Which laptop should I buy? I get this question a lot, from CNET readers, friends, neighbors, friends of friends, and assorted relatives. Makes sense, since a large chunk of my workday is spent reviewing laptops.
I typically respond to this inquiry by first asking about one's intended purposes for a new laptop. Gaming? Serious design work? Heavy travel? Just getting on the Web at home? Then my follow-up question: how much do you want to spend? My line of questioning undoubtedly frustrates the questioner, who is looking for a single laptop recommendation from me.
Since there is no one answer to this question, I thought it might be helpful to tell you which laptop(s) I would buy should I be in the market today for a new laptop.
The last laptop I bought was my first Apple product outside of an iPod when I bought a white MacBook on Black Friday last year. I bought it because I wanted to dive into the Mac OS to gain a deeper understanding than what I got from the brief periods I spent on Apple's platform when a Mac passed through CNET Labs. And I liked the idea of using iLife to manage and edit my photos and videos.
I've been pretty pleased with it so far, other than the fact that I have had to send it in for repair--broken mouse button (thankfully, I called a few days before the warranty expired).
But if I were do it again and had roughly $1,350 to spend on a laptop (I bought my MacBook last year for $1,348), I might buy two. Instead of one, general-purpose 13-inch laptop like the MacBook (or the $1,099 HP Pavilion dv3510nr, which I may have selected over the MacBook had I been given the choice last year), I'd split my purchase into home and away models. I'd want a 10-inch Netbook for travel, whether it's around the corner to the coffee shop or across the country for business.
Then I'd want a roomy desktop replacement for home entertainment, a system I could use to store, manage, and enjoy my multitude of media: music, movies, photos, and home videos.
Disclaimer: there are plenty of good budget laptops that would do the trick for mainstream buyers for half of my proposed budget, of course. The above argument presupposes you have $1,350 to throw at a laptop.
For $649, the Gateway T-6330U is a good budget pick, for instance. And slightly more expensive recommendations still in the sub-$1,000 range, I'd say you take a look at the Dell Studio S1535, the HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr, and the Sony Vaio NS140.
OK, back to the two-instead-of-one plan.
For a Netbook, I'd select HP's 10-inch Mini 1000. A basic configuration costs $440 and features the roomiest keyboard of any Netbook I've used. With Netbooks, finding a keyboard that's usable for more than a single-line e-mail response is key. And the Mini 1000's broad keys are far and away best in class. HP actually sells two versions of its Mini 1000, a 8.9-inch model and a 10.2-inch model. It charges $50 to jump for the larger screen size, which I think is worth it even though the resolution is the same regardless. I'd also spend the $30 to upgrade to the 16GB SSD.
I would then pair the Mini 1000 with Gateway's 16-inch MC7801u. It currently sells for $850 at Best Buy and serves up a movie- and HD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio. Two drawbacks: it relies on integrated Intel graphics and doesn't include a Blu-ray drive.
Though its HDMI port would make outputting Blu-ray movies to my HDTV a snap, I wouldn't list a Blu-ray drive as a must-have on my next laptop. I'm relatively pleased with Comcast's slowly expanding HD offerings for my living room hi-def movie needs. And for movie watching on the Gateway MC780u itself, I personally don't see much of a difference between Blu-ray and DVD image quality on a small, 16-inch screen. Plus, the screen resolution falls short of 1080p anyway. And since my gaming needs are met by an Xbox 360, the integrated graphics aren't too great a disappointment, especially given the price.
So, there you have it. Go big. And go small.
What do you think of my two-laptops-under-one-roof idea? And if someone were to ask you this very question--which laptop should I buy?--what would you tell them?