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What do I need to get?

posted Jul 13, 2011, 3:34 PM by Chris Temples
Your local electronics store is a little crowed these days.  There are desktops, laptops, netbooks, chromebooks, tablets, smartphones, eReaders and the trusty old iPod/Touch.  Choosing between them all can be a very confusing task even for the technology inclined.  Worry no more a this handy guide will help guide your decision.  

    The Desktop is the staple of the computer world.  Desktops were the number one selling type of computer until 2005, when they were finally beat out by laptops.  This doesn’t mean that desktops are on the outs, though.  They are still very popular and have some distinct advantages over other forms of computers.  The biggest advantage desktops have over other forms of computers is they are easily upgradable.  If you can’t play the latest games all you need is a trip to your favorite computer supply store, and you can have a all new system.  A downside to this upgrade-ability is the fact that desktops are large.  Depending on your setup, a desktop can be very loud.  Due to their size they are not portable.  Prices for desktops start at around a few hundred dollars and go up from there. Usually a desktop is cheaper then comparable laptop. 
    Right now the desktop is aimed at the PC enthusiast who likes to  tinker.  However, if you have no real reason to use your computer outside the office a desktop is one of the better ways to go.
Laptops are the up-and-coming computer.  They can be just as powerful as a desktop, but have the added benefit of portability.  A laptop’s portability comes at a price.  Laptops cannot be easily upgraded.  If you laptop starts to get a little sluggish the only you can do is go get a new laptop.  The portability of a laptop is limited by it’s battery.  Current laptops seem to average about 4 hours of moderate use.  The amount of battery life you have varies greatly.  Typically the more powerful the laptop the smaller the battery life.  Extra batteries can be purchased and carried but that is just more weight.  The weight of the laptop is also something that must be considered.  a 8lb laptop doesn’t sound that heavy, until you start to lug it around everywhere.  Laptops can also suffer from a lack of ports.  Which means you might not have enough USB ports to plug in everything all at once.  
Despite all of their downfalls the average comptuer user will be perfectly happy with a laptop.  Laptops provide a good balance of performance and price.  While they can’t be upgraded, a good laptop will last several years.  
    Netbook’s are baby laptops.  They first launched in late 2007 as ultra-portable, cheap laptops.  Netbooks typically have screen sizes between 5” and 12”.  In order to cut costs netbooks run on a different type of processor then other laptops and desktops.  Netbooks run on Atom processors.  Atom processors very power efficient, meaning that netbooks get substantially better battery life, then normal laptops.  However, this battery comes with a trade off, Atom processors aren’t as powerful.  Netbooks work well enough for light web browsing and email checking.  Office works well but because of their small size it might be hard to see enough.  The one thing a netbook will not do is, high quality video.  Their Atom processors just do not have enough processing power to play most videos.  YouTube will work but only at the lower quality settings.  Netbooks are a great couch or note taking computer.  Their small size and long battery life are great for times when you will be far away from power plugs.   One thing to keep in mind is that a netbook is not a primary computer.  They are just not powerful enough to make them a primary computer.  They can make a great secondary computer, as long as you understand their limitations.
Netbooks are the laptops younger brother, as much as he tries he will never be able to all that his older brother can.  But, that doesn’t mean he has no uses.  Netbooks are small laptops that have great battery life but lower performance.  Netbooks are great companion PCs.  
    The Chromebook, a newcomer to the PC market.  Chromebooks were originally developed by Google.  They a netbook that only runs Google Chrome, Google’s web browser.  Side note, if you haven’t tried Chrome yet you really need to.  The best way a Chromebook can be described is via this video. A Chromebook is basically if you took your current web browser and put it in full screen and only used that.  While this may sound crazy at first, the web has evolved and expanded and there really isn’t much you can’t do on the Internet.  Most of the popular email services(Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail)  have great web interfaces.  Microsoft and Google, and others, all have online office suites.  So far the only major limitations of only using the web are, code development, video and photo editing.  However, to the average consumer, only using the web will not be a problem.  I digress, back to the Chrombook.  Chromebook share many of the same benefits of netbooks, such as size and battery power.  They are still running on Atom processors but, are on the latest dual core Atom chips.  This means that Chromebooks will be able to play higher quality video then a netbook.  Chromebooks boot up in under 8 seconds.  That means you can open your computer hit power, and by the time you are ready to sit down the system is on.  That 8 second boot time is only from a complete shutdown.  Chromebooks can be put into a standby state.  The time it takes to turn on from standby is instantaneous.  Since Chromebooks were designed from the ground up they are more secure then you standard computer.  Each time a Chromebook is turned on it runs a check to verify that the system has not been compromised.  If the system has it will automatically download the a clean version of the system and update itself.  This means that you are a lot safer from viruses and spyware.  While Chromebooks have a lot of advantages their are some very serious drawbacks.  Since they are running Chrome there are some files that they simply will not be able to open.  Zip files are one example of this.  There are can be some tricky situations, where a file must first be downloaded then re-uploaded to work.  In other words, you may have to download that email attachment then go to Google Docs and upload it. The biggest flaw with Chromebooks is no Internet means you can’t really do anything with your Chromebook.  While Google has promised offline Gmail and Google Docs as of this writing the don’t exist.Right now there are only 2 manufactures of Chromebooks, Samsung and Acer.  They range in price between $350 and $500.  
Chromebooks are just the web.  They offer super fast boot times and all day battery life.  But, may have trouble with some websites and file formats.  Chromebooks are the perfect family computer.  They allow multiple people to use them without having to worry about losing your data.
    Ahh, the tablet.  Something that didn’t exist, in large numbers, until April 2010.  Now the most well known tablet, the iPad is now a bigger business then Macs.  Tablets are at their hearts just big Smartphones.  That can be both good and bad.  Right now there are 2 main competitors in the tablet market, Apple and Android. Note: Blackberry has a tablet but unless you have a Blackberry it is useless as a standalone tablet. The Playbook doesn’t have native email or calendar applications.  Apple has the iPad2 and Android, to name a few, has the XOOM, Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Transformer.  The Android tablets are mostly identical with few difference.  The full comparison is beyond this post.  Both the iPad and Android versions have 3G and wifi models.  Unless you plan on doing a lot of travel with your tablet a wifi model will work just fine.  The good thing is most of the 3g tablets have pay-as-you go plans.  Back to why you would want to spend half a grand on a slab of glass. Tablets are the perfect couch computers.  They are primarily consumptions devices.  Yes, you can write up an email or two, but do not expect to write up any papers.  I typically use mine when I am watching TV to look up things or get in a quick game of Angry Birds.  Tablets also work surprising well for watching movies(Netflix).  The major tablets have 8+ hours of battery and can last a few days on standby.  Over tablets are a great companion device.  However their price can be the problem.  Tablets start around $499 and go up.  

With tablets great battery, beautiful screens and plethora of applications they are great computers.  Their price can be a barrier to entry.  However once the sticker shock wears off tablets are really a compelling device.  


eReaders are digital version of paper books, or well a library of books.  The two main eReaders are the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.  Each of them have several different models for you to pick from.  The big choices are 3G vs wifi and e-ink vs color.  E-ink is a special type of display that mimics paper.  E-ink is designed in a way that it will not cause eye strain in the way that LCDs will.  But, e-ink can not do color and has a slow refresh rate.  The low refresh rate means you will have a black flash in-between pages, since the screen has to be re-drawn.  The color versions of eReaders do not have this problem but they are just like looking at a computer monitor.  The e-ink versions of the eReaders have several weeks of battery per charge.  This is because e-ink doesn’t need power to maintain itself once it’s drawn.  Once a page is on the screen no power is used until the page is changed.   eReaders do one thing and that’s it, read books.  While they may have web browsers using them is a lesson in patience and perseverance.  While there is some debate on if they have a purpose the fact that Amazon and Barnes and Noble have both sold millions of them says they have a purpose.   Personally if you want to get a eReader skip the color ones and get the Kindle or Nook with e-ink.  If you really want a color eReader get a tablet.