What are you looking for?

Jan 06, 2013, 10:47 IST | Nimish Dubey

Looking for a computer and wondering which form factor to opt for? Here's our computer form (factor) guide to help you make up your mind

With great technology comes great complexity. Consider the facts: a couple of decades ago, buying a computer was just a matter of choosing the right desktop. Fast forward a decade and the choice had been extended to between desktops and notebooks. Move on to the present day and age, and users looking for a computer have stacks of options to choose from of different form factors, capabilities and features.

Tablets: Johnny Come Lately...

If you had told people a couple of years ago that tablets would be a viable computing option, you would have been laughed out of sight. Today the scene is rather different. The Apple iPad is selling millions of units and a number of manufacturers have come out with similar devices on a range of platforms. What has made tablets click is the sheer convenience they offer - they are easy to use, can be carried in one’s hand (most weight about 400-600 grammes) and used to browse the Web, play games or send and receive mail and in some cases, even make calls. No, they don’t have the kind of hardware muscle that desktops, ultrabooks and notebooks have, but what they do have are an array of applications (apps) that allow users to do just as much on the move. And lower prices and better battery lives. Typing on them remains a headache, though.

Prices: Rs 6,000 onwards (approx)

Pros: Very portable, easy to use touch interface, good battery life, lots of apps, inbuilt data connectivity
Cons: Not as powerful as other computers, Often need to be connected to a computer themselves, limited connectivity to accessories like printers and scanners.
Perfect for: Those who prefer reading information rather than generating it. And don’t like carrying anything too heavy.

Desktops - All Muscle, No Movement
No, it is not dead yet. We have been hearing elegies for the desktop for a decade now but the trusty CPU+Display+Keyboard simply refuses to fade away. Part of the reason for this is the sheer flexibility it offers uses - it remains the most convenient device in terms of changing just about every component. So you do not really need to buy a whole new computer when all you want is a better graphics card or a better processor. It remains the favourite of power users and gamers all over the world, and even of some authors who love resting a keyboard on their laps and typing away while their words appear on a large screen.

Pros: Remains the easiest to expand in hardware terms, great for “heavy computing tasks” relatively inexpensive
Cons: Bulky and not portable at all
Perfect for: Those who prefer to work from one location and have graphic intensive tasks requiring large displays and hefty processing power.
Prices: Rs 15,000 onwards (approx)

Notebooks - Move it
Once considered the ultimate portable computing option, notebooks are now being seen as ‘desktop replacements’, best suited for those who want a powerful device that can be used on the move. The main factors for this demotion has been the emergence of the ultabook and tablet market which has provided users with more portable and compact computing options. It would however be premature to write off these work horses. They remain very handy in terms of both processing power and ease of use as they come with larger displays and more comfortable keyboards, and remain surprisingly affordable as compared to more portable options.

Pros: Portable, Can pack in processing muscle, getting more affordable by the day
Cons: Conventional notebooks tend to be a bit on the bulky side and tend to work a tad slowly, Not easily expandable in hardware terms
Perfect for: Those who want a fair bit of processing power while on the move, but do not move too frequently.
Prices: Rs 25,000 onwards (approx)

Convertibles:...the new kid in town
Put together an ultrabook and a tablet and what do you get? Well, a convertible. These new devices have just started hitting the market and combine a touchscreen with a keyboard that can either be totally detached or be concealed under the display, allowing the user to use the device as both a tablet and a notebook (it can be ‘converted’ into a notebook or tablet, hence the name). One of the main reasons for the popularity of these devices is the launch of Windows 8 which works well with both keyboards and touchscreens. Of course, there are options available on other platforms too - you can add a Bluetooth keyboard to your iPad or PlayBook and the Asus Transformer keyboard-tablet combo runs on Android.

Pros: Lightweight, best of touch and type worlds, generally easy user interface
Cons: Tend to be expensive, heavier than tablets, not suited for “heavy” computing tasks yet
Perfect for: Those who want a tablet for viewing content. And a keyboard for writing it.

Phablets: Jacks of All Trades
When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note, a lot of critics panned it for being neither a phone nor a tablet. Today, all those critics are eating humble pie as the market has shown that there is indeed room for a large screen device which can slip into a pocket while providing a range of functionalities. When it comes to sheer versatility, phablets are unmatchable - you can use them to make calls, browse the Web, check social networks, take photographs and even compose and edit documents and presentations if you feel like it. Yes, the screen is not as big as those on tablets and notebooks and while the best phablets do come with quad core processors, these are not a patch on those found in ultrabooks and notebooks, but then that is the price you pay for something that packs so much into so small a frame (when compared to tablets and ultrabooks). Of course, the really good ones remain pricey affairs, but on the flip side, there are so many apps to choose from, thanks to the Android platform on which they are based.

Pros: Very versatile (a blend of phones and tablets), very light as compared to tablets, lots of apps
Cons: Bulky for phones and too small for tablets, generally expensive, cannot match processing power of convertibles, ultrabooks and notebooks.
Perfect for: Those who want one device to handle everything from calls to mails to photography to social networks. Without doing anything too hefty.
Prices: Rs 10,000 onwards (approx)

Ultrabooks - Pretty and Portable
A few years ago, netbooks had been the rage, scoring in terms of high portability and low prices. If they had a flaw, it was their limited processing power. Intel’s ultabook concept has addressed that. Ultabooks now have supplanted netbooks as the ultimate portable computing option and are now poised to overthrow even conventional notebooks. They are thin, light (generally less than 2 kgs in weight), have battery lives in excess of five hours, generally come with powerful processors and fast storage options (SSD memory), and even look very good. Yes, they are not the most affordable devices around and thanks to their ultra-slim frames, changing hardware is a problem. That said, they are being seen by many as being the future of portable computing.

Pros: Sleek and lightweight, good hardware, good battery life, very portable
Cons: Generally on the expensive side, Limited expandability, still lag behind notebooks in hardware muscle
Perfect for: Those who love to work on the move, generally on tasks that revolve around lots of typing, Web browsing, mail and the like. Not recommended for very hefty computing tasks.
Prices: Rs 40,000 onwards (approx) 

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