Last week we wrapped up our journey into making a smart home with a survey of some of the less common smart devices. I hope you have a good handle on the range of available devices and the terms you’ll need to understand to “smarten” your home.
This week I’ll begin to break down the pros and cons of various laptops and laptop replacements (iPads anyone?). I’ve owned and used all of these alternatives over the years and I have my preferences, but it’s based on how I use them. You may have a completely different take on things. So, I’ll do my best to present an honest, unbiased survey in hopes that it will help you make the right decision for you.
I’ll start with some things that are common to most laptops — screen size, aspect ratio, processor and storage as well as some tips as to size, weight and keyboard.
Screen size applies to all these devices and is very much a personal choice. I prefer a smaller screen simply because it reduces the overall size and weight of the laptop. I find 13-inch to be just about perfect for the laptop I use on a daily basis. I have laptops with smaller screens, but they tend to be devices that are for casual use — browsing the Internet, Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, etc. You might prefer a 14-, 15- or even a 17-inch screen so it’s important that you visit a retail store and try them out. A larger screen generally will give you the ability to make the things on the screen larger without necessarily losing a lot of context. But it also means a larger and heavier laptop so if you plan to move your laptop around or take it with you when you leave the house, please take that into consideration. If you find a screen size you like, visit a retail store and try picking the device up and see how you feel about the weight and size.
Now, display size and aspect ratio. Display size is, like keyboards, a personal issue. You might prefer a 14- or 15- or even a 17-inch screen. But remember that the bigger they are the heavier they’ll be. Aspect ratio is the ratio of width to height. You’ll typically see 16:9 and 3:2. I prefer 3:2 because those displays are taller than the equivalent 16:9 displays of the same size, and I want more vertical space on my display so I can see more of the thing I’m viewing.
You should know that 16:9 is the ratio for most current TVs. Your 55-inch HD TV screen, for instance, is probably roughly 48 inches wide and 27 inches tall (16 x 9) so if you plan to watch a lot of streaming videos, you might consider a 16:9 display. A 3:2 display will likely have black bars at the top and bottom of the video so it fits on your screen. But, when it comes to displays where I’m primarily viewing text, a 13-inch 3:2 display is narrower by about half an inch but taller by almost an inch than a 13-inch 16:9 monitor.
All Macbooks are what’s called a “clamshell” (a device with a hinged cover that must be opened to be used). Other laptops can take several different forms. There are “detachables” where the display and keyboard can detach from each other. Without the keyboard, you will see an on-screen keyboard, not unlike what you see on your phone, and you can use the display in its laptop orientation or rotate the display 90 degrees so it’s in what’s called portrait mode.
Nowadays detachables tend to have thinner, less robust keyboards (see the Surface Pro 8 at https://go.ttot.link/SurfacePro8). I find these types of keyboards not great for anything that requires a lot of typing because they tend to flex and move about. They’ve gotten better over the years but they’re still not my favorite. However, if I am looking for a laptop that is small, light and easy to carry, I’ll compromise and go with them. There are other detachables with a rigid keyboard like you see on non-detachable laptops but all of the ones of which I’m aware are older machines with what would be considered inferior components by today’s standards.
Microsoft used to make a detachable with a rigid keyboard called the Surface Book (https://go.ttot.link/SurfaceBook3 for an example — note it has a 10th generation Intel processor and Intel is currently selling 12th generation). 2-in-1s are laptops with attached keyboards that can be folded back to act as a stand, getting the keyboard out of the way if you want to use the touch screen and not the keyboard or all the way around so that the keyboard is folded up against the back of the screen and the whole thing resembles a tablet. When it comes to keyboards, it’s always best if you actually try them out.
How much memory (also known as RAM) should you get on your laptop? For iPads, you don’t really have a choice but for the others in our discussion you do. I tend to never buy anything with less than 8GB of RAM. It seems to me that every recent device I’ve used with less than 8GB has tended to often be unbearably slow so I recommend a minimum of 8GB. Will you need more? If you’re a casual user who doesn’t have a ton of apps and websites open at the same time or don’t edit large videos, 8GB will likely serve you just fine.
How about storage or disk size? Again, a personal choice. If you’re a pack rat and never delete things and never offload things to the cloud or an external drive, you’ll need more storage. I tend not to go below 128GB on any device if I can help it because your disk often needs to store not only your files and pictures but also your apps and operating system. For me, 256GB is the sweet spot and my preferred storage size. If you’re unsure, more is better.
Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at [email protected] and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online. My links tell me that I’m getting some international readers. Regardless of where you’re from, drop me a quick note and say hi!
Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the former Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a maker with both leadership and technical skills. He’s been in the computing arena since his graduation from Miami University with a bachelor’s degree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley which feeds his love for all things tech.