Sunday, December 1, 2013

4 Laptop buying tips and more

Tablets are great for browsing, but when it comes to working with data a computer with a keyboard is still essential and currently this is likely to be a laptop.  I have purchased and worked on a wide array of laptops and there have been both hits and misses.  The great news for those shopping for a laptop is that since tablets are now getting the spotlight, there are some great buying opportunities to get a great deal on a laptop.

1.  Determine your budget AND stick to it:  Unfortunately for many, the "budget" is a moving target and there are many obstacles that have the potential to sabotage your plans.  Maybe you think you will save some money and buy used, but then find out later that you really need more memory or a bigger hard drive and quickly climb back to where you would have been if you had just bought new.  Or maybe you decide to save money with a used laptop, but then find that you need to buy and install an operating system or other software.  On the other hand, you may decide going with a new laptop is for you and as you excitedly exit the check out line are hit with that standard "would you like to purchase the extended warranty" question...whoops there goes that budget!

2.  Write it down:  Think through your purchase.  What is important to you?  For me, I like a nice large screen for old fart eyes.  I also like a nice touch keyboard - no squishy pad for me, please.  I also have a camera that uses an SD card so a built in card reader would be a plus.  Some folks may travel in which case battery life, size and weight may be a priority.  If you have a current laptop, it might be worthwhile to write down what you like about it and what you don't.

3.  Research:  Use the Internet.  Get familiar with what the specs mean at least on a global level - know what RAM is, what are typical sizes for hard drives, which processors are better, etc.  Also, check on what buyers are saying about their experiences with the seller.  Check out those advertised computers, but use some caution.  Try to get the exact model number.  There are many laptops with variations and a slight difference in model number may be meaningful.  Also, some manufacturers, notably Dell, often build to order so there is much variance from one computer to another although the model number is the same.

While Internet research is important, you should also do some "hands on" research.  Go to the stores, lift the laptop, feel the keyboard, open and close the lid examine the screen resolution.  There is no substitute for feeling that the fit is right for you.

4.  New or Used:  As I indicated in my opening, due to tablets receiving a large spotlight, there are opportunities to find great deals on new laptops.  For new laptops, consider the vendor - not all are created equal.  Some are simply better to work with if issues arise.  If you are a laptop novice or just want a "guarantee," then new is the way for you to go.

There are some great deals out there on used laptops as well.  Used laptops (or electronics in general) require some special consideration as there are some extra risks such as:
a.  It is likely an "as is" sale.  Some issues with electronics are not easy to spot.

b.  Cigarette or other smoking sellers.  Unfortunately, computers draw air through the components using fans and offensive smoke can and will be drawn into your computer.  This is something you may not think about until you get your bargain home and then end up dreading turning it on due to it spewing second hand air your way.

c.  Is it stolen?  Look for indicators - Is the seller too eager?  Is the deal too good to be true?  What is the motive for the seller to sell?

d. Ask for Restore Disks: I recommend this for two reasons. First, if the individual took the time to burn restore disks, it may suggest that they cared about the computer and took good care of it. Second, having restore disks will make your life much easier - there is no need to scramble for a legal copy of an operating system and it is a nice way to get rid of potential files (and even malware) that may be on the machine.
These are substantial risks so I look for the savings difference to be commensurate with these risks.  When calculating the savings, do your research to make sure you are paying today's prices.  A computer may have sold for $600 a year ago when it was new, but similar new computers may be selling for $500 this year.  If you buy it for $450, you didn't save $150, you only saved $50 and was that worth foregoing a warranty?  Maybe not.

Your laptop quest should be fun, but be careful not to get caught up in the excitement and be prepared to walk away from a deal if it doesn't feel right to you.