Choosing a portable computer is a bit like choosing a car. There are all sorts of jean-jacket-wearing experts who will point out the merits of each one, but it will be up to you if you are happiest in a Lotus or a Reliant Robin.
This is because portables are less about functionality and more about style. To the average person who uses one regularly, they are more of a fashion accessory and a statement to the other people sharing the carriage with you that not only do you work, but you do it in a measure of style and are valued by your technologically advanced company.
It can also show you up to be a cheapskate or a poor sucker whose company is punishing them by ordering them to carry around a brick and, more to the point, actually type detailed reports on it.
Like ordinary computers, a laptop, or notebook, or mobile network interface (you can just tell how pretentious the portable network market is) needs to have a certain amount of functionality first.
Here you must decide what you want to actually do with your laptop. Do you want it to write documents, databases and emails on the move?
All keyed up
First and foremost, you need to be able to use the keyboard. There is nothing more irritating that trying to type on a keyboard that is too small, or has keys that do not respond to your particular brand of typing. The only way to test this is in the shop.
It doesn't matter if you're the world's fastest typist: nothing can make working on a laptop harder than a keyboard that was designed for someone with fingers the size of a five-year-old, or where you have to push the keys too hard.
Next you are going to need a screen you can see. Most portables use colour flat screens, so make sure that you're really happy with the visual effect. There are some different types of technology involved here, but really, it's a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder thing.
Also check to see how it responds to light. Some cheaper screens turn as invisible as a vampire at the first sign of sunlight. All screens have this problem, but some are worse than others.
You will also need a mouse. Funny that. You are so used to them on a PC, the moment you lose them, you go to pieces.
The fact is that most laptops have never worked out a good or effective way of using a mouse. Some use a stick in the middle of the keyboard which usually does nothing better than break. Others use a touch-sensitive box, with a click button. With the latter, it's about as hard to get a curser to where you want as it is to land an aircraft in fog with no instruments. You're better off using telekinesis and trying to move the cursor with your mind.
Fortunately most laptops come with an alternative - an ordinary mouse. If a model doesn't have the sockets to use one, I seriously recommend you buy one that does. However, just remember that using a mouse will make the portability of your laptop that much harder.
Do you need the internet?
If you don't, then you're missing out on a lot of the advantages of a laptop. But hey, don't let me call you a Luddite; there must be all sorts of people in the world who don't want to be contacted by the office, read their email, and search for information on the move.
However, if you do want to do any off these things (and let's face it, it's what having a mobile office is all about), then you're going to need a modem card. This looks like a chunky metal credit card and slides into a slot in the PC. Once in, it enables you to connect to an ordinary phone.
Make sure you get a 56K modem that is GSM friendly so that you can connect using a mobile phone via a lead or infra-red connection.
It's worthwhile finding a laptop that has infra-red. This means you don't need to worry about cables to a mobile phone.
How fast does it need to be?
All laptops are slower than PCs. There is usually about a six-month to a year time lag behind the development of chips. The faster they are, they usually become criminally expensive. But this matters less on a portable because you are less likely to want the processor-hungry graphics to play games on.
In general, settle for the fastest you can afford, but be prepared for it to be slower.
This is probably the most important thing for a laptop. You really want it as light as you can get. This is because you have to carry it, and after a while even the lightest machine can end up feeling like it requires the strength of the Incredible Hulk.
The lighter they are, the more expensive they get. Lately some notebooks are less than an inch thick and it is worthwhile seeing if you can afford one. (The amount you save on thickness is spent on medical bills repairing damaged muscles).
As I said earlier, laptops are a fashion statement that could be as valuable to you as your filofax or mobile phone. There's no point buying one that looks ugly: people will just point and laugh.
How much should I spend?
Using the cheap option, you shouldn't look at under £1500 (this is about Ford Fiesta level) but you can spend up to £5000 for a bells and whistles 'Aston Martin' style notebook. As a rule of thumb, they cost about three times more than a regular PC.
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