Laptop Buying Guide For Online Learning and Work-From-Home Set-up

Laptops are amazing, versatile machines. They’re compact yet powerful, making them the perfect companions for both work and play, especially now in The New Normal when these gadgets have become more important than ever for online learning or work-from-home arrangements.

Finding “the one” can be tricky, however, because there are a lot of amazing laptops available nowadays. Moreover, the question “what is the best laptop?” doesn’t have an obvious or even a correct answer. It all depends on your needs, as well as your personal preference of a user.

Laptop Buying Guide

To help you make the best decision, here’s a list of criteria that you should definitely consider when buying a new laptop apart from the amount of money that you are willing to spend on a new notebook or gadget, of course:

The Platform

When it comes to operating systems, laptops have three to choose from: MacOS (which is exclusive for Apple devices), Chrome OS, and Windows. The best choice depends on your needs and personal preferences. If you’re going to use plenty of third-party programs or play a lot of games, it’s best to pick a Windows laptop. This is mainly due to the freedom that the OS affords.

Macs are popular for their sleek style but they’re also reliable machines for video and photo editing. It’s also advantageous to get a MacBook if you already have an iPhone. This way, you can maximize the ecosystem. On the other hand, if you’re mostly going to use your laptop for surfing the web or using streaming services, a laptop Chrome OS would more than suffice. As a bonus, it’s more functional than a tablet so it’s easier to use for online classes or video conferences.

Personally, though, if you're going to use a laptop for online learning or work-from-home and you are a bit tight on budget currently because of the pandemic, I suggest that you go with a Windows notebook with decent specs for the flexibility and value-for-money that it offers.

The Size

Laptops come in different sizes. Some are as small as 11 or 12 inches, while some are as big as 17 inches. Top brands usually offer a wide range of laptop sizes, but the most common ones are 13.3, 15.6, and 17.3 inches.

Why does the size matter? This is primarily because you can’t change it once you’ve bought the laptop. Unlike the RAM or storage that you can upgrade, you’ll be stuck with the size of the laptop until you decide to get a new one. What’s more, many accessories such as protective cases are specific to a laptop’s size. If you get unusually sized ones (say, a 12.5-inch model), you may be limited in your selection.

Size also matters because it usually affects the weight of the laptop. If you’re aiming for portability, it’s best to choose a 13.3-inch or a 14-inch model at most.

So when should you go with a larger laptop with bigger screen? I think that if you're student or a professional in the field of design, advertising, architecture, engineering, and the like, then you might get maximum benefits from a notebook with a more sizeable screen.

The CPU and RAM

The CPU or the processor is what gives your laptop the power to do its job. When your laptop has a more powerful processor, your laptop can “think” faster. As a result, you’ll be able to do more work at a faster pace. Intel and AMD are two of the leading names when it comes to making processors, both for laptops and for desktops.

If you're a power user or you use your laptop for editing videos, working on CAD plates, or running resource-intensive software, you might want to invest in a notebook that's powered by the latest Intel Core i5 or i7 processors or one with an AMD Ryzen chipset. A laptop with good dedicated graphics card from NVIDIA or AMD also tend to deliver better performance than those with integrated GPU.

As for your laptop’s RAM, it's what lets you run more applications at the same time without slowing down. With bigger RAM, you can smoothly run even the most memory-intensive programs. These include video editing software, as well as graphics-heavy games. Ideally, you should look for a laptop with the latest DDR RAM. Currently, this is DDR4 but DDR5 RAM sticks are already slated for release in 2021.

The Storage Type and Capacity

Nowadays, laptops with SSD or solid state drive storage are preferred. This is because they’re faster and more quiet than traditional hard drives. They’re also lighter, which reduces the bulk and weight of the entire laptop. The problem is that SSDs are more expensive. Thus, many laptop makers usually offer products with a maximum SSD storage capacity of 512GB.

If you want more storage, get a laptop with a combination of a hard drive and an SSD. Then, make sure that the operating system is saved in the SSD. This way, you can still enjoy the speed benefits while having enough space for all your files.

Display Features

If you’re going to work with a lot of visuals, say you’re a photographer or videographer, you need to get a laptop with good color accuracy. If you can, spring for models that come with HDR and a wider color gamut. You may also want to get a laptop with 4K resolution.

For those who don’t require that level of visual detail and clarity, then a laptop with a full HD resolution (1920 x 1080) would do. This is more than enough to enjoy watching videos, as well as to have a big enough space to work with multiple windows open.

There are also convertible laptops that you can use as a tablet. In this case, the display will have a touchscreen capability. Their visual output is usually on par with other kinds of displays, although do note that touchscreens are often glossier. This means that you’ll need to contend with a lot of glare.

Laptop Buying Guide

Other Things to Consider

Some of the other factors you have to consider when buying a laptop include the following:

  The kinds and number of ports - Many laptops come with at least two USB ports. Get a laptop with USB 3.0 so you can enjoy faster data transfer. A headphone jack is also useful, particularly for editing videos and online classes or conferences.

  The battery life - There are many factors that affect battery life, so the estimates provided by the manufacturers will definitely not be accurate. What you have to look for would be the battery rating in milliamp-hours (mAh). The bigger the number, the longer the battery can last. Also, there are certain processor models that are more energy-efficient than others so should consider that too.

  The quality of the keyboard and trackpad - You want a laptop with decently sized keys so typing would be a breeze. Most bigger laptops have a separate number pad, too, but make sure that the numbers aren’t squished too closely together. Also, don't underestimate a good trackpad or touchpad. Some are too sticky or hard to use, try them out at the store if you can to see how comfortable you will be when using them at home.

  The security features - There are some laptops that offer biometric security to help prevent theft and unauthorized use. If your work requires you to handle delicate information for your company, you might want to look into this as well.

  Design and aesthetics - If you're a student and young professional, I know that the colorway and external appearance of a laptop will be one of your primary considerations. If that's extremely important to you as a consumer, then go ahead and pick one that captures your fancy. However, if you find yourself choosing a beautiful laptop with poor specs versus a basic-looking notebook with great specs that can help you with school or work both for the same price, then I would highly recommend that you go for the device with better internal hardware. But hey, that's just my expert opinion.

  After-sales support - Laptop makers these days offer multiple years of warranty for their products. Make sure you inquire about that since notebooks are some of the most "serviced" gadget categories due to regular use. Go with a brand that has easily accessible after-sales outlets or hubs near you.

Once you’ve figured out everything based on the criteria above, you’re now ready to buy the perfect laptop for online school or work-from-home set-up.

Good luck on your search and happy laptop shopping!

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