Category Archives: Buying a New Computer

Tablet Tips – A short buying guide

TIP: Before we begin, don’t even think about buying an E-reader. For the same money you can get a full-fledged tablet that will let you read books PLUS just about anything else you can do with a computer. So tablets only, no E-readers.

When tablets first came out, we thought they were a fad, let’s say a flash in the pan. They were cute, small and not very powerful. As time went by, however, tablets grabbed their share of the marketplace. Although a tablet will never replace laptop or desktop computing, we’ve realized that they do have a place in our daily computing world. Here’s why.

1. Instagram looks much better on a tablet than it does on a smart phone. That’s number one for us. For some reason, Instagram looks better on our seven inch Samsung Galaxy tablet than on our slightly smaller Nexus 5. Photos seem to jump out from the screen making the viewing experience much nicer.

2. Reading books is much easier on a tablet than anything else we’ve tried, including the books themselves. First, tablets provide their own light. No min-booklight needed here. Second, a tablet is lighter than a hardcover book and much easier to handle than a paperback since there’s no need to put your thumb in the middle to keep the pages open. Purists hate e-readers but we love them. Sure, we still have thousands of books but we try to read on our tablets whenever possible.

3. There’s no lid. A laptop is great for portability when you need to do some real computing. A tablet, on the other hand, is much easier to start, usually has better battery life and can supply you with news, reading, games and video in a simple, easy to carry device. Almost all tablets come with Bluetooth so there’s no need for a wired earphone set. Laptops don’t usually come with Bluetooth, right? Plus there’s that lid that gets in the way. When you’re on Facebook or Instagram, how often do you use a keyboard anyway? As cell phones move away from keypads, we’re all getting used to tapping out words on a touch screen.

Photo of Playbook
Our first tablet was a Blackberry Playbook. We enjoyed it but found that there weren’t many apps we could use on it.


Before you buy a tablet, here are a few tips:

1. Get a brand name. Samsung, Apple, Dell, HP, they’re all good. Don’t go for a generic device, no matter how good the price is. You won’t get support or updates or much of a warranty, in spite of what the store tells you. If the tablet is made and sold offshore, you’re going to find a warranty useless. Stick with a company that stands behind what they sell.

2. We would suggest getting an Android device. Why? They’re cheaper than Apple’s iOs  models and have just as many apps available. Apple products have what’s known as the ‘Apple Tax’ on them. You’re paying more simply because they’re made by Apple, not because they’re any better. That goes for everything Apple makes.

3. It seems crazy that a tablet wouldn’t come standard with WiFi but we’ve seen some out there that don’t. You have to load the apps through a USB connection. Make sure that the model you’re looking at has WiFi built into it. Don’t simply assume that it does.

4. Make sure you can add extra storage via a flash card of some type. If you’re traveling and want to watch a movie or two or three, you’ll need a few extra gigs of storage. Our Samsung has a slot for a 32 gigabyte card, enough for many movies or a couple of seasons of a TV series. None of Apple’s products come with this feature, just so you know.

5. You can get a very decent tablet for well under $200.00. We’re not associated with Samsung in any way but we love our Tab 3 Lite. It’s on its way out now but we’ve seen it on several sites for under $130.00. While it has only 8 gigs of storage, you can add up to 32 gigs via it’s micro-SD slot. Here’s how it looks:

Photo of Galaxy Tab
This inexpensive tablet has everything you need for a good price.

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Tablets vs. Laptops

Some experts say that the PC is dying, if it isn’t already dead. Tablets and touch (as in touchscreens) seem to be taking over the market. Here are our thoughts on all of this.

Our Experience

1. In the past two months, we’ve had two tablets lock up completely on us. One was a Samsung Galaxy II, the other was a Lenovo 10″ tablet. When we say they locked up, they were dead, completely unable to boot or be recognized when hooked up to a computer. We returned both products to where we bought them. We replaced the Lenovo with two Blackberry Playbooks, one 16 GB and one 32 GB, which have, so far, been stalwart devices, ready for anything we direct their way.

Photo of Playbook
A BB Playbook. These are very solid tablets that aren’t, unfortunately, sold anymore.

2. As far as laptops are concerned, we’ve never had to replace one. Batteries get old and stop charging, chargers need to be replaced (Dell chargers are bad for that) but we haven’t had major problems with any of the dozen or laptops around here.

3. Our newest addition, the Nexus 4 that we purchased from Google Play, locked up this morning but we were able to get it working again after plugging it in to its charger. The battery was at 89% but the on/off button wouldn’t work. We’ll see how it goes from here.


DIY Repairs 

Laptops can be repaired fairly easily. Tablets? Not so much. There are ample resources out there for quick fixes on laptops of all kinds. With a tablet, there is nothing that a user can do except return it to the vendor or manufacturer or, if it’s out of warranty, dispose of it. There are no user serviceable parts on a tablet but even a non-tech person would find it fairly easy to replace a hard drive or add more RAM. For this reason alone we would suggest purchasing a laptop instead of a tablet.

Typing and interaction 

Microsoft came to the tablet party much later than anyone else. Their new Surface is marketed as a competitor to the Apple iPad. Since the introduction of the Surface, there have been major price cuts. Now Microsoft is offering cash to Apple owners who turn in their ‘gently used’ iPads on the purchase of new Surface tablets.

Photo of Surface RT
Microsoft seems to be in the dark about tablets and their users.

We’ll deal with PC and Android tablets here since our readers seem to be more PC people than Apple users. Consider how much actual work you’d be able to do on a tablet. Even the simple task of writing an email would be tough if you’re using a tablet. Sure, you could add a keyboard, USB or Bluetooth depending on which tablet you buy, but that’s  extra cost for something all laptops already have. Microsoft’s ads for the Surface show it with a separate, and optional, keypad and a device to make it sit upright. Laptops already have these things as standard equipment, right?

Screen protectors? Laptops don’t need them, tablets do. A whole new industry has evolved around tablets and mobile devices. You might want a cool bag to carry your laptop in but you sure don’t need a sleeve for it. As far as the screen goes, just close the lid and walk away. Many laptops, including a Lenovo we recently purchased, have water-resistant keyboards, too. No extra protection needed.


We’ve had great luck with our netbooks as far as carrying them around is concerned. A netbook has a hard drive and keyboard, same as a notebook, but doesn’t have an optical (CD/DVD) drive. Tablets, specially the larger ones, are slippery and the screen won’t stand up on its own. We can set our netbook screens at any angle and, when we’re ready to move on, they fold up to half the size they were before. Additionally, tablets are not as light as you might think. The glass screens add a fair bit of weight that a laptop, with a plastic LED/LCD screen does not have.

Photo of Netbook
They are small but not quite this small. Screen size is 10″ on most netbooks.

These are some of our thoughts on laptops versus tablets. Many of you probably use smaller mobile devices such as cell phones or smart phones for your portable computing and social networking but you might be considering something larger. For most of our uses we’d stick to a laptop. As we’ve said before, tablets are toys more than tools, great for photo sharing or social networking but useless (and expensive) for day to day computing. We can get a fully functional laptop for under $300.00, complete with an optical drive and a very large hard drive. Even with the price cuts, Microsoft’s Surface is more expensive.

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How to Buy a Laptop – The rest of the numbers and specs

This is part three of our series on buying a new laptop. We’ve already covered CPU comparisons as well as the meaning of the primary specifications that you’d see in a laptop ad. Today we’re going to look at the secondary specs to give you some idea of what they mean. The big number, the price, is only one of the things you should look at. A low price does not always represent good value. Sometimes, spending just a bit more money can get you a lot more computing power. Here are the links to the previous posts on this topic:

How to Buy a Laptop – Comparing CPUs

How to Buy a Laptop – What do all these numbers mean? 

Take a look at this photo which compares three different laptops:

Photo of Buying a Laptop - The other numbers   1
Something is missing in the middle one. Can you find it?


These specs apply to the laptops that we compared in our last two posts. The things to look at on this comparison, and almost all sites have a comparison setup like this, are these:

Native Screen Resolution – This is where a cheap screen will show up. All three have good resolution but if one had lower numbers, the display would not be as crisp as one with higher numbers.

LED Backlit Display – You should ONLY look at laptops with LED screens. If the spec says ‘LCD’, move on to something else (that includes big screen HD TVs as well). LED screens mean longer battery life, plain and simple, as well as cooler temps and substantially lower power usage. There is no difference in how the screen looks to you so only buy a laptop that has an LED display.

Touchscreen – With Windows 8 and its crazy new features, plus the preponderance of tablets, touchscreen is something that is offered on laptops these days, usually at much higher cost. We can’t see these sense of this so we’d advise to stick to a mouse/touchpad arrangement.

Processor Cores – Four cores is better than two cores, two cores is better than one. Once you’ve checked out the CPUs by reading our previous post, you’ll know all about these specs anyway. Higher speed often means higher power consumption. Unless you’re editing video or recording sound frequently, you don’t need anything extreme here.

RAM Slots – The left and right laptops have one open RAM slot. This means that you could add more RAM later on. The middle laptop has both slots full but it has three times the memory of the other two. If you sacrifice some RAM for a lower price, check to see if there is an open slot so you can add more later on.

Optical Drive –  We think we’re experts, right? When we saw that the middle laptop, the one with all of the great specs, DID NOT have an optical drive, we were shocked. An optical drive, in case you don’t know, is a CD/DVD unit. This laptop, even with all of its delicious specs, does not have one. Make sure you check that the laptop you want has one of these. You can always add an external drive for $20 to $30 but that removes the portability factor. Can you see why you have to make a shopping list AND check the specs before you buy a new laptop?

(Please note that Chromebooks and ‘netbooks’ do not come with an optical drive. No use looking for one that does, NONE of them do. Chromebooks and netbooks are different beasts completely. We’ll do a post on these hybrids later on.)

Built-in Card Reader – Virtually every laptop has a card reader like this. This makes taking the photos from your other mobile devices (phones/cameras) much simpler. Take out the SD/micro SD  card and pop it into your laptop. No wires and no fuss.

Here are more specs to check:

Photo of Buying a Laptop - The other numbers 2
Blah, blah, blah…right? No, there are a couple of important specs here.

We won’t explain all of these since most of them don’t mean much to the average buyer. Here are the ones that we think you should look for:

Bluetooth – This addition would make using a Bluetooth earpiece for conversations on Skype very smooth. It’s not something we would look for but the middle laptop has ‘integrated Bluetooth’. If you use it, you need it. If not, it’s not something we’d add to our shopping list.

Approximate Battery Life/Battery- Number of Cells/Battery Capacity – The hours of use are fairly irrelevant since we don’t know the criteria used but all three of these have decent times shown. The second part, the number of cells, is more important. If you see a good price, make sure they aren’t scrimping on the battery. Dell has recently supplied two cell batteries with their low end laptops. Two cells? That’s not only cheap, it’s just about criminal since very few people look at this spec. The middle spec reads ‘4’ cells, right? The spec that comes next explains why there are only 4, not 6. The middle laptop is sold with a battery that’s over 50% bigger, as far as mAh (milli-amp hours) is concerned. That’s a hefty rating, believe us.

Pre-loaded Operating System – All three have Windows 8, of course. The two on the right use Windows 8 64-Bit. What does that mean to you? Basically, it means the two on the right are better laptops. They have a better CPU that can handle the load that comes with the 64-bit version of Windows. The laptop on the left is under-powered and can only manage the 32-bit version. But, and this is important, the laptop on the far right has only 2 Gigs of RAM. Remember that. Windows 64-bit needs/eats/consumes RAM and, even though it’s offered with 2 Gigs on the laptop on the right, don’t expect it to set any speed records. Your computing will be slow and you’ll be very frustrated while you wait for things to happen. As we said earlier, 4 gigs is a minimum these days, 6 or 8 is what you should look for.

We’re done! Now you’re armed with enough knowledge to make an educated decision when you’re in the market for a new laptop. If we’ve missed something, let us know. If you have questions about anything on this (or any other) topic, make a comment below and we’ll answer as quickly as we can. We love comments, questions, suggestions from our readers.

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How to Buy a Laptop – What do all these numbers mean?

This is part two in our series on buying a new laptop. We talked about the brains of the computer last time, the CPU, showing you how to compare one CPU to another. If you missed it, check that post out here: How to Buy a Laptop – Comparing CPUs . This time we’re going to take a look at some of the other numbers that you might see in an ad for laptop computers.

Here’s a typical ad:

Photo of Buying a Laptop    1
If you’re looking for a laptop, you’ll be seeing lots of ads like this.


We’ll do some comparisons in our next post but let’s take a look at some basic information that the little blurb beside each computer contains.


1. Screen size – all three of these laptops are 15″, actually 15’6″ measured diagonally across the screen, not including the plastic bezel around it. In our opinion, this size is the minimum for an everyday working computer. By this we mean a laptop that can be used for just about anything; writing, photo editing, video processing, etc. If all you do on a computer is email and Facebook, you can get by with something smaller but, keep this in mind, smaller doesn’t mean cheaper. The best prices by far are in this size category, barring special deals at certain times of the year.

2. Brand Name – While you may not recognize all the names you see, laptops made by the large vendors (Lenovo, Acer, HP/Compaq, Dell, Toshiba, Asus, Sony) are all quite dependable and offer at least a year’s warranty, sometimes with product pickup and repair. Additionally, you can always purchase warranties that extend the basic one year period to two or three years. We don’t recommend this but you might like the security that this offers.

3. Color – Believe it or not, this actually makes a difference to some buyers. Sometimes there is a premium to be paid for a cool, modern color. You’re on your own here. Black, silver, pink or blue is fine with us, just as long as it doesn’t cost more.

4. CPU – As we showed you last time, you can quickly compare CPUs. In this case, all three are made by AMD. It stands to reason that the laptop for $349 has a faster processor but that’s not always the case. It’s better to check out the speed, cache, etc. using the technique we showed you before.

5. HDD – This is storage capacity, sometimes mistakenly called ‘memory’. In computer terms, memory is temporary, storage is, more or less, permanent.  When you save something ‘to your hard drive’, it is permanent, at least until you delete it. The numbers in the ad, 320 GB or 750 GB in the ad shown above, translate to 320 gigabytes or 750 gigabytes of storage. To put these numbers into perspective, a movie that you can download using a torrent is usually 700-1200 megabytes. An mp3 music file might average 5 megabytes, sometimes more if the quality is better. The larger hard drive in the ad would be able to hold about 500 movies or 100,000 mp3s, allowing room for the Windows operating system and other files. For the average user, 320 GB is just fine but if you can get 500 GB or more for a little bit higher price, it’s something to consider. In the ad shown, the 750 GB hard disk drive is well worth the extra money.

6. RAM – Officially, RAM is memory. How much memory do these laptops have? The cheaper ones have only 2 GB of RAM while the $349 laptop has 6 GB. How does this relate to anything? Today’s norm is 4 GB of RAM. This number gives you relatively fast computing with some additional room for extra tasks. 2 GB these days is ridiculous. Yes, you can always add more RAM but that just costs extra money. You’d be better to take the 6 GB at $349 and be done with it. As to how RAM affects your daily computing, think of it this way: more RAM lets your computers think about more things at the same time. If you are writing something in Word, listening to tunes on iTunes and browsing Facebook in your browser, the paltry 2 GB of RAM would slow your computer down to a crawl. With 6 GB, you wouldn’t be taxing your laptop at all, it would be just as fast as ever.

7. OS – Just about every computer you see for sale runs Windows 8. (Macs, of course, run the Apple OS.) At this point, you don’t know which version of Windows 8 comes with each laptop so this information is fairly useless. If one of these listed Windows 7 as its OS, we’d say buy it immediately! Fewer and fewer Windows 7 laptops are around these days but we do consider it a superior operating system. More on this in our next post.

These are the basics, hopefully helping you narrow down your search for a new laptop. Next time we’ll delve further into some of the obscure numbers and terms that you’ll see in the ads. Stay tuned!

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