Advice on choosing… part 2

By | February 27, 2017
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Last time I told you a bit about choosing a new device – whether it’s a tablet, smartphone or PC. I talked about a few different things to take into account and said this time I’d talk about things like the size, battery life and storage – so here we go!

What size device you want depends mainly on how you plan to use it. For example if you’re buying a laptop to use mainly at home on a desk (but you want to be able to put it tidily away so you want a laptop instead of a desktop) and you want to do lots of work on it, you probably want something with a fairly big screen and you won’t mind so much if it’s a bit heavy. On the other hand if you want to take it out and about and use it in cafes and on trains to take the odd note, then you probably want something small and light and don’t mind if the screen isn’t too big.

It’s similar with a tablet – if you’re going to use it at home to watch TV on, you want a decent sized screen but if you want to carry it in a pocket or handbag you probably want something a bit smaller. And even with smartphones, there are lots of different sizes, depending on how you plan to carry it around (I’ve got a fairly small one, with a smallish screen, so it easily fits in a pocket – but some people prefer to carry it in a bag and have a bigger screen).

It’s not just the size of the screen to think about, though. There’s also the resolution – which is how many dots it uses to make the picture. In practice, the higher the resolution, the sharper the picture (up to a point – they’re now getting to the point where you actually can’t see the difference with a human eye!)
You might not notice the difference, but if you compare some screens that have a lowish resolution, they just aren’t as sharp and nice to use as the better ones. But if all you want to do is browse the web and send the odd email, it probably doesn’t matter. If you want to read ebooks on it, you want a nice sharp screen, even if it costs a little more.

So again, it’s horses for courses – it all depends what you want to do with it.

I said there were two more things about the screen and the other is something the shops never seem to mention much: the viewing angle. This is whether the picture still looks good if you’re slightly off centre when you look at it. And it can be very different on different screens.

If you’ll only ever use your device on your own you probably don’t mind. After all, you’ll be sat straight in front of it. But if you use it along with someone else – for example to watch TV on your tablet along with your other half, then you want to make sure that even if you’re sat a bit off centre, it’ll still look good. You can sometimes find out about this online, but if it is something that matters to you, your best bet is probably to go into a shop that sells the tablet, laptop or whatever that you’re thinking of getting and try it out.

Battery life is another thing that will only matter to some people. Generally heavier devices tend to have longer battery life (because they have bigger batteries!) but also devices with bigger screens tend to have worse battery lives (because the screen takes more power). And bigger heavier devices tend to have bigger screens so in practice it often balances out anyway.

They do usually tell you what the battery life is like though, so if you do plan to use your device away from home a lot, you might want to check it. Otherwise you can just make sure you plug it in when you need to (and you can use it while it’s charging too, as long as you have a handily placed power socket).

How much storage it comes with is the other thing that matters. For a laptop or PC, that’s how big the hard drive is, measured in GB (GigaBytes) (or sometimes in TB, which is about 1000 GB). For a tablet or phone it’s not technically a hard drive, it’ll be what’s called flash memory, but it serves much the same purpose and again it’ll be in GB.

This is where the device stores all your programs, any music, photos or videos, ebooks, emails and so on.

For general use you won’t need very much, but if you like to have a lot of programs (apps) stored on your device you might want a decent amount of space. Photos don’t take up too much but if you have lots of video, that can take up a fair bit of space, particularly if it’s high quality video (whether it’s stuff you’ve recorded on the device with the built in camera or TV that you’ve downloaded).

If you have less storage you might find yourself having to clear it off every so often, deleting things that are filling it up (possibly after saving them to some other device or to the “cloud”). That might not bother you – but if it will, it’s worth thinking about before you buy the device. You can add more storage to some devices afterwards (for example some tablets or phones let you add an “SD card” that adds space) but some (most Apple devices for example) can’t be expanded, so if you think you might want to store a lot, it’s worth either getting a device with lots of space (which can be expensive) or getting one that can take an SD card for more space.

Oh, and if you do get an SD card, make sure you get the right size. They all work in much the same way but some devices take a full sized SD card, some mini-SD and some micro-SD. Some cards come with an adaptor so they can fit any size – but not all.

Some makers will also try to convince you to buy their model by throwing in extras – a case, stylus or whatever. This can be handy but in general my advice is not to be too swayed. You can always buy whatever extras you want afterwards and that way you’re more likely to get exactly what you want.

For example you might want a case that closes, like a wallet, to protect the screen. Or you might want a hard case that protects the device but doesn’t close, because they tend to be slimmer. Whichever you want, there’s not much point in being swayed by a free case if it’s not the type you wanted. (Especially since these sorts of extras tend to be pretty cheap – I think my phone case cost me £3!)

Phew – that was another long email – and put together with last week’s it’s even longer. But that should give you a good round-up of the things to take into account when you’re choosing a new phone, tablet or PC.

As I said last time, I can’t say “buy this one” partly because what’s out there changes by the day – and partly because it’ll depends on what you want it for. So instead I’ve gone over the things to think about and why you might or might not be bothered about them.

If you’re after a new device, I’d suggest going through that list and for each, thinking about what you want. Then, armed with that list you can look at what’s available safe in the knowledge you have a reasonable idea of what you’re after.

And if you’re not after a new device, why not keep this email to one side, in case you are in the future!

9 thoughts on “Advice on choosing… part 2

  1. John echlin

    A very apt subject. I have a Lenovo lap top with only 30Gb of which 27Gb is taken up with some thing that even with the ‘help’ of Microsoft Help desk can’t be removed so I can’t down load the up date 1607 that need 4.5 G B of space.
    Microsoft can’t unlock the system to allow the up date !1
    I will have to go back to John Lewis and get them to reset the machine as all I have at the moment is a blank screen alternating with LENOVO- useless.

    lap tops seem pretty useless unless you buy at top end which will cost as much as a PC with 1TR

    1. Tim Post author

      I don’t know – I’ve had some laptops that weren’t top end that have worked fine (not bottom of the range ones, either, but ones at say £400-£500). But I suspect quite a lot of luck may be involved, which is frustrating if you turn out to be unlucky…

  2. Brian. Malins

    Tim. Thank you very good advise. You can get memory sticks etc for Apple phones and pads. Brian

    1. Tim Post author

      Good point! Apple weren’t very keen on these (at first, at least) but some other companies brought special ones out to fit into Apple devices. Do make sure you get one specifically designed for Apple kit. The only snag is they stick out a bit from the case, whereas most Android devices will let you actually put the SD card into the case, which is better if you’re going to leave it connected all the time. Still, if you have an Apple device and want more space, it’s worth looking at these!


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