Weight and Size
There are dozens of shapes, sizes and weights now. These are referred to as “form factors” – generally there are:
“Ultra portables”, “Subnotes” or “Ultrabooks” – these are small, light and often have very good battery life but lack expandability, ports, processing power and may compromise in usability too. They suit people who will carry them around a lot – they can be discrete and sleek and are considered “fashionable” by some. If you want to use a laptop in a café, on a train, at a meeting, etc. then this is a good option but be aware; they often can’t be expanded (e.g. most won’t allow you to add more memory) so be careful to not “under-buy” (buying something too low in specification, e.g. with too little memory).
Larger “ultrabooks” – these often have a larger screen and usually are a bit heavier but still try to remain thin. They sometimes have more ports and a larger keyboard too – they are for those who want thin and light but want a screen that is easier to read. These typically go up to around 2kg in weight (the upper-barrier is hotly debated, some think no more than 1.8kg is acceptable). Sometimes these can be more expandable however many still aren’t.
Conventional laptop – this is the most common and is usually the most diverse category. They can be cheaper as they’re easier to build – they allow for expandability (upgrading hard drive, adding memory, etc.) and can also be built with more powerful parts; they often have screens that range form 14.1” to as high as 16”, they can weight as much at 3.5kg typically. Again this isn’t a hard and fast rule – it’s a marketing designation afterall. These suit a lot of people – they are easier and more natural to use, many carry bags suit them well and they can still be used in many environments (e.g. cafes) without too much problem but you have to be a bit more careful in placement, etc. They also tend not to have battery life that is as good – this is usually due to larger screen size and more powerful components, adding a lot more battery to service this greater power draw makes them too heavy to carry comfortably.
Large laptops (desktop replacement) – these usually have more powerful processors, larger hard drives, can take more memory and have larger screens. They often have larger keyboards and weigh much more; some are considered to be “transportable” rather than “portable” as they can weight more than 4.5-5kg, sometimes even more than this. These typically spend their lives deskbound – they are often bought by someone who would otherwise have bought a desktop and aren’t often moved around (though some are popular with consultants wanting a larger desktop machine in the workplace). There are some very cheap versions which are low-end, low powered machines with large screens; these suit those who want a screen that’s large and easy to read. Most however are “higher end” machines which have more powerful components, special sound systems and more powerful graphics and CPU; they tend to be priced higher as a result. Battery life is typically very poor; they often have an hour or less in real terms but this doesn’t usually bother owners too much as they’re rarely far from a powerpoint.
Gaming laptops – these are often at the top end of the market and can be very heavy as they contain very powerful components, often they rival powerful desktop computers for performance. They have very powerful processors but most often have powerful graphics chips – this allows them to play modern games which require powerful graphics processing, even when out and about. They often have poorer battery life and are less mobile; many are larger and thicker as they need special cooling systems to keep their powerful chips working properly. There are a small number of smaller gaming laptops now; these allow for gaming on the move but they tend to be very expensive and compromise in some areas (they can be thicker and heavier than other small laptops). Screen resolution is critical to these laptops- very high resolution requires a lot of graphics power for gaming so they often have moderate resolution screens to ensure that they work with most games without sacrificing performance and detail, this is particularly so for smaller machines (the smaller and lower resolution screen needs less graphics power which makes them smaller and lighter on battery). Many are designed for gamers and are ostentatious and even gaudy in design; they are rarely discreet and often have noisy cooling systems that keep them working so they don’t suit quiet environments as well. Some new machines even have desktop-type keyboards and are very large and heavy – and can be VERY expensive costing as much as 6-7 times a normal laptop.
Ruggedized machines – these are special purpose laptops and are often the most expensive on the market but usually have very modest processing power and storage. They are designed for rough environments such as industrial sites, outdoor activities, oil rigs, war zones, etc. They are designed to be resistant to dust, humidity, impacts and vibration and are usually aimed at industrial and military buyers. It is rare to see these bought by consumers except where they are used in rough environments; some hikers and campers would use this type of machine out in the field but their cost is often too prohibitive for most people (also their lack of power makes them a poorer choice for those who don’t need the ruggedness).
Professional/corporate laptops – these usually are more conservative in their design and have higher quality screens, keyboards and touchpads but lack the same standard of media and other support. They are designed for big business and professional use and have support for asset tag management, security services that encrypt the drive and its contents, fingerprint readers, etc. They are often much more expensive as well; they can be preferable for those who are going to do a lot of writing or need high-grade on-site support. Their design is usually sleeker and more “professional” looking so they fit in more with a corporate environment. Look at these if your needs are more business/professional in nature.
Tablet/Hybrid machines – These are some of the newest types of laptops. They can convert into tablets – some fold down or fold back to act as a tablet machine, some detach from their keyboards and others have unique flip or sliding arrangements which make them very innovative. They tend to be expensive and less powerful and sometimes compromise on battery life; their keyboards tend to be fairly basic as well but they can suit some users very well, particularly those who will find themselves using their laptop in “tablet” mode. This can suit some users who watch films, use tablet controls for browsing or prefer the touch interface for most things; a popular choice for those who use it as a tablet most of the time and convert it to “keyboard mode” for typing email replies, documents, etc.