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EXPERT OPINION: Shopping for computers, with Bob Carlton

What’s the first mistake people make at a computer store? Too many people walk in and say, “Show me what you have.” What you should say is, “Here’s what I want to do on a comput- er.” Then the salesperson can ask a few more questions and recommend a machine that will serve your needs. Otherwise, the salesperson may only show you the cool - est or most expensive model. If you come in knowing what you need a computer for, that’ll make your shopping faster and more successful. A lot of consumers purchase with

their eyes—they’re attracted to the biggest or highest-end model. But if you’re not editing high-def movies, you don’t need massive power. Or if you use online “cloud” storage, like Flickr or DropBox, then hard-drive capacity is probably not an issue for you.

Does size matter? The second thing I ask customers is “How portable do you want your computer to be?” If you’re a student walk- ing from class to class, you don’t want a

big screen that’s awkward to carry. For e-mail and online research and writing papers, a 13-inch laptop is plenty. If you’re a graphic designer who needs a large monitor, you want a desktop model that stays in your office. For some people, the best advantage of a desktop is that it’s easy to mentally disconnect from it—you can literally walk away—but others want to feel connected wherever they go. For people who just e-mail and surf the Internet, a tablet such as an iPad is a great option. (I suspect that tablets will be the future of individual computing.) But if you’re trav- eling around and writing or blogging, a real keyboard might be easier for all that typing, so maybe a laptop is for you. For my self, I really like being connected; I take my laptop everywhere.

What about software? A lot of applications are included with com puters or downloadable from the Internet, often for free. Doing some research ahead of time

will show you what’s available online and how it compares to what’s already inside computers. Then, when you’re at the store discussing what you want to do on your computer, you can decide if you need to buy any software at the same time.

And when the store offers one of those “extended warranties”? Buy it! I honestly believe a computer war- ranty is a great investment, especially for a portable. When you carry your computer around in a briefcase or knapsack, open it, close it, open it again . . . that’s a lot of han- dling, and parts could fail on you. I just hate to see a customer come back after a year because the computer has problems, and fixing it will cost half the price of the machine. A warranty covers you for three years. Of course, if you drop it off a bal- cony or spill liquid on it, that’s not “normal wear” that a warranty will cover. Also, before you buy, ask about the re- turn policy, just in case you find you bought something that’s not right for you. Some companies charge a 10 percent restocking fee to take back a computer—who wants to spend $100 to try out a computer that you have to box up and take back?

Bob Carlton has been the technology sales and Apple campus-store coordinator at the Skidmore Shop for five years; he also writes the SkidShop blog. Off-hours he’s in the rock band Dryer.



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