Device buying guide:  what do you really need?

What you'll get from this guide

Updated 2020-21 buying guide:  as of 9/1/20

Phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TVs

Plus, how to buy for the future without breaking the bank

And answers to common questions

01   Do you even need a new device?

02   2020-21 device buying grid

03   Tablet, laptop, or desktop?

04   Mac or PC?

05   Apple or Android?

06   Other considerations

You're shopping for a new device.  After doing some research and asking around, you finally found the one:  an iPhone. 

 

You get excited because you think you're approaching the end of this informed, buying decision, but then you notice you're actually looking at four different iPhones, yet they all appear pretty similar.  You shrugg off the bewilderment until you lean in a little closer and realize that each of those four iPhones has three different models, and they're all labelled in miniature font with all kinds of different giggabytes and jiggapixels that seem important.  "128gb?  Why not 129gb?  Is that enough?", you ask yourself.  Alas, what you thought was one iPhone is actually 12.  And what you thought had one price actually ranges from $399 to $1,450.

 

In a frazzled panic you just buy whatever looks good, and two years later you find yourself doing this all over again.

Don't do that.  Let the herd help you.

01   Do you even need a new device?

Unless you just want the latest technology, there's often no need to get a new device.  If it doesn't work like it used to, it might make sense to try a few tweaks before shelling out the cash for a new one.  Beware of yesterday's tech geeks who advertise "tuning-up" your device as if it were a 1989 station wagon pulling in for a 101 point inspection.  Join the herd—we can walk you through it.

 

Regardless of what type of device you have, the process is virtually the same and usually involves a combination of uninstalling unnecessary applications, running a disk cleanup, updating your software, changing a few easy settings, maybe running a malware scan, and, if necessary, reinstalling software (backup first).​

02   2020-21 device buying grid

Since people come to us to simplify complex things, we figured we'd put our recommendations in a grid that everybody can relate to:  cars.

Kia

You might think twice before a long road trip, but sometimes you have to live life on the edge.

TV

$150+

Laptop

$200+

Tablet

$150+

Desktop

$450+

Older tech

Plastic build

Low res. screen

3GB ram

3GB storage

Plastic build

2GB ram

32GB storage

Celeron, A6/other CPU

4GB ram

64GB storage

Quad core

i3 or Ryzen 3 CPU

8GB ram

256GB storage

32" - 40"

720p HD LED

Galaxy A11

Moto G Fast

Fire HD 8/10

Lenovo Tab M10+

Most Chromebooks

HP Stream

Dell Inspiron

ThinkCentre

TCL 40S325

Toshiba TF-32A710U21

Advanced biometrics

Runs Android

64GB storage

i3 CPU

8GB ram

Runs Windows

i5 or Ryzen 5

512GB - 1TB storage

1080p

Phone

$100+

Bonus

Expect

Examples

03   Tablet, laptop or desktop?

The answer is almost always "it depends", but for regular, casual users we're increasingly recommending 2-in-1, convertible devices because of versatility.

 

A 2-in-1 or convertible laptop is really like a 3-in-1.  It can function as a laptop, convert into a tablet, or even plug into an external monitor for a desktop-like experience for more serious work.  And it does all of this for an acceptable, mid-range price with decent specs.  The last couple of years have been really great for these devices, and there's a reason why they are popular gifts.  It's not unthinkable to go 5-7+ years without considering a new one; an eternity in the tech world.

However, while a 2-in-1 is pretty good at everything, it's not the best at anything.  A tablet will be a better tablet, and a desktop will be a better desktop, but many consumers find it refreshing to learn and maintain one device.

2-in-1 Recommendations:

Below are some recommendations which are all capable of running laptop/desktop operating systems.  Some of these are going to be convertible laptops where the screen flips over on the hinge to become a tablet, and others are going to detach from the keyboard altogether.

Surface Go

Detachable

IdeaPad Duet

Convertible

IdeaPad Duet

Convertible

$450+

Kia

Surface Pro  7

Detachable

HP Spectre X360

Convertible

Dell XPS 2-in-1

Convertible

$750+

Toyota

Surface Pro X

Detachable

Surface Book 2

Detachable

Yoga C940

Convertible

$1000+

BMW

Suface Book 3

Detachable

HP Elite Dragonfly

Convertible

ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Convertible

$1500+

Tesla

04   Mac or PC?

Remember those commercials?  There's still no hotter topic in the tech world, but the reasons have changed.  We dedicated an entire article on this with a unique take for older generations.

Gone are the days where Apple was the only company producing "sexy" laptops.  It took a while for them to catch up, but Dell, HP, Microsoft, and Lenovo now all have products that compete—if not arguably beat—Apple's design and build quality.  You can now have a great—dare we say "artistic"—experience while sipping an espresso at your favorite coffee shop without the Apple logo on your laptop lid.  But all Apple devices work seamlessly together in a way that no other company has figured out, and all of this happens on it's own.  Just turn it on and login with your Apple ID and everything just works together miraculously.

We'll sum it up like this:  With Apple, you're going to have less control and less options... period, but if you're fully bought into the Apple ecosystem, there's no better, more simple experience.  Apple decides more things for you than you can decide for yourself (and that includes your budget), but sometimes they know what we want more than we do ourselves.

05   Apple or Android?

While Apple's iOS represents the majority of the US market, it might surprise you that Google's Android represents 75% of the worldwide market.  One reason is because Apple's iOS software is restricted to Apple's hardware (i.e., iPhones), whereas Google's Android software is opened up to many hardware manufacturers with varied price ranges (e.g., Samsung, Google, OnePlus, LG, etc.).  Android gives you more options to customize the software, and many Apple users describe Android as feeling more like an "actual computer".  But that comes at a cost of simplicity and—at least in the US—messaging compatibility.

If you use Android, you're giving up access to Apple's iMessage and FaceTime.  While that could be a problem in the US, most other countries use WhatsApp to fill those needs.  1.5 billion users in 180 countries make WhatsApp the most popular messaging app in the world, and—unlike iMessage—it doesn't matter whether you use Android or iOS.   If you've ever sent or received a video that came across blurry, that's because it was compressed to send over regular SMS text messaging instead of iMessage or WhatsApp.

 

If you're considering switching to Android from Apple, you're going to run into more issues like this because you also won't have access to the AppStore, iTunes, Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Watch, iCloud, Apple Photos, and the list goes on.  If you're not a power user to know the Google equivalents or the workarounds then leaving Apple is going to feel like a divorce.  But if you work through it, it will be liberating.  If Apple doesn't already have its tentacles into multiple areas of your digital life yet, give Android a shot first.

06   Other considerations

 

While these are rarely deal breakers for most consumers, these other small features can make a big difference:

Phone

Water Resistance

Your phone is the most likely device that you own to take a dunk, and many devices now offer the ability for it to be splashed or submerged briefly, so be careful buying last generation models if this matters to you.

Wireless charging

In the not too distant future you'll see less charging cords, thanks to wireless charging.  But your device has to support it.  Even better is fast wireless charging if you're serious about future-proofing.

Biometrics

On average American consumers check their phones 52 times per day.  That's an awful lot of unlocking your device, so having your phone recognize your face, eyes, fingerprint or all of the above is almost commonplace.

To find out what type of device

you should consider next,

join the herd.

Ready to join the herd?