Do pricey laptops really make sense?

Do pricey laptops mean more value for money?

Laptops have gotten cheaper for the consumers over the years. There remains a segment of business users who prefer to go for pricey laptops and still not indulge in gaming or video editing or any of the processor or graphics intensive tasks to fully leverage the power of their system. This article here does speak about just that. Apparently cheaper options are not value for money. I will explain why this piece appears more like a detailed advertisement for the hardware manufacturers than one to benefit readers who want to get the best out of their systems for the minimal cost. The question remains – do all pricey laptops really make sense?

Do pricey laptops offer more value for money

First let me debunk the fallacy of thinking that the more you pay the better you get. It may hold true for a number of models, but on the whole that is not a correlation. I will pick up some ultrabooks selling in the Indian market for this comparison. I will pick a few budget laptops that could easily meet the demands of the users anyway. This should settle the dispute on this point – the more money does not necessarily mean more value.

Let’s assume we have the average business user in mind. They form the biggest chunk of the market. What do they do basically? It’s office related work, some light music, a movie or two in flights or in travel and a lot of applications than can run in parallel. Monitor extension, a strong WiFi, long battery life and the weight become important.

So technically they will require the following –

  1. A decent display. It should have a decent viewing angle. But for office use, wide angles are really not all that required, unless you want others to see what you are doing all the time.
  2. A decent processor that handles multithreading well. Almost any processor today will do that fine.

iii. Some graphics power to power up any extra monitor you may hook it up to. This is obviously optional. All laptops now come with DVI or HDMI ports to extend their displays. Almost all inbuilt graphics adapters will do the job fine for work or even playing HD movies upto a resolution of 1080p. 4k resolutions may get tougher. But then you are buying a machine to do work.

  1. Good keyboard, wide touchpad and general ergonomics
  2. Light in weight and cool in use
  3. Powerful battery

Then there are the simple users who just browse the internet and play some casual games , video chat with friends and so on. They require no great computing power. The only power users would be the gamers. They will need pricey laptops, simply because there can never be truly cheaper computers with high end graphics cards, processors and motherboards in a small factor with a small price tag. So they can be left out of this discussion. Let’s get down and dirty.

Here’s the list of ultrabooks that are currently available on amazon in India right now. I am choosing the costlier ones. I will pick 3 for now.

Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2HN/A @ Rs. 149,399.00

This beast packs a quad core Intel Core i7 processor clocking up to 3.6 GHz under Turbo Boost. It has 16 GB RAM, a 256 GB SSD Hard drive, Retina display with a 2880×1800 resolution and more. It does provide a lot of power. But does the price do justice to the specs at hand? Yes, if you want to see the corners of your fonts in great detail with your Retina Display and if you want to carry an external Hard drive with you all the time. Rest assured, the 256 GB SSD will be filled up pretty quickly. The ergonomics and look and feel of this machine is impossible to match, but the overall the price is simply excessive. Even then I would consider this to be more evenly price when compared to the monsters that are mentioned below.

Microsoft Surface Pro @ Rs. 144, 990.00

Ok. I understand this is a Surface device. And it packs a superb set of components in such a small size. But does it make any sense? Absolutely not. You are paying such a premium for a system that gives you only 8 GB of RAM. If you are multitasking or God forbid into any video editing, you will fall short soon enough. Heck, even photo editing will run into issues with Photoshop becoming sluggish to use. This is not surprising because the bulk of the price is for the premium processor you are getting. However, the i7 is in anycase not a huge boost over the Core i5. But hey, it has a ‘7’ to it, right? Check your CPU usage if you are using it. Let me know if it ever crosses over 50% and stays there for a minute. And I will change this post. The extra you pay is simply to show what computers will be capable of in the very near future – where portability will not mean compromising with quality. However, at this point – the Surface Pro is not easy to use nor carry. It gets hot while using and has other issues. You will be better off getting the iPad Air 2 instead if you really want to carry a tablet around. It will cost you only Rs. 35580 while you are at it. You can get one external keyboard cover with it to augment your needs. All well within Rs. 40,000.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 20A80056IG @ Rs. 179,500.00

An absolute beauty, this powerful machine is just 17 mm thick and weighs only 1.36 kg. But this is the best example, the absolute flagship of a fleet of systems that just should not exist. I mean look at the memory it gives. 8 GB. At this price! 256 GB SSD Hard Disk comes with it by default. Which means you will need another disk pretty soon. It comes with no DVD reader either, but that’s okay considering the fact that this is 2016. What is inexcusable is the price.

So all the above laptops are good. But are they good enough for the bonus you pay for them? We will find out when I put some of the cheapest machines to compete with the beasts.

The attack of the minnows (relatively)

Dell Inspiron 3542 @ Rs. 27,399.00

One of the most beautiful laptops, it looks simple, is quiet, has a slightly older 4th generation Intel Core i3 processor and 4 GB of RAM. I know this is not exactly an ultrabook but it weighs less than 2.5 kg even with a regular magnetic 2.5 inch hard drive. The memory is low but you can add another stick of 4 GB DDR3 memory for less than Rs. 2000. It delivers a great performance as long as you don’t intend to play heavy games on it. The finish is great, the keys have a good feedback and the touchpad feels premium and it comes with a USB 3.0 port. Overall, it can be a very good experience using this. The battery life is it’s only real issue with about a little more than 4 hours of continuous usage under regular use.

Asus UX305FA-FC129T @ Rs. 52,165

Pretty much a branded MacBook Air clone, this has almost similar specs to the MacBook Pro, except with only 4 GB of RAM and a little 2GHz Core M-5Y10 processor. That is basically a Core i5 stripped down to a single SoC unit for use in tablets and small form factor PCs. The biggest advantage or disadvantage is that it consumes very little power. So, it gives out little power if pushed to the limits. But the SSD comes with 256 GB of memory and Windows 10. The RAM can be increased as in the previous system. Plus, it weighs only 1.2 kg and is just 1.23 cm thick. Ergonomics wise also this scores high with a well spaced keyboard and a large touch pad. A single charge will carry you through way above 8 hours.

Lenovo U41-70 80JV007GIN @ Rs. 45,799.00

This uses the almost latest 5th generation Intel Core i5 5200 class of laptops. clocked at 2.7 GHz. The only issue with this system is that it supports a maximum of 8 GB only. Item weight is 2 kg with a height of 2 cm. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports in this and the hard drive has got 1 TB of space along with an 8 GB SSD for speeding up the booting process. Overall, this system packs a considerable punch if you can upgrade with an additional 4 GB. The processor should handle all needs quite comfortably. The battery life will be lower with around 4 hours for constant usage. The key spacing is good and typing feels nice and smooth on the other hand.

So what were the major differences?

  1. Processor: Compared to the 6th generation i7s cheaper laptops went with i3 or older generation i5s. But if you look into the details you will find this. No. I am not saying that the newer generation ones are worse than those before. Just that the rest of the hardware is not built to fully make use of the new juice that the 6th generation i7s provide. The software is also not able to maximize the usage of the multiple cores properly, even to this day. So the price premium does not adequately justify the small improvement on performance. The older generation processors have a lot of life left in them.
  2. Memory – The pricey laptops come with 8 to 16 GB of RAM. But memory is one of the cheapest components you can buy. Even in the cheapest of laptops you can buy a stick or two to get your memory up to 8GB which is enough for even basic gaming rigs.
  3. Hard Drive – You get SSDs for pricey laptops but even for the cheaper ones you get a full magnetic disk of at least 500GB of storage space. Remember that even with the pricey laptops you will most likely need to carry an external hard disk soon enough, especially if you store movies or music in them. In any case you can always add or replace the hard disk that came with your budget laptop with an SSD for much less.
  4. Ergonomics – This is no longer a major issue. Be it the tactile feedback of the keys or the weight of the laptops, budget friendly no longer means they will be ergonomically poor. Touch pads are also usually much larger for your benefit.
  5. Battery life – This is one issue that is likely to remain. Sure, you won’t get the 10 hours battery backup of some of the premium offerings but surely that is not good enough to pay more than Rs. 100000 for. Even then you can maximize your battery life with proper power settings and so on. Some even provide a massive backup even in this price bracket as one up above.
  6. Build Quality – Sure you won’t get as good a deal here. But even then around Rs. 40 to 50k you will find a quality that is comparable to the ones higher up the ladder.

So overall, as you can see, the budget laptops actually end up providing far more value for money than their more costlier counterparts. I don’t wish to say that this is always the rule but stating that the more you pay the more value you get is a marketing trick best ignored.