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The Online Mom Top Picks: Laptops

In the market for a new laptop? The key is knowing how you are going to use it.

By Barry Myers

Even with prices dropping, purchasing a new laptop in today’s economy is a significant investment. The good news is that even budget laptops today are powerful machines. With a little research, there’s no reason you can’t find a laptop that will satisfy your needs for years to come.

The first step toward making a smart purchase decision on a new laptop is to ask yourself the following questions:
  • What will be the laptop’s primary use?
  • How often will I be taking it on the road?
  • How much am I willing to spend?


Your answers to these questions will go a long in way determining what category of laptop you should be considering. To make it easy, we’ve split the typical laptop user into three broad categories and have come up with our top picks for each group.

Always on-the-go, always connected

The always-connected, always on-the-move individual is looking for a lightweight laptop with most or all of the wireless connectivity options built in. He or she likes to surf the Web and stay in touch with friends and family through email, instant-messaging, and social networks.

If this describes you, then a Netbook might be a terrific option. Netbooks usually weigh less than 3 lbs; they’re built for connectivity, so you can get online from virtually anywhere; and their hard drives are usually plenty big enough (look for 80GB or 160GB) for storing and sharing music, movies and pictures. The key to this category is battery life. Try not to settle for anything less than 3 hours per charge and spend a little extra for a better battery if you can.

.....

We love the little Aspire One from Acer. This affordable ($329 at Amazon.com), ultra-lightweight (just over 2 pounds) netbook is packed with a 160 GB hard drive. It has a 8.9-inch display, an integrated webcam for video chatting, and Intel's latest mobile processor. The netbook’s smooth surface is comfortable to touch, and its blue hue is accented with distinctive details, such as the attractive orange hinge ring.

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If you’re looking for something even more eye-catching, you may want to consider HP’s Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam Edition. Called the world's first digital clutch, this netbook features Vivienne Tam’s peony-inspired design in vivid shades of violet and red from her Spring 2009 collection. The specs of the HP Mini 1000 line are almost identical to most of the netbooks currently in the market, but the keyboard is 92% as big as a standard keyboard. This is huge by netbook standards and makes typing a lot easier. But high fashion doesn’t come cheap. The Vivianne Tam Edition Mini 1000 starts at $699.

Powerful, portable, affordable

These under $1,000 do-it-all laptops are for folks looking for an affordable laptop that they can take on the road without breaking their back. The two we’ve chosen have well-rounded feature sets that will handle just about anything an average everyday user can throw at them.

Toshiba’s Satellite E105-S1402 won’t win any beauty contests but it’s a versatile, all-around laptop with a 14.1” screen, great battery life and, at just over 5lbs, easy on the shoulders when you hit the road. The $899 starting price tag is pretty reasonable given its 2.26 GHz Intel Dual Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and spacious 320 GB hard drive. And the backlit keyboard and touch-sensitive media-control buttons are very welcome additions.

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At $679, the Sony Vaio NR430E/L strikes all the right notes for a basic 15-inch laptop. Really, at this price point you are looking to avoid any potential deal breakers. Complaints about the Vaio NR430 are minor: a lack of multimedia control buttons and clacky mouse buttons. What offsets these quibbles are the fact that the laptop features a pleasing design, excellent keyboard, strong performance, and a long battery life. The Vaio VGN-NR430E/L is particularly good for students who simply need a laptop for churning out term papers and other basic tasks.

I want my MTV (and more)!

If you have a budding Spielberg or an aspring professional gamer in the family, then be prepared to spend a litle extra because you’re going to need a laptop with a lot of horsepower, as well as all the multimedia goodies. And don’t plan on taking this one on the road too often…they usually weigh in at 8lbs or more.

With the Studio XPS 16, Dell has raised the bar for multimedia laptops. It offers design touches and features that could easily command a much higher price tag than its $1,199. The optimal configuration for the serious entertainment or gaming minded user, with an upgraded screen, faster processor, and other goodies, brings the cost to a still-reasonable $1,800 given the price of comparable models. Opt for the high-end screen and Blu-ray drive and you’ll have a multimedia machine you will love for years to come.

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Sony's Vaio AW125J/H is an aesthetically pleasing multimedia machine, which we were surprised to discover is one of the cheapest 18-inch Blu-ray-equipped laptops on the market at $1,879. The VAIO VGN-AW125J/H delivers vibrant colors in full 1080p high definition clarity. It's ideal for multimedia enthusiasts or photographers who like to view or edit high-definition content on-the-go. An HDMI output can provide single-cable full HD connectivity to a compatible HDTV. You'll also enjoy immersive audio via Dolby Home Theater surround sound technology and the integrated stereo speakers.

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If great gaming at any cost is your objective, check out the Area-51 m15x from Dell-owned Alienware. It’s a gaming laptop with a 15.4” screen that when configured “properly” can cost almost $5,000. It’s perfect blend of power and mobility will appeal to the most passionate gamers. Pairing a lightning-fast processor with a super-speedy video card and 4 GB of RAM makes for an experience often reserved for larger notebooks, or even mid-range desktops. Granted, some of the extras, like a secondary hard drive, Blu-ray disc burner, and an extra battery may not be necessary, but we love the addition of an HDMI port to connect your laptop to your home theater.



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