Laptop PCs are the ideal tool for working on-the-go, but are increasingly used as a main computer too. A range of different models are available, ranging from ultra-portable “netbooks” with cut-down feature sets to all-singing “desktop replacements” that offer all of the power and functionality of a much larger setup.
When you’re looking to buy a laptop, you should first decide which part of the market to focus on. If you’ll primarily be using the computer in long work sessions at a desk, you’ll need to buy one with a decent-size screen — ideally a 15-inch screen diagonal or more. If, on the other hand, you’ll only be checking the occasional email, you’ll be able to make do with a netbook, saving both a lot of weight and a lot of money.
Also consider what type of screen you’ll want. Many laptops now come with a widescreen aspect ratio (16:9), which is ideal for watching movies. For work, however, some people find that this screen format leads to unused screen space, since websites and documents rarely make use of the additional width. In that case, consider opting for a 16:10 ratio, as found in Apple’s MacBook range or Lenovo’s Thinkpad, for example. Some laptops even have a 4:3-format screen, as was standard just a few years ago, but these are becoming increasingly rare.
The general term “laptop” can be used to refer to a number of classes of small portable computers:
Full-size Laptop — A laptop which measures at least 11 inches across, which is the minimum width to allow a full-size keyboard (a keyboard with the minimum QWERTY key layout, which is at least 13-1/2 keys across that are on three-quarter (0.750) inch centers, plus some room on both ends for the case). The first laptops were the size of a standard U.S. “A size” notebook sheet of paper (8-1/2 x 11 inches), but later “A4-size” laptops were introduced, which were the width of a standard ISO 216 A4 sheet of paper (297 mm, or about 11.7 inches), and added a vertical column of keys to the right and wider screens.
Netbook — A smaller, lighter, more portable laptop. It is also usually cheaper than a full-size laptop, but has fewer features and less computing power. Smaller keyboards can be more difficult to operate. There is no sharp line of demarcation between netbooks and inexpensive small laptops; some 11.6″ models are marketed as netbooks.
Ultra-thin Laptop — A newer class of laptops which are very thin and light.
Tablet PC — these have touch screens. There are “convertible tablets” with a full keyboard where the screen rotates to be used atop the keyboard, and “slate” form-factor machines which are usually touch-screen only (although a few older models feature very small keyboards along the sides of the screen.)
Rugged — Engineered to operate in tough conditions (mechanical shocks, extreme temperatures, wet and dusty environments).