(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
Next week brings one of the biggest shopping events of the year: Amazon Prime Day, when the online giant will be offering significant discounts to its “Prime” subscribers on many of its products.
Laptops will certainly be part of the mix, so if you’re a small-business owner it’s a great time to buy. But what should you consider beforehand? Here are some thoughts I have, as well as from a few of my colleagues in the IT industry.
Apple, Microsoft or Google?
Of course, many enthusiasts do have a preference. But, it’s not as important as you think.
Some love the design and user-friendliness of Apple’s Mac OS. Others remain fans of the big manufacturers such as Dell, Lenovo and HP devices that have Microsoft’s Windows 10 installed and are thrilled with the new features that have finally brought the company on par with Apple. A few of my clients enjoy the functionality (and lower price) of Google’s Chromebook, which runs its Chrome operating system.
But in the end, just about everything is cloud-based, so you don’t have to worry as much about using a business application that requires a Microsoft, Apple or Google operating system. All you’ll really need is a browser and an internet connection.
That said, Microsoft still seems to be the most popular choice.
“I prefer laptops running Windows 10,” says Maria Kerridge, the IT manager for Riley Sales in Plymouth Meeting. “From an IT standpoint, the security management is more vigorous along with the threats being flagged sooner than later. Windows 10 Pro is a win-win.” I also prefer Windows-based laptops because they give me more hardware and support choices.
Little things make a big difference
Even though a laptop’s operating system may not be as critical as it once was, certain little things about it may be important in your buying decision. For example, if you’re out for speed, then getting the laptop with the most memory and processing power may be at the top of your list. Or maybe a laptop that converts into a tablet is better for your employees’ productivity.
Philadelphia-based technology consultant Wayd Emma advises his clients to consider how many ports they’ll need to connect other devices, whether a touchscreen is important, and whether the laptop will be used in a non-office environment, such as a warehouse or on the road.
The types of applications to be run on the laptop are also important. “If you are just surfing the internet and using office applications, you shouldn’t need a robust computer,” he said. “But if you are using software like AutoCAD or multitasking with multiple apps, you will need more processing.”
Because my employees move around a lot from client to client (and I travel a lot), my preferences are weight and battery life. As I get older, I find that screen size is becoming more and more important, as well.
Assume a three-year life. Prepare for two
When I buy a laptop, I buy it with the intention of keeping it for three years. Even if it’s working decently after three years I tend to still replace it. Many of my IT colleagues do the same.
We know that, with the right support (and a little luck) these things can last longer. But we also know that strange things start to happen with devices after a while and — especially for business use — it’s best to equip ourselves and our people with the newest technology wherever our budget allows. Maybe I’ve paid a little more over the years by replacing laptops ahead of their expiration, but I believe I’ve recouped this cost by avoiding security and downtime issues that are inevitable with an older machine.
Browse on-site, buy online … maybe
Like a smartphone, a laptop will become a very close companion for you and your employees, which is why being able to touch and play with it before buying is important. The best place to do this is at a retail store, and most of the IT pros I know suggest a visit. Some even prefer buying at a retail store instead of online because of their on-site service.
Others, such as Kerridge, prefer going directly to the manufacturer. “I recommend the Lenovo, Dell or HP sites. They have always fulfilled our laptop needs. Lately, Lenovo has been our winner.”
I like to buy from a firm that also offers service.
Service plans make sense
We hate those annual service plans. But in the end — especially for a business — they make sense.
“You should evaluate any service plans that these vendors are offering, like Microsoft Complete Care and Apple Care,” says Joseph Smith of Comstar Technologies in West Chester. “These warranties extend the support life of the devices and also provide accidental damage in the case of the device being dropped or damaged through normal use. As with any laptop, it’s a mobile device and accidents can happen, so making the investment in these services almost always pays off at some point during the ownership and prevents large repairs costs later.”
So, how much is it?
If you’re just buying a laptop for home use or for your kids, you can probably get away with something for a few hundred bucks. But business laptops, because they require more power, functionality and durability, are going to cost you more.
Apple products are the most expensive but Mac enthusiasts say you get what you pay for. Google Chromebooks are the least expensive but you’re giving up a little on hard-drive space and performance. The price range for a business laptop from the discussions with my IT friends was $800 to $3,000, but they all agreed that you should be able to get a decent, new business device for about $1,000.
So now you know everything important to consider when buying your next laptop for your company. Happy Prime Day — or whatever — hunting.