Thursday 19 September 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems

 

High spec: You can add more power to the Dell XPS 15
High spec: You can add more power to the Dell XPS 15
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: I need to buy a new laptop. I want to do the usual stuff. But I am an amateur photographer so I would like one that can handle photography needs such as post-processing. My budget is about €1,500. I was looking at the Dell XPS 15. Do you have any better suggestions? I know very little about computers.

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- Mary McGee, Wicklow Town

Answer: Normally when someone says that they want to do 'the usual stuff' on a laptop, I take that to mean web browsing, Netflix, Facebook, email, online banking and a handful of other everyday activities. And for this, I often recommend something in the €500 to €700 range because a laptop at that level will do all of this just fine and last you three to four years.

But you say you want one that will "handle photography needs" like "post-processing". This is one of the few activities (besides gaming or coding) where I would definitely recommend going for something a little more advanced. Otherwise, you might end up with a niggling, frustrating experience.

As you might guess, this better specification translates into it being more expensive.

Opening and editing photos needs a little more graphics power to work smoothly, especially over time. It also benefits more than most computing activities from a good quality screen.

In today's environment that means you'll ideally have a laptop with at least 8GB of Ram memory and a really reliable, mid to high end chip. You will also benefit from a generous storage allowance (at least 256GB, but ideally 512GB or more), although if you're using an online service or an external hard drive to regularly back photos up (as you should), then this isn't as essential as it once was.

You've clearly already done some homework. The laptop you mention - Dell's XPS 15 - is one of the best performing laptops on the market and comes with most of what you're looking for. At the time of writing, there's a sale on in Ireland (at Dell.ie) for the XPS 15 with around €200 off most of the variants but this may be over by the time this article is published.

At the non-sale price of €1,529, you'll get what I would regard as a very good laptop, well capable of handling photo-editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Adding more power to the engine costs about €100 to €150 per item. For example, you can get an extra 8GB of Ram memory for about that price. Or another 256GB of storage memory. Or an upgrade from a (good) Intel Core i5 chip to an (excellent) Intel Core i7 chip. Each one brings a bit more capability. (For a step up in screen quality to 4K, it would be slightly more expensive.)

But I'd really only say that someone needs to consider those upgrades - like 16GB of Ram or a Core i7 chip or a 4K HDR display - if they're really devoting a lot of time and effort to photo editing or dabbling in video-editing. In other words, for non-professionals, the cheaper specification attached to the XPS 15 base model should prove absolutely adequate.

There are, of course, alternative options.

Both Lenovo and HP do good lines in 13-inch, 14-inch and 15-inch laptops with similar specifications. Microsoft's 'Surface' range of laptops are now excellent, too.

Apple's MacBook Pro is a perennial heavyweight when it comes to creator-friendly and photography-oriented laptops. But unfortunately, the 15-inch models are way over €2,000. There is a 13-inch base model with good power specifications (although very meagre storage at 128GB) for €1,549, which is in touching distance of your budget. Someone who likes using Macs might pick this model over the Dell. But if you're used to using Windows laptops and PCs, the Dell is probably the better option. Besides, the Dell XPS's 15-inch screen is about 25pc bigger than that MacBook Pro's 13-inch display, giving you a significant advantage when editing finer details.

If screen size isn't critical to you, one final option would be the iPad Pro. It's 13-inch variant comes with 256GB of storage and a good keyboard for €1,519. (You can get the same set up but with only 64GB of storage for €1,349, but this is a false economy for someone in your position because you will need a basic amount of storage for photos you're editing on an ongoing basis.)

If you think using a touchscreen pen to apply finishing touches would be useful (to Adobe editing programs for instance), Apple's Pencil would cost another €135.

As it happens, the iPad Pro is what I personally use to edit 90pc of the photos (and videos) that I shoot, privately and professionally. But I'm used to the touchscreen format and I like it. I also frequently edit them with lighter, quicker software apps than Adobe Photoshop, including Snapseed (free). And I find the iPad Pro's other benefits (great battery, great screen, portability and fast speed) suits me a lot for my other everyday tasks.

But if you're comfortable using a Windows based laptop, I would stick with that format.

Recommendation: Dell XPS 15 (€1,299 from Dell.ie at time of writing, €1,499 regular price)

Email your questions to ­ caomahony@independent.ie

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