Tablet? Laptop? Convertible? Ultrabook? When you’re researching online or looking on the store shelves, you could be forgiven for feeling intensely overwhelmed by the amount of choice available to you. Thankfully, we’re here with the Ultimate Windows 8 Buyers Guide to help you make the right choice when it comes to your next laptop, tablet or portable.
Welcome to Gizmodo’s Ultimate Windows 8 Buyers Guide! Every day we’ll focus on a different aspect of buying a new Windows 8-powered laptop or tablet — from size, to specs to form factors and apps — to make sure you get the right device. We’re helping you take the guess work out of tech buying.
Before we get started, let’s quickly cover some common sense considerations.
Before you start on your quest to buy a shiny, new Windows 8 device, it’s worth considering the basics that should underpin all tech purchases:
Know Your Budget
Setting a budget and sticking to it is paramount when it comes to tech buying, and it’s especially important when it comes to getting a laptop or tablet. Laptops are big ticket items, which means you’ll be living with a device for a long time. If it’s beyond your means or not the right device for you, you’ll be stuck in a rut with something you don’t need or can’t afford. Do a bit of maths, find a figure you can comfortably afford to spend and stick to it. Don’t let yourself be duped by slick talking tech salesfolk. At the end of the day, it’s always you left holding the bag.
Decide What You Need Above What You Want
Make a list of features you know you can’t live without in your laptop. Need an ace processor? Make sure there’s a note of it. Desperate for gaming options? A performance laptop is the one for you. Need a certain amount of battery life? Write that down, too. Don’t get sucked into a certain device because it’s shiny and neglect everything you need day-to-day.
Research Your Device
Once you have one or two devices in mind, hit your nearest search engine to see what people who own that device think about it. You might just find that it goes bang after a month with the device or it doesn’t do something you hoped it actually did. You can read reviews that we and other tech sites write until the laptop or tablet goes out of style, but we can’t tell you what it’s like to live with a device over an extended period of time in the way an owner can. Also, make sure you try before you buy. Even if it involves insisting that a salesperson powers up a laptop for you to try before you sign on the dotted line.
Armed with that knowledge, let’s get started…
Choosing The Right Form Factor
Whether you’re buying a device for work, play, portability, power or all of the above, these are the form factors you need to consider to get something that’s right for you.
Of course you all know what a tablet is, but what are seven to 11-inch, touchscreen-enabled, low-power processor packing device actually good for?
• The absolute best thing about a tablet is the portability it offers. You won’t find another form factor on the market for love nor money that can fit into your life quite like a tablet can. Power it up and you have either Windows RT or Windows 8 at your disposal to help you get your work done — whether it be taking notes in class, presenting a meeting, watching a movie or playing a game — and when you’re finished, sling it under your arm or into a bag and you’d never even know it was there. Tablets are awesome for those on the move.
• Despite the fact that you only have an on-screen keyboard, you needn’t be without peripherals. Bluetooth-enabled tablets — which is most of them these days — allow you to pair accessories such as wireless mice and keyboards directly to the device, so you can bring your favourite devices with you and still get a whole mess of work done expediently. Even if you don’t have Bluetooth, devices such as the Microsoft Surface RT pack USB ports for external devices.
• Battery life is often fantastic on small tablets thanks to low-power processors, so you’ll get longer from your tablet device than you’d ever get from a laptop or even an ultrabook.
• You have to consider just how much you want to get done with your tablet before you sink up to $1000 on one. These things can have a habit of becoming an expensive secondary device to those with a laptop or ultrabook, so consider your needs. Do you really need a second screen to compliment your laptop, or is it just something you’re going to watch movies on? If it’s the latter, consider avoiding a tablet and investing the cash in a souped-up ultrabook.
• Consider the need for peripherals before investing: if you’re going to be lugging about a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse all the damn time just for your tablet, it might be worth just getting a convertible or even an ultrabook.
• Low-power processors mean more than just lower battery drain. It also means you’re not getting a huge amount of grunt for your money. That means playing games like Civilisation V and Dead Space is probably off the menu. Smaller games like Cut The Rope and Angry Birds will fare just fine, but think about just how much high-powered work you’re going to be doing before buying.
A convertible can mean one of two things. It’s either a tablet that converts into a laptop-like device with the aid of a clip-in keyboard — such as the HP Envy X2 or the Samsung ATIV — or it can be a tablet that flicks out to expose a keyboard — like the Lenovo Twist or the Sony Vaio Duo 11.
• Devices that have clip-in keyboards like the Ativ or the Envy X2 usually benefit from greater battery life. Why? Because the keyboard attachments are often stashing extra batteries, that’s why. Clip-in your keyboard and you can expect to double your life, depending on which device you buy. Make sure you check with the retailer before handing over your cash though, to make sure you’re getting a keyboard dock with integrated batteries.
• You’ll save space in your bag with a convertible, simply because the peripherals you need can be integrated straight into the one unit. Nothing clunking around is definitely a pro.
• Windows 8 convertibles straddle the tablet and laptop/ultrabook categories, meaning you get the benefits of both in one petite yet powerful package. Touchscreen, battery life and portability that you’d normally find on a tablet, paired with the practicality of a touchpad or mouse nib and — more often than not — a full-sized keyboard. Some devices like the Sony Vaio Duo 11 even come with their own Wacom digitisers for drawing and scribbling inputs.
• Some convertibles can cost as much as an ultrabook, so make sure you do a like for like comparison between the specs before handing over your cash and make sure you’re getting the best bang-for-buck.
• Be mindful of which version of Windows your convertible comes pre-loaded with. Both Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro are great, but you’ll get so much more done in the long run with the latter. You get a deeper experience when it comes to the desktop and you can install unsigned software without having to “jailbreak” the damn thing. Better bang for buck comes from being able to get more done, especially on a convertible. For that, you’ll need Windows 8 Pro.
What’s the difference between an ultrabook and an ordinary laptop? Well, ultrabook is a fancy marketing buzzword Intel made up that means your PC has to meet certain criteria that makes it an ultraportable version of a traditional laptop. Specifically, the criteria state that, to be called an ultrabook, a device must have between five and nine hours of battery life, a power-up time (from hibernation) of under 7 seconds and Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge processors, all the while fitting into a specific height, weight and processing speed threshold.
To carry the ultrabook name, the devices have to be the elite athletes of laptops: high-end, svelte, sexy and powerful devices.
• Because ultrabooks are so thin and light, they’re almost as portable and bag-friendly as convertibles.
• Ultrabooks are also surprisingly pocket-friendly, with a good one only likely to set you back between $1000 and $1800.
• Don’t let that tiny footprint fool you, either. Intel has built ultrabooks as the perfect balance of power and portability to be just what you need in an everyday machine.
• An ultrabook is good for an everyday work or study machine, and minces your productivity tasks, but it’s still not very good at playing the higher-end games you might want to play. If you want something powerful, portable and gaming-ready, check out our laptops section.
• Only a handful of ultrabooks currently have touch-enabled panels, so shop carefully. Without touch, you miss out on a few features of the Windows 8 experience.
Good, old-fashioned laptops still exist in the Windows 8 range, but these days they’re reserved for either entry-level machines that are best avoided, and gaming powerhouses that are always encouraged. We’re going to take a look at the latter.
• Unmatched, unbeaten, unequivocal power. That’s the promise of a high-end Windows 8 laptop. We’re talking desktop replacement territory here, and you’ll get it from two big names: Alienware and Razor. These two make precision gaming machines that will eat up your big name titles and beg for more punishment.
• Because these things are essentially desktop replacement machines — 17-inch weaponised machinery — you’ll save money buying one because you don’t have to buy both a hot laptop and a sexy tower.
• These things look incredible. Because they’re built as machines you can roll to a LAN party with or stick in your geek-gear-laden den, they look awesome. Alienware loves a bright light or two in the fan ports, while Razor has an awesome touchpad to keep your mates raising their eyebrows as you micro them into the ground.
• That awesome performance and design comes at a cost. Be prepared to part with between $2000 and $4000 for a great gaming machine.
• We weren’t kidding when we told you these things were good enough to be desktop replacements. Sadly, you’re going to notice that when you try and cart it around. There’s a lot of heft to deal with here.
• When you’re running high-end hardware in a tiny space, two things happen: lots of heat, and not much in the way of battery. Get cosy with a power outlet if you’re planning on a big raid with friends.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Windows 8 Super-Guide.