The top 10 things to consider when buying a new laptop

Here’s what to look for if you want to buy the best laptop possible

Credit: HP

9. Biometric Security

Fingerprint readers are great for logging into mobile devices and the latest Windows 10 Operating System makes further use of them with its Windows Hello system. People can guess your password, but few can fake a fingerprint. In order to keep the contents of your laptop secure, a portable PC with a fingerprint reader is usually the best way forward.

Credit: Supplied

Thankfully, this feature is a pretty common inclusion on many modern laptops from major OEMs like ASUS, Dell and HP. Some have even integrated the fingerprint sensor into the keyboard, making it feel like a more cohesive part of the package rather than a bolt-on.

What's more, some brands have even gone one step further and introduced FaceID-style facial recognition tech allowing you to unlock your laptop with a glance. As with Android phones, there's a distinction to be noted here between devices that rely on a 2D-model of face unlock versus those that offer full 3D biometrics.

It's cool to see the modern laptops continue raise the bar on this particular front even if the degree to which it matters is largely personal preference. For most people, a standard fingerprint sensor is going to provide more than enough of peace of mind.

Credit: Supplied

10. Build quality

No matter how careful we are, most laptops are inevitably going to find themselves, dropped, thrown and knocked around by the rigors of everyday use. For that reason, it's worth checking out how much testing a laptop has undergone (the manufacturer usually crows about it) or whether there's any sort certification that you can put your confidence behind.

Modern laptops are often ruggedized to withstand rain and dust. Some are built especially for the brutal educational environments - and come with military-grade protection certifications. The most common of these you're going to see is MIL-STD 810G.

MIL-STD-810G is a standard used by the US Military to indicate a guaranteed minimum level of durability. Compliant products have made it through a gauntlet of 29 separate tests that measure resistance to shock, heat, cold, humidity and more. Though originally developed as a way to win government contract, MIL-STD-810G has become increasingly common in consumer tech in recent years. 

Credit: Photo 25815697 © Pzaxe | Dreamstime.com

On one hand, it's good for consumers that most major manufacturers have adopted the same language and standards for measuring durability at all. However, on the other, the reality is that having a product be MIL-STD-810G compliant doesn't always translate into the kind of ruggedness you'd hope it would.

Although the MIL-STD-810G standard was developed externally, there's no single independent party that's responsible for handing out certification to the standard nor any regulator that's able to call out bad actors for misusing or misrepresenting MIL-STD-810G.

Manufacturers can absolutely take their testing in-house, "ace" it and put the sticker on the box. There's no limit on how many attempts a product has to pass a certain test, nor even a limit on whether the same product sample needs to survive all 29 tests or whether they can replace it with a fresh model every step of the way. They don't even need to provide proof that the testing ever happened.

From the perspective of any everyday consumer, there's zero difference in how a product that was properly and independently tested to meet MIL-STD-810G looks and how a product that "fudged" their way into compliance with the standard looks. This is obviously problematic.

Credit: Photo 105908718 © Pablo Hidalgo | Dreamstime.com

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For those reasons, MIL-STD-810G is best used as starting place when it comes to thinking about durability and build quality in your next laptop. It shouldn't be your one and only consideration.

A better way to approach the problem is to look at the laptops design and what specific claims are being made around durability. Are the manufacturer talking up drop-tests or spill resistance that goes beyond the usual MIL-STD-810G spiel? That's probably a good sign.

For as ubiquitous as MIL-STD-810G is as a standard, it's often unclear how rigorously manufacturers are applying sticking to the spirit of the thing and, if you're keen to make sure your next laptop can take a hit or two, it's worth looking at brands that go one-step further.

Meet your needs and budget

Of course, you need to balance these features with your budget and your needs, and you might have to make some compromises. Rarely does a laptop come along that ticks all the boxes, especially when it comes to price.

Let us know in the comments below if you consider other aspects of a laptop to be more important (maybe you want better gaming performance or a rugged build, maybe you want a laptop that can turn into a tablet), and especially let us know if you’ve already found the perfect laptop for your needs.

Credit: MSI

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This article was updated by Fergus Halliday in August 2020.

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