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10 things to consider before you buy

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Dec. 2009, by Susan Twombly

When it comes to choosing laptops for your family – whether you’re standing in the store aisle or surfing online – it’s tough to know what to put in the cart. Especially when everyone has different needs, wants and expectations. Underbuy, and you face disappointed family members. Overbuy, and you face a big bill for features they’ll never even use.

So, how do you find the laptops that are ‘just right?’ for each family member? To find out, asked Elliott Levine, educational strategist for personal systems in the HP America’s region. Here are Elliott’s suggestions for getting the most out of your budget and your family’s mobile PC experience.

Ask family members these two key questions before you shop

What do you want to do with this notebook?
How mobile do you need to be?

The answers can rule out some choices from the start to make the selection process easier and faster!

Tip #1: Narrow your selection. With the wide range of notebooks available for families on the go, it’s hard to determine the features and compute power you need. So, ask the two questions to the right and keep the answers in mind as you match the model to the personal preferences of each family member.

In general, mini netbooks are great if you don’t need full notebook functionality. But if you want enough horsepower for gaming, entertainment and running multiple programs and applications at once, step up to a notebook with a dual-core1 processor and Windows 7, 2 with a minimum of 3GB RAM.

A mini travel companion
» View enlarged image
» Learn more or buy

Mini netbooks. For fast and easy Internet access and chats with friends,3 consider a mini netbook, which only weighs a bit over two pounds.4 They have near-full-size keyboards for comfort, and screens larger than 11-inches diagonal. Minis are very affordable, so they can also be ideal for younger children who don’t want to be left out. 

Ultraportables. For full notebook performance, there are ultraportable models with dual core1 processors. They only weigh about four pounds4 and come with a full-size keyboard, a diagonal screen size of 12- 14-inches and a longer battery life.5

Everyday essentials. If the notebook will be used primarily in one place or carried in a bag or backpack, you can step up to a larger 15- 17-inch diagonal screen without adding much weight. That can be great for handling basic computing and media, like HD6 movies. And, at around six or so pounds,4 it’s portable enough to watch them virtually anywhere.

High-performance. If extreme gaming and entertainment are important, consider a high-performance notebook with quad processors1 and great graphic capabilities. At about eight pounds, 4 many have ultrawide HD6 displays as large as 18-inches (diagonal), which can bring an intense level of realism to movies and games. You’ll need to stretch your budget with these models, but they pull double duty for the money: They have the portability of a laptop and the power and screen size of a desktop.

Multitouch with a tablet twist
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Tip #2: Touch smart. If you really want to engage your kids, consider touchscreen technology. It’s a fun, interactive way for them to play or do homework. New multitouch capabilities make it even more so, because you can use two or more fingers to pinch, zoom and rotate screen content. 

Pen-based computing is making its way into classrooms. So, if you want to give your child a similar experience at home, choose a touchscreen model that can twist into a tablet PC. That way, they can use the pen with programs like Microsoft® OneNote to take notes right on the screen and convert them into text.

Tip #3: Be battery-wise. Most notebooks offer standard and extended battery options. If you’re buying for a highly mobile notebook user, consider upgrading to a six- or eight-cell battery. It could cost much more if you need to buy a larger battery later on.

Tip #4: Help protect your personal data. Virus-protection software can regularly scan your notebook to help protect it from viruses, worms and other malicious code that can put personal data at risk. Look for pre-installed subscriptions you can easily activate and check out economical family packs that can cover multiple laptops.

Sometimes the sites family members visit – and the files they share and download – can put your data at risk. The parental controls within Windows 7 can help you manage how each member uses their notebook.

To help guard against unwanted access to your data, look for notebooks with a fingerprint reader. Since each fingerprint is unique, this can offer more protection than using a password someone may steal. Windows® 7 Ultimate edition includes a data encryption feature that put a virtual ‘lock’ on your files to help keep them private.

It’s a good idea to buy a subscription to LoJack for Laptops, a theft recovery option that can help police track, locate and recover a missing notebook. To help protect your identity and personal information, the software has a remote data delete feature designed to remove data from the notebook.

Backup data on this HP docking station
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Tip #5: Plan for backup. If your data is corrupted or your notebook is lost and you’ve backed up your files onto an external drive, you can retrieve and reload them quickly. A pocket media drive is a very portable, external USB storage device that can make backing up files easy – so you can worry less about losing the data you care about, like family photos and videos. If you buy a docking station for the notebook, look for one with an integrated hard drive for backup.

Windows® 7 offers a ‘set it and forget it’ feature that helps you schedule backups to an external drive or DVD. To back up to a network, you’ll need Windows® 7 Professional or Ultimate editions. You can also access and restore files online with an automatic backup service, which stores your content online in an off-site, security-enhanced facility.

Tip #6: Buy a durable case. When kids are involved, cases don’t just look good or keep dust off the notebook, they help prevent damage from drops. So, buy one with your purchase to help protect the notebook and the data it holds from day one.

Ask these questions upfront about coverage to save headaches later:

How do I get tech support for setting up, using or troubleshooting the notebook?
Do I have to take the notebook back to the store for repairs?
If I have to ship it somewhere for repairs, who pays for the shipping?

Tip #7: Be proactive about service and support. Consider an extended warranty for normal hardware problems, and accidental damage for drops, spills and other unexpected events. By adding these services now, you can save a considerable amount, compared to just one repair charge.

If you want coverage from someone who knows the notebook best, ask about support options directly from the manufacturer. The store’s plan may be cheaper, but the savings may not be worth it when you have a problem. Spend a few dollars more for peace of mind and do it at the time of purchase – because you can often get the most coverage and value then.

Tip #8 Understand your connectivity options. Most laptops offer built-in high-speed wireless (WiFi) and/or Bluetooth wireless technology, with upgrade options for mobile broadband.7

Wi-Fi connects mobile devices to a wireless local area network or the Internet at home or at hotspots.3 Wireless-G or draft Wireless-N 8 cards are just different Wi-Fi connection speeds. ‘N’ is considerably faster, but most of the time the access speed provided by your Internet provider isn’t fast enough to take advantage of it, so you may not notice the difference.

Bluetooth uses radio signals to wirelessly connect with cell phones, headsets or other Bluetooth-ready devices like printers over short distances. It’s a very affordable upgrade when you buy your notebook. Mobile broadband7 enables you to browse the Internet and get email from further distances (where ever cell phone service is available).

Tip #9: Upgrade your productivity software. If the notebook will be opening files from work or school, you may want to upgrade to Microsoft® Office Home and Student 2007. It includes many of the programs you may need, including OneNote® 2007 for tablet PCs. Check out the deep software discounts that may be available as add-ons when you buy your notebook, especially when Microsoft® Office 2010 launches in a few months.

Tip #10: Go with a webcam. More and more people are using video instant messaging to connect with friends and family. If a webcam is included with your purchase, upgrade to a higher resolution for better clarity. If not, they can be a great add-on to your purchase.

For more about finding the right laptops for your mobile family, go to your local retailer or visit the HP Home and Home Office store today.

1Dual/Quad/Triple core is a new technology designed to improve performance of certain software products. Check with the software provider to determine suitability. Not all customers or software applications will necessarily benefit from use of this technology.

2Systems may require upgraded and/or separately purchased hardware and/or a DVD drive to install the Windows® 7 software and take full advantage of Windows® 7 functionality. See Microsoft non-hp site for details.

3Wireless access point and Internet access required and sold separately. Availability of public wireless access points limited.

4Weight will vary according to configuration.

5Battery life will vary depending on the product model, configuration, loaded applications, features, use, wireless functionality (including the wireless functionality) and power management settings. The maximum capacity of the battery will naturally decrease with time and usage. See MobileMark07 battery benchmark: non-hp site for additional details.

6HD content required to view HD images.

7Broadband use requires separately purchased service contract. Check with service provider for coverage and availability in your area.

8The specifications for the 802.11n WLAN are draft specifications and are not final. If the final specifications differ from the draft specifications, it may affect the ability of the notebook to communicate with other 802.11n WLAN devices.

Find out more about the solutions mentioned in this feature story

HP mini netbooks
» See the newest and where to buy
» Learn more or buy directly from HP

HP ultraportable and high-performance notebooks
» See the full line-up of HP’s high-performance and ultraportable laptops
» Learn more or buy ultraportables directly from HP

HP TouchSmart solutions
» See the TouchSmart notebook that twists into a tablet

Notebook batteries
» Match a battery to your mobile needs

Notebook security
» Read Security for personal computing: Defend your identity and data
» Learn how to help make your PC more secure
» Drop into the HP Preferred Customer Center for Norton from Symantec non-hp site
» See special MacAfee offers for HP customers non-hp site

Backup solutions
» Store and help protect your content with HP Pocket media drives
» Choose a docking station with external storage for backup
» Make backup automatic with Norton Online Backup Services non-hp site

Carrying cases
» Find options to help fortify notebook durability

Service and support
» Extend your standard warranty with HP Care Pack services

» Get ready to go wireless with a step-by-step guide

Microsoft® Office Home and Student 2007
» See why it can be a great choice for your kids. Includes OneNote® 2007!

Windows® 7
» Find out what it can do for you

Learn about other HP solutions for the home and home office
» Take a peek at the HP holiday gift guide
» Explore HP laptops and mini netbooks
» Explore more for the home and home office

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