Ask the Laptop Advisor: Best Computers for Streaming Movies?

If you'll mostly be consuming rather than creating, open your minds and wallets for tablet computers.
By , Last updated on: 12/3/2014

This week’s question comes in from LilyNYC. Normally I'd hesitate to help a New Yorker, but I'll take mercy since my Red Sox just destroyed the Yankees this weekend. Lily writes:

“I just need a laptop to watch streaming movies online for very long hours. Every day use at home for emails, and web browsing. What brand is best for not overheating and fast. Price range under $600. Please help.”

Buy a tablet. It sounds like you’ll be using your machine to consume rather than create, at least most of the time. That’s what tablets are for: Watching, listening, reading, and gaming. They’re lighter and more compact than laptops, so they’re more comfortable to hold in your hands or rest on your lap than a laptop is.

When most people say “streaming movies” these days, they mean streaming via Netflix Instant. If that’s what you’re doing, get an iPad. At $500, it’s within your price range, and it’s currently the only tablet with a Netflix app (though Android tablets could get an app soon). Netflix’s library is a bit sparse, unless you’re content watching third-tier stoner flicks, slasher films, and action blockbusters with “stars” you’ve never heard of. I kid, of course -- Netflix Instant has a decent selection of cool movies and TV shows, and the selection will improve over time as the production studios learn to let go of their antiquated physical-format-first priorities.

Then there are the other ways to stream movies, ways that are considered “illegal” or “against the law” by international copyright enforcement authorities. I’m not sure how the landscape has changed since I was a broke college student, but way back in 2008 the Web was rife with illegal streaming sites. The downside (aside from the whole stealing thing): Most video streams require Adobe Flash, and iPads don’t support Flash. You’ll need an Android-based tablet. There are a few worthy ones: The seven-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab is OK, though Samsung plans to release a 10.1-inch version soon. Motorola’s Xoom is the premier Android tablet of the moment, but it butts right up against your $600 price limit.

If you’re put off because a tablet isn’t a “real” computer, you might have a point. But ask yourself: How often do I use the “real” potential of my computer? You can still do creative or productive tasks on a tablet when you need to. Simple emailing or messaging is easy. There are downloadable apps for recording music, editing photos (most tablets have built-in cameras), drawing, and the like. Writing long papers or essays is more challenging, but I’ve written articles for this website on my iPad when I’ve needed to.

If you’re still convinced you need a laptop, anything between $350 and $600 these days can easily handle streaming. Enjoy!

Do you have a question for the Laptop Advisor? Please feel free to submit it in the comments section below, or to editorial@digitaladvisor.com. We can't send personal responses, but we may select it for next week's column.

Previous Columns:

5/9: Which Specs Are Important?

4/28: Which Laptops Can Connect to My TV?

4/11: What's a Good Laptop for a Software Developer?

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