HotHardware's Notebook Buyer's Guide
As we move forward with our new mobile section here are HotHardware.com and our upcoming product showcases, you should keep in mind that certain notebooks are for certain people. So our answer to the question, "What is a good notebook?" is going to change depending on who is asking the question. So, regardless of what type of notebook you are shopping for, you want to keep an eye on a couple of things:
1. Construction material - The "el cheapo" notebook manufacturer might be using a somewhat soft plastic material as opposed to a higher quality notebook that uses a magnesium and titanium composite or plastic/metal composite. This is even more important for those on the go, but not so much for prospective DTR buyers. If you take your notebook with you, there is inevitably going to be scratches, blemishes, and heaven forbid, dents. Those made of stronger composite material are much more scratch resistant, which bodes good news for notebooks with a paint coat. The second benefit of strong notebook casing is that when and if you drop your notebook, the notebooks stands a better chance of not having components damaged.
2. Display – However frequently you use your notebook, you will have to look at your screen (minus the rare external monitor hookup for presentations). Take the time to get a good native resolution for your computer. It should feel natural to your eyes and shouldn't be a strain. You will most likely have the notebook for a few years, so make sure you get a notebook with a nice bright display. Those notebooks with more brightness levels will allow you to squeeze the longest battery life possible, which is a good thing for those that spend lots of time away from a wall jack.
3. Keyboard/touchpad/button feel and layout – Like the display, you will have to use your keyboard, and to a lesser extent the touchpad/buttons on a day in and day out basis. Make sure the keyboard feels natural and that there is a good response to pressing keys. If you are planning to use the notebook for business and school, you should make sure that the control, function, home, end, page up, page down, arrow buttons are in a logical place so you don't have to stretch your fingers to do something like scrolling up a page. Ergonomically speaking, it is best if the control key is in the lower left hand corner, and this is what most manufacturers consider to be the "correct placement." This is because most notebook users have used desktop keyboards at some point, where the left control key is left of the windows key.
4. Warranty – Most of the tier 1 notebook vendors (Dell, HP/Compaq, and IBM) and retail outlets offer pretty good extended warranty plans, which include a replacement policy should your notebook needs to go into the shop. There are even some that have special buy back or upgrades policies should you want to upgrade your notebook after 3 months. Others have special policies (i.e. dead pixel policy) to consider if you are buying a tier 2 ODM notebook, which we would consider to be some of the notebooks from Clevo for example. If you go for an extended warranty policy, you shouldn't be paying more than a couple hundred for something like a 3-year repair/replacement plan. If you are the type to think "I'll never ever need an extended warranty plan," you may want to reconsider that. We know a few computer engineers that have damaged their laptops only to discover that it would cost more to repair than the cost of an extended warranty they chose not to enroll in. Of course, this is more a matter of what you do on a day to day basis. Spilled coffee would likely fry a few components, costing more to repair, as opposed to a drop that just might chip your casing. So the risk factors can vary as well, depending on your usage model.
And of course, a good rule of thumb is that the old maxim rings true: "you get what you pay for." Stay tuned to HotHardware.com in the weeks and months ahead, as we roll out our new Mobile Computing section. We promise to bring you all sorts of great insight on the latest in greatest offerings in Notebook Computers.