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Buyers guide: Laptop, netbook or smartphone?

We look at which device is right for you

When it comes to computing on the go, should you plump for a laptop, netbook or smartphone? We've looked at the pros and cons of the various devices for several common portable-computing tasks in a bid to help you choose.

Playing games

Need to kill a little free time? Get your game on. Portable gaming is huge, but you'll find major differences in the quality and quantity of games available for these three portable devices.

Whether you're a casual player or a serious gamer, you have important choices to make regarding your portable game machine.

Laptop

A decent laptop for gaming has a dedicated graphics chip, and thus costs a little more than basic entry-level models, but you can still get one cheaply enough.

If you shop carefully, a good game-capable laptop shouldn't cost you more than £800.

With such a machine, you have access to the huge library of Windows games and great gaming services, plus web-based games, user mods and more.

You have to shop carefully to find a laptop that plays games really well, and you'll likely end up with a model that's a little bigger and heavier - with less battery life - than a laptop that isn't appropriate for games.

Many PC games don't play well with a touchpad, so you'll also need a mouse and an appropriate surface to play on; you lose some portability as a result.

Netbook

Just say no. From underpowered CPUs to anaemic graphics capabilities to low amounts of RAM to cramped screens, netbooks make terrible gaming computers. You can get away with simple in-browser games and some years-old classics, but you won't have a good time with modern games at all.

Smartphone

Photographers often say that the best camera is the one you have with you, and the same could be said of game machines. When you have some time to kill, a fancy gaming laptop does you no good if you don't have it with you, but your phone almost never leaves your side.

A phone is small enough to use easily on a bus or train, and since most phone games are designed to be played in short sessions, you can get five minutes in, quit, and play more later.

Among smartphones, the iPhone has by far the biggest and best games library, easily rivaling the libraries of dedicated handheld game systems.

Android phones come in a distant second, but the gaming selection and quality on the Android Market is growing quickly.

Blackberry devices aren't exactly game-free, but have the worst selection of all.

Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 may be the smartphone gaming option to beat, considering its integration of Xbox Live and partnerships with major game publishers.

What to buy
If the games you like are big, full-featured, triple-A titles that have high production values and take hours to play, you want a laptop with a discrete graphics chip.

Avoid netbooks and laptops with integrated graphics, unless you care only about playing simple browser-based games.

For gaming on the go, it's hard to beat the iPhone, though Android phones are coming on strong.

After all, what's a better portable game machine than the one you already carry around every day?

NEXT PAGE: Keeping in touch

  1. We look at what device is right for you
  2. Home and student life
  3. Browsing the web
  4. Watching video
  5. Playing games
  6. Keeping in touch

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