They say we spend more time with our work colleagues than our family, but there’s one thing you’re likely to spend even more of your life gazing at: your laptop. Every day you’ll tap on its keyboard, carry it to meetings, stare at its screen – so it makes sense to get this all-important buying decision right.
So how do you avoid buying one based on skin-deep appeal, or just because it happens to be plastered across TV adverts and billboards? This guide strips the buying decision down to five key factors to help you make the right choice.
Factor 1: Durable. Stylish. Light.
Note the order of words above: durable; stylish; light. It’s so tempting to buy a laptop based on looks alone, but instead this needs to be wrapped between two other key factors: durability and weight.
You could be using this laptop for three years or more, so there’s no point in choosing a machine that looks great for the first six months. That means a chassis chiselled from top-quality materials, such as CNC aluminium.
Weight is another crucial factor. This laptop will sit in your bag every day, so you don’t want it weighing you down. You should be aiming for the 1kg mark, only stepping over if the size of the screen is more important to you than weight.
Factor 2: Security. Support. Trust.
Criminals always attack the weakest targets, so it makes sense to choose an inherently secure laptop. With the introduction of Windows 10, keep an eye out for machines that support Windows Hello – this uses an Intel RealSense webcam to effectively scan you when you open up the lid, and only unlock if it’s you.
In addition, look out for features that defend against BIOS attacks, which are likely to become an increasingly attractive way for criminals as business laptops start to date (especially those using older OSes).
Over the life of your laptop, no matter which brand you choose, there’s every chance something will go wrong, so you need to have excellent support. We recommend choosing one with real-time support, 24/7, even if it’s something you have to pay a little extra for.
This all ties into the third element: trust. It’s possible you may be swayed into spending a little less on a machine from an unfamiliar brand. The question is, do you trust them? There’s a reason why the biggest names around have been around for a while.
Factor 3: Connectivity. Collaboration. Call quality.
Often manufacturers sacrifice practical features such as ports and connectivity in favour of sleek designs. This isn’t a red flag, but it’s definitely something you should consider before making your decision.
In particular, when you’re back at your desk you probably want to hook up your peripherals. In the office you might have a port replicator, with a second screen, keyboard and mouse already attached, while back at home you might want to plug it directly into a monitor and connect your keyboard and mouse. You’ll never regret having the correct video outputs and spare USB ports; you will regret an over-reliance on adapters.
Bearing in mind how many conference calls you’re likely to have over time, another increasingly important factor in an executive laptop boils down to collaboration. Is the combination of webcam, built-in microphone and speakers enough for you to forgo a dedicated headset when on a Skype call? Make sure the manufacturer of your laptop is confident enough about this area to give it a dedicated mention on its website, and keep an eye out for dual-microphone arrays (these cut background noise and help keep your voice clear).
Factor 4: Speed. Battery life. Storage.
There was a time when performance was the number-one factor in any PC or laptop buying decision, but now you really need only look for two words: “Intel Core”. Whichever chip you choose from Intel’s Core processor range will be fast enough for a typical executive’s workload, and you only need to move up the range if you’re going to be pushing your laptop with number-crunching tasks such as CAD and 4K video editing.
If you do think you need a bit more power, then look out for Core i5, Core i7 or Core m7 processors. The m7 offers the best balance between low-wattage when you don’t need it and plenty of grunt when you do.
Which leads to the other half of the equation: battery life. Fortunately, it’s very unlikely that a top-end laptop aimed at executives will falter here, but it’s worth noting that battery life does deteriorate over the lifetime of your machine, so one lasting six hours today may only keep going for four hours after three years of use. It would be a shame to ruin the sleek lines of your messenger bag with a power supply if you can avoid it.
The final thing to consider when gazing down the specs list before pressing “Buy” is memory and storage. Memory is simple – choose 8GB if you can, 4GB if you need to scrimp and save – but storage is a little more complicated.
We would recommend a solid state drive (SSD). These offer less storage than mechanical hard disks, but are quicker and far less likely to break down because they don’t contain moving parts. They also put less of a strain on your battery and generate less heat within that slim chassis. Opt for 256GB or higher if you can afford it.
Factor 5: Ergonomics. Screen size. Flexibility.
People have different tastes when it comes to keyboards, so head to a bricks-and-mortar retailer and tap away yourself if you can. The last thing you want is to spend over $2,000 on a laptop and hate using it.
The screen is a different matter. This is one of the areas that’s sacrificed most readily as manufacturers try to trim costs, but try to avoid this temptation when buying. It’s a cliché, but it’s also true: you’ll be looking at this rectangle of light and colours for the next three years.
In terms of screen size, the current hot spot is between 12.5in and 13.3in. This is small enough to ensure the laptop weighs around 1kg while being big enough to do real work on. There’s no need to go crazy on the resolution either: 1,920 x 1,080 (sometimes called FHD) is an excellent compromise between detail and readability.
Our final word is on flexibility. You can now buy high-quality 2-in-1 laptops that use a detachable keyboard to transform the laptop into a tablet, while “convertible” laptops have a touchscreen that twists round to make it easier to write on. Many people who’ve switched to such machines swear they would never go back to a normal laptop.
The drawback of these designs is they tend to be a little heavier than conventional ultraportable laptops, and can also be a little more expensive. If you’re already carrying round a laptop and a tablet, though, consider how much easier life would be with one combined device.
Executive laptops: An instant shortlist
HP EliteBook Folio
The world’s thinnest and lightest business-class laptop
HP Elite x2 1012
Cutting edge 2-in-1 laptop that marries beauty with power