July - August 2017

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech

Friends often ask me what is the best computer available, and my usual response is, “Best for what?” In my lifetime there has never been a wider variety of great choices for personal computers than there are today, but the one that is best for you depends on what you are interested in doing. Let’s take a look at some of the ways people use computers and at options for each scenario.

Some of my acquaintances have simple needs. They want to browse the Internet, correspond via email, and perhaps watch new episodes of “Anne of Green Gables” on Netflix. They don’t need to edit movies or photographs or create massive spreadsheets of variable risk annuities. For these folks I recommend an iPad. Apple recently came out with the latest model, and it is a great bargain for basic computing needs. For under $500 you can purchase a tablet and keyboard that allow you to do email, light document creation, and pick from thousands of apps for everything from watching videos to managing your grocery list. For simple needs it is a good option, and it requires almost no care and maintenance.

Friends who need to do everything in our basic list but also want to create and manage documents using programs like MS Word and Excel, and perhaps do photo or video editing are likely to need a more traditional computer. The first thing to consider in this category is whether to purchase a desktop computer or a laptop. The trade-off is portability vs. cost. With a desktop computer the same money will purchase a more powerful device and a larger screen, but it’s no fun boxing up a 27” iMac to take along on vacation. So if you intend to use your computer in a variety of places, consider getting a laptop.

The next choice is Windows or Mac. Before we go any further, look at the back of your car. If you have an Apple sticker on your rear window, skip the next couple of paragraphs, you already know your tribe. For the rest of us, this choice used to be more easily defined. If we wanted fantastic hardware, design, and the latest creative tools, we chose Mac. If we wanted the widest options in software and a lower price, Windows was our pick. But over the past few years things have become less clear-cut, and that is a good thing. Now Adobe and Microsoft support robust software for both platforms. Hardware manufacturers on the Windows side have stepped up and offer machines of pleasing design and made with high quality materials. So, for most people, either platform will enable you to accomplish more significant computer tasks.

For serious computer gamers or those interested in Virtual Reality systems like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, a Windows device is recommended. For those who highly value the ability to walk into a store and get high quality face to face help when something goes wrong, an Apple computer may be the best choice.

In my lifetime there has never been a wider variety of great choices for personal computers than there are today.

If you decide on a desktop and prefer Apple products, the iMac is fantastic. It requires a minimum number of cables and setup, the screen is vivid and crisp, and it should meet your needs for many years.

For those who prefer a portable computer and don’t work heavily with media, a MacBook Air may be a good fit. If you need a more powerful computer, the MacBook Pro is the line you may want to consider. The recent Macbook Pro introduction was rather ho-hum regarding features and performance. If you can wait until the release of the next round of machines, possibly this summer or fall, you might get more value for your money.

In the Windows family of computers Dell and HP are always solid choices. You can choose the simplicity of an All-In-One Desktop which would be a similar to an iMac. Dell and HP also offer value laptops, and also more expensive options such as Dell’s much regarded XPS laptops. You should also be aware that Microsoft has some interesting hardware in the Surface laptops lineup of computers. Microsoft Surface Studio is their desktop and it is gorgeous. It is targeted at artists as it has a touch screen and pen which can be used to draw directly on the monitor. It has a premium price and a wow factor to go with it.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 can serve as a tablet and a laptop. It is surprisingly small and light. I highly recommend the keyboard which works well and makes the Surface Pro 4 a full Windows 10 computer. The newly introduced Windows Surface Laptop gives Apple’s laptops a run for their money in design and performance. These devices look fantastic and claim to have 14 hours of battery life. If you would like to connect to a large monitor and full keyboard and mouse when you are at your desk, Microsoft offers an optional docking station that works very well. Set down your mobile device, connect one magnetic power cable, and the monitor (or two), mouse, and keyboard come to life. It is the best docking system I have ever used.

One more thing regarding whichever type of computer you select, I typically advise people to pay a little more up front for more memory and storage than they need right now. Switching devices is a bit of a pain, and most people would like to do this as seldom as possible. Investing a little more up front can help you make it for 5 to 7 years before you need to upgrade again.

Computers have become an indispensable part of our lives, but, like all things, they don’t last forever. If yours is showing signs of age and you can read “War and Peace” while waiting for it to boot, now’s a good time to consider an upgrade.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.