- Is the keyboard comfortable enough for extended typing? Some keyboards can be cramped or shrunk to accommodate special keys or to help fit the machine into a smaller size. This may not be a hassle for short-term bursts of use, but you may want to think twice before using a laptop with a small keyboard for writing essays or long e-mails to Grandma.
- Is the monitor large enough for your tastes? There's a big difference between the screen on a 7" netbook and a 12.1" tablet, and again from that 12.1" tablet to a 17.3" widescreen. What you gain in screen quality and size with the widescreen, you lose in portability.
- Is the hard drive large enough to accommodate those things you really want to store? If you plan on storing any volume of media (pictures, movies, or music) on the computer, then you'll probably want at least 80 Gb (gigabytes) of hard-drive space. Remember that a hard drive of that size isn't going to function like an 80 Gb iPod -- easily 25% or more of the hard drive will be occupied by the operating system and the programs you install. Memory is relatively cheap, but not usually if you try to add it later to an existing laptop.
- Is the processor speed good enough for your needs? The short answer to this: Probably, unless you're buying a netbook. Netbooks are the tiny versions of laptops that are designed mainly for giving users quick and easy access to the Internet, especially on the go. They're not built for power; they're built for efficiency. A lot of netbooks are being built with the Intel Atom chip, which is designed to be tiny and battery-efficient. Its speed goes up to 1.86 GHz (gigahertz), which is very fast when compared to the computers of a few years ago, but much slower than the 2.6 GHz processors found on bigger laptops. Ultimately, unless you're planning to do a lot of hard-core gaming or other work that requires a lot of complex processing (like CAD or movie editing), processor speed is not usually going to be the thing that limits your computer-using experience.
- Is the wireless networking hardware adequate for what you need? If you have a wireless network at home, at work, or elsewhere, be sure that your laptop is equipped with a compatible wireless receiver/transmitter. Generally speaking, you want to get the latest version of the wireless networking standard, which as of September 2009 is the 802.11n standard.
- Do you need Bluetooth or infrared connections? These can make it really easy to exchange files (like pictures and videos) between mobile phones and the computer.
- Do you need any special features on your laptop? Some people like tablet notebooks, which have touch-screen capability. Convertible tablets can go back and forth between behaving like regular laptops and like tablet PCs.
- Can you get an extended factory warranty? Laptops tend to be exposed to a lot of damage and other hazards, and getting the extended factory warranty can help ensure that you'll be protected in case some kind of damage occurs. Salespeople push the in-store warranties, but ever since CompUSA and Circuit City went bankrupt, it should be clear that the factory warranty is the better choice.