After nine years, I recently purchased a new PC laptop to replace the HP Pavilion that has served me well. I also have access to a relatively new MacBookPro and an Apple iPad (both on loan from Maine CITE), so there is no shortage of mobile devices at my fingertips.
There has been a lot of discussion of late as to whether the “PC is dead” and whether there is any longer a need for laptops or even desktop. You can make you your own mind on that. For this blog, I am taking this time to express my rationalization for making this recent purchase and what to look for if you are also so inclined.
1: Do I need a personal computer anymore, or can I get by with a mobile device like a tablet or smart phone?
Good question. For many the answer is no, you don’t need a personal computer and may be able to get by with a handheld device like a tablet or even something smaller like an iPod Touch.
First, you need to ask yourself what it is that you use the computer for. If you are simply cruising the web, sending/reading e-mails, the occasional online purchase, and maybe social media, you probably do NOT need a bigger device. Even if you need to do the occasional spreadsheet or presentation, you can probably get by just fine with one of the many tablet devices on the market. But if you do any activities that require computing POWER – you WILL need a laptop or desktop computer.
Examples of activities that require computing POWER are:
- Any kind of serious media editing (video, audio or even graphics),
- Heavy number crunching (spreadsheets with lots of data, accounting, and database development), and
- Any serious content creation (writing, imagery, and media).
No one who is engaged in extensive writing (even if it means doing research papers for a college class) probably will want/need the flexibility and features of a “full-size” word processor and these features are simply not available in the apps or even in “cloud” based services like Google Docs.
Yes, there are many “apps” – even free ones – that will do many amazing things on a small tablet device – but there are limits on what these apps can do and you will be pretty frustrated when you discover at two o’clock in the morning when you are trying to get your term paper finished you can’t do something that you need to do. Note: recent changes in the popular and inexpensive iWork program from Apple reduced some features on the Mac OSX version to make it more compatible with the iOS version. This removal of valued features has made many Apple users furious.
So the short answer to this question is: if there is ANY chance that you will need to do some heavy lifting with your personal technology – err on the side of getting a bigger device – a desktop or laptop personal computer.
2: Laptop…what kind…?
If you are a bona fide Apple person, there is no question that you will be buying a new MacBook. Your choices are a MacBookAir or a MacBookPro. Both are solid devices and the differences – apart from the cost – have to do with portability and features. Have fun shopping.
If you are a traditional PC/Windows user, I have to say this time you have a big choice to make. Stay with the Windows operating system or possibly considering switching to a Mac. I’ve never said this before, but my reasoning is this.
The differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8 are significant. This is a completely new operating system and you will need to learn a whole bunch of new ways to do things. You will find yourself clicking on the help button and searching for support on-line. You certainly will be able to get it to work and eventually you will get more comfortable with Windows 8, but there will be a measureable learning curve as it is a very different operating system from what you are used to.
If you have been using Windows Vista or Windows XP (like me), the change to Windows 8 is enormous and your learning time will be very significant.
Since you will be needing to learn to use a new operating system, you really need to consider if you want to take the time to learn Windows 8 or take the plunge and learn the Mac OSX operating system. Surprisingly, in my mind, the Mac OSX is actually closer to the old Win XP operating system and it will be a quicker learn.
3: Okay, I’ve decided on a PC/Windows laptop with Windows 8…what now?
This was the position I was in a few weeks ago, so I will speak specifically about my experience.
I was replacing a nine year old HP laptop that has served me well over the year. In recent times it has been relegated to second-backup and almost never used anymore as a portable machine. The battery pack had long-ago lost its ability to hold a charge and the unit needed to remain plugged in to be used and so it would not lose its BIOS memory. This old critter was running Windows XP and had Office 2010 on it (Office 2013 would not run on it). It was used almost entirely for e-mail and browser use. Very rarely I would use it for some word processing. Ironic given the fact that nine years ago this was a top of the line laptop costing nearly $2,000.
Currently, my primary laptop to take to meetings and on the road is the MacBookPro loaded with Office 2011 for Mac and little else. On the road it is primarily used for note taking, e-mail, browsing and the occasional PowerPoint presentation. The new laptop replaces this one as the primary road-machine, but will spend most of its time on one of my office desks as a back-up and as a way to learn Windows 8 (and 8.1).
For these reasons, I chose a relatively inexpensive device. I was able to find a great deal at Best Buy on this HP 2000 Notebook running on an Intel i3 chip with 4GB of RAM and 450GB hard drive. It came with Windows 8.0, and with some effort, I upgraded almost immediately to Windows 8.1 (as far as I can tell there is very little difference between the two versions). This device cost about $350 plus tax … a VERY good deal.
I had already purchased/owned MS-Office 2013 with Office 365 and with a password and the click of a button, the new device installed the new Office very quickly. I had my laptop e-mail set up in minutes and quickly downloaded and installed the Google Chrome and Firefox browsers. That was the easy part.
This device is very nice. It has excellent screen resolution and brightness, runs very quickly and is about the same weight as the MacBookPro. It does have a CD-player/recorder, three USB ports (not USB 3.0), a standard external monitor port (also used for connecting to LCD projectors) and a HDMI port for connecting to a HD TV or monitor.
Sadly, the only downside is Windows 8.
Okay, my take on Windows 8.
This was Microsoft’s attempt at developing one operating system that would work on all devices (desktops, laptops and tablets). They wanted to get ahead of Apple, with its great success with the iPads and iPhones, and create an environment where folks will use “hybrid machines” – machines that are both a laptop and a tablet. All you have to do is watch all the ads on TV this Christmas season and see this is the method of their madness. But if you are like me and just need a laptop, Windows 8 will drive you crazy. I would almost recommend – if you can find one – buy a laptop that has Window 7 on it. Sorry, Redmond, you blew it.
My new laptop device DOES NOT have a touch screen so to use any of the Windows 8 apps requires clicking them with the pointing device (mouse or touch pad). Unfortunately, the “Start” screen of Windows 8 OS is designed for a touch screen just like the iOS environment. Many of the Windows 8 “apps” open with information that is project across the screen horizontally and requires moving across the screen to see things scrolled to the right. It is simply maddening with a pointing device. Arrgggh!
I could go on an extended rant about Windows 8, but there are many who have already done that (see one of many examples). Maybe Microsoft will get smart and create a Windows 8 desktop that works like the old Windows 7. But don’t count on it.