A number of years ago, a friend of mine quipped that "the computer you really want always costs $5,000." Over time, the cost has come down, and you can certainly buy a high-end laptop for less than $2,000 today. But the point of the joke is still true. Unless money is absolutely no issue for you, you will have to make same trade-offs such as
Faster CPU or longer battery life
Lighter weight or less expensive
Bigger and better display or less cost
For the most part, these choices will depend on your wallet. But a mobile laptop is a specialized computer, and some of the trade-offs really depend on how you will use the system.
For me, it is extremely important to have a lightweight, small machine, but I also wanted a reasonable size keyboard. I care more about the size, weight, and keyboard usability than anything elseincluding cost and screen size. So my choice in a mobile computer will be dictated by my preferences. The important thing here is to know yourself.
The general bottom line is do an assessment of what really matters to you, and purchase accordingly (see the following sidebar for more tips on this topic).
What Really Matters
As I've noted, you'll have to make the final decision on what's really important to you in a mobile Wi-Fi laptop. Are you looking for a general-purpose mobile computer at modest price, or do you want a model with a really wide screen? Are you looking for the longest possible time operating on battery power, or do you need a lot of computing power for running complex programs?
To get another viewpoint on how to make this decision, I asked a friend of mine who is an expert consultant and has advised thousands of computer purchasers for her words of wisdom. Here's what the expert says:
Buy a well-known name brand, such as Dell, IBM, Toshiba, HP/Compaq, or IBM. (You can certainly buy good equipment made by other vendors, but these four are among the most consistently reliable.)
Buy new. If you are trying to choose between a used laptop and a new one, buy new if you can afford it. Mobile computing technology is advancing quickly. This year's new laptop is a lot better than last year's model, especially when it comes to LCD screen technologycurrent generation laptop displays are brighter and sharper and have more vibrant colors. Also, laptops are easily damaged. A used system might have been dropped or bumped hard enough to damage critical components such as the hard drive. However, there is no way to tell from the outside. To make a long story short, buy new.
Don't be too cheap. You can expect a good piece of equipment to last a long time, so buy one that is rugged and with enough power.
It's fine to buy a cute computer, but you don't need to fall in love with it at first site. In other words, don't buy a computer just because it has the cutest form factor.
Buy a Centrino-based laptop. Look for the Intel Centrino logo (see Figure 2.1); it will be a sticker on the palm-rest or on the manufacturer's literature. The battery life improvements made possible by Centrino (up to four hours on a single charge with many models, as many as six hours with others) is strong enough justification on its own. Then, add the convenience and performance of built-in Wi-Fi and your decision is a no brainer.
Figure 2.1. When buying a laptop, look for the Intel Centrino logo.
Ergonomics are important. Buy a model with a screen you like to look at and a keyboard and pointing device (track pad or stick mouse) that are comfortable for you to use.