Old Dog. New Tricks? New computer for kid...buy something I grok or not?
November 3, 2013 6:27 PM   Subscribe

The 6th grader has to have a new computer. (We homeschool and half of the kiddo's classes are online.) I was very happy with the Dell that had Windows 7 (stolen out of the car this morning.) Problem: I am the IT department. I fear the windows 8 learning curve. Do I get the windows 7 laptop (super-easy for me) or do I get the 8 and the touchscreen because that's the newest tech?

All I know is this: I should buy it from the Lenovo outlet (Thanks to the Green!) But I have no clue what laptop to get and the operating system thing has me on edge. I don't have a lot of time to sink into a high learning curve if I have to troubleshoot things. But I think she probably shouldn't be held back because she has a dinosaur parent who is scared of 8.

This is what the computer will be used for:

(1) Sketch-up (the young'un is a serious CAD junky and always complained the Dell i3 was too slow. (Maybe also Maya in her future?)
(2) Online classes (the kind that require a webcam and use blackboard or electa and have 20 kids in them.)
(3) Word and excel
(4) Some video and video editing and photoshop (the kid dabbles)
(5) Lots of skype and spotify

--Budget = under 600, but under 500 is better. (But buying through the outlet so should be able to get something with a higher original price tag?)

So, big questions:
(a) Windows 7 or 8?
(b) Touchscreen or not?
(c) What Lenovo should I keep a lookout for on the outlet store-- Hive Favorites?
(d) Other things I should think about that I haven't thought of?
posted by gravitypanda to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer to this other than (d): If your child already spends a lot of time on the computer and already dabbles in the programs you've listed, the learning curve for a new OS will likely be significantly lower than you think it is.

I'm not sure if you have to do a lot of troubleshooting already (?), but if not I wouldn't worry about how easily you can navigate the new OS.
posted by Autumn at 6:43 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got a computer with Windows 8, installed Classic Shell and now I forget I have a Windows 8 computer unless I bring the mouse too far into the top left hand corner. Then there's lots of cursing until I get back to my normal desktop.
posted by Anonymous at 6:48 PM on November 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the reply Autumn, It seems like it, right? If it were for child-the-younger I wouldn't think a second about the choice. That kid pushes every button until it all makes sense. But child-the-elder really isn't like that-- learning sketchup, etc. has really been a function of being completely into creating representations of the things she imagines. So, typically, I am quite a busy IT dept. Maybe getting the Windows 8 means I am done being tech support though-- tough love style :-)
posted by gravitypanda at 6:52 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd say go with Windows 8. It's undoubtedly the future of the Windows OS and you might as well get used to it now.
posted by jeffch at 7:34 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Better now than later. I did modify mine to look like Windows 7, but you can let your kid sort it out. Tech support for 8 is not bad, and you'll get used to it, too.

No touchscreen--it adds to the price, and the value added for a laptop is low (the typical laptop angle is poor for touchscreen usage).

Black Friday is coming up.
posted by anaelith at 7:46 PM on November 3, 2013

Best answer: a) Windows 8 (especially after the 8.1 upgrade) is not significantly different enough from Windows 7 to really cause you trouble in the troubleshooting department. If you know how to search for apps/control panels/etc from the start menu/screen, the experience is largely the same despite the new start screen UI. You can still get to the classic control panel, and plenty of utilities exist that make Windows 8 more like Windows 7 if it really bothers you. In 8.1 you can easily boot to the desktop, and turn off mouse hot corners that trigger the metro navigation stuff. There is a small curve, but if you're used to 7, 8 is not the major departure that hype would have you believe, especially if you plan to use mostly desktop apps.

The one caveat to this is to make sure you are not buying a Windows RT device. They are cheaper for a reason: they cannot run desktop windows apps, only metro apps.

b) If you or your kid are really interested in jumping in with the newer metro-style apps, then a touchscreen will generally make interaction with them feel more natural, and I like having a touchscreen on my Windows 8 laptop. I wouldn't call it a requirement though.

c) My laptop is a work-issued ASUS Zenbook Touch, and I'm not sure what the Lenovo lineup looks like for your price-range. Looking at the outlet site, I see a few models in your price range that I know support touch, so I wouldn't completely rule it out at your range, but hopefully someone with more experience with the recent Lenovo lineup can chime in here.

d) If your kid enjoys drawing (you mentioned Photoshop so it seems like it could be something that interests them) you might consider looking for something with a digitizer in the screen that can be used with a stylus (like the Surface Pro, for instance), but those do tend to up the cost quite a bit. I'd be very surprised if you can find something in your price range that does it.
posted by Aleyn at 8:02 PM on November 3, 2013

Best answer: Fellow homeschooler here. I'm on day 4 of a new Windows 8 laptop, and my high-school senior is about six weeks into a desktop with Win 8. (Except, in this house, the new computer is *mine* - my 6th grader is getting mine with 7, so we'll all be on either 7 or 8 laptops - finally!)

TL;DR summary is last paragraph; this middle is *why*:

I'd delayed for quite a while on choosing my new computer, seriously considering sticking with 7, because of all the complaints about 8. When my 12th grader was almost ready to make his desktop purchase, it finally occurred to me to wonder, just what IS it that people don't/didn't like about Win 8?

After asking Google, it seemed that most of the issues stem from dislike of the start page. So my son went with Win 8. For him, it's been pretty much a non-issue. Granted, he's teaching himself programming, but his trouble-shooting skills are mediocre when it comes to the OS and "the way things normally work on the computer itself". (I think it's mostly due to his OS experience with installing, uninstalling, options and etc are limited to Win 7 and 8.) He hasn't gotten around to installing 8.1 yet, just because he thought it would do it automatically, and he hasn't had time since I informed him a couple days ago where and how to do it.

Me, now... when mine arrived, I immediately connected it to the network and started updating. Decided I was going to update all the way to 8.1 since that was my eventual intention anyway. For a while, I was puzzled about the control panel was, finally asked the kid, who showed me the round-about way, and then Googled, which told me just to type it while on the start page.

Of course, it was too easy. And that's what I'm finding with pretty much everything. It's set up to be intuitive and easy to use - and it is. No wonder it's driving people nuts; they're trying too hard.

Things I've encountered the last couple of days:
- It kept switching programs on me, and I couldn't figure out what was causing it. Until I realized that 1) it's set up that a swipe from the left onto the trackpad switches programs. Expected behavior, makes sense for it to be set up that way - however, my habit of resting my hand on the left side of the trackpad, plus the trackpad being slightly further left than my previous laptop, was causing it to switch when I didn't expect it to.
- I went round in circles and finally looked it up - when I installed some programs, shortcut icons were put on the desktop (Scrivener, Evernote). Dandy. I pinned them to the taskbar, deleted the shortcut, just like I normally would. MS Office 365, I installed, and then could.not.find anywhere. No shortcuts. Eventually occurred to me to search for it, like I mentioned above. It was definitely there - but where were its icons? Um, well, much to my embarrassment - I'd already enlisted the kid at this point - that start page? Well, there's an arrow that points down. The whole entire list of installed programs is down there somewhere, pretty much the equivalent of the "All Programs".

TL;DR summary: the few issues I've encountered are superficial, I'm absolutely certain my 6th and 8th graders would have no trouble whatsoever adjusting, and it pretty much looks like Win 7 under the hood with some added features. Except, it seems to run *much* faster. Given, some of that is because this is a quad-core compared to the dual-core Win 7 machine... but overall, it feels more like they went through and fine-tuned Win 7, rather than changed it completely. As for the tech details, I'd have to say I'm not finding much difference.
posted by stormyteal at 8:04 PM on November 3, 2013

Best answer: I'm saying windows 8, but not for the reason you probably think.

It's because nearly all of the laptops out there shipping with windows 7 are pretty outdated now, and they're usually selling for similar prices or even more than higher performance laptops shipping with windows 8.

As for what models to avoid, i'd say the junky 15in 1366x768 models like anything in the G series. I've had to service laptops from various brands that meet that description. They're all nearly identical inside, and pretty much all built like shit. A couple younger kids will knock one of those to pieces pretty quickly.(especially since several drunken college student/just out of college friends of mine knocked them to pieces in a year+/- even being really careful with them in a "i can't afford to replace this if it breaks" way). The screens are also very low quality, have muddy colors and look washed out, and are just generally "blurry" and not great looking like cheap netbook screens.

What to get, well you're in the freaking sweet spot for lenovo outlet if you're willing to spend 5-600. That gets you firmly in to thinkpad territory and those machines are the opposite of the crappy lenovos. They're built like freaking tanks. I bought one for my mom a few years ago and it still looks brand new. This is a person who annihilated several lesser laptops i got her. The hinges are solid stainless steel, among other things. I can proudly say as someone who's repaired hundreds and hundreds of machines that i've only heard of two thinkpads having

My number one recommendation would be split between either a Y series(there was one of the metal ones of those with dual gpus for $600 on there recently. bonkers deal.) or a thinkpad T series, or really any thinkpad you see in your price range on there that isn't the tiny x131/x131e. Several of the models i saw in browsing through had quadro GPUs which is pretty ridiculous for that price. That's a workstation graphics card that would seriously excel at any kind of sketchup/3d modeling since it's built for that, and also handle light to moderate gaming no problem. The Y series ideapads are gaming machines and would just handle anything. Several of the ones i've seen in your price range also came with quad core CPUs. They aren't built as nicely as the thinkpads, they just focus on power. Thinkpads are all about reliability, sturdiness, and running quietly.

But yea seriously, no 15in 1366x768 machines. Eww. You might have to wait for a while to find one in your price range that avoids that problem but really, camp out.
posted by emptythought at 8:08 PM on November 3, 2013

Best answer: I would go for 8 since you'll get ongoing Microsoft security updates for longer if you do. Like everyone has said, it's easy to make 8 act/look like 7 if you fear the learning curve. I use Start 8, it's $5, but there are a plethora of free options too.

Given your stated needs, you and kid will probably not spend a lot of time in the Metro interface. Because of that I wouldn't bother with the touchscreen. It'll be tough for you to get a machine with decent specs and a touchscreen for less than 500. Instead I'd spend money on at least i5 processor (for video editing and photoshop, it'll come in handy).
posted by katyggls at 8:08 PM on November 3, 2013

I bought my children a desktop rather than a laptop for longevity reasons. I avoided the touchscreens simply because it adds (greatly) to the price and they get enough practice with that technology elsewhere.

Nthing that Windows 8 is the way to go for the OS. My learning curve was about 15 minutes. I was able to get my Mother up and running in about 30 over the phone. The search charm is the greatest thing ever. The only issue I really have with it is the update process. I have auto updates on of course, but I'll find different updates available between the Windows 8 interface and the old style control panel windows update. These have mostly been the optional driver updates though, nothing critical.
posted by Talia Devane at 6:08 AM on November 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone... ordered a Thinkpad today with windows 8. The green saves the day again!
posted by gravitypanda at 3:58 PM on November 4, 2013

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