While it was about 20 years ago that I bought my first brand-name desktop computer system (ordered from a computer warehouse magazine), I am still amazed about how much they have influenced my life. My first computer was ordered, however, without following the advice from a group of local computer gurus who recommended that I order a heavier-equipped PC. I guess, at the time, I thought that the expense would outweigh the extra benefit and that the unit I was purchasing would perform well and meet my needs. It didn’t take me long though to realize that I should have listened to them; after about six months, I began to replace the unit’s internal parts. However, now looking back, I can see how this process started me on the road to a computer career that would provide a good income and eventually consume many aspects of my life.
I think that this was, in part, due to the fact that I found replacing computer parts to be relatively easy, thus making it simple for me enjoy working with the hardware aspect of computing. I took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Fortunately, for me, I also found that I enjoyed manipulating software and that the process was a snap for me as well. In fact, I was blessed to discover that, with a little tenaciousness, my aptitude for technology allowed me to open my own successful computer business.
Not to brag, but merely to inform you of the credentials supporting my advice, let me expound a little on what has happened by the grace of a higher power. Within the business, I did everything from building new custom computer gaming systems to networking business systems as well as performing repair and maintenance on older personal PCs for my clients. In addition to this, I was blessed to secure a technology teaching position at our local junior college where I taught everything from DOS to how to use many of Microsoft’s Office software products. These ventures continued for 14 years, at which time we made a major move across country so that my wife could be near her family.
To date, my credentials also include recognition by the Microsoft Corporation, which has awarded me the coveted Most Valuable Professional (MVP) acknowledgement for the past eight years.
Again, I am not writing about my personal computer experience to toot my own horn, but rather to explain my expertise in the field of personal computers. I have dealt with hundreds of clients and students alike and have learned more from them than I believe I have taught in return. However, what I have learned over the years is that every individual has a distinct preference for the personal computer[s] with which they are comfortable using. This means that there is no “one size fits all,” or one kind of personal computer that will meet everyone’s needs and wants. Even Apple’s mighty iPad has limitations and is usually used as a supplement to — and not a total replacement for — the personal computer. In fact, the weight of the iPad, over time, can cause neck and / or shoulder discomfort if held for long periods of time.
Today, if you are preparing to make your first computer purchase, you will most likely be looking to buy a laptop computer. Laptop personal computers come in many different flavors, sizes, and configurations. In addition, the prices vary from inexpensive models to the absurdly expensive. However, like the advice that experts I long ago ignored gave me, there are some common features among computers that the potential buyer should try out before they buy.
The first thing, if you are buying a laptop, is how well the touchpad device works for you. The touchpad is generally located below the keypad and is meant to take the place of the traditional mouse that many of us prefer. Unfortunately, however, not all touchpads function the same. For example, when I received the Cr-48 Google Chrome computer for testing, the touchpad in that particular model was horrible. In fact, it took the folks at Google many moons to finally fix the problems and to get the touchpad to function properly.
So, if you are anticipating purchasing a laptop system, I would personally recommend that you visit your local Best Buy, Sam’s Club, or other retailer to try out the various touchpads before you make your purchase to see which one performs best for you. These tests are simple; just single or double click on the touchpad to determine how well the touchpad responds.
Next, give that shiny new keyboard a good thumping. Pound on the keys, within reason, to determine how much flex is exhibited and if the keys are the right size for your hands. There are also specialty keyboards that are equipped to prevent repetitive typing injuries. Then, once you think that you have found the right keyboard, sit down and see how well your palm rests on the computer. In this situation, you are looking to see if the keys are shaped properly and that your fingers will be able to comfortably type on the system.
After this is settled, you may also wish to determine how easy it is to find the volume and display brightness keys in order to see how well they operate.
Moving on, will you be using the computer to keep in touch with family and friends through Skype or some other VoIP system that might require the use of a webcam? If so, you are going to want to check out the built-in webcam to see how well it functions. Do you look like you need makeup and should be laid to rest in a coffin? If so, you may want to keep looking since this is what others will be seeing on their screen. This is also a great opportunity to check out the built-in software that can add or detract from your webcam experience.
While there, also check out the display on the computer when it is rendering movies or YouTube. To do this, make sure that the computer is connected to the Internet so that you can test the system to see if the colors in the video are sharp or washed out. You can even test the system by going to Hulu and playing a TV show or movie. You do not want to get the system home to learn later that the display on the computer is pure junk.
Last, you may wish to crank up the sound while playing the video. The sound should be crisp and clear and not sound like an echo from a soup can. A tinny sound can distort the user experience and totally make listening to a loved one’s voice over Skype annoying. The speakers should provide a clear sound when listening to music.
Most big box retailers have a large display of all of the most popular new models for you to test. Take advantage of what they have on display and try before you buy. You will be glad you did.
Image: radiant guy via Flickr