Choosing a laptop to buy: 9 criteria to consider to get the best bang for your buck

PHOTO: Lenovo

While smartphones have become the primary devices we do most of our communication and media consumption on, when it comes to getting work done or learning for school, laptops still provide maximum productivity, ergonomics, and pure functionality.

So, the next time you’re in the market for a laptop, whether you’re using it for work, school or the home, here’s a handy guide to helping you pick the one that’s right for you – at the right price of course!

1. Operating system

Windows and MacOS are the most popular choices when it comes to laptop operating systems, though there are also laptops with ChromeOS or Linux pre-installed.

The first consideration you need to ask is whether you have a particular requirement or preference for operating systems.

While many companies produce software for both Windows and MacOS, some types of software would only run on a particular operating system, such as specialised engineering or CAD tools that are Windows-based.

If you plan to use your laptop for work too, check with your IT department to see if there are specific hardware or security restrictions that require one particular operating system.

Aside from requirements, there is also a question of preference.

If you have been using a particular operating system for a long time, you’re likely going to want to stick to it, since you might have software you already bought for it and want to continue using.

2. Display type & size

The computer’s display is what you’ll be looking at every time you use it, and it also affects the overall size (and weight) of the laptop.

The most popular sizes of laptops are between 13 and 15 inches, while desktop replacement or gaming laptops can be as big as 17 inches. Though less common, there are also ultraportable laptops that are smaller than 13-inches.

Size aside, you should also consider the screen resolution, which determines how many pixels the screen can display. Due to viewing distance to the laptop, full HD screens are acceptable for most uses, but those who want the crispest images would need to pay a premium for a Quad HD or 4K screen.

Other factors that will affect a screen’s image quality would be the panel technology (TN, LED, OLED), colour depth, and whether the screen’s finish is matt or glossy.

Some of these specifications might be quite technical and would boil down to personal preference, so if you can check it out physically, that would be ideal.

3. Processor and dedicated or integrated graphics

The Lenovo E495 is powered by the latest AMD Ryzen processors. PHOTO: Lenovo

The processor and graphics card is what provides your laptop with the performance to handle tasks.

For processor, the metric you want to examine is what clock speed it runs at (measured in GHz, the higher the better) as well as how many processor cores it has.

The latter determines how much processing can be done in parallel, leading to better overall performance and multitasking responsiveness.

The two biggest processors manufacturers are Intel and AMD. In recent years, AMD’s RyzenTM processors have been particularly well-received among computer enthusiasts and consumers alike for their compelling price-to-performance offerings.

In 2019, the new AMD Ryzen 3000 series of chips were released, which includes chips built using a market-leading 7nm process, which allows for up to 15 per cent more instructions to be executed per CPU cycle.

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To further push the potential of your CPU, AMD Ryzen chips come with a Max Boost feature that allows for a single core to be driven far higher than its base clock speed for short bursts.

For example, the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U in the Lenovo E495 has a base clock speed of 2.1 GHz, but can achieve a Boost Clock of up to 3.7 GHz.

You will need to see if your usage requires a dedicated graphics card, such as photo or video editing, intensive gaming, 3D modelling, or running software that would benefit from a graphics card.

Otherwise, the on-board graphics card in modern processors would suffice for the majority of office tasks, internet browsing, and video watching.

In addition to adding cost, a laptop with a dedicated graphics card tend to be bulkier (to accommodate the card and higher cooling requirements) and sap battery life much quicker as well.

All AMD Ryzen processors, such as those inside the Lenovo E495 series of laptops come with integrated RadeonTM Vega Graphics, and support technologies like DirectX 12 and AMD FreeSync for smoother gameplay.

4. RAM and storage capacity

RAM (measured in GB) refers to how much data can be stored in the computer’s short-term memory.

In 2020, you probably want to look at least 8 GB of memory if you’re planning to do productivity tasks, while 16 GB and above would be required for video-editing, running a virtual machine, or other memory-intensive tasks.

For storage, you want to look at how much capacity your hard disk has (measured in GB or TB) as well as whether it is a regular hard disk drive, or a Solid State Drive (SSD). SSDs are much faster than regular hard disks but are more expensive.

Some laptops have a hybrid solution, where there is a smaller SSD for the operating system and applications and a larger hard disk for files and media.

5. Battery capacity & real-world usage

The battery life of a laptop can be notoriously hard to measure, since it differs drastically based on usage patterns, applications you run most of the time, and habits like what screen brightness you tend to use your laptop at.

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However, there are some ways to get a sense of battery life. First, you can look at the size of the battery included in your laptop (measured in Wh, the higher the better).

Next, understand that factors that we highlighted as plus points above, such as screen resolution, dedicated graphics cards, and processor speed. These items tend to also consume more battery, so this is a trade-off you need to make.

To extend your laptop’s battery life, you could look at purchasing accessories, such as those offered by Lenovo’s online store, including extra laptop batteries, high-output portable chargers, and even DC chargers for charging in the car.

Finally, you can also search online for real-world experiences of people who have used the laptop model you’re considering to get a sense of how much time away from a power socket you can expect.

6. Keyboard & trackpad

Your laptop keyboard and trackpad are possibly one of the most underrated parts of a laptop, but alongside your display, they are the parts of your laptop that you touch and feel for hours each day.

Again, this is something very subjective and ideally, you should physically have a feel of them before deciding, though an alternative would be to extensively search for real-life reviews of keyboards and trackpads from other users.

Some people might prefer to use an external keyboard and/or mouse, which is great, but in situations where it is not convenient to deploy them, you should at least know that you can make do with the default keyboard and trackpad of your laptop.

For keyboards, you want to look at the key travel, the tactility and sound of the keys, whether they are backlit or not, the spacing between keys, and even the fonts on the keys.

Apple was notorious for having a generation of laptops with a very poor “Butterfly” keyboard, while Lenovo ThinkPads are legendary for the reliability and feel of their keyboards.

Trackpads differ in terms of their size (bigger ones tend to be more comfortable and easier to use), the material, and how good the trackpad firmware is in recognising gestures while ignoring your palm or accidental presses.

7. Accessories & ports

Wide assortment of ports on the Lenovo E495. PHOTO: Lenovo

There are times when you will need to plug your laptop somewhere, and having the right ports (and enough of them) can be a real life-saver. Dongles add cost, and you might not always have them on hand when needed.

USB-C ports are now one of the most widely-used among laptops, desktops and mobile phones, and the more of them you have the better.

Some laptops even charge primarily via the USB-C port, eliminating the need for a proprietary charger. Some people also prefer having HDMI, ethernet or USB-A ports as well.

Other accessories that are nice to have include a decent webcam and microphone built-in for video calls, as well as the convenience of a finger-print sensor for security authentication.

For those considering a ThinkPad from Lenovo, you’re already be enjoying some of the best selection of built-in ports on your laptop.

At the same time, you gain access to a wide range of thoughtfully-designed, high-quality accessories designed to work seamlessly with your ThinkPad and give you enhanced capabilities.

If you’re a mobile road warrior who wants to work effectively while bringing minimal bulk, here are some accessories you might find worthwhile.

Lenovo Powered USB-C Travel Hub. PHOTO: Lenovo 

For instance, the Lenovo Powered USB-C Travel Hub provides convenient one-stop docking wherever you go. It connects to your laptop via a single USB-C port, and gives you a HDMI Port (capable of 4K@60Hz output), VGA port, USB 2.0 port, USB 3.1 Gen1 port, an RJ45 networking port, and a USB-C port for passthrough charging.

For designers, photographers, developers, writers, those who need to work with large spreadsheets, multi-monitor capabilities on the go used to be a mere fantasy.

Lenovo ThinkVision M14 USB-C mobile display. PHOTO: Lenovo

With the ThinkVision M14, the perfect productivity companion is now here. It is a 14-inch FHD monitor that weighs just 0.57kg and connects with a single USB-C cable that provides video and power.

8. Build quality, warranty & support

Purchasing a laptop is not a small decision. Even an entry-level laptop cost a few hundred dollars, and higher-end ones can cost a few thousand dollars.

Money aside, the scare of having your laptop fail on you when you are in the middle of an important work project and having to send it in for servicing can result in lost productivity and a lot of stress.

Find out what you will receive in warranty and after sales support and explore options to extend the warranty or coverage if you think it’s worth paying. Similar to buying an insurance, extending the warranty could be worth paying for if it gives you a better peace of mind.

Other factors to look at include whether you need to drop the machine off at the service centre, or if the company will send a technician over to assist you, and whether there is 24/7 technical support over the phone, web chat or e-mail.

9. Price

Finally, the last (but certainly not the least) factor you want to look at is the price. A laptop is a depreciation asset, since there is always something newer and better down the line as technology advances and manufacturing processes improve.

Set yourself a budget, and then look at the best laptop you can purchases for that price, based on your use case.

The thing about price in technology products like laptops is that there is usually a sweet spot.

For example, for $900, you might get a laptop that is twice as nice as something that costs $700, so if you are willing to pay a little bit more, you could be getting something of better value.

Spoilt for choice with great value at every price range

The newly-released Lenovo ThinkPad E495 powered by AMD Ryzen. PHOTO: Lenovo

If you’re in the market for a laptop, you could consider looking at the ThinkPad range from Lenovo.

For decades, ThinkPads represented rock solid reliability for getting work done and this generation is no different. You get the trademark tactile ThinkPad keyboards, tough chassis, and sensible specifications.

For value-conscious users who want a no-compromise mobile computing experience, the newly-launched ThinkPad E495 is a very compelling option at just $975.20 (U.P. $1,219).

Powered by the Ryzen 5 3500U Processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard disk, the ThinkPad E495 comes with a 14-inch anti-glare HD screen.

The entire package weighs around 1.75kg, and in true ThinkPad tradition, it is equipped with a slew of ports, including USB-C, USB, HDMI, RJ45 ethernet, MicroSD, and an audio jack.

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For less than $1,000, you’re getting a laptop with a top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen processor, along with all the other peripherals that would handily chew through any task you can throw at it.

This makes  it a very attractive machine that would satisfy users who would be working with it on a daily basis, as well as being very friendly to their company’s bottom line.

Those on a tighter budget would be glad to know that the ThinkPad E495 starts at just $727.20 (U.P. $909), which gives you a dependable, no-frills machine that can serve you for years to come.

Equipped with the new AMD Ryzen 5 3500U, you will still be enjoying cutting-edge performance from its 2.6GHz 2-core, 4-thread CPU (with Max Boost Clock of up to 3.5GHz) and built-in 3-core Radeon Vega 3 GPU.

On the other end of the spectrum, the ThinkPad X series are among the best laptops you can buy right now.

You can choose from features like dedicated graphics cards, up to 4K displays, and convertible 2-in-1 factors, and even touchscreen and pen support built-in.

Whichever range you choose, you can pick out a model you like, and customise the specifications to save on parts you can do without, or opt for enhancements in the areas that matter to you, such as a SSD for storage, or a higher-resolution display.

Visit the Lenovo website to check out the entire line of Lenovo ThinkPads and begin picking out the laptop that’s right for you.

This article was first published in Dollars and Sense.