minimum.
  • 16GB is for users who are opening lots of applications and streaming content at the same time.
  • 32GB RAM is the ideal for gaming, so the games are fluid and fast and don’t lag.

Storage

Computer is a core function of your component and a fundamental component. It stores all the data from the operating system to files, videos and applications.
  • Most home users will be fine with 250 to 320GBs of storage.
  • 250GB can hold more than 30,000 average size photos or songs.
  • If you're planning on storing movies you’ll at least 500GB, maybe even 1TB.
Hard drives used to be the conventional method for storage.  But they can be slow, bulky, and produce heat and noise.
  • Solid state drives (SSD) are now more popular; they are faster than hard drives, run silently and can don’t add too much to the weight of a laptop.
  • That said SSDs don’t offer as much capacity. Most SSDs are either 128GB, 256GB or 512GB in size. At the same time they cost more than a hard drive with 1TB or 2TB storage.
Your choice of storage should be informed by what you plan on using the laptop for. Hard drives are being superseded by SSDs but they still do the job.

Battery

There are all sorts of factors that affect the battery life of a laptop. These include screen brightness, screen resolution, number of applications running, connections to Wi Fi networks and so on.
As such manufacturer guides to battery life shouldn’t be taken at face value. For instance if you stream lots of online video and play graphics-intensive games the battery will drain a sooner you anticipate.
  • A good guide to is to look at the rating of the battery in Watt-hours (Wh) or milliamp-hours (mAh).
  • The larger these figures are the longer the battery can last.
A laptop, for example, with a battery rating ranging from 44Wh to 50Wh will give you relatively long battery life.