I am a curious person so there are a few questions that never let me rest: Are we alone in the universe? How could we solve world famine? And most important of all: What is the best laptop for project managers?
In this article I will speak broadly about the subject, but also give my personal recommendations at the end.
Obviously, the question isn’t that simple at all, because if we had infinite money, we could easily buy the best laptop, no questions asked. The real question sounds more like this: How to choose a laptop that fits your workflow best.
First, let’s get something out of the way: Project managers usually have to be able to work remotely, so let’s rule out all desktops. Also, let’s forget about tablets, two-in-ones, foldables, and all other kinds of gimmicks that IN MY OPINION there never make sense outside really specific (and gimmicky) workflows. I KNOW that having a foldable display on a phone or using a magic pen on your overpriced shiny tablet sounds like the future, but until that future becomes mainstream, especially if we are talking about work devices, I’d always go with the safer option. Keep your excitement for technology on the hobby level.
Trust me. You never want to be the nerdy guy who comes into work bragging about his or her “pinnacle of technology” you have spent all your money on, only to notice a few days later that you can’t install a simple text editor software, or adding a printer is more complicated than breaking into a swiss bank account.
Working remotely also brings in the question of battery life. This is something all manufacturers lie about, so make sure to check out real life tests rather than the so called data sheet, that was more or less written by the marketing team rather than the engineers. Yes, looking at you, Apple!
Nowadays a laptop needing a charge only at the end of a usual workday is more like a bare minimum than something special, assuming that as a project manager you don’t start exporting 4K videos or play any triple A games in your lunch break. Note that the battery’s capacity will decrease as the years go by, but this shouldn’t be a major problem when buying from a reputable company.
If your work is in any way related to visuals of any kind, may that be photo, video, design, or print, you NEED a good display that can recreate the quality and color or the final product. If you don’t want to go into much detail, Apple has you covered. Buying a MacBook will get you one of the best displays in it’s price category. If you need something even better, you probably should know how to choose a display.
If Apple is not the way for you, search for a laptop that supports good resolutions. 4K starts to be a norm, but you can get away with 1440p (2K) aswell. But take a good look at the color accuracy.
And no, you do not need a touchscreen. It will only become dirty and wobble when touching the top of the screen. A trackpad or mouse will always be faster, more precise. Keep your fingers for yourself and your smartphone.
As a project manager, I assume you don’t do any hardware intensive jobs like video editing, but you don’t ever want to have to wait, even for half a second when opening a file or switching between tasks.
Nowadays almost all the processors (CPU) found in laptops are quad-core and with a decent clock speed. As long as you choose a recent model, chances are you can’t go wrong.
System memory, also called RAM on the other hand, is important. I assume your work includes a lot of multitasking, researching, reports, emails, and having a lot of tabs open in your browser at a time. To put it simple, everything you do on your laptop uses some amount of RAM. It’s where it stores data that needs to be accessed quickly. When you have a lot of things open at once, it starts filling up, and your computer starts slowing down. Depending on your workflow, 8GB is the bare minimum. If you have the budget, 16GB could be a huge improvement to speed up your workflow.
The graphics card, or GPU is what processes everything you see on your screens. This is the most important component if you are looking for a gaming computer. Otherwise just make sure it can handle the display.
The type of the storage used vastly impacts the responsiveness of your computer. Solid state drives, or SSDs are becoming the norm, but even between SSDs there are noticeable performance differences when it comes to opening a larger file, or starting up an application. The more reputable a manufacturer is, chances are they won’t rip you off with a bad SSD, but if you want to be sure about your choice, do a bit of googling regarding the read and write speeds of the model.
Make sure to get a capacity that suits your needs. You need to have enough space for all your programmes, applications, but also to store all your files you work with. I had a computer with a wicked fast SSD, but it only had 128GB of storage. It drove me crazy. Every time I had to download a large file, I had to make decisions about what to delete. If working with large files, an external drive can help you out, as those tend to be cheaper.
New vs used
To put it bluntly: A newer model will always outperform an older one with the same specifications. Hardware isn’t everything. Optimisations and proper, long lasting driver support can make a huge difference. People tend to make decisions on numbers that most of the time they don’t even understand. You might be amazed about a laptop having twice the memory, only to find out that it uses DDR3, an older technology, instead of DDR4 and in the end being much slower.
Windows vs Mac
This might be already decided by your company or the type of work you do, but if you can make this decision, it might be useful to think about your options. Apple produces their own laptops, so your choices are limited. You either want to buy a MacBook, or go Windows. Machines running Windows tend to be more personalizable but are considered to be less safe. Apple machines are more user friendly, but some of your applications will not run natively. The benefit of a MacBook is optimization. The operating system needs to be optimized for only a handful of models, the software engineers can focus only on those, while Windows has to be able to run smoothly on thousands of kinds of machines.
And for the grand finale: My personal recommendation:
MacBook Air a.k.a. The simple answer
My all time favorite, my daily driver and my go-to recommendation in this price range. The build quality is off the charts. The display is stunning, the battery life is great, and the newer model even has a magsafe charger. In case someone stumbles into your cable, it detaches magnetically and doesn’t rip the laptop with it. The SSD is wicked fast, and I don’t even want to speak about the speakers, because my coworkers hate me for it, when I start watching a video or accidentally play music at the sound level I would if I were alone, or at home. It is user friendly and nothing about it is complicated. The keyboard is great to type on, and the trackpad is one of the best out there. Still, I prefer a mouse.
If you are like me, and like to have more than 30 tabs open in your browser at cone, while listening to music, and have all the possible apps open, and, I recommend getting the one with 16GB of memory, if you have the budget.
Note, make sure to be prepared to pay for dongles and adapters, because you only have two C-type connections. To name another downside, If anything goes wrong, It is practically impossible to repair, or the cost of it shocks you more than a killer ninja asking for your wallet in a dark alley while wearing an “Nem Azariah a hibás” T-shirt. So keep your coffee away from it. Also, not that we are talking about a 13” laptop, so if you need a bigger display, you can go for the MacBook Pro, which has bigger display options, but before getting too excited, check out the price tag first…
Here are some honorable mentions:
Dell XPS 15 a.k.a. The MacBook Pro killer
Expensive, but considered one of the best Windows machines for a variety of use cases. I will not say anything more about this. If you have the money, and you don’t want to buy a MacBook Pro, go for it, you won’t be disappointed.
HP Envy a.k.a. Your Solid but Cute Coworker
When recommending a Windows laptop, it’s hard to pinpoint individual models, as there is a huge variation, most of the time your options are limited by availability and your shop’s stock. But I can recommend product families, where you can browse and select the model that is right for you, depending on your budget or particular needs. HP is a reputable brand, you can still find the first generation of ThinkPads working in some schools or offices. The best advice would be to go into a big tech store and get a feel for the product you have researched online, as the first real life impression can change your opinion drastically.
Asus Zenbook a.k.a. Thanks For The Mention, But Do You Actually Know Anything About Laptops?
The laptop everyone recommends. It has literally nothing special about it, there are a trillion models, making sure you find the specs you are looking for and it doesn’t do anything catastrophically wrong.
I wish you all great browsing and great project managing.