One of the most popular questions asked by members of my VA Handbookers Facebook group is which laptop they should buy. Because I thought it would be easier to have a source to point people to when they asked this question, below is a comprehensive list of all the things you should consider when choosing a laptop for your VA business.
Laptop, desktop or tablet?
It’s entirely up to you whether you decide to have a portable laptop or a static desktop computer but you can’t run your VA business from just a tablet or a phone.
Well, I guess you could if you really had to but it would be incredibly fiddly, annoyingly inefficient, spectacularly unprofessional and you’d definitely need a separate monitor and keyboard so you could see what you were doing.
So not really worth it.
If you don’t intend to work whilst travelling, go to a client’s office/home, or work from a coffee shop, then go with a static desktop – but if you became a VA for the flexible working life then you’ll need something portable.
Personally, because of the word ‘virtual’ in your job title, I’d go with a laptop!
Mac or PC?
It doesn’t matter.
You’ll need Microsoft Office for much of your work but you can get MS Office 365 for Mac. Macs are more expensive and are probably the better option if you’re already familiar with them or you do a lot of design work, but if you’re a ‘regular VA’ and you’ve never used one before then just stick with what you know.
But it’s just down to preference really.
Things to consider when buying a laptop
People will say to you “oh I bought this one and I love it” or “I wouldn’t use anything else but my insertbrandnamehere, but you should always choose a laptop based on the things that YOU need because what may be the perfect laptop for someone else may not suit your needs at all.
I’m sure you wouldn’t buy the same car as a friend just because they said they liked it – and it’s the same with your laptop. So decide what you need it to do and then find one that meets your criteria. Consult other people if you want to but only after you’ve narrowed down the ones that you are interested in.
These are the things you should look at when choosing your laptop:
Size and weight
If you’re taking your laptop out of the house then you need something light. Obviously, a smaller laptop is going to be lighter than one with a larger screen, but you also need to be able to see what you’re typing without squinting!
I started having all sorts of back problems when I moved to a 13″ screen (apparently, I was jutting my head forward to peer at the screen) so I enlarged the font in the settings and Connected the laptop to a monitor.
Back and shoulder pain from bad posture is rife in freelancers and the cost of physio and long-term damage to both your body and career just isn’t worth it.
Again, if you’re taking the laptop out of the house then you need good battery life. For me, anything over 8 or 9 hours is good and although I can take my charger with me, it’s often a bit of a hassle to carry it around and to find a good spot to plug it in.
Cost is going to be a huge factor when it comes to choosing your laptop – especially if you’re just setting up your business – but I’m pleased to tell you that a cheap one will do the job just fine.
My old Asus Aspire was just over £500 (I bought it in 2015) but was considered one of the best budget Ultrabooks around and Chromebooks are even cheaper.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory which is a component that allows your computer to store data short-term for quicker access. There is more to it, but RAM is basically what affects the speed of your laptop.
Don’t buy a laptop with less than 8GB of RAM.
If you’re a heavy multi-tasker and you open a lot of tabs, then you’ll want more RAM. 8GB should be enough for most users but opt for 16GB if you’re going to be doing a lot of gaming, using CAD or editing videos.
Most users will be fine with 250-to-320 GB of storage. 250GB can hold more than 30,000 average-size photos and songs but if you want to films or videos with HD quality, you will definitely need to upgrade your hard disk to at least 500GB or even 1TB.
Professional users such as vloggers, programmers, designers, photographers and gamers who need to undertake graphic and video editing will need to go for disk space 1TB and above.
Although you can use Drive or OneDrive to store files and photos, I suggest you get as much internal storage space as you can afford but nothing less than 250GB.
SSD or HDD?
Hard disk drives (HDDs) store information on a spinning disc whereas Solid State Drives (SSDs) store information on microchips. Older laptops usually came with HDDs so were bulkier and heavier, but SSDs are more the norm nowadays especially with thinner laptops.
SSDs are a bit more expensive but the laptop boots up quicker, runs faster, is more reliable and uses less power. So I would choose SSD if you can.
Two-in-one and other features
If you want a touch-screen, to separate the screen from the keyboard and use it as a tablet or flip the screen back so you can watch videos more easily, then these are features you should also include when doing your research
If you plan to use your laptop outside a lot then you might want to get an anti-glare screen. It may seem like a small thing, but it will bother you when you’re using it and you can’t see anything. My Chromebook wasn’t advertised as having an anti-glare screen but it’s actually great outdoors.
Again, a small thing but do you care if the keyboard is backlit or not? Most people won’t but you might want one if you work a lot in the evenings for example. I didn’t think I cared about a backlit keyboard, but after using both, I realised it’s now an essential feature for me.
Don’t listen to other VAs
When I’m looking to buy something my first port of call is always Google. There are tons of tech websites out there and I recommend you refer to these first rather than asking another VA in the Facebook group (or your Mum) what they suggest.
These guys are experts in technology whereas most VAs are not!
Decide what features you need, narrow down your choices and then read as many user reviews and comparison articles as you can. You could then ask the VA Handbookers Facebook group if they have any experience of these laptops, but you’ll get better information from people whose job it is to review tech!
Once you’ve narrowed it down, go to Google and type in something like “(name of laptop you’re considering) versus (name of the other laptop you’re considering)” to get comparison reviews.
A VA once wrote on a post in my group that she would never buy an Asus and yet I was delighted with mine. Others can only go their personal experience and tell you if they like using a particular laptop but, as with most things, it’s all down to opinion.
Laptop models vary so sweeping generalisations aren’t going to help you. Also, the VA may have had a glitchy one, simply not liked the features, or are basing their opinion on out of date information or products.
So get your technical advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Read as many reviews as you can
Ideally, you want to go to the store and see the laptop you’re considering because you can feel how heavy it is and see whether the keys are too close together etc. However, that isn’t always possible so the next best thing is to read as many online reviews and comments you can.
Check out the laptop on Amazon and see what people are saying about it. It may be that buyers have given fewer stars because the delivery was late or for something personal to them that doesn’t matter to you. But these reviews may also highlight something that the online tech reviews aren’t aware of – such as the hinges getting looser over time for example.
You can always upgrade later
I started with a Dell Inspiron because it was cheap and I just wanted to get started. It was really heavy, really noisy and the battery life was only around three hours, but it was affordable and it was an absolute workhorse.
More importantly, it meant that I could just get on and do some work.
That laptop served me well for many years until I decided to upgrade to a smaller, lighter laptop with the longest battery life I could find. So although I’ve had large, cheap laptops in the past, I’ve learned that I personally need something light and fast with good battery life.
My own laptop history
Starting my business with a beast of a laptop, my 15″ Dell Inspiron, I moved on to a 13″ Asus Aspire and then bought a 13″ HP Envy earlier this year. I was actually very happy with the Asus, but because my Accountant advised it was a good time in the tax year to buy a new laptop, I gave my Asus to a friend’s young daughter and bought a HP Envy.
I undertook extensive research before I made my decision. My old Aspire model was no longer available and the new version had poor reviews, but the Envy ticked all my boxes and I went ahead and bought it.
What a mistake that was.
Just a few months after receiving it, the external speakers suddenly stopped working. The biometric fingerprint login had already packed up but waking up one day to find the speakers had gone (and not even showing up as a device) was a total pain. I was just about to head to Tanzania for five weeks so after spending two days trying to find fixes online and via HP’s support feature, I organised a refund for when I returned.
After I returned from Africa a replacement HP Envy was sent out to me. Luckily, I’d bought through Amazon as their refund policy and customer service is impeccable, but exactly one week after receiving the new laptop, it again decided to remove the biometric login as well as the webcam. After spending an entire morning trying to sort it out, I made a dramatic but easy decision.
I will never buy a Windows laptop again.
When I considered how much time, effort and stress I have put in over the years trying to sort out glitches, remove bloatware, update drivers and wait for updates, I decided that, for me, it just isn’t worth it.
I have gone back to my old, cheapy backup Chromebook. It has never given me an ounce of trouble and has performed admirably for years. But, because it’s a bit slow and my version isn’t well supported by Google any more, I have just put my name down for the new Google Pixelbook Go when it comes out in January 2020.
There is nothing I can’t do on a Windows laptop that I can’t do on a Chromebook. There is no faff, no stress, no malware to install, no worries about hacking and viruses and no time-consuming updates. I feel about my Chromebook how others feel about their Macs.
It just works.
A word on Chromebooks
As you’ve just heard, I now work solely in the cloud on a Chromebook. It used to be that Chromebooks weren’t suitable for all the work that a VA needed to do, but they’ve progressed a lot in a very short space of time and I can’t actually think of any tasks that a VA can’t do on one now.
I actually know a few VAs who work solely on a Chromebook, so it’s definitely possible.
They do have some quirks, however, so you may want to check out my post on whether a VA can work solely on a Chromebook if you’re considering moving over.
Even if you do want to stick with your regular laptop, if you store your work in the cloud you will never have to worry about tech disasters again. If your laptop breaks or is stolen you simply log in to your Google account (on your laptop or backup Chromebook) and continue working on your documents.
- Back up your data to the cloud. An external hard drive is great but they will fail at some point. I used Mozy (£5 a month) to back up when I worked on a laptop but now I store my files and pics in Google Drive and back some of them up in OneDrive as well.
- Remember to put the cost of your laptop and any cables, monitor, mouse and keyboard on your business expenses.
- If you have a separate laptop for work, you can claim all of it on your expenses but if it’s for personal use as well, you can only claim half. Read more about how much you can claim on laptop purchases here.
- I use the same laptop for work and business. Some people like to keep them separate but I don’t really see the point myself.
- Definitely buy a spare charger though because if yours broke tomorrow, you’d be stuffed.
- Watch your back. I have a YoYo Mini adjustable desk (it sits on a tabletop) and a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard. I have these because I completely messed my back up and ended up paying a load of money for physio. So preempt the cost by looking after your health now.