How to Buy a Laptop This Holiday Season

With the arrival of the touch-friendly Windows 8 operating system, PC-makers are experimenting like never before when it comes to notebook design. Tablets with docks, screens that slide up to reveal keyboards and even laptops that fold over on themselves have all been introduced. It’s probably the most innovation we’ve seen since, well, ever. However, it remains to be seen which style of notebook will gain the most traction among consumers.

What to Look For

Touch or No Touch?

One thing’s for sure: You’re going to see a lot more touch screens. From Live Tiles to multitasking to browser tabs, everything in Windows 8’s Modern UI is designed to be manipulated by your fingers. So if you can afford the premium, go for it. Value-priced notebooks will stick with touchpads, but make sure they support all of the operating system’s new gestures.

Check Out That Hard Drive

Also take note of the hard drive type. For top speed, solid state drives (SSDs) remain the best choice. For those who can’t afford them, a hybrid hard drive provides a happy medium. These drives combine a traditional hard disk with a small SSD cache — usually 20 or 32GB — that’s used to speed boot and application-open times.

What you get for...

Up to $600

A good number of Windows 8 notebooks will basically be the same laptops you’re used to, which means no touch screen. But how to navigate the touch-centric UI? The touchpads on these systems will incorporate several new gestures, such as swiping in from the right to activate Windows 8’s Charms menu, for example. Most of these systems will have 15-inch displays, a Core i3 or AMD processor and about 500GB of storage.

$600 to $1,000

Many Ultrabooks, which deliver slim designs, fast performance and long battery life, can be found in this range. Once you get to $799 and up, you’ll find many laptops with touch screens. In order to accommodate all this touching, the hinges on the screens have been beefed up, so lids won’t wobble when you press on them. These notebooks range in size from 13 inches on up.

More than $1,000

Innovation doesn’t come cheap. Top models — the ones with touch screens, SSDs, sliding displays or some combination of the above — will cost upward of $1,000, more than double the average selling price of a notebook. Here, you’ll get all the best — full HD displays, 128GB or higher SSDs and Core i7 processors — plus the sleekest designs and premium materials, such as aluminum and carbon fiber.

LAPTOP Reviews Editor