Laptop recommendation for a new freelance writer?
August 24, 2016 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I just gave notice at my 9-5 advertising job (yay!) to try out the freelance life, but will soon be forfeiting my awesome Macbook pro to the company store (boo!). Therefore, I am in need of a new laptop, STAT.

I'm a writer, so I don't need a lot of bells and whistles—just pretty basic word processing (I can also just use Google docs), web browser and maybe super basic photo editing software (though this is not a requirement by any means). I might also need to view/annotate PDFs, and I'm not sure if Adobe Acrobat or Reader come standard on most devices.
I really don't want to fork out the $$$ for another Mac, so I'd love your recommendations for something affordable, lightweight and zippy that can help me be a kick-ass freelance writer. Thanks in advance!
posted by straycatinthewildwest to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I do a lot of writing, and I use a iPad mini + Logitech keyboard for all my writing requirements. I use Google Docs, Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint and Word, Ulysses, and Scrivener (now that the iOS app finally came out!). Pluses: long battery life and ultra portable. Minuses: screen size can be kinda small to supermultitaskers. But if you're just doing long-form writing, then this setup works.
posted by moiraine at 9:28 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you enjoy working on a Mac, I think it makes sense to get a refurbished Mac from the Apple Store. The cheapest on there now is $750 for an 11" Macbook Air, which is more than you would pay for a PC but seems reasonable for keeping the type of tech environment which you feel comfortable working in. Everyone else might comment and disagree with me, but this is a tool that you are going to be using every single day and it's not worth getting a setup that you may get frustrated with.
posted by aaanastasia at 9:44 AM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a huge Apple/Mac/iStuff fan, and love my MacBook Pro. It's great for everything, but I now only use it for graphics and photography, because...

I bought this Asus Chromebook a year ago, and it has been fantastic. I use it for basically everything besides the aforementioned graphics and photography. The battery life is great. It's very lightweight. Plenty fast at document handling, web browsing, etc. The Chrome plug-in for Microsoft Word online (whatever it's called) works seamlessly. The screen is no MacBook Retina but it's fine for regular stuff including movie watching. (The angle is picky, but it's just for you, so no big deal.) You can save to the cloud, or insert an SD card. The keyboard is small but comfy and easy to type on. $159 is hard to beat.

I honestly am surprised at how much I use it, and how reliable and worry-free it's been.
posted by The Deej at 9:53 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I say this as someone who went freelance and now owns a small agency.

Don't skimp on your tools. This is a tax writeoff so take advantage of it. Get best damn computer you can afford. Personally I've never found any laptop that beats a Mac for usability and build quality YMMV. Something like this 13" MacBook Air is a pretty damn good deal. (get the larger monitor too if you can afford it)
posted by bitdamaged at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was in a similar position to you-- I used a MacBook Air at work, and had to decide on a replacement when I went out on my own. The main software I use on a daily basis includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

I chose, and have been very happy with, a 13" ASUS ZenBook 305. It's extremely thin and lightweight, which is great for working while travelling, bringing along to a coffee shop, running a presentation, etc. It's also been zippy and responsive.

Good luck with your new venture!
posted by misspettigrew at 10:28 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a professional marketing copywriter, and I am fully invested in Chrome OS. I have a Dell 13 Chromebook and an Asus Chromebox (a small formfactor desktop machine). Both are powered by Intel chips and have the maximum amount of RAM. It's possible to export GDocs reviewing notes to Microsoft OneDrive, and vice versa. For annotating PDFs I use Xodo.

Basically, Chromebooks are like low-rent versions of a Macbook: they just *work* (as long as you pay attention to RAM) and last for hours and hours (work anywhere, never have to worry about a charger... ). They have SSD's, which means they start up in literally a couple of seconds.

If you're worried about connectivity, remember that you'll need connectivity with a conventional laptop, anyway. The city where I live and work has a very good WiFi hotspot network, so I never worry about connectivity.

As an added attraction, besides offering a ton of cloud storage, Chromebooks also have (I think) a great deal that gives you access to complementary onboard Wifi on some flights. That's awesome. I once worked all the way from Seattle to Tokyo.

Buying a Macbook or other premium machine does make sense, since you do want to invest in quality tools, but I've gone the other way: if either of these machines crap out it's relatively cheap to replace them, and I never have to worry ever about losing my data... it's all stored online.

While you can use capital purchases against taxes, it's important to realize that typically capital purchases are amortized over 3 years; if you buy a $1000 laptop, you'll be able to offset a portion of that $1000 against taxes over three years (not the lump sum in the first year).

Anyway, as a writer, most of the time I'm interacting with online tools anyway: WordPress or some other CMS, MailChimp, social media platforms. So having even a moderately powerful machine is overkill. I do have a Windows laptop with a dedicated GPU for video editing, though. But I rarely use it.
posted by My Dad at 10:34 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can also just use Google docs

Chromebook it is then.
posted by flabdablet at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't assume you'll be able to rely strictly on Google Docs. Depending on the type of work, some clients may insist upon Word, especially if they are the track changes/group edit types of clients. Others may want you to work in InDesign or some other program of their preference. Make sure whatever you buy can handle unexpected future needs.
posted by sardonyx at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Track-changes in Word is compatible with review notes and comments in GDocs. I really try to get my clients to *not* use .docx, especially as email attachments. It's super inefficient.

You can actually save a GDoc as .docx and send, anyway. If you are using Dropbox (not everyone is comfortable with Google Docs), Dropbox also supports both comments and in-app (desktop) reviewing.

If you are working for enterprise (govt, etc) you are going to need a Windows or Mac machine in order to interact with the intranet.
posted by My Dad at 11:16 AM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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