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KELLNER: Deciding next computer purchase

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So, my Facebook friend pings me — that's how the cognoscenti speak, it seems — and asks, should he get the Dell laptop with the screaming Intel chip and backlit keyboard, or should he go for the Hewlett-Packard model with an AMD processor?

Replying, I suggested the HP might be a better buy. My friend, who shared an elementary school classroom with me, is enamored of Intel's speed and keyboards that are backlit. All the best, I replied.

Now, which one of us is right?

Answer: Maybe both. I happen to not be as great a fan of Dell as some people are, chiefly because I've seen too many colleagues struggle with their Dell portables. Lots of folks probably are happy with their Dell notebooks. The people I share an office with, well, not so much.

And, I have no qualms about non-Intel processors, even though I like Intel's chips immensely. AMD just happens to be a very good maker of computer processors, and rare has been the instance of someone decrying his or her AMD selection.

So my onetime classmate may be right: For him, the Dell seems to make sense, and, I hope, the return policy will allow him to change his mind relatively quickly, should he decide otherwise.

The point is that no single person's opinion — even that of this reviewer, who's had 28 years of working with PCs in just about every configuration — is supreme. As they say in the car ads, "Your mileage may vary." And I certainly wish my friend success with the purchase. As my mother used to say, "Use it in good health."

Perhaps the first rule of computer shopping now is to buy what you're comfortable with. Now, if you're comfortable with a 1998-vintage IBM PC, you've got a surprise coming: They don't make those models anymore. Lenovo, a Chinese company, bought the IBM PC line and now has its own desktops. But if your last computer was an HP and you're happy with HP, stick with 'em.

If you're looking to switch, or feel a particular feature is too important to ignore — say a backlit keyboard — then follow your heart. But give careful consideration to how much you really need a given feature. I have a backlit keyboard on the MacBook Pro I'm privileged to use, but can't remember the last time that was "needed."

Also know that some features can easily be supplied via external means. Don't like your portable's keyboard? You can get a wireless one to supplant it. Need a portable sometimes, but need a larger display most of the time? Don't buy a 17-inch portable, just get an adapter, an external screen (I've seen good 24-inch displays for below $150 at TigerDirect.com) and if you feel truly extravagant, drop another $100 or so for a "full-motion desk mount" that allows your screen to pivot 90 degrees.

You'll thank me later, I promise.

The point is that computer shopping nowadays is far more robust nowadays than it ever was. You don't have to "settle" for what some manufacturer — or any manufacturer, for that matter — tells you is available. There's always something else, somewhere else that might work as well or even better. Do a thorough search, and enjoy the hunt!

GET THIS FOR YOUR iPAD 2 — The rush to deliver iPad 2 accessories is on, five weeks after the launch of the new Apple Inc. product. One item I recommend highly has an unwieldy name: "Antimicrobial Germ Resistant Advanced Screen Protector with Steritouch for Apple iPad 2," but it'll be the best $19.95 you'll spend. Proporta, the British-based firm that sells the cover, ships to the U.S. and Canada for just $4.95 an order, which makes ordering here as simple as can be. Your screen is protected (very important) and it's germ-resistant. Details online at http://bit.ly/iiTvxg.

Signature capture is something you're going to hear more and more about when it comes to mobile devices. One nice application, for iPhone and iPad, is Sign-N-Send, well worth the $1.99, and it's pretty darned amazing. Master the easy touch-based interface, enlarge the area you need to sign and, with very little practice, you'll have a great signature using your finger or a stylus the iPad/iPhone support. It's great for working with expense reports, applications, and other documents. Details online at http://bit.ly/eU61IB.

• E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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