Hackin’ The Net

rainbow-pcIf you have been following the business news of late, you’ll already know that sales of computers are, for the most part, falling. Apple seems to be the notable exception, but as a whole the sector, as they call it in the biz world, is seeing fewer and fewer comput¬ers being sold. This includes both the towers and laptops, which is, I suppose, why some readers have asked me, “Should I buy a new computer or laptop or is a tablet all I need now?” I will attempt to give an answer, but first let me say I have person¬ally crowded out my old laptop by not replacing it, while adding a new desktop and iPad both in the past 12 months. My reasons are simple: I need the desktop to do this and other layouts and I find what programs are out there for tablets lack sufficient computing power for the job. I also find, even when I tried a friends keyboard, doing extensive writing on a tablet to be a challenge.

But that’s me and that’s only my personal reply to those asking: laptop, desktop or tab¬let? It really depends a lot on what you are going to use it for, what you seek long-term and what you are used to. I find that I, along with many of my “older” friends have a tough time typing on an e-keyboard, which is what I call one which does not exist — save for on a screen. I grew up too many years ago to have ever learned to type with my thumbs, as my younger friends and partners who text a lot do, and I also find the size of my iPad too cumbersome to even try that, to be honest.
That said, I have always typed “hunt-and-peck” and that works just fine on the iPhone or iPad keyboard though it does get chuckles from my thumb-wielding friends. If you can ignore the detractors, I find it works great for a short text, note or e-mail though I’d not wish to do this column nor anything longer that way.

The above said, I find that I need to have both an iPad and a desktop computer with a real, honest-to-goodness keyboard, meaning what’s been crowded out of the equation is my laptop — a device which I no longer feel I even need to take on short or medium range trips. I do know many friends say they’d feel lost without a laptop but I am never sure if they are using it to fill the role of a needed piece of gear or a security blanket.

So on a more positive note what do the readers who asked me about a choice of equip¬ment need to consider?
First and foremost what they plan to use their device for. If they have a lot of typing to do, I and many others say they’d prefer the laptop or desktop with a real keyboard, so that’s one issue.

Another is how big do they need or want the screen to be. If an iPad or iPad mini (or for that matter, a smart phone or other tablet device) screen is adequate then there’s not much reason to buy, pay for, then ante up electric bills for a huge monitor which can’t be easily moved or even for a laptop with a 13-inch or larger screen. I always try and over-buy my screen size as I read a lot of newspapers at www.pressdisplay.com and other sites, but again it’s all up to the individual’s likes and eyes.

Next, practicality of the device needs considering. If you travel a great deal for work or pleasure, how much use will an iMac or other large desktop computer be? Same for those with multiple homes who can’t easily lug around a big hunk of kit. But on the other side of the coin, do you even need or want a laptop when these days most of us are doing e-mails, texts, instant messaging and surfing the web on our phones or pads?

There’s also the issue of costs associated with mobile surfing and messaging. Recall last month’s column about phone firms throttling heavy data users or charging extra if you go over a basic package. If your hotel, coffee shop or 2nd home at the beach has WiFi, that’s fine, but remember that’s not always free either, especially if you lean toward classier hotels which tend to ask $6 to $14 a day for what’s often poor WiFi or have a monthly fee for that 2nd home’s DSL.

Also to consider is who will be using what you buy. A family can easily share a desktop computer so long as mom and dad make use of passwords to separate junior from their stock portfolios or racy content, but it’s harder to share a laptop and very prob¬lematic to co-use an iPhone, pad or tablet computer. If you think of it, this is some¬what like deciding if you need a car or a motorcycle. It’s easily possible to carry one passenger on the back of that Ninja with the driver, but for the most part motorcycles are solo vehicles and cars, SUVs and vans can carry a whole gaggle of folks and luggage. Get the right device for the load it needs to carry!

Also, there’s the matter of price. Laptops and desktop computers have, for the most part (especially if you are pc and not Mac) come down considerably in recent years.

You can get a more-than-adequate laptop for under $500 and a decent desktop for little more. While iPads are pricy, we have seen tablet computers (albeit of what we’d term dubious quality) for under $100 at some close-out stores. We admit a huge Apple bias and wouldn’t touch either a pc or Droid OS, but that’s mainly because our house has been Mac since I bought my first SE/30 in 1989, back when most folks didn’t own a computer and no web existed, save for what a spider put in the basement.

Finally, please do not forget the “what if” factor whether you buy a computer, laptop or tablet. That’s “What if it breaks?” and “What if I drop it in water or it falls in the lake?” and “What if the battery quits” or “What if it just dies? What happens to my photos or data?” There are a lot of possible answers to any and all of these, and while I admit a huge laziness I urge you to consider them all.

I happen to love Macs and i devices because purchasing AppleCare means I just show up at my local Apple store and they make it right. The new AppleCare+ goes even fur¬ther and covers two “incidents”. Even if my iPad falls in the pool at a hotel, the most I’ll pay in replacement for the life of the AppleCare+ is $49. Remember, too, who will be using what you buy. If you plan on a tablet for your child or phone for that careless husband then you better plan for at least one repair while you own the device.

As Apple’s website says: “Every iPad comes with one year of hardware repair coverage through its limited warranty and up to 90 days of complimentary support. AppleCare+ for iPad extends your coverage to two years from the original purchase date of your iPad and adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage, each subject to a $49 service fee.” I happen to think that’s an awesome deal.

But some pc’s and devices without that Apple also offer great service and warranty repair or replacement. Best Buy has their Geek Squad and other firms and makers also offer extensions to warranties and replacements, as do some credit cards if you used them to charge that purchase so after care is not exclusive to Apple.

But this is a major “buyer beware!” area meaning you not only need to shop for the right device, but you need to look at the possibility that you may require help once you plunk down your cash in the first place. Get all the details in writing and then compare. Remember that even the fanciest sports car won’t look “cool” if it’s sitting in your garage and won’t start. The same can be said of that top-of-the-line iPad if your partner dropped it in the bath and you do not have insurance.
Also be aware that many resellers of gear either do not know or care enough to push insurance or protection plans so you must shop informed. A good friend recently replaced an iPhone from a major carrier’s store after his first fell into Eagle Creek reservoir. We assumed he’d been sold AppleCare+, but he admitted not only had he not bought it, but the clerk didn’t offer it nor volunteer to help him transfer his data.

He was blown away when we told him since it was an iPhone he’d drowned, he could have instead gone to the Apple store where they not only can do service and sales on any providers iPhone or pad, but staff will assist with data transfers.
So there you have our long non-answer to the folks who wrote and asked “What should I buy?” Maybe there are more questions here than answers, but maybe, too I got you thinking. As always, questions and issues for the column are welcome via e-mail to ted@midwestword.com And happy pride!


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