10 things to consider when buying a new laptop

Working from home will be the norm for the majority even after the circuit breaker period ends.
Working from home will be the norm for the majority even after the circuit breaker period ends.PHOTO: ST FILE

Laptops were hot tickets here last month as people switched to working, playing and studying at home.

Retailers and PC makers said there was a spike in laptop sales after the circuit breaker measures, which closed schools and non-essential work premises, were announced on April 3.

Electronics retailer Courts said it saw "overwhelming demand for laptops because of the work-from-home situation". Online retailer Lazada said sales of laptops, particularly gaming laptops, increased by 80 per cent in the week following the circuit breaker announcement, compared with the previous week.

Ms Emma Ou, Singapore country manager for PC maker Asus said: "The demand has been high for the first week of April, but gradually went down as all the offline information technology retail shops were closed."

Mrs J. Jones, a public relations executive, said her employer recently decided to buy laptops for those working from home. "We are moving towards virtual events that require my colleagues to have laptops, instead of their existing iPads, to work effectively," she said.

But there may not be a similar spike in notebook sales this month despite the extension of the circuit breaker period till June 1.

Mr Loo Wee Teck, head of consumer electronics at market research firm Euromonitor International, said: "Parents rushed to the stores when schools switched to home-based learning. But the school holidays have started and those who needed notebooks would have bought one earlier."

While there is no telling how long the requirement to work from home will last, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has said working from home will be the norm for the majority even after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1.

For those looking to buy a new laptop, here are some factors to consider.

1. CLAMSHELL OR TWO-IN-ONE CONVERTIBLE

If you plan to take notes or annotate presentation slides, consider a two-in-one convertible laptop that can switch easily between notebook and tablet forms. It usually comes with a touchscreen and a stylus.

However, a two-in-one convertible laptop generally costs more than a traditional clamshell laptop.

2. SCREEN SIZE

A laptop with a screen size of between 12 inches and 14 inches is ideal for those who work mainly on e-mails, presentations and spreadsheets.

 
 

Those who regularly edit photos and videos or play PC games should consider a 15-inch model that has more powerful hardware, such as a dedicated graphics chip for creating multimedia content and gaming.

Pick a laptop sporting a screen with the 3:2 aspect ratio. You will get more vertical screen real estate and can view documents or Web pages with less scrolling.

3. DISPLAY

Choose an in-plane switching (IPS) display with decent colour quality and excellent viewing angles.

Screens have become sharper over the years. A Full-HD screen (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), found in most mainstream and even some entry-level notebooks, is recommended.

Your viewing experience is also affected by whether the screen is matt or glossy. The former reduces glare and reflection, but a glossy screen produces richer and better-looking images.

Also, consider the brightness. A screen with 300 nits and higher brightness level is recommended, though a dimmer display uses less power.

To prevent nosy parkers from viewing the content on your screen, opt for the privacy-screen filter - if available.

4. WEB CAMERA

With video conferencing on the rise, it is the time for the Web camera to shine. The 720p camera in most new laptops is more than adequate. When buying an external Web camera, a higher-end one may have a privacy cover that physically blocks the Web camera's view. Others may have an additional infrared camera that unlocks the computer via facial recognition.

Check the location of the Web camera. To achieve a near-bezel-less display, PC makers have moved the Web camera from above the screen to below it. The latter can lead to less-than-flattering views as the camera will be pointing at the lower part of one's face.

5. CPU

Chances are, you will buy a notebook that uses a Core processor from market leader Intel.

Intel's Core series' naming convention ranks the processor's capabilities - Core i3 (entry-level), Core i5 (mainstream), Core i7 (high-end) and Core i9 (flagship).

Laptops powered by AMD chips are viable alternatives, especially if they come with the latest processors launched earlier this year. Like Intel, AMD processors have a similar naming convention (Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9) - with Ryzen 9 giving the best performance.

6. GRAPHICS

The visuals you see on a notebook screen are produced by a graphics chip. This is either integrated as part of the processor (the CPU) or a separate dedicated chip.

A dedicated graphics chip offers better performance and is a must for those who play games or produce digital content. Gaming firm Nvidia recently refreshed its entire GeForce mobile graphics chips, so there are plenty of updated options at any budget for gamers.

7. MEMORY AND STORAGE

System memory or RAM affects the responsiveness of a computer and the number of applications that can be running at the same time. 8GB of RAM should suffice for most users. Those who edit photos or videos will need more. Most laptops now have solid-state drives (SSD) that are faster and more reliable, albeit pricier than traditional hard drives. You should expect at least a 256GB SSD in mainstream notebooks.

8. BATTERY

The manufacturer's battery life estimates are based on a specific set of tests. Your mileage will vary depending on usage. Most thin-and-light 13- or 14-inch notebooks offer seven to eight hours of uptime, while larger or gaming models will offer much less.

9. PORTS AND CONNECTIVITY

Ideally, you want a laptop that can be charged via a Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C port. But this feature may be available only in higher-end models.

It is good to have an HDMI port or USB Type-A ports as they do not require a dongle to use with compatible devices. If you can, spring for a laptop that supports the latest Wi-Fi 6 wireless standard that can achieve speeds approaching that of a Gigabit Ethernet port, when used with a Wi-Fi 6 router.

10. OPERATING SYSTEM

Microsoft's Windows operating system (OS) is the de facto choice for most users, though Apple's macOS and the open-source Linux operating system have their niche.

 
 
 

But among these operating systems, Google's stripped-down Chrome OS requires the least-powerful hardware, which is why it powers low-cost Chromebooks.

These Chromebooks are suited for those who rely on Web-based applications such as Google Docs, cloud storage and video-streaming.