Choosing the mobile PC that's right for you

Thinking of buying a new mobile PC, but you're not sure how to choose the best one for you? This article provides some information that can help you make the right decision. Before you buy, do some research. First, you want to know what types of mobile PCs are available. Then you need to consider how and where you'll be using your mobile PC and what hardware and accessories you need to be productive and have fun. With this information in hand, you'll be ready to go shopping.

What is a mobile PC?

Mobile PCs are PCs that can run on batteries and that you can carry with you. The three main types of mobile PCs are notebooks, Tablet PCs, and ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs). Notebooks, also called laptops, are the most common type. They have a lid and come in a variety of sizes. Tablet PCs have a screen that you can write on or interact with by using a tablet pen and, in some cases, your finger. UMPCs are small and lightweight. Because most UMPCs don't have a keyboard or mouse, you typically interact with one by using your finger or a tablet pen.

Picture of different types of mobile PCs
Different types of mobile PCs

Mobile PCs don't require a special version of Windows. They run the same software as desktop PCs: Windows Vista, Microsoft Office, and any other programs that are compatible with Windows. One of the best features of mobile PCs is their ability to connect to the Internet through wireless networks. That means you can connect to the Internet when you're on the go—in a café, a library, a park—or even in your own backyard if you have a wireless home network. Many mobile PCs are also Bluetooth enabled, so you can wirelessly sync your mobile PC with your Bluetooth enabled PDA and mobile phone. Wireless technology is built into many notebooks.

Mobile PC choices

Notebooks

Notebooks are popular because they're available in a wide range of sizes and options to accommodate almost any lifestyle. The notebook design is sometimes referred to as a "clamshell" because it opens and closes like a clam—with the keyboard on one side and the screen on the other. A notebook can weigh from 2 to 12 pounds or more, and the screen size can range from 8 to 20 inches. Maybe you only need to do a few activities with your notebook, such as reading and writing e‑mail messages, browsing the Internet, storing pictures, and writing documents. Or maybe you need a powerhouse with a fast processor and the best graphics card to be your primary PC in the office, at home, or while traveling. Either way, you can take it along and use it wherever you need it.

Tablet PCs

Tablet PCs have something extra: a screen that you can write on or interact with by using a tablet pen instead of a standard keyboard and mouse. When you write on the screen, you can convert your handwriting to typed text or leave it as ink. Advancements in Windows Vista have made Tablet PCs even easier to use, with improved handwriting recognition features, ink recognition for more languages, and other features.

You can use a tablet pen to do things like select, drag, and open files; browse the Internet; draw freehand diagrams; and add numbers and symbols. On some Tablet PCs, you can also interact with the screen by using your finger. Most Tablet PCs are small or moderately sized. They range from 2 to 7 pounds and have screens that range from 8 to 15 inches. There are two types of Tablet PCs: slates and convertibles.

Slate Tablet PCs

Slate Tablet PCs have no lid or keyboard, which makes them slimmer and lighter in weight than most convertible Tablet PCs. You can hold a slate Tablet PC in one hand and write on the screen with the other hand, like using a clipboard. If you want to use an external keyboard and mouse, you simply attach them to the Tablet PC. A slate Tablet PC can rest easily in the crook of your arm while you write so that you can take notes, fill out forms, or read and write e‑mail with ease while on the go, sitting in a meeting or class, or relaxing on your couch. You can also lay it flat on a table or desk to do your work.

Convertible Tablet PCs

Convertible Tablet PCs give you the best of both worlds: You can use them either in tablet mode or laptop mode. In laptop mode, you can use the integrated keyboard and mouse or the tablet pen to navigate and write. To use it in tablet mode, you rotate the screen and lay it flat over the keyboard so that you can write on it like a clipboard. Either way you can work and write with a tablet pen.

Ultra-mobile PCs

If you're looking for something smaller than a notebook or Tablet PC and yet powerful enough to get your tasks done while on the road or in tight quarters, consider a UMPC. Just like other mobile PCs, UMPCs run the full version of Windows and any other Windows-compatible software. It's a great choice for anyone who needs something compact and practically feather-light. UMPCs range from 1 to 2 pounds. The screen size is 7 inches and smaller. UMPCs with Windows Vista come with Origami Experience, which gives you easy access to your music, videos, pictures, and programs.

You can use a tablet pen or your finger to interact with a UMPC. You can carry this paperback-sized mobile PC effortlessly in one hand while using the other hand to quickly jot down notes, fill out forms, read and write e‑mail messages, and surf the Internet.

Things to consider before you purchase a mobile PC

The best way to figure out which mobile PC is right for you is to ask yourself a few questions: where will you use your mobile PC, and what will you be doing? What size and weight work best for your needs? You might also want to consider how many accessories you frequently use, such as disc drives. If having a DVD drive is a necessity to you—something you use almost every day—buy a mobile PC with a built-in DVD drive.

Location, location, location

Where you use a mobile PC helps determine the model that will work best for you. For a real-estate appraiser or claims adjuster, a slate Tablet PC may be the ideal choice. Executives who run to and from meetings, job sites, or airports might consider the UMPC as the best alternative. It's small and easy to hold and use while running to a meeting or riding in a taxi.

How will you use it?

Whatever it is you're doing, make sure that your mobile PC has enough power to run the software you want and to store everything you need. Is this mobile PC a replacement for your desktop PC or is it a secondary computer? Will you use your mobile PC at home, at work, or on the go? By asking yourself these kinds of questions, you'll be more likely to get the mobile PC you need.

What are your software requirements?

To do everything you want to do with your mobile PC, be sure you get the necessary processor speed, memory, and hard disk requirements.

  • Processor speed. This determines how quickly a mobile PC runs programs and performs on-screen tasks. If you plan to use your mobile PC to play graphic-intensive games or watch movies, consider investing in a powerful processor.

  • RAM. The more random access memory (RAM)—also called memory—your mobile PC has, the more programs you can run at once, and the better and faster your mobile PC will perform. Mobile PCs need at least 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM to run editions of Windows Vista other than Windows Vista Home Basic, which requires at least 512 megabytes (MB) of RAM.

  • Hard disk. The more capacity the hard disk has, the more data you can store on your mobile PC. If you have a lot of documents, pictures, home movies, and MP3 files, make sure the hard disk is at least 80 GB. If you plan to work with digital media, such as editing movies and photos, buy a mobile PC that has more hard disk capacity.

For more information about hardware recommendations for Windows Vista, go to the Windows Vista: Recommended System Requirements website.

Try out some mobile PCs at your local retail store

Go down to your local retail store and try out a few types of mobile PCs.

  • Ask the clerk to unlock a few so you can hold different models and get the feel of each one.

  • Check the size and quality of the screens. Can you see everything you need to see?

  • Try out the hardware and software included with each type.

  • Try out the keyboard on mobile PCs that have one. Can you type comfortably?

  • If you're test driving a Tablet PC, try writing a few words with the tablet pen. If it's a UMPC, use your fingertip.

Accessorize your mobile PC

When you find the mobile PC that suits you best, consider buying some of the available accessories, such as the following:

  • An extra battery, if you want to carry a spare.

  • An external keyboard and mouse if you choose a UMPC or slate Tablet PC.

  • An upgraded audio or video card to handle games, music, and videos.

  • An upgraded wireless network adapter—some provide faster download speeds, a wider range, and more operating frequencies.

  • An external disc drive, such as a CD/DVD burner.

  • A docking station, so that you can add additional accessories to your mobile PC, such as an external monitor, keyboard, or extra USB ports.

Now you're ready to buy

Doing a little research and comparing the different types of mobile PCs can help you make an informed choice so that you get exactly what you need. With so many styles and options available, you're sure to find the right mobile PC for your lifestyle.