Seven features to consider when purchasing a laptop

What would make the perfect laptop computer for an accountant? Sure, you would want a device that has the very best performance and speed at a reasonable price. But what about other important features like battery life, keyboard quality, and portability? Would you prefer a notebook or a netbook? AccountingWEB’s Jason Bramwell reports.

Laptop preferences often are personal, so consumers should try out a laptop – especially the keyboard and touchpad – before buying it. Consumer Reports says customers should carry the laptop around to make sure it doesn’t feel too heavy or big. The laptop should not feel so hot that a person has to move it off his or her lap while working, and it should run quietly.
 
The following seven laptop features (in alphabetical order) ranked high in tests, as well as by respondents of surveys conducted by a number of technology publications and companies. The laptops mentioned in this article are not endorsed by AccountingWEB.
 
Battery life
 
Long battery life is a feature ranked high in many laptop surveys and evaluations. When not plugged into a wall outlet, laptops use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power.
 
According to a recent survey of 776 respondents conducted by Frank Myhr of Berkley, MI-based FHM Technologies LLC, on building the ideal business laptop, long battery life ranked fifth at 76 percent as a feature most desired in a notebook.
 
According to tests conducted by Consumer Reports, a normal battery provided between two and nearly six hours of continuous use when running office applications. The publication stated that users can extend battery life by dimming the display, turning off wireless devices when not in use, and running only basic applications.
 
In its inaugural Notebook Decathlon, LAPTOP magazine put 10 notebooks through two battery endurance tests: a MobileMark test (run twice, both, with and without the WLAN receiver on) and a DVD movie test. The Lenovo ThinkPad T43 took top honors with a perfect composite score of 10. Its elapsed time of four hours and 43 minutes far outdistanced the next closest notebook (three hours and 50 minutes). The optional extra-capacity battery on the notebook’s rear panel was the reason for its long battery life, the magazine concluded.
 
In an evaluation conducted by Digitalversus.com, the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro was found to have a battery life of nearly five hours.
 
Display
 
The size of the screen can be anywhere from 7 to 20 inches. The smaller the screen, the more portable the laptop. A larger screen will be less portable, but easier to use for extended periods, according to a report on Digitalversus.com. Screen quality ranked third at 86 percent in Frank Myhr’s laptop features survey.
 
LED-backlit LCD is a new display technology that is making its way into laptops. According to Consumer Reports, an advantage of this technology is its more efficient use of power and, as a result, longer battery life.
 
Consumer Reports ranked several Apple MacBook models, Dell Inspiron I545-012B, HP G70-460us, and Sony Vaio VGN-SR420D/H as having very good displays in its December 2009 issue.
 
Durability
 
No matter how careful we are, laptops are eventually going to be accidentally dropped, stepped on, doused, or left out in the car during extreme heat or cold. According to the survey conducted by Myhr, 89 percent of respondents ranked durability as their No. 1 feature.
 
LAPTOP magazine put 10 notebooks through stress and durability tests in its Notebook Decathlon, including dropping the laptops 10 inches onto a layer of plywood placed over concrete, and spraying the keyboard with water. According to test results, four notebooks survived the stress tests without effort: 15-inch Apple PowerBook G4, Averatec 3360 EH1, Gateway M210XL, and Sony VGN-S360.
 
Hard drive/RAM
 
Most laptops come with a traditional 160 to 500GB hard drive, which is where files and programs are stored, although Digitalversus.com says that an 80GB hard drive should suffice for office documents and photos. Consumer Reports recommends paying attention to a hard drive’s speed: 4,200 RPM – while rare – is considered fairly slow; 5,400 RPM is common; and 7,200 RPM is fastest, but costs more. Some laptops can be equipped with two hard drives: solid-state or flash drives.
 
RAM is the memory the computer uses while in operation, and most brand-name computers have at least 2GB of RAM, according to Consumer Reports. For Windows Vista, users will need at least 1 GB, but Digitalversus.com recommends 2GB. Computers with 3GB can run slightly faster.
 
Keyboard/touchpad
 
Many of the respondents who participated in the survey conducted by Myhr commented that the quality of the keyboard is an important feature when buying a laptop. Keyboard quality ranked fourth at 83 percent in Myhr’s study.
 
Consumer Reports recommends that customers should look for keys that don’t feel mushy, touchpads large enough for your finger to traverse the span of the screen without repeated lifting, and touchpad buttons that are easy to find and press. The touchpad buttons should have a dedicated scroll area.
 
In its December 2009 issue, Consumer Reports gave the following laptop models very good ratings for keyboard/touchpad: Apple MacBook, Dell Studio, HP Pavilion, Sony Vaio, and Toshiba Satellite.
 
According to LAPTOP magazine, the 15-inch Apple PowerBook G4 ranked highest for design/keyboard in its Notebook Decathlon based on the laptop’s illuminated keyboard and two-fingered scrolling capability on the touchpad.
 
Portability
 
Business professionals are gravitating more toward laptops that are lighter in weight, and that portability has been a key marketing tool for netbook manufacturers. Consumers agree that portability is a great feature, as 60 percent of 600 consumers surveyed by market research company The NPD Group Inc., Port Washington, NY, said that was a main reason they bought their netbooks.
 
"Retailers and manufacturers can’t put too much emphasis on PC-like capabilities and general features that could convince consumers that a netbook is a replacement for a notebook," Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group, said in a statement. "Instead, they should be marketing mobility, portability, and the need for a companion PC to ensure customers know what they are buying and are more satisfied with their purchases."
 
Consumer Reports gave the following netbooks a very good rating for portability: Acer Aspire One AOD150-1165, Acer Aspire One AOD250-1990, Asus Eee PC 1005HA, Asus Eee PC 1008HA, Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2, Samsung NC10-14GB, Samsung N110-12PBK, Samsung N120-12GBK, and Toshiba Mini NB205-N210. Digitalversus.com also gave a high portability rating to the 13-inch Apple MacBook White and the Samsung X360.
 
Processor
 
The brains of a laptop are in its processor – or CPU – which performs all of its calculations and has a direct bearing on everything consumers might use their laptops for, according to Digitalversus.com. Laptops generally come with a dual-core processor, such as an Intel Pentium Dual-Core or AMD Turion X2, stated Consumer Reports.
 
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