What’s the Best Laptop for Travel?

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The question of which laptop to chose is something that most tech-savvy people will go through at some point in their life, but choosing a laptop to take traveling opens up a whole new series of questions and forces us to rethink our needs.

Choosing a laptop computer is not an easy task, as the technology is always moving forwards and today’s state-of-the art machines will be seen as out of date by next year (meaning the ‘best laptop for travel’ is always changing and will be different for everyone).

Because of this (combined with the fact that everyone’s needs are different), it would be unwise of me to simply point you in the direction of one specific laptop.

Instead, we’ll be trying to break down what makes a good travel laptop, taking into account your requirements and preferences so that you can go into the marketplace with confidence and a strong idea of what you want.

Assess Your Needs

Before thinking about buying a laptop computer it’s a good idea to think about your requirements for it.

Laptops for TravelWhat are you buying it for? To do work while you’re away or to simply stay in touch with friends and family?

What computer programs do you intend to use? The most basic needs of most travelers are an email client (such as Microsoft Outlook Express), a web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome) and a word processor (such as Open Office or Microsoft Word).

Do you need to run any other programs (such as video games or music recording software) that might require a fast processor, lots of virtual memory or a video or sound card?

Do you need a CD/DVD drive so that you can backup your photos/work and so that you can watch movies while you’re traveling?

The ‘best laptop to buy’ is subjective, and it’s personal to you, so start by making a list of everything that you need it to do and what features you require. This will enable you to instantly remove all of the laptops that don’t meet your requirements from the equation.

Laptop Vs. Notebook Vs. Netbook – What’s the Difference?

You might have heard the terms ‘notebook’ and ‘netbook’ before and wondered what the difference between them and a ‘laptop’ is (or if there is any at all).

Click to find out the difference between laptops, notebooks and netbooks.

To put it simply, netbooks are regarded by many as the best laptops for travel as they’re extremely small and light and have an amazing battery life.

The main problem with them, however, is the lack of a CD/DVD player and the tiny screen and keyboard (making it occasionally difficult to type if you have large hands/fingers). In addition to this, they generally only have very basic processors so you can run into problems if you try to run some more intense programs on them.

Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Laptop

Laptop Make/Brand
If you’ve chosen to get a PC, there’s a whole host of brands out there to choose from – such as Dell, Acer, Sony, Toshiba, HP, etc.

It’s always worth spending a little bit more to get a laptop made by a reputable and recognized brand, as you’ll appreciate the extra reliability and performance later on.

In my experience, Dell, HP and Toshiba are the best brands for travelers, although Toshibas can often be a little over-priced. The reason these three brands stand out are not just because they’re well-made and reliable, but because they’re common around the world, meaning finding replacement parts while traveling is possible.

Size
One of the most important things to consider when choosing a laptop computer is the size you want. Laptops are ‘measured’ by screen size, so a 14” laptop has a screen that’s 14” long (measured from the bottom left corner to the top right corner).

Widescreen laptops are very popular at the moment, as they’re great for watching movies, but they do take up a lot of space and are particularly heavy.

Unless you’re renting an apartment abroad (meaning you’ll be staying in the same place for extended period of time) I would strongly advise against buying widescreen laptops as they’re just too impractical.

That being said, if you plan to use your computer regularly or to do any serious work on there, you don’t want to go too far the other way – to the point where your laptop starts to resemble a pocket calculator! 12” to 14” screens are a good size to aim for.

Weight
All other things being equal (or relatively equal), the best laptop for traveling is the one that weighs the least – simple as.

Buying a laptopRemember that you’ll be carrying it around with you A LOT, so even a tiny reduction in weight will make a big difference in the long-term.

When comparing the weights of different laptops or notebooks, remember to factor in the accessories that come with it (such as the charger/power lead and any external devices).

One great way to reduce the weight of your laptop is to take the battery out and leave it at home (as it’s by far the heaviest part). This can only be done; however, if you’re planning on solely powering your computer via the mains (meaning you’ll need your power lead plugged into a socket and connected at all times).

Internet connectivity and WiFi
WiFiUnless you’re just planning on using your laptop to journal your traveling experiences, it’s highly likely you’ll want access to the internet.

Most laptops and netbooks have wireless internet accessibility built in; allowing you to connect to any available WiFi in range. Most laptops will also have an Ethernet port which allows you to connect directly to the internet (i.e. your modem) via a cable.

Battery life
Having a long-lasting battery is a massive bonus when traveling, as being able to use your laptop anywhere is such a convenience.

Consider replacing your battery (if it’s old) or buying a second battery before you leave to maximize usage time. Be careful when buying batteries from third parties (as opposed to the brand of your computer) as using them can sometimes invalidate your warranty.

Netbooks are well known for their outstanding battery life (as I mentioned earlier), which is part of the reason why they’re a real favorite amongst world travelers.

Warranty
Most expensive electronic items that you buy (such as a laptop computer) will come with a warranty, buy often extended warranties are available (at an extra cost) and are usually a good idea. If you’re traveling long-term, however, extended warranties become useless as you can’t usually use them while you’re abroad.

It’s important to remember also that not all warranties cover worldwide use, so be thorough in your research.

Laptop Hardware – What You Need to Look For

We’ve already discussed the basic things you need to look for (such as size, weight, etc), but it’s worth considering some more technical aspects when choosing a laptop or a netbook as they can affect the price (better hardware = higher price) and because you’ll need certain specifications to run certain programs.

MicrochipsHard Drive
The hard drive is where all of your data (i.e. your files) are stored. If you’re planning on taking lots of photos and storing them on your computer it can be worth investing in a larger hard-drive. You might also have lots of films on your computer (that you want to take with you), so factor this into the decision. Most films take up around 0.75 gigabytes in hard disk space.

The ‘average’ hard-drive size at the moment is between 160 gigabytes and 250 gigabytes. Anything between these figures will be more than enough for most trips.

Processor
The processor is the ‘hamster wheel’ inside your computer that runs everything, and is measured these days in Gigahertz (Ghz). The faster your processor, the faster your computer can run. You typically won’t need a fast processor if you’re just browsing the web, but more intensive programs (such as Photoshop and video games) benefit from faster processors. The best thing to do is usually just to go with the default option, which typically ranges somewhere between 1Ghz and 2.5+Ghz.

Virtual Memory
Most people often confuse ‘memory’ with ‘disk space’. The more memory (i.e. RAM) your computer has, the more programs/processes you can run at any one time.

Think of virtual memory as the amount you can juggle at once, and disk space as the amount of juggling balls you can store in a box. You might be able to store 20 balls in your box, but you may only be able to juggle 3 at a time.

Thankfully, RAM is relatively inexpensive these days. Aiming between 2Gb – 4Gb of RAM is a good target.


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  1. Laptop Vs. Notebook Vs. Netbook – What’s the Difference?




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