Field Guide to Buying Your Perfect Laptop

Technology + Gear
by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Oct 8, 2009
The process of purchasing a laptop is as intensely personal as shopping for a wedding ring.
Lenovo ThinkPad

Photo courtesy of Laptops Arena

Here at Matador, we’ve reviewed many laptops, guided you through picking your perfect laptop, and showcased various lightweight alternatives.

For travel writers always on the go, Netbooks are more than sufficient for your writing and blogging needs. Throw in some photojournalism work which includes heavy photo editing and other graphics-related tasks, and you may be looking for something stronger.

At the end of this month, I’m leaving the 9-5 gig and transitioning into the role of fulltime freelance photojournalist. This meant assessing what I had in terms of technological support, upgrading any outdated kits, and investing in a new workhorse laptop to serve as a mobile home office.

Outlined below is a field guide to buying a new laptop including some essential questions you need to ask yourself.

What are others in your field using?

While the laptop someone else uses may not be the best option for you, there are a range of netbooks and laptops that fellow writers and photographers have been using for months and absolutely swear by.

I perused the Matador Network archives and also I hit up Google with a quick search phrase “Best Laptops for Photographers”. Because processing photographs and RAW files take up more memory than working with mostly text, I was looking for solutions specifically geared towards photojournalists.

By reading different reviews and opinions, I was able to boil down the list to the following brands: Apple, HP, Sony, and Lenovo.

What do you need in terms of features and functionality?

With the top four brands for photographers in hand, I began developing a list of minimum functionality. While Apple brands are extremely popular among creative types, it fell off the list because of years of experience with PC platforms.

This decision was based solely on my comfort level, thus bringing the list down to: HP, Sony, and Lenovo.

During my career, compiling code and connecting to large geospatial databases meant getting used to a certain level of processing speed, RAM and memory requirements.

So my rough list had only 3 important items on it:

  • Speed – Nothing less than Intel Quad processors
  • DVD Rewritable drive – Because even the best laptops don’t come with DVD drives and this requirement can inadvertently slip through the cracks
  • USB ports galore – With two external hard drives, a Logitech headset, a mouse, USB printer and much more, I wanted to be able to connect my peripherals all at once.

By listing out features you absolutely need, this also limits the various models left for your review.

What extras would you like?

Once the base list was written down and finalized, I started thinking of nice features to have such as amped up graphics cards, extra hard drive space, and much more.

For months, investing in a Wacom drawing graphics tablet for maintaining my comic strip – Office Supplies – The Comic, was always on the back of my mind.

By this point, my choices were down to Sony and Lenovo having already filtered out HP based on graphics technology, other nice-to-have features, and the level of Adobe RGB color gamut support I needed.

Then I discovered the Lenovo Elite ThinkPad W700.

What made this particular model attractive was its built-in Wacom digitizing tablet which would support the comic strip. This meant not having to lug around an additional peripheral device.

I was instantly hooked.

Lenovo ThinkPad

Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review

How much are you willing to pay?

It ultimately boils down to how much are you able to dole out on a pricey new system without pulling out all your savings. With the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 starting at $1,799 (basic features only), you can easily run upwards of $4,000-$5,000 for a complete configuration customized to suit your taste.


With a clear budget in mind (way less than $2,000), and finally having to dip into lean savings (double ouch), I was able to customize the ideal solution for my needs while keeping the overall purchase way less than $3,000.

The order has finally been placed and I’m currently keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that the Lenovo ThinkPad would truly be the perfect mobile office for this photojournalist.

Read more reviews of the Lenovo ThinkPad W700. Lenovo also offers an online outlet store where you can purchase refurbished laptops at half the price.

What laptop do you currently have and why did you choose it? Please share with us below

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