Spring seems like an appropriate time to start something new, so we're taking a crack at a new weekly column: Ask The Laptop Advisor. Some time ago, we put up a page where visitors could come and ask for advice about buying laptops. We tried to answer a few each week, and we hoped that other visitors could help out with some tips and pointers as well. The page got a much bigger response than we anticipated, and despite our good intentions, it became too tough to keep up with as many as 50 new questions each week (the crew behind Laptop Advisor also runs Digital Advisor, Camcorder HQ, and Digital Camera HQ, so we keep busy). Most of them were just repeats of older questions that we'd already answered anyway. Others were beyond our scope of knowledge, and best left answered by customer support. That page is now an epic eyesore.
But the concept still has potential to be helpful. So we're trying a new format: Rather than giving several half-baked answers, we're giving the classic mailbag format a go. Each week, we'll pick one question, and give it a proper, thought-out answer. Here's to hoping that it'll be a more fruitful endeavor.
For our first installment of Ask The Laptop Advisor, we're pulling a question off the old page. It's one of the most common questions we get asked, one of the easiest to answer, and hopefully one that will help a lot of folks out there.
This week's question comes to us from Rose Hillman: "I am looking for a laptop for a first time user who has never used one before. Could you suggest one?"
We will certainly try. As you may have guessed, Rose, there are dozens of laptops we could recommend. Since most new laptops these days run one of two operating systems (PCs run Windows 7 and Macs run OS X Snow Leopard), most of them are equally easy to use (or hard, depending on your perspective). In other words, new Macs run like new Macs, and new PCs run like PCs.
As much as it pains us to say it, one system is not superior to the other. All of us here at Laptop Advisor prefer Macs, but more than 85 percent of computers run some edition of Windows, and plenty of folks are happy with their PCs. It's a matter of personal taste, and more importantly, of budget. The cheapest Mac out there, the Macbook, goes for a smooth $1,000. PCs start at $300, and it's easy to find a great PC somewhere in the $500-$700 range.
We could suggest any number of laptops, but for simplicity's sake, we'll highlight the Asus UL80JT. It's a new-ish model with a 14-inch screen, 9-hour battery, and a thin profile with a light body. That's a great carry-anywhere physical build to start with.
We won't bore you with technical details (check the product page for the full list of specs), but it's a mid-range machine with enough power under the hood to handle any and all everyday tasks. These include: checking email, surfing the web, watching DVDs, watching YouTube, watching NetFlix, watching pretty much any video besides the highest-quality HD content, downloading music, listening to music, moving music to your iPod, uploading photos from a digital camera, basic photo editing, sharing photos online, sharing videos online, word processing, spreadsheets/Excel, PowerPoint, studying, procrastinating, playing most games, chatting/instant messaging, video chatting, using Skype, using Facebook...the list goes on and on. This laptop can handle most things that most people do on most any computer. In other words, you don't have to worry whether or not it can handle what you want it to do.
Looking toward the future, the specs are fresh enough that you won't have to upgrade for a few years. It has a two-year warranty, and Asus has a fairly good track record with reliability and customer service. There are horror stories about every brand of laptop, but we actually don't hear Asus' name too often.
Feel free to look at other models, but use these specs as a guide in your search. We hope that this helped.
~ The Laptop Advisor
Do you have a question for the Laptop Advisor? Please feel free to submit it in the comments section below, or to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can't send personal responses, but we may select it for next week's column. Cheers.