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Guide to Buying a New Laptop – Part 1: Types of Laptop


Guide to Buying a New Laptop

Part 1: Types of Laptop

A few years ago buying a laptop pretty much came down to one simple question: Mac or Windows? Several years, a bunch of confusing words (why do all laptops now seem to be some form of ‘book’?), and some new operating systems later and the era of annoying ‘Mac or PC’ adverts starts looking like a glorious, simpler time.

So we’ve done the hard work of slogging through the jargon and bewildering variety of the modern laptop market to provide you with a handy guide to picking out the laptop that’s right for you. If you’re the sort of person who, when asked ‘Would you like a netbook or a notebook?’ replies ‘I just want a laptop’ then you’ve come to the right place.

This week: laptop types, or, ‘what happened to them just being called laptops?’

Notebooks and Netbooks

A decade ago the process of buying a laptop was pretty simple – you figured out your price range, chose Mac or Windows, and then bought the best laptop you could afford. Now? Well, simple ‘laptops’ don’t really exist anymore. What you probably think of as just a laptop is now called a ‘notebook’ (don’t ask us why). Then there are smaller, more portable laptops called ‘netbooks’ – these are usually less powerful than standard notebooks, but have longer battery lives, and they won’t break your back when you need to lug them to a lecture.


Just recently ‘ultrabooks’ have also become a thing (they’re definitely just making names up now), and lie somewhere between a netbook and a notebook, but with super-thin form factors. They’re laptops after a mean diet, which means that, while they’re light, they’re also lacking things like a disc-drive (not that anybody really needs one these days), and their meaty specs mean they take more than a bit of saving up for – you’ve got to pay the engineer who somehow managed to cram a whole laptop’s worth of components into a case no more than an inch or two thick somehow.


Last but not least are hybrid netbooks: basically just tablets plopped into a dock with a laptop keyboard and usually a trackpad to boot. They’re typically about the size of the average netbook, but you get the added benefit of being able to detach a fully functional tablet any time you want. This comes at a premium price, but saves having to buy a separate tablet for flicking through your Facebook feed on the sofa.

What does it all Mean?

The question of which laptop to get pretty much comes down to what you’re going to use it for, and what your budget is. For taking to lectures and the library, and just general web-browsing, notebooks are your best bet, and they’re easily the cheapest option as well. For something with a bit more horsepower but lacking in the same portability and battery life as a netbook, a standard notebook is your go to, and if you’re prepared to pay for it, ultrabooks offer the superior horsepower of a notebook with the portability of a netbook.

Other Options

For all the benefits of a laptop and a tablet in one package, convertibles are the way to go. Though the extra cost might put some others off, and the docks convertibles come with can vary a lot in quality – an extra bit of research can go a long way before making a purchase. The final option is to just buy a tablet on its own and buy a separate Bluetooth keyboard.

This option is cheaper, but does mean you won’t have access to the useful additional battery many convertibles offer – and you’ll need to be careful not to accidentally lose the Bluetooth keyboard. As much as tablets have come along, they still feel awful to type on. Be wary, as well, that this will mean being locked into Android or iOS which, while they can handle most tasks, aren’t quite as robust as a full version of Windows. Good for taking notes, but not really something you could write an essay on.