Monday, May 26, 2014

Travel Laptop: Handy Tips to Choose that Perfect One!

No traveler likes to lug around a heavy laptop in their backpack and end up massaging their sore shoulders. We don’t like losing our expensive gadgets either to a thief or to inclement weather. We want our laptops to have long battery life like tablets so that we can happily see one or two movies while we are in a train or bus. Professionals on the move (writers, journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers, etc.) always rue the fact that they don’t have that extra processing power to edit their photos and/or videos.

Everyone is looking for that small laptop that is cheap, has enough processing and memory power, has the latest tech specs, is light, is rugged and has long lasting battery life. I wish we could find such an ideal laptop in the current market that is full of diverse choices. 
Choosing the right laptop for your travels is of paramount importance. The laptop should be value for money and it should suit your travel requirement. Below are handy tips that you should keep in mind before choosing your travel laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you are a business traveler, a leisure traveler, a travel blogger/writer, a travel photographer or a person who works online to make his money, these tips and questions will help you address your requirements properly and help you nail on the right travel device for you.

Note: I haven’t mentioned the best laptops here as devices keep changing in the market . However, if you use these tips properly, you will easily find the best fit for you.

1) Laptop versus Tablet
You might be wondering how did a tablet come into this laptop discussion. Well, the reason it features here is due to the fact that tablets are very convenient and fiercely popular. If you need your device to make Skype calls, check your emails, browse the internet, play games, watch movies and/or keep a diary, I would recommend you opt for a tablet with or without a small Bluetooth keyboard. If you need your travel device to do more, go for a laptop.

Tip: Figure out your needs first and then choose your travel device (laptop or tablet) accordingly.

2) Windows versus Mac?
If you are a power Windows user like me, you will opt for a Windows based laptop. If you are a loyal Apple user, you will go for the Mac OS. Macbooks are extremely popular with photographers, videographers and people who need to use it for creative work. If you don’t have a preference for any operating system, you can ignore this question and see the other areas where the device fits your parameters. Both operating systems offer good value for money. If going for Windows, opt for Windows 8.1 as it is drains less power when compared to Windows 7. Mac based laptops are a bit on the pricier side, but come with good quality.

Tip: Both OS are good. Find your comfort zone.

3) Cost
Cost plays a very important aspect in making the right decision. The laptop with all the specs costs a lot and the ones that are cheap may not have the required power for your kind of work. Also, the more expensive the laptop, the more pain it will cause when you lose it to a thief, a hot cup of coffee or that bad weather.

Tip: You should land a good laptop in the price range of USD 400 to 600 unless you are looking at the Apple range in which case you will spend more. I would keep the price number on the top of the laptop discussion menu.

4) Laptop Weight
I have carried heavy and light laptops during my travel days and my shoulder and back seem to prefer the light one. I am sure everyone does the same. But, the problem is that the light laptop either costs more due to superior components or weighs lighter because it has lesser capability. It sounds like a cache 22, but you should be able to find a good light one if you look hard.

Tip: Look for something in the range of 1 kilogram. You can keep a tolerance of +20%.

5) Screen Size
Small screens make laptops lighter, but they also make it difficult to type especially those with big hands. But, there is not much that can be done here. Small is the way to go for travel as there is only so much we can fit into our travel packs.

Tip: Opt for something in between 10 inch to 11.6 inch in screen size.  

6) Battery Life
A 10 hour battery backup is what we would all like, but let’s not be too greedy. I would be happy if I got through 2 full movies and a little bit leftover for some browsing and word processing. Powerful batteries also increase the weight of your laptop.

Tip: A travel laptop should get a minimum of 5 hours of battery backup on a full charge. Anything less and you can safely ignore it.

7) Processor
The processor is one of the more important components of the laptop and can make or break your choice. The latest processors like Intel’s i7 are very good, but will dent a big hole in your pocket. The Intel Celeron and Pentium processors are alright for very basic use, but then I would stay away from them as they are not scalable for future needs. The Intel Haswell technology and equivalent on the AMD stack are worth looking into as these 4th generation Intel processors give much battery life for the same performance.

Tip: Go for Core i3 or above (and equivalent on the AMD stack) and opt for the Haswell technology.

8) RAM
These days most operating systems, apps and programs are memory intensive. Hence, there is a much perceived need for more memory power. At the same time, those who are not hard core gamers or into photo/video editing, don’t need excessive memory.

Tip: These days, a minimum of 4GB RAM is required. Editing work will need at least 8GB of RAM if not more.

9) Hard Disk
Traditionally, hard disks led to more weight, more sound and more heat. But, that is not the case with the latest stable of solid state drives (SSD). These are lighter, faster and generate much lesser speed. But, they cost much more. In terms of hard disk space, I would go for at least 500 GB, but 256 GB is also doable.

Tip: Opt for SSD if you can and at least 256 GB of space.

10) Ruggedness
I put my travel laptop in my backpack along with my clothes and with my other gear. It sees dust, salt air, extreme temperatures, bad road conditions, small spills and much more. In a nutshell, I my style of travel needs rugged laptops. Apple laptops have been known to be good, but I would not put them in the rugged category, especially keeping in mind their product and service costs. Based on past and current usage, I can say Dell laptops and Asus to a certain degree make very sturdy laptops.

Tip: Touch and feel the construction, hinges, keyboard and screen before you buy your laptop. A travel laptop should be very rugged. Try not to compromise on this aspect.

11) Touch versus Non-Touch
In this case, I would recommend going with the technology flow, which means I am in favor of touch. Win 8.1 is touch oriented and offers superior features to its non-touch predecessor. And a touch laptop can also be a good extension of your tablet.

Tip: Go for Touch

12) Ultrabook, Chromebook, Netbook
Laptop manufacturers have coined many terms such as Ultrabook, Chromebook, Netbooks, etc. Ultrabooks are very powerful and also very expensive. Netbooks are cheap, but are low on processing power and performance. I would recommend that you ignore these names and instead focus on the minute details as that would give you much better clarity.

Tip: Ignore manufacturer names or categories and focus on the above categories

13) International Warranty and Service
If you take your laptop on international trips, then do ensure that your manufacturer offers international warranty and service. This will reduce your headaches in case your laptop stops working while you are traveling.

Tip: Opt for international warranty and may be opt for an extended warranty if your laptop is expensive or if you need to stay connected all the time.

14) Adapter or Charger for your Laptop
A lot of us forget about our laptop charger, but it is a very important component that needs to be lugged around. Personally, I don’t prefer those big, bulky chargers. What is the point of buying a 1 kilogram laptop if the charger weighs an additional 500 grams.

Tip: Look for Laptops that have chargers as light as cellphone chargers.

Apart from the above pointers, do ensure that your device has USB 3.0 ports (for faster data transfer), a SD card slot (so that you can easily copy photos and videos from your camera) and a HDMI port (so that you can project your photos and videos on your friend’s HD TV.

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