Modern life is digital.
From smart watches to virtual drives, technology connects us to work, family, social calendars, and fun.
All these advances give us the ability to reach out no matter where we stand, and as the world gets smaller more people choose to take their technology along.
More jobs provide options for employees to work remotely or from home, and working on a standard desktop computer is no longer necessary thanks to laptop computers.
With a variety of features leading to unlimited choices, laptops evolved in ways to make them more than just portable from the office to the home.
Functional laptops are no longer just for high ranking executives or travel writers; they are used by weekend warriors and teenagers too.
Now that our personal lives connect so completely to the digital equipment we use, protecting your laptop is more than just avoiding impacts.
Concerns such as theft or property loss should also be at the top of the list.
The concept of the personal computer entered our lives in the 1970s, and ways to make digital devices smaller and faster continue to develop at a rapid pace.
Technically, even your smartphone is a hand-held computer, capable of downloading information and software programs with ease.
Often referred to as notebooks, laptop computers may bear trademark names, such as a MacBook, but are still technically laptops.
To make sure you understand the difference between a laptop and a tablet, laptops include a few features not found on a tablet:
Laptops were originally meant to sit on your lap instead of a desk, hence the name.
But soon developers realized the applications for outdoor use in harsh conditions, such as in the military on missions, and the rugged notebook emerged.
Initially heavy duty and heavy literally, these laptops survive in various weather conditions and handle strong vibrations without issue. With ports that seal, rubberized sheeting to protect the keyboard and bright display screens, rugged laptops are in use by emergency service departments including police and fire.
These bulky, expensive units are portable but not feasible for anyone whose office is mobile.
While you may consider switching out that desktop for a laptop, the best unit for home use may not be the best type of laptop for frequent travelers.
Being portable is not always enough.
As laptops evolved to handle complex software programs and increased storage capacity, the need for features such as long battery life came into play.
Some manufacturers struggled with laptops overheating, but the safety of portable computers is light years ahead of the technology from only ten years ago.
Devices that weigh a mere two pounds and can link to the internet from the tiniest village make the impossible a reality.
Doctors can visually see patients thousands of miles away, and translation software connects us faster than ever dreamed. The laptop is no longer a luxury, but a necessary tool in fields around the world.
Try to look at all the options available in notebooks today as a good thing and not get overwhelmed by choices.
First, make a list of your needs based on how you plan to use the laptop.
Will you travel to conferences or use the computer for gaming on the road?
Is this a tool necessary for giving presentations and doing research or just keeping the kids busy when you need a break?
Asking these questions and writing down the answers creates a map that brings you closer to finding the right laptop for your travel needs.
Not all laptops are great for regular travel.
We will talk about transportation and accessories a bit later, so for now let’s focus on the differences in the types of laptops available.
Traditional laptops have a clamshell structure that keeps the keyboard and screen protected by closing the unit in on itself by folding it in half.
They sport a screen size ranging from 11 – 17 inches (measured diagonally like a television screen).
Another option is the 2-in-1.
This unit functions as both laptop and tablet via a disconnecting keyboard.
Able to run full operating systems like a laptop, but with a removable touchscreen like a tablet, 2-in-1 devices often carry the label of “laptop replacement tablet.” Expect portables with features like this to be more expensive than a traditional laptop.
Unlike a tablet, 2-in-1s have ports to attach accessories like a mouse, speakers, or external displays.
Thin and lightweight, think of these as high-end devices. An excellent example of a modern 2-in-1 is the Microsoft Surface Pro. You should also check out our ultimate guide to the best Microsoft laptops.
Similar constructions are convertibles.
They integrate a swivel so the touchscreen can rotate and cover the keyboard, turning the unit into a thick version of a tablet. Hybrid devices have a detachable keyboard as well, and most of the weight (and components) is in the display portion.
Netbooks are even smaller and lighter, but cannot handle desktop applications and instead work with web-based apps.
This means netbooks have very little hard drive storage and are great for surfing, but not for work, so the low cost of a netbook does not mean it serves as an alternative for a fully geared laptop.
The term “ultrabook” refers to laptops built to move.
These units are lighter, smaller, and usually, have long battery life.
Sometimes called subnotebooks, these travel-friendly laptops can handle most jobs a traditional laptop can do, but typically the screen is smaller.
Understand these are not the same as netbooks and are both more functional and expensive.
Since you’ve decided the laptop is coming along as a regular piece of travel equipment, let’s take a look at the expected specifications for a good travel laptop.
For consistency, we will base the size of a laptop on the display screen.
Depending on the tasks your digital travel companion must take on, a smaller screen will also generally mean a lighter unit that is easier to store.
If you have a favorite carry-on bag, make sure the laptop you choose will fit inside with space around it for padding and extra equipment (more on that later).
A laptop screen will be at least ten inches across, and larger heavier laptops may have a screen up to seventeen inches diagonally.
Remember, larger means heavier, so if you are creating simple report or presentations, a smaller screened unit may be all you need.
For those who are working with photo editing or complex programs that require layers of photos (such as planners or GIS analysts), you may want a larger screen.
Carrying a laptop in a shoulder bag is taxing, and if you travel in professional attire, a backpack is not an option even though it may be more comfortable on your back.
While seven pounds may be easy to lift a few times, the strain of all day travel means every pound carried adds up quick.
Ultralight laptops weigh as little as two pounds and up to about five pounds. If your travel includes carrying lots of other items, you may want to sacrifice size for less weight.
The battery in an ultrabook should last at least ten hours between charges.
While this will decrease over time, think of it as a good baseline for your laptop. Smaller models with fewer features will run longer, and high-quality devices should offer around fourteen hours of battery life.
Think of each time you recharge your laptop as one cycle.
The average laptop battery can handle about 400 charge cycles; after that, it starts to taper off and needs recharging more often.
Preserve the longevity of your battery by reducing the load when possible. This could include closing programs you aren't using or decreasing the brightness of the display.
Let’s talk a bit more about what’s under the hood.
Computers use a few different types of memory, just like your body uses different types of muscles. The first component to consider when researching any computer is the available RAM or random-access memory.
Think of RAM as the muscles used for movement.
When the computer is turned on, getting the operating system up and running, along with any other startup applications like anti-virus software uses up available RAM – meaning before you have even started working some of the random-access memory is already gone.
The more programs and applications you have running at once will use up more RAM, and eventually, the computer begins slowing down, leading to glitches or lag.
Sometimes memory leaks are out of your control, but using programs with high-resolution video or photos will also eat up RAM faster.
Plan on doing video editing with your laptop? Then make sure to purchase a unit with a higher RAM capacity.
The central processing unit, or CPU, is also commonly called just the processor.
Laptops utilize a CPU that produces less heat and have power-saving features. While most CPUs are comparable in both laptops and desktops, this is one of the few advantages of desktop computers.
Desktops run faster CPUs that generate more heat and use significantly more power. Heavier model laptops may allow for upgrades or replacement of a CPU, but lighter and thinner models like ultrabooks are permanently set with the factory installed CPU.
This means your travel laptop is not upgradable most of the time, and you will eventually find programs are too RAM hungry or the CPU just can’t keep up with complex software programs.
It’s worth it to get the latest generation processor, and both Intel and AMD keep their units fairly low-cost.
The next important component is the GPU or graphical processing unit.
The graphics card in laptops is often integrated within the CPU, meaning the specifications on your CPU and GPU are listed together. This saves space and weight but doesn't work for all applications.
Individuals using 3D graphics in design programs or avid online gamers prefer devices with a separate GPU add-on. These high-end graphics processors also include an off switch – meaning you can shut off the intense graphic support when you don’t need it to save on RAM and power usage.
The internal storage of your laptop takes place with the SSD (solid-state drive) or HDD (hard disk drive).
In the past, hard disk drives were used in laptops and desktops alike.
The issue is an HDD generates more heat and uses more power while also being susceptible to corruption by shockwaves or impact. Drop an old laptop and often the data stored on an HDD is lost too.
Solid-state drives are more expensive than their HDD counterparts, but the trade-off is a lighter, sturdier method of long-term digital storage.
As travel laptops get smaller and even easier to carry around, hard storage space on the device is sacrificed for keeping data on an outside source such as flash drives, external hard drives, or cloud-based services.
So, how much space does your travel laptop need?
Well, if you plan to work offline, then having a large amount of storage at your fingertips may be necessary.
The best advice we can offer is to invest in a travel laptop that exceeds your current needs for RAM, storage memory and processing so as your workload increases the device will not noticeably lose efficiency. How do you figure out the efficiency?
The laptop has a clock speed that shows precisely how the device is performing.
Now we can't move forward without taking a moment to talk about the elephant in the room – Apple.
Many businesses and people working remotely love their Apple laptops. So, let's settle the debate with a few reasons why.
Apple products integrate well and communicate with each other easily.
If you are already using an iPad, iPod, Apple Watch or iPhone, your Mac laptop looks and feels the same. Apple boasts high customer experience ratings and loyalty to a familiar brand goes far. Never expect a price cut though. Even the budget-friendly versions will be on the higher end.
Apple has always put creative design at the forefront and professionals preferred it when working with multimedia including video production and editing.
Also, if there are going to be new and unique features on coming, Apple is usually fast on the market with a fully operational product.
The uses for a travel laptop cross over all fields and demographics. The basic uses involve:
Work varies greatly, depending on the field.
You may interactive with massive databases in the medical industry or store huge amounts of data in layers of maps in CAD or GIS programs. Or perhaps, you are a travel writer sitting on the beach for inspiration.
Regardless of the job's nature, laptops bring technology and communication to our fingertips in real time.
It lets you bring the office along, while still being able to close the notebook when the work day is done.
Education is a fast-growing field that utilizes more technology than ever.
From virtual schools and Blackboard drop boxes for assignments to live feed lectures, laptops are the perfect way to stay connected with your studies. No excuse for not completing your homework now though!
Recreation and leisure go hand in hand, and the digital world allows us to take a plethora of photos or video and offload them onto a laptop at the hotel later that same day. You can even edit photos and create a vacation CD and give it to the family before heading out to the airport.
Browsing is also a part of playtime.
From killing time searching for silly cat videos to confirming your zip line reservations, having quick access to real-time updates on traffic and facilities on your agenda allows more time for fun.
Gaming is a culture all its own now, and dedicated gamers have different laptop needs than your average person.
Powerful laptops with epic graphics and super speed processors also need to be ready for hours of non-stop use without overheating.
While a laptop is not a carryon item by itself, regulations currently require all laptops be removed from bags and placed in a separate bin for the security scanner.
Often, the TSA representative will ask you to turn it on (or off).
All portable devices have an airplane mode setting so you can work or play offline while in the air.
To avoid the extra hassle of dragging out your laptop while trying to take off your shoes and keep an eye on your wallet, we suggest frequent travelers take the time to join the six million others who participate in TSA’s Pre-check program.
This preliminary background checks and fingerprinting allows you to go through a different, and shorter, security line at the airport terminal. You don’t have to go through certain checks including removing your laptop or shoes!
While airports offer internet access for free, BEWARE.
This wide, public-access internet forum leaves your laptop – and all the sensitive information on it – exposed to infiltration by hackers and viruses.
Traveling with your laptop involves more than just shoving it into a bag.
Having all the necessary accessories on hand and easily accessible is also important. Some items you want on hand include:
Your laptop also needs some extra love before going into the bag.
A soft-sided laptop case will protect the exterior from scratches and dirt while giving an added layer of padding.
A plastic cover over the back may be worth the purchase too if your laptop is expensive or a company issued device. And list the laptop on your traveler’s insurance!
For business trips, a messenger-style laptop bag is sleep and professional but wears on your back and shoulders.
Backpacks designed for laptops provide extra padding but don't have much room to spare for other personal items once you've filled it with the needed accessories.
We suggest a laptop specific bag that includes pockets for the extra stuff.
To avoid theft, don’t leave your precious cargo unattended in a vehicle. Having a bag made for comfort will make you less likely to leave it sitting on a seat in the rental car while you run inside the gas station to grab a drink.
If you are going to be in an airport or hotel for long periods of time without using the laptop, utilize the hotel safe or lockers and secure the device safely.
Shut off the laptop to avoid battery drain and always disconnect from public wi-fi immediately after completing your tasks.
Aside from style and personal taste, always think of functionality when it comes to transporting your laptop.
If the bag is too heavy or hurts, find an alternative made of a lighter material or find ways to carry fewer items inside.
The purpose of a laptop bag is to protect the computer from shock and outside elements.
Keep your laptop dry and free from sand (sorry beachgoers) by using the great equipment and accessories that are meant to serve that very purpose. They can’t work if you don’t use them.
Your digital life can come with you all over the world, and having a travel laptop should feel like a blessing instead of a burden.
Taking the time to shop for the right computer specifically for travel use provides peace of mind and allows you to focus on work or play whenever and wherever you want.
Protect your digital equipment by staying smart and responsible.
Think of the information on the notebook as being just as important as the equipment.
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