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PC Advisor's ultimate guide to buying a laptop

From ultraportables to tablets - we've got them covered

There's a huge array of choice when it comes to laptops, but with everything from netbooks and ultraportables to machines suitable for gaming and those designed to withstand use in rural locations, which should you choose. We've put together the ultimate laptop guide to help you decide.

Tablet PCs

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but for decades the keyboard has ruled the laptop roost. The two try to get along in a tablet PC, which provides the best of both mobile worlds.

While there are slate tablet designs that do without the keyboard altogether, most tablets are convertibles. They replace the traditional laptop display with a touchscreen mounted on an articulated hinge that allows the panel to swivel and fold over the keyboard. This creates a space for viewing and writing.

Tablets are great for scribbling notes at a meeting, sketching your killer new product idea or drawing a map for a new factory, and then flipping the screen over and typing a memo about it. However, this genre has caught on only in niches, such as sales teams and schools.

The weak reception by most buyers has a lot to do with the £150 to £350 that tablets tack on for the extra engineering, hardware and software required. Look for the first generation of tablet netbooks later this year that will cut prices to the bone.

Most tablets require a special electromagnetic stylus with which to write. The stylus seems especially easy to lose and costs about £20; it's a good idea to get an extra one. Some manufacturers include ways to physically tether the pen to the unit, but that can look like a ball and chain.

Most have 12.1 to 14.1in screens powered by video engines that draw on system memory. These screens require an extra layer to make them sensitive to the stylus, which can make them appear fuzzy compared to standard displays.

There is an important option to consider when buying a tablet. Many manufacturers offer a special screen that doesn't get washed out in direct sunlight. This makes a tablet the perfect companion for outdoor workers, such as a phone installer or someone who surveys property.

Tablet PCs at a glance

Target audience: Just as good for those who need to sketch a map and sign a form as for those typing a memo, convertible tablets are for mobile types who need a computer with a split personality.

Pros: A tablet can fulfill two widely different usage scenarios with one machine, yet it folds up nicely to hit the road.

Cons: Because of the extra hardware, tablets are surprisingly thick, heavy and expensive, and the complex hinge required to convert between keyboard and stylus modes is easy to break.

Typical size / weight: 305x254x41mm / 2-2.5kg

Screen size: 12.1 to 14.1in

CPU / RAM: 1.2 to 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo / 1 to 4GB

Storage: 80 to 160GB HDD

Ports and connections: 2 to 3 USB ports, VGA, audio, Ethernet, sometimes eSATA.

Price range: £1,200 to £2,200.

Examples: Fujitsu LifeBook T5010, HP TouchSmart tx2z, Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Tablet, Toshiba Portege M750.

Buying tips: Get an extra stylus because they are easy to lose; if you plan on working in the sun, get the outdoor screen option.

NEXT PAGE: rugged PCs

  1. From ultraportables to tablets - we've got them covered
  2. Ultramobile PCs
  3. Netbooks
  4. Ultraslim
  5. Thin and light
  6. Tablet PCs
  7. Rugged PCs
  8. Budget laptops
  9. Mainstream
  10. Entertainment machines
  11. Gaming machines
  12. Mobile workstations

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