The Test Drive
Until now, we’ve been focused on how a new computer should work, but how a computer looks and feels in your lap or fits into your dÃ©cor is just as important. That’s why we recommend taking a test drive of any new computer before you commit – even if you’re shopping online.
Most PC manufacturers (Dell, which focuses heavily on online customization, being an exception) sell the same models both online and in stores. And Apple, of course, has Apple Stores as well as in-store kiosks (in Best Buy, for example) that allow shoppers to come in and explore new systems before committing. Take advantage of these things as you’re researching. You may see an online photo of a system that looks gorgeous and fits your budget – only to find out that it feels like a limp plastic toy in your hand.
Looking at laptops? Flex the lid to see how the screen holds up under pressure; lift the system off the display table to check the weight; and practice typing to make sure the keyboard doesn’t bend under the weight of your fingers. In the market for a desktop? Make sure the USB ports and other jacks are easily accessible, and feel free to un-latch the door to see how easy it’ll be to swap out parts later. Car shoppers call this “kicking the tires,” and there’s no reason not to do it when you’re looking at a $1,000-plus computer investment.
Of course, you just might not have physical access to a computer you’re interested in buying, which is why you should ignore the manufacturer’s marketing copy and focus on customer reviews (most manufacturers now include these) and Google searches (“Macbook Air review,” for example). Pay attention to number ratings, but spend time reading, as well. Be wary of reviews that seem to have been written by manufacturers – write-ups that seem intentionally vague or overly specific are both giveaways – and likewise, be wary of reviews written by people who clearly don’t have the first clue about operating a computer. The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in the middle.