Technology

Don’t sacrifice substance for style when buying a portable computer

Anthony Hill /

Slimline ultrabooks and hybrid 2-in-1 tablets look great and are light on your shoulder, but make sure they still meet all your needs when you’re working on the road.

These days there’s more choice than ever if you’re looking for a portable computer and it’s easy to get swept up in the latest trends. If you’re looking for a productivity tool then you shouldn’t shop with an eye for fashion. Instead, you should look for the most practical device to meet your specific needs.

That said, there’s no shame in looking for a slender design if your previous notebooks have weighed you down. Just be sure to consider what you’re sacrificing in return. Think long and hard about exactly what you’ll need to do with your computer and what can wait until you get back to your desk.

If you’re on the road then your primary concern should be battery life, especially if you’ll need to get through an entire day on a single charge. You’ll need to trade battery life against weight and processing power. Many slimline devices shed weight by opting for a smaller battery. Meanwhile, more powerful processors demand more juice, as do large, bright screens with high resolutions.

If you spend most of your time typing then you definitely want to assess the keyboard, preferably with some hands on time in a store rather than simply looking at photos online. Small computers tend to feature small, cramped keyboards which can slow you down — especially if some of the keys are in unusual locations. You should also consider the size and placement of the trackpad.

Thin devices don’t leave much room for “travel” in the keys; this refers to how far they sink down when you press them. It might not sound like a big deal, but keys without much travel don’t tend to feel good under your fingertips. It’s even worse when typing on an onscreen virtual keyboard, where you’re bashing away at a slab of glass that doesn’t have any give.

At the other end of the spectrum, watch out for keyboards that have too much flex. Press down on the ‘h’ key and see if the entire keyboard sinks in the middle like a sponge. The keyboard cases that come with hybrid devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro can have a bit of bounce in them.

After the keyboard you’ll want to think about connectors, as they’re often shed in the pursuit of a slender design. Chances are your portable device won’t come with an optical drive, which probably won’t bother you, but you could also lose the Ethernet port, SD card slot, VGA port and full-sized HDMI port. You might also find yourself needing to make do with fewer USB ports.

These sacrifices might not be deal-breakers if you’re prepared to carry around a few dongles in your travel bag, but think about it upfront rather than discovering the hard way that your new computer is lacking a few features that you need on the road.

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Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill is the head of technology at Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and tech support company.

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