I bought my two-in-one Surface Pro 3 laptop five years ago, after much comparison-shopping, on sale at a pre-Christmas event at a drugstore. Its Intel processor is now seven generations out of date and not keeping up with my needs. So this year, on the run-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I did a deep dive into my options to replace it.
I find that much of the fun in purchasing something is in the looking and in the choosing. I like doing online research and listening to tech reviews. Heck, I even like talking to sales people about what’s new and what they think of it. It has paid off for me more often than not. Take the nine-year-old TV in my living room. I took months back in 2011 researching what to buy for my family. What size? What resolution? What connectivity? What Smart features? Plasma? When I decided what I wanted, and what price was reasonable, I began checking out the sales. Not long after, I had a Sony EX710. Today it still looks great, and is still smart enough to stream online content like a much younger hunk o’ pixels.
No laptop I buy today is going to last a decade like the TV, but I do want to find one that will take me from 2021 as far as possible into the future, and at a reasonable price.
As a person who is blind, my laptop is an essential tool. Paired with a scanner and optical recognition software, it allows me to read print documents. Using screen reading software, it gives me access to Office apps, browsing, streaming video and music, and listening to books.
Will my needs change over the next few years? Probably not. Am I a gamer? No. (Not too much going on these days in video games for the blind!) What about screen size, do I care? Yes. Small is good. I want a PC, rather than an Apple (force of habit) and will rule out anything that isn’t a light-weight 2-in-1. The laptop travels nearly everywhere with me. As for price, I will pay for quality and longevity, but I do want a deal.
Now that know what to listen for, I hop on YouTube and look up ‘top ten 2-in-1 laptops’. I prefer listening to reviews rather than reading them online because there is too much clutter inside and around written articles—ads, links, captions, etc.—and my screen reader dutifully reads every single word to me. On most written review sites this gets too time-consuming and confusing. Whereas video and audio reviews are quicker and easier for me. Soon I’m up to speed on the main brands, features and specs on offer today in 2-in-1 laptops.
For processors, Intel and AMD are the key players. Intel seems to have the best reputation, but I hear that AMD has made progress on its technology and is now becoming more competitive, while remaining cheaper than Intel. Since I am a creature of habit and have always had laptops with Intel processors, which are still the most commonly available, I decide to narrow down my search to only 2-in-1 laptops with an Intel processor.
But which Intel processor? I read up on the i3, the i5 and the i7. The i3 is cheapest, but that is a low processing power for a computer I want to last. The i5 is fine for Office applications, browsing and streaming YouTube or Netflix. For more demanding uses, like editing video or using apps like Photoshop, an i7 is more up to task. As a person who is blind, I use a screen-reading program called JAWS, which is a bit greedy with processing power. So, for my needs, it would be the i7.
I learn that my choice in processors doesn’t end there. Processors evolve over generations. The very latest i7 is now 11th generation. Most deals will have an older processor—retailers are moving older stock. For me, a 10th generation i7 would be just fine. After all, that was last year’s shiny new thing. (A little shelf-dust never hurts and can knock hundreds of dollars off a price.)
Memory is the next big choice. RAM (for processing speed) and SSD (for storage). I definitely want to buy as much of each as I can afford. RAM varies from 4 GB to 32 GB. The amount of RAM will affect how fast any given processor works—the higher, the faster. I decide I would like 16 GB of RAM, also because of my screen reading software. As for the hard drive storage, the usual choices are 256 GB SSD, 512 GB SSD or 1 TB SSD. This choice comes down to budget—the higher the number, the higher the price and the more storage. Ideally, I was looking for a 512 GB SSD, but that was not a must-have, because external hard drives are readily available and reasonably priced. Not to mention cloud storage.
Now for the screen — size, brightness and touch. 1920 x 1080 is a good HD resolution, but 4K screens are also available. For video editing, gaming or streaming, the screen is an important consideration. For me, as a blind person, sound is much more important. I don’t write or draw on screens, so I don’t worry about having a stylus. But I do like a touch screen because when my screen reader goes mysteriously silent, it is often because a stealth dialogue box has popped up and blocked it. In that case, travelling my finger around the touch screen can often detect the nuisance and help me get rid of it. (My screen reader has the handy feature of reading out loud to me whatever icon or active box I touch.)
Also important for me are the keyboards and ports. Some keyboards have more travel (how far the keys go down) whereas others have less. This affects the feel of touch typing, which I do a lot. Some laptops, like Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1, only have USB C ports and no older style USB A ports. I like USB A for plugging in my old peripherals. I can always buy dongles or hubs to increase the ports, but I hate carrying a bunch of extra doodads around, knowing that when I need them they’ll not be found.
After carefully checking out each contender for my laptop dollar, I narrow my choice down to four 2-in-1 models: Dell XPS 13”; HP Spectre x360 13”; Lenovo Yoga C940 14”; and the Microsoft Surface Pro 7. All of these laptops were originally priced well above $1500 Canadian. I drop by a store that has a few of these brands unboxed, so I can get a feel for the keyboards. That definitively rules out the Dell, because along with the limited ports issue, they use a magnetic keyboard with little travel. 4 becomes 3.
Then I learn that the Surface Pro 7 really hasn’t changed very much from the Surface Pro 3 that I already have; and the price seems a bit high because you have to buy the keyboard type cover separately, which adds about $160 CAD.
So now it’s down to two: the Yoga C940 or the HP Spectre x360. I know their usual prices and can now begin some serious price-watching, looking for a deal. I check out the store or manufacturer’s return policy before agreeing that any advertised price is actually a ‘deal’. Is there free shipping for returns? How long do I have to decide if I want to keep it or return it?
At this point, I call the manufacturers’ sales departments, because deals can be had there as well. All laptop makers have 1-800 numbers advertised on their websites. I’m not sure if this is a blind thing, or if I’m just a people person, but I always like talking to people, getting some of their opinions and getting them to email quotes to me. Just more information in the database.
At HP, I am told about a HP Spectre x360 13” with everything on my list: 10th generation Intel i7 processor, 16 GB RAM and 512 SSD. It is on sale for $1559 CAD, down from $1799 CAD and includes one year of Office 365.
At Lenovo, the sales rep on the phone tells me about three options for the Yoga C940. One ticks all the boxes: 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD. But they don’t sell this one directly to consumers on their website, so had no deals on it to promote. (I did find this model in a local store, but not on sale. Since I am stubborn about wanting to make a good deal—part of the fun of shopping—I rule this model one out.)
That leaves two versions of the Lenovo Yoga C940 in the race; however neither has exactly the specs I want. They both do have 10th generation i7 Intel processors. But one has 12 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD; and the other has 8 GB RAM and a 512 GB SSD. They are both on sale for $1359 CAD.
After I hang up, I am leaning toward the HP Spectre. It is more expensive, but does not compromise on memory. My credit card comes dangerously close to leaving my wallet, but… First I need to look up a direct one-on-one comparison of the HP Spectre and the Yoga C940. Just to be sure. And am I glad I do this! I find a reviewer who likes the HP Spectre a lot, but happens to mention the sound is a bit tinny. TINNY! When it comes to sound, he thinks the Yoga has the best sound in the Ultrabook lineup. It has two downward firing speakers and a hinge sound bar so, no matter the orientation of the screen, the speaker will always be facing you.
So that’s it for the HP Spectre. And it was a close call, too! For me, tinny sound is (I imagine) what to others a blurry screen is. A no-brain deal breaker.
I will settle for one of the Yoga C940s. But which one? I quickly rule out the 8 GB RAM because that’s what I already have on my Surface Pro 3 and it is too slow. But do I really need 16 GB RAM? Wouldn’t a more modest 12 GB RAM, 50% more than what I’m used to, actually be just fine in the end? As for storage, my Surface Pro 3 has 256 GB SSD, which, after five years, is still not full. And I have several roomy hard drives poised to help. So do I really, truly need more SSD?
Wouldn’t the Yoga C940 with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD actually be just what I need after all? The sale price beckons. Beckons. I make the call, and pull out the credit card.
My new Lenovo Yoga C940 is on the way. I’ll share my thoughts with you once it arrives.