Despite the explosion in popularity of smartphones and tablets, the laptop computer still remains the most critical tool to run your business -- at the office or while on the go -- thanks to a comfortable physical keyboard and powerful processors required to run your applications.
But with so many manufacturers, models and specs to choose from, buying one for yourself or employees can be an overwhelming endeavor. You must also decide which operating system is best suited to run your company's software.
And so the following are a few of the newer features found in laptop computers today and why they're ideal for your business needs.
An embedded 802.11n radio for Wi-Fi access can be found in most laptops these days, but a road warrior might also consider integrated cellular connectivity, says Richard Shim, research director at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm. "Cellular broadband can be an important feature as you can access the Internet wirelessly without having to look for a Wi-Fi hotspot, such as a Starbucks."
Other advantages of built-in cellular connectivity, sometimes referred to as wide area network (WAN), is that you can use it while in the back of a moving taxi -- something you can't do with Wi-Fi -- plus it could be argued this solution is also more secure than logging onto someone else's wireless connection. After all, there's the risk of hopping on a rogue connection set up by malicious types out to steal your data.
Shim concedes service plans are still "expensive" and "somewhat inflexible," because you can't use that connection in other devices -- so companies must research costs and assess usage patterns before committing to an integrated WAN service.
Solid state drives
Most major computer manufacturers give customers the option for laptops with solid state drives (SSD), or Flash memory, instead of conventional hard disk drives (HDD).
SSDs are a good pick because of increased durability because there are no moving parts, unlike a HDD, says Shim. They also offer improved performance and better battery life.
"SSDs are ideal for business travelers," confirms Leslie Fiering, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "They're lighter, have much faster boot up times and they're generally more reliable."
But they could be a "hefty investment" for some as they're more expensive than hard drives, cautions Fiering, plus they don't offer as much capacity for all your programs and files as hard drives at this point in time. For example, Apple's new MacBook Air laptops ditch hard drives in favor of flash memory -- but they start at just 64GB of storage compared to most hard drive-based laptops that start at 250GB.
Better webcams, tighter security
A common feature in consumer notebooks for years, webcams are being adopted by more businesses looking for mobile video conferencing, says Shim. "We're seeing useful technologies like better webcams in commercial notebooks because businesses are implementing video conferencing, plus there's the added benefit for travelers to better connect with their family while on the road."
Speaking of webcams, newer laptops might ship with biometrics technology that can read your face (or in other cases, your fingerprint) to confirm you're the user -- usually in conjunction with an alphanumeric password, too.
This extra layer of security helps prevent someone from accessing potentially critical company data should the laptop be lost or stolen.
'Basic' features still reign
Gartner's Fiering says while these new laptop features might be appealing, at the end of the day, the "basics" are still the most important considerations: "Notebooks are becoming commoditized, so we're past the point where a new generation of notebooks isn't going to offer a new set of 'must-have features."
"Clearly we're seeing better speeds, longer battery life and lighter, thinner form factors -- all of which are desirable 'core' features -- but because none of these are 'game changers,' remember to put the basics at the top of your priority list," suggests Fiering.