Overwhelmed with options. Laptop me?
August 17, 2017 1:57 AM   Subscribe

I've determined that there approximately a basquillion and three PC laptop options available for purchase at this time. I only need one. I'm completely overwhelmed, don't know what I need, don't know where to start, don't know much about history, don't know much biology..... wait. That's not right. Anyway, details of what I want to do with the thing inside. Please tell me where to shop, or what to search for, or (in a perfect world!) what specific laptop and where the best price for it is. Thanks!

What I'll be using the laptop for:

* Work. This involves document creation, uploads, downloads, website management, CRM management, webinars, Skype calls, Facebook Live, and other things where I do content creation and customer interaction. I write, I create graphics, I edit, I teach, I coach, I mentor. Definitely need a built in webcam. Built in microphone would be awesome so I can stop wearing stupid looking headsets.

* Interaction with the outside world. I'm basically homebound due to various and sundry medical conditions.

* Netflix and Hulu. Generally not simultaneously.

* Spotify and Pandora. Also not simultaneously.

The only "gaming" I do is playing Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.

Lightweight for travel is a bonus, but I want an actual keyboard I can use to type, since for one of my jobs, I'm a professional writer.

This is going to become my primary computer, since my desktop PC is slowly dying of old age (I think). So sturdyness and comfort will be important. (I have no problem plugging in my keyboard from my PC to type with when I'm at home , but I'm not hauling a full size computer keyboard with me wherever I go. That's just weird, even for me.

Apologies for ramblyness. Like I said before, this has me completely overwhelmed.

In a perfect world, I'm spending less than $200 on this unicorn. $350 is my hard limit, and it had better stand up and dance if I'm going that high. New, used, Amazon, Dell, ebay, your cousin Fred, I'm not going to get picky about the source.

Thank you guys.

Have I mentioned I'm overwhelmed?
Why, yes, I am going to take a Klonopin and go to bed, why do you ask?
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Refurbished Thinkpad. Maybe an X series? Certainly within your budget. Try eBay.
posted by Chairboy at 2:02 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sturdyness and comfort? Good keyboard? Yes, you want a Thinkpad. The X series is very portable and at the same time good for typing (she typed on the keyboard of her X201). Yet, since you're also doing graphics, maybe something a tad larger might suit you better.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:51 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Please stick with the headset! If you talk to anyone with hearing difficulties (or if English is not their mother tongue or if you or they are in a noisy environment, etc.) they'll find it harder to hear/understand you when using a built in mic over a headset.
posted by humph at 2:52 AM on August 17, 2017

No specific recommendations, but you should certainly look into refurbished options to make your budget stretch further because it's not the largest.
posted by jenjen23 at 3:09 AM on August 17, 2017

I came here to say thinkpad , I got here and saw thinkpad , and left reassured that someone mentioned thinkpad. They are the pc equivalent of volvo wagons for college students.

I actually left one on top of the other, I won't say which, drove off, and they both were fine.
posted by epjr at 6:15 AM on August 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

Honestly, what you're asking for and what you're willing to spend are kind of at odds. Nothing cheap is going to last. Nothing sturdy and well-made is going to be cheap.

The Dell XPS line is really, really solid. I recently got an XPS15 at work, and even the unboxing experience was great. Post-going-private Dell is making laptops on par with Apple and the glory days of Thinkpads.

The XPS 13 starts at $800.
posted by uberchet at 6:50 AM on August 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, that's not much budget for what you are looking for. As a comparison, I just did a deep search for a ~$200 laptop and bought this HP Stream 14 for $219 yesterday, but I'm not using it as a primary computer, and I'm not too worried about longevity. The big problems you are going to run into at that price point are:
1) RAM. It is very hard to find a laptop with more than 4GB RAM at $200, and that's already a bit underpowered. In a couple of years, it is going to be very underpowered. Even 8GB RAM is a bit low for a computer that you want to be your main machine for several years.
2) Hard Drive. Your choices at that price are either a small SSD (like 32GB small) or a slow midrange (500GB) HDD. Personally, I'd rather have the small quick hard drive, but that's personal preference. Either way, you are making sacrifices that I wouldn't want to make on my primary computer.

If you can find a refurbished Lenovo or Dell with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD for $350 I'd jump at it, but I wouldn't be confident you will be happy with it long term.

Would you consider a tablet & Bluetooth keyboard instead of a laptop? Or a Chromebook?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:51 AM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

You say this will be your primary computer and that you are a professional writer - if that's the case, I'd recommend upping your budget and thinking about how many years you want your computer to last and how often you'll be using this thing. Laptops at the $200-$300 price point are generally shitty and you'll be replacing it before you know it, meaning overall you're spending more than if you had bought a better one that will just last you longer, you know? I mean, even the Wirecutter laptop recommendation for college students is $700 and their "cheap" laptop suggestion is $500. Anyway just something to think about.

If that's the price you're stuck at then, yes, refurbished is your best option as others suggested.
posted by FireFountain at 9:31 AM on August 17, 2017

Remember, it's also important to get something you will like using. Go to the nearest electronics store and wander around their laptop department, fiddling with keyboards and touchpads, picking them up to see how it would feel to carry them around, and just generally seeing how you like the feel of the machine. Browsing online can be overwhelming; browsing a store provides the opportunity to decide, say, that you do not care for [manufacturer]'s keyboards, or that a 13" screen is way too small, etc. This should help you eliminate a few models and features from consideration.

Definitely check out the Wirecutter pages linked by FireFountain. Wirecutter reviews are comprehensive and each one includes suggestions that will help narrow your search. From their budget laptop guide:
You’ll never be able to find the perfect budget laptop; if it had the perfect specs, it wouldn’t be cheap. But a great budget laptop mixes the best benefits with the fewest drawbacks. Specifically, here are a few minimum requirements you absolutely should not compromise on when buying one. Go higher if you can, but no lower:

Intel Broadwell, Skylake, or Kaby Lake Core i3 processor (but Core i5 is better)
6 GB of RAM (but 8 GB is better)
500 GB hard drive or 128 GB solid-state drive
1366×768 or better screen resolution (commenter note: 1920x1080 is HD, and probably a better option for Netflix & Hulu)

Barring rare exceptions and great deals, you should expect to pay at least $450 for a cheap Windows laptop with those specs. Any cheaper, and you get an underpowered processor and too little RAM, which will make your laptop feel sluggish today and unbearable in a couple of years. Specs worse than those are simply not good enough for a primary computer you’ll be using for an extended amount of time.
As for vendors: MicroCenter stocks a lot of refurbished and open-box items. I don't know what their online shopping experience or warranties are like -- I've only ever purchased new items from their brick and mortar stores -- but my in-store experiences delivered solid selection and customer service. A quick search based on the Wirecutter's budget laptop specs brought back this refurbished Thinkpad, and they have a whole selection of refurbished laptops. Newegg is another good one (link goes to their budget laptop section); broad selection and I've heard good things about their warranties and customer service. Both sites enable easy spec selection and sorting, which will hopefully help you feel less overwhelmed.

I also have to join the pro-Thinkpad chorus. I used to have one for work, and it was the best thing about my job. It was a little heavy, but it was a workhorse, and the keyboard was a pleasure to use. The mousing setup tends to be divisive though -- most, if not all, Thinkpads have a little nub in the home row plus an extra set of mouse buttons above the touchpad so that you can mouse without removing your hands from the keyboard. I loved this feature but know people who hated it. One more thing to play around with at your nearest big-box electronics retailer.

I am not a real IT person, but I play one when my dad calls. Good luck with your search!
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 1:31 PM on August 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

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