Question: I'm planning to buy a new laptop for home and some light work use. I plan to retire from my full-time job and do some small amounts of consultancy, as well as possibly returning to education. I find it difficult to understand the significance of some of the differences and would appreciate your advice.
I have a budget of between €600 and €800. I have been doing some research and am thinking of an i5 (10th gen) processor, and probably 512 GB of solid storage memory. I am more inclined to go for a 15-inch screen as we have no real portability requirement and I like the bigger screen. I already have a tablet.
I am looking at maybe a Dell, Lenovo, Acer or HP. I would like a reliable and well-built machine that will last. But I have other queries. Like how important is having a HDMI connection and memory card slot? Could you advise?
- Arthur Byrne, Kilkenny
It's clear that you've done quite a bit of homework. And your instincts on the main features to look out for are all excellent. A 15-inch laptop is indeed a better option than a 13-inch laptop for a semi-permanent berth on a table or a desk. This is for the simple reason that you can see much more on it.
A very under-appreciated challenge for many people with modern laptops is the tiny size of default icons and fonts. For some reason, Microsoft often sets these at a size you would never see in even the smallest paperback book. But because a 15-inch laptop's screen is about 30pc bigger than a 13-inch laptop's display, you can immediately go into the settings (click the 'Windows' button, then 'settings', then 'display') and increase the size of the font and the icons.
You're also right about the chip; try to get at least an Intel i5 processor. If it says '10th generation', that's a bonus but not crucial. More important is that it has at least 8GB of Ram memory. You'll see some affordable laptops that have 4GB of Ram. But while that's just about enough for casual use, it's a bad investment for a machine you want to keep for more than two or three years. 8GB is the minimum you want. (If I was writing this answer in one to two years, I'd be saying it should be 16GB.)
As for storage memory, 512GB of 'solid state' (SSD) storage memory would be a bonus, but you're unlikely to get it within your budget. 256GB is much more within your price range. That's okay, though. Unless you're saving thousands of photos or short videos, or other graphics intensive files, you'll be a while filling that up. If you find you're getting close to the limit, you have the choice of either using a paid cloud storage service like Dropbox or an excellent free one like Google Photos.
You ask about the importance of a few specific features. A HDMI connection is only important if you want to physically connect your laptop to a large screen or a projector, typically for something like a Powerpoint presentation. It has one or two other very niche uses, like connecting a video camera to transfer footage. But otherwise, it's not that critical. A memory card slot, similarly, can be handy for those who take photos and need to edit them on a laptop. If you're stuck for storage space, they're also useful as a fallback: you can move things on and off memory cards through such a port. But most of my laptops or tablets don't have such slots - I use a €15 adapter that takes a memory card and goes into one of the other USB ports. It works just fine. So neither of these should be a dealbreaker.
On what you should actually buy, there are a couple of options. The best outright deal is probably at Currys where you'll get an Acer Aspire 5 A515-54G for €840. The reason I say that it's a good deal is that you get a Core i7 processor as well as 512GB of Ram. That's a very good deal. You also get a mixture of modern connection slots, like a USB-C port.
The same shop also has a clear Dell choice the 15-inch Inspiron 5593 (€720). It also has 512GB of storage and a decent Core i5 processor. It doesn't have a USB-C port but it does have a memory card reader.
I would get either of those machines for your purposes.
Recommendation: Acer Aspire 5 A515-54G (€840 from Currys)
I was told by a shop that I couldn't purchase an item over €100 without supplying my phone number for a warranty. Is this legal?
- Name withheld
You don't have to do that. This is a shop's own administration procedures. However, you probably don't have the right to legally insist that they sell the item to you without you supplying your phone number, either. The best course of action in this case may be to inform the shop why you don't want to buy the item there and take your business elsewhere.
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