Laptop design has changed considerably over the years. There are so many new variables that come into play now, especially with regards to form factor, displays and functionality.
ET explain some of the improvements and answer some of the major questions you need to know before you fix on a new one.
New form factors
Just a few years back, a laptop meant a simple design with a lid that opened only one way. Now, you have a much wider variety across various price points.
A popular design today is the removable display (like the Asus Transformer Book): you can detach the screen completely and use it like the tablet. You also get screens that can twist a full 360 degrees (Lenovo Yoga) which means you can use the device in many different ways.
The tile and gesture-based Windows 8 interface is far easier to use with a touchscreen. This and the fact that prices are coming down is one of the reasons more manufacturers are now offering touchscreens.
In regular usage, you have the flexibility of using the touchscreen or reverting to traditional keyboard/trackpad use. A touchscreen laptop with Windows 8 can be had for less than Rs 30,000 from brands like HP, Acer and Asus.
Optical drives out, storage goes to flash
Optical drives are bulky, so they were the first to go. These days, unless you get a 15.6-inch laptop, optical drives are rare (and not without reason — their use was declining too).
Another change is the shift to flash based storage (SSDs) from hard drives or HDDs. Flash storage is more expensive but is less prone to failure, can be much smaller and offers better speeds.
Some ports have vanished, others are fewer in number
Old laptops had the space to include several ports like S-video, VGA, Firewire, multiple audio jacks, multiple USB ports and so on. Now that laptops are so much smaller, you mostly get a couple of USB ports, video out (HDMI) and a card reader. Some ultrathin laptops have to resort to using collapsible Ethernet ports, micro USB, and micro HDMI ports.
Thinner, lighter and longer battery life
Just a few years back, it was common for laptops to be bulky (over an inch), to weigh 3kg+ and have a limited battery life of 2 to 3 hours.
As hardware components shrunk, materials and manufacturing got better and design became more important, it is now commonplace to find laptops that are just a couple of centimetres thick and weighs less than 1.5kg.
The lithium ion batteries themselves are now smaller and denser while the hardware components are more energy efficient — leading to a battery life of 7 to 8 hours, good enough for a full day’s work.
What kind of laptop do you need?
Consider your requirements before making a decision. Laptops with detachable screens are great if you need to show presentations, demos or if you don’t want to carry a big machine all the time.
If you want a device mainly for multimedia, consider something that has a rotating display or a stand mode. For students and basic office use, stick with something that offers good battery life and basic hardware.
How much storage is enough?
Most new laptops come with a 500GB HDD by default. This is good enough for most users for documents, movies, music and photographs. If you like to store HD movies, uncompressed audio and RAW images, then consider getting at least 1TB internal storage.
Laptops max out at 1.5TB currently. More can be added via external drives if needed. You can get better performance if you opt for flash-based (SSD) storage, but you will have to compromise on storage space because SSDs are expensive.
A new middle ground is to go for a laptop with a ‘hybrid drive that combines 8/16GB flash storage with the usual 500GB/1TB HDD — this gives you both speed & extra storage. Note that only a few manufacturers offer hybrid drives.
Why is screen size important?
If you travel a lot, opt for a lightweight 12 or 13-inch laptop that offers good battery life. If your usage is mainly at home/office, go for a laptop with a 14-inch or 15.6-inch display that can be carried around occasionally.
If you are a gamer or photo/video editor who prefers a powerful machine (which will mostly be kept in one place), then you can consider getting a powerful 15.6-inch or 17-inch machine.
With or without an OS?
You can save a little bit of cash if you buy a laptop without an operating system but it might just end up costing you more in the long run (taking into account lost data in case of a crash or downtime caused by malicious software).
Note that it’s a lot cheaper to buy a system bundled with an operating system rather than buying a standalone operating system license at a later date.
How useful is a touchscreen?
Having a touchscreen on a laptop has a number of benefits. It is easier to scroll through webpages, launch applications, browse through photos and view long documents. Especially with webpages and photographs, the ‘pinch to zoom’ gesture can be an incredible timesaver.
If you want a touchscreen laptop, only Windows options are available right now. There are a number of apps and games available on the Windows Store that take advantage of multi-touch capabilities.
Eight signs that tell you its time to replace your laptop
– If opening or closing the lid causes the screen to flicker. – If parts of the hardware have given way. – If the keyboard is missing several keys. – Essential spares like batteries and adapters are no longer officially available from manufacturer. – If there are constant blue screens/crashes due to hardware failures. – If it’s still running Windows XP or Vista. – If none of the ports you need (like HDMI or USB 3.0) are present. – If any part of it is held together with glue, tape or rubber bands.
Do you even need a laptop anymore?
If all you ever do on a laptop is check your email, surf the web, listen to music, watch movies and create/edit the odd document or presentation — you don’t need a laptop. You’ll be just fine with an Android/iOS tablet.
The advantages? The tablet will typically be cheaper, much lighter (at least half the weight), will have a touchscreen, will be always on, can also function as a phone (if equipped) and has a battery that will last at least twice as long.
If you feel that you can’t use an on-screen keyboard for long text, a tablet can easily be paired with any Bluetooth keyboard. High quality Bluetooth keyboards start at about Rs 1,000. Other functionality (compatibility with Office documents) can be added via apps.
The major downsides of the tablet vs a laptop are limited processing power, some websites may not display correctly and that you can’t freely connect peripherals to it.