Shopping is tiresome (some may disagree) and this extends to electronic devices. We have all types of electronic devices at different price-points and the information overload can overcome someone.
Choosing a laptop in Kenya can be a tiresome affair since you would want to get the best laptop for the price. Here is a guideline on how to do it.
We have several operating systems out there that can run on a PC. Linux, Windows, MacOS and many more.
This is pretty straight forward. If you are a MacOS user, you are tied to using Macbooks, so upgrading is easy for you.
Linux users can easily buy a laptop with no operating system and install their favourite Linux flavour to their liking.
Windows PCs usually ship with Windows pre-installed and since it is the most popular, it is quite familiar to most people.
Chromebooks also have their own following and are usually the cheapest among the bunch. Chromebooks feature basic processors, RAM and tiny internal storage options, so they are suitable for those instances where you use web apps or for streaming.
There are several form-factors out there for laptops and it depends on what you want and your budget.
We have the classic clamshell one which is the basic folding of the lid onto the base. This is the most common formfactor for most laptops.
We have the folding types like the Lenovo Yoga which have special hinges that allow you to bend the laptop into significant degrees. They are also called convertibles which is thanks to their ability to be used in various modes like tent mode, flat mode, tablet mode (when you fold it completely) and the classic laptop mode.
There is also the detachable kind of laptop that comes in sections to form one device. A good example is the Microsoft Surface Book. This is an expensive laptop so be ready to pay to get this cool form-factor.
The amount of money that you are willing to spend on your shiny new laptop will influence the type of laptop you’ll get. Generally, the more powerful the laptop, the more expensive it is.
The CPU is one of the most important determinants in the decision to choose your laptop. We have two vendors who make laptop CPUs: Intel and AMD. AMD laptops tend to be cheaper than Intel laptops and we have a wider variety of Intel CPUs in laptops than the ones made by AMD.
Generally, new laptops with Intel Core i9 or Core i7 CPUs tend to be expensive since they are the most powerful CPUs you can get on a laptop, over Kshs 80,000 in most cases. Core i5 laptops tend to slot in the middle, between Kshs 50,000 to Kshs 80,000. Core i3 Laptops tend to range between Kshs 50,000 and Kshs 30,000. Intel’s slowest chips, the Atoms and Celerons tend to be in laptops below Ksh 30,000
Dedicated GPUs also determine how fast your laptop will do certain tasks. These special processors made by companies like NVIDIA and AMD allow you to accelerate video editing tasks, play games or render CAD projects faster.
Dedicated GPUs increase the price of the laptop and it depends on the type. For example, you can find a laptop with an NVIDIA GTX 1050 for around Kshs 70,000 but a high end NVIDIA RTX 2080 that is many times more powerful than the 1050 is usually found in Kshs 300,000 laptops.
The amount of storage or the type of storage you want on a laptop will determine the price of your laptop. Generally, the bigger the storage, the more expensive the laptop is.
Mechanical hard drives are becoming less and less prevalent in 2019 laptops but you will still find them being included. Although they are way slower than the newer solid state drives, they make up for their relative price to storage ratio. You will see a range from between 320GB on the lower end of the spectrum to 2TB hard drives on more expensive models.
However, solid state drives (SSDs) are much faster than mechanical drives. They can be between 6-35 times faster than traditional mechanical hard drives. Initially they were expensive, but their price has significantly gone down in the last few years. It is not difficult to see a refurbished laptop with a 256GB of SSD storage for less than Kshs 40,000.
You will also find that new laptops with all SSD storage are more expensive than those with the old spinning mechanical hard drives. However, you’ll also find that some laptops have both mechanical hard drives and SSDs and these are mostly “gaming laptops.”
The type of display that you want on a laptop depends on your budget and use. Most laptops have either 13 inches or 15 inches of screen real estate. I regard the “14 inch” one as a sweet spot while I find 17 inch ones as being too big in my opinion.
A graphic designer would want a laptop with great colour accuracy and sharpness, and those are found in expensive laptops like the Macbook Pro or the Dell XPS 15. A businessman won’t worry too much about colour accuracy and would want a small laptop to carry around with, so they would opt to go with a nice 13 inch laptop like the Dell XPS 13 or a HP Spectre 13.
Some people value thin bezels and Asus has several models that have that. Gamers would want a sharp display with a high refresh rate for smooth gaming and those demand a different type of display and they are not cheap. Others would want a laptop with a touchscreen and generally are more expensive than their non-touch counterparts.
Touchpad quality is one of the most overlooked parts of a PC. It is the most basic way of interacting with elements on the display and having a good touchpad is essential.
We have two main types of touchpads, plastic and glass top touchpads. Glass top touchpads are mostly on more expensive laptops while cheaper laptops tend to have the plastic ones.
The problem is that cheaper laptops usually have terrible touchpads and using them is a pain. These touchpads lack the tracking accuracy you see on better touchpads, so swiping and scrolling feels unnecessarily slow. If you get such a laptop, it is recommended you get a mouse.
If you really want a laptop with a good touchpad, you will mostly find these on expensive laptops. Use the touchpad before purchasing the laptop and determine whether you’ll be able to live with it.
A good keyboard is one that allows you to type quickly and accurately as possible and has backlight to illuminate the keyboard in the dark.
Most laptops use the island chiclet type of keyboard where each key is in small squares held together as one membrane. Other laptops have ‘mechanical’ keyboards which have complete switches underneath and are preferred by enthusiasts and especially by gamers. You will find mechanical keyboards on expensive laptops.
Cheaper laptops usually do not have backlit keyboards, which is usually unfortunate. Gamer laptops will have colourful backlit keyboards while the normal regular laptops have white backlight.
This is an important yet overlooked property of a laptop. Laptops don’t have great battery life in most cases and this applies to both cheap and expensive laptops.
Expensive laptops like gaming laptops have power hungry components so their battery lives tend to be short. Cheap laptops have tiny batteries so their battery life is hampered.
There are some laptops with phenomenal battery life. Macbook Airs, LG Gram, newest Dell XPS 13 and the Asus UX480 can easily give you over 8 hours of battery life, which is a typical work day for most people. If battery life is of concern, you may want to consider the above options.
Build quality boils down to the materials and how they are machined. Generally, laptops made with metal feel more ‘premium’ and solid and this is why they command a higher price. They have their disadvantages like getting shocked if it is not grounded properly or getting an ugly dent when they fall.
Laptops made with plastic are usually cheaper but they do not look as good as their metal counterparts. They have their advantages like no chance for being shocked and being more resistant to falls than metal laptops.
You will also find laptops that have both metal and plastic parts, like a metal lid and a plastic base. They have the merits and demerits from both extremes and can be a nice hybrid option for many.
To some people, the looks matter a lot and will play an important role when choosing their next laptop, so if you want a good looking laptop, be ready to pony up way more.
One of the best things about laptops is that unlike smartphones, you can easily change the specifications of your device by adding more RAM or storage in them.
If you are the type of person who would want to buy a laptop that you can upgrade in the long run, you will have to Google for those models that have easily serviced RAM slots (not soldered in) and have extra bays to add more storage. In some laptops, you can even replace the Wi-Fi card, CPU and the GPU!
If you are a person that values such flexibility, then a laptop like the Macbooks won’t be an option for you. Apple makes sure that you cannot upgrade any part out of the box. The RAM is soldered on and the SSDs (usually in pairs) are proprietary and you can’t use off-the-shelf varieties.
The type of ports on a laptop will depend on what you need them for. Laptops generally have a HDMI port for connecting to an external display, a couple of USB ports, headphone jack and an SD card reader.
However, we have seen a change in the last few years. Macbooks for example only come bearing USB-C ports only. No Ethernet ports, no HDMI ports, no USB-A ports and no SD card slots. You are forced to use dongles to use such ports.
If you are a content creator and you use SD cards a lot, a laptop with a SD card reader is a must. Some come with a microSD card reader, which I believe is a travesty on its own.
Always check the ports that a laptop provides so that you know what you are paying for and whether you will get features that you’ll use.
Second hand laptops
A question you might ask yourself is whether you want a second hand laptop. These could be either refurbished laptops from the manufacturers or old laptops sourced from big companies that they intend to offload when they upgrade them.
Refurbished laptops are a great option if you want to score a discount of a laptop that was returned due to a problem that has been fixed by the manufacturer. For example, Apple sells a refurbished 2018 Macbook Air with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage for $849. The same laptop is $1099 new, thereby saving you a cool $200.
In the case for second hand laptops offloaded by companies, you may get excellent deals for laptops that are two or three years old. For example you’ll see deals in shops around town where you get a laptop with a 6th Gen Intel CPU (old but still capable), 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for less than Kshs 50,000, which is pretty amazing.
If you are unable to find what you want on local stores, you may consider importing from sites like Amazon.
It is possible to get pretty good laptops for the price on Amazon. For example, I saw a Asus Vivobook on Amazon with a 1080p display with tiny bezels, backlit keyboard, USB Type C port, 8th Gen Core i3 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for only $379. Granted that will cost an extra 50% when you import (thanks to taxes) but getting such a deal locally will be rare.
There are many other examples like this on sites like Amazon or Walmart and you can ship them to Kenya using services like Savostore, VituMob and the likes.