There are plenty of business decisions more difficult to make than choosing which laptop to buy. At the moment, I can't think of what they are, so I'll have to get back to you.
In the meantime, let's talk about buying a laptop. Even in this distressing economy, we need to upgrade outdated equipment or replace a laptop that has become irredeemable. Deciding that you need a new laptop is just the first step. Now it's time to figure out the who, which, when, where, how much, and how:
- Who are the manufacturers with the most reliable products and the best service?
- Which laptop models consistently get the best reviews?
- When is the best time to buy a laptop?
- Where should you buy it?
- How much should you pay?
- And, perhaps most importantly, how the heck will you pay for a laptop?
This week I'll address the who part of the process. Next week: which models to buy and when. The week after that I'll have tips on where to buy, how much to spend, and how to pay for your laptop.
Who Are the Best Laptop Makers?
Before sorting through the endless array of laptop models, take into account two things: Which manufacturers consistently get good marks for the most reliable products? And which back up their products with the best service and support?
Reliability. In our survey of over 60,000 readers, published in December 2007, only Apple and Lenovo rated better-than-average for "overall satisfaction with reliability." Reliability measures include whether there were problems with the laptop right out of the box or if failed components caused glitches later on. FYI, Averatec was the only vendor to rate worse-than-average in all four of our reliability measures.
In Consumer Reports' June 2008 issue (subscription required), with results based on 75,576 responses, Lenovo laptops had the fewest repairs on average. About 20 percent of Lenovo notebooks required one or more repairs or had significant problems. However, Apple laptops ranked at the bottom of the chart, with 23 percent requiring repairs or having problems. Keep in mind that a 3 percent difference isn't terribly significant. Also, reader surveys aren't consistently implemented from one organization to the next, which can account for some variations, such as the differences between PC World's and Consumer Reports' ratings of Apple laptop reliability.
Service. Apple and Lenovo both topped PC World's reliability and service chart, based on reader input. Lenovo was the only laptop maker to rate above average in all four PC World service categories: Phone Hold Time, Average Phone Service Rating, Problem Was Never Resolved, and Service Experience. (We received too few responses to give Apple a grade in the Phone Hold Time and Average Phone Service Rating categories.
A Consumer Reports tech support survey, based on results from users of 4506 laptops and also published in its June 2008 issue, puts Apple in first place with a reader score of 83 (100 is the top score). Lenovo was in second place, but with a substantially lower score of 66, followed by Dell (60). Hewlett-Packard landed at the bottom with a score of 48.
Adding It All Up
I'm not suggesting that you automatically rule out every laptop maker aside from Lenovo and Apple. Along with reliability and service, there are plenty of other considerations to take into account, such as price, which I'll get into in the next two columns.
Still, it seems wise to me to at least begin your search for a new laptop by browsing Lenovo's and Apple's current offerings. That's especially true if you're not terribly tech savvy and don't have an IT department to back you up.
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Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
Why You Should Consider a Refurbished Product: Only 5 percent of consumer electronics products returned to retailers have malfunctioned, according to a report from Accenture. In most cases, consumers return working products because they mistakenly believe they're broken; they experience buyer's remorse; or they feel the product doesn't meet their expectations, the study concludes.
The report also cites a 2006 study that determined the average U.S. consumer spends only 20 minutes trying to make a device work before giving up and returning it. Many retailers and device makers ultimately resell these returned electronics, labeling them as "refurbished," after first testing them and making any necessary repairs. Keep this in mind if you're laptop shopping, because refurbished portables can save you hundreds compared to the same models sold new.
You read can more tips for saving money on electronics in "Finding Deals on Portable Technology."
Online Storage for Eee Owners: Did you buy an Eee PC 901? If so, Asustek, the laptop's maker, is offering you 20GB of online storage to complement the laptop's internal storage. The online storage is free for one year.
Samsung's Glyde Phone: Samsung's new touch-screen Glyde SCH-u940 for Verizon is easy to use for basic tasks, such as phone calls and messaging. It's worth considering for those who want a touch-screen phone with a great keyboard.
Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. Martin is also author of the Traveler 2.0 blog. Sign up to have the Mobile Computing Newsletter e-mailed to you each week.
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.