Our 2021 Laptop Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best for You
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Our 2021 Laptop Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best for You

From Chromebooks to Windows PCs to MacBooks, buying a laptop is still a confusing mess.

By Joanna Stern
Tue, Aug 10, 2021 11:52amGrey Clock 5 min

So there you are, in the Best Buy laptop section, staring down the biggest decision of your life: Which one should I make mine?

Do you head for the low-cost Chromebooks? Pull out Google Translate to decipher the placards next to the Windows machines? Or go to the “Honey, I Shrunk the Apple Store” area to check out the MacBooks?

No pressure, but one wrong move and BAM! You’re typing away on a mistake for the next three to five years.

Don’t worry, we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen. Plus, I’ve got good news: It’s a great time to buy a laptop! The surge in sales and increased usage fueled by our everything-from-home lives got laptop makers finally improving what has been a fairly stagnant selection.

Look at the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 introduced in April. It has a beautiful OLED display and a quiet keyboard, so you don’t disrupt your dog’s nap. It also has a very timely video-calling upgrade: “We responded in real-time with changes to the product,” said Hassan Anjum, Samsung Electronics America’s head of product for computing, explaining that engineers worked to improve the laptop’s microphones, camera and speakers.

But there are at least four different configurations of it—and then there are, you know, hundreds of other laptops that might tempt you.

That’s where my fresh list of laptop buying rules comes in. They are devised to help you get to the right laptop, buy it right and then use it right, whether it’s for a return to the classroom or the conference room. You can do this.

Make sure you really need a new laptop.

Too many perfectly good laptops end up in the landfill. So before you start the buying process, have you tried to fix up your current laptop? Is this something a tuneup, part replacement or software update could fix? If not, just make sure you properly wipe your data and recycle the machine. Here’s a search tool to find a recycling location.

Pick your operating system.

Chances are you probably know which OS you want based on past experience, your other gadgets or what your school or company requires. Here’s an overview of your three main choices:

Microsoft Windows: Still the most widely used laptop OS, it’s your best bet if you need Microsoft apps like Word, Excel, Outlook, etc., plus other job-specific types of software. It also syncs well with Android phones.

All systems now on shelves come with Windows 10, but Windows 11 is due out before the end of the year as a free update. Before you buy, make sure the laptop is eligible for a Windows 11 upgrade by checking the manufacturer’s website. Windows laptops generally range from $400 to $4000.

Google Chrome OS: Hugely popular with students, a Chrome laptop (aka a Chromebook) is a good choice if you primarily need the web. They can run Android apps, too. These systems tend to be the most affordable of the bunch, usually under $880

Apple MacOS: If you’re already in Apple’s walled garden—and own an iPhone and/or iPad—Apple’s $1499-and-up MacBook Air and Pro are worth considering for their integration with iMessage, Safari, AirPods and more. All MacBooks currently ship with MacOS Big Sur, but the next version, Monterey, will be a free upgrade this fall to all currently on-sale systems.

Pick your hardware.

Ultrabooks, 2-in-1s (aka tablet laptops), gaming laptops, business laptops—there are more arbitrary laptop categories than seasonal Starbucks coffee flavours.

Instead, when considering a laptop, remember my three Ps: power, portability and price. More power and more portability typically means higher price. (If you have a lot of peripherals or work with digital media, you should also consider a fourth P: ports.) I have long evaluated laptops with these in mind. And while I haven’t tested every laptop in existence—one day, one day!—here are a few that I quite enjoy:

Windows: Check out Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop 4. Starting at $1599, it’s thin and light, and has a comfortable keyboard and responsive trackpad. I also like Samsung’s $1300-and-up Galaxy Book Pro 360. Unlike the Surface Laptop, its screen flips 360 degrees and comes with an S Pen, so you can use it as a full-on tablet. Both of these laptops come with 13- and 15-inch screen options. I’ve long preferred 13-inch laptops for their portability, but others prefer more screen real estate.

Chromebook: I’ve been a fan of Google’s own 13.3-inch Pixelbook Go. The keyboard is quieter than anything else I’ve tried. It has a 1080p webcam and a touch screen, and it’s very compact. At approx. $850 it’s on the pricey end; if you want to spend less, check out these recommendations.

MacBook: The new MacBook Pro with the M1 chip has been my main computer for the past few months, and I’m still blown away by how quiet and cool it runs, even with dozens and dozens of browser tabs open. If you’re in the market for a Pro, maybe hold off, since there are reports of a redesigned version due this fall. But even the M1-powered MacBook Air, which starts at $1400, has great battery life and everyday performance—and no fan.

Pick your specs.

Oh, you thought I was done? LOL. If you’re buying directly from a manufacturer’s website, you’ll likely have a choice of the following:

Processor: On the Windows side, you’re going to see Intel and AMD options. The Surface Laptop 4, for instance, offers both. (I’ve long gone with Intel for its longer battery life but here’s more info if you’re debating the two.) The Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 has Intel’s brand new 11th-generation processors, which promise better performance and battery life, and faster wake times. How can you tell? It says Intel Core i7-1165G7 on its website. The first numbers—11—refer to the generation. (For more deciphering, check out Intel’s explainer.)

Chromebooks are available with a selection of processors, too. For better performance, go with an Intel Core chip. With MacBooks, avoid getting one with an Intel processor. Apple has said it would move to fully using its own chips in the next year or two.

RAM: For everyday tasks, 8 gigabytes of RAM should be plenty for a Windows PC or MacBook. But if you run lots of applications and you’re a website tab hoarder, it won’t hurt to go up to 16GB—or even higher where possible.

Storage: On lower-end systems such as Chromebooks, storage often starts at 32GB. If you’re planning to download photos, videos and documents, 64GB or 128GB will be safer. On higher-end Windows or Mac models, 256GB is standard. If you need more storage, before ponying up hundreds for an upgraded laptop, consider a cheaper and portable SanDisk or Samsung external solid state drive (aka SSD).

Embrace accessories; resist warranties.

Typically I’d recommend buying directly through the laptop maker’s website, but there are too many good deals through retailers such as Best Buy and Newegg right now. Shop around for the best deal, but make sure you’re matching up specs to ensure all is equal. Also, beware: The global chip shortage is already causing prices from some manufacturers to rise.

Many sellers will push an extended warranty, often around $250. It will cover things like accidental damage, etc. My colleagues and I have never found these to be worthwhile, but only you can be the judge of how likely you are to spill coffee all over your new keyboard.

One thing you should buy? A USB-C dongle. Most new laptops have USB-C ports (bye-bye, big old USB port!). That means you’ll need an adapter for plugging in any older cords or peripherals. Apple will try to sell you a $19 one at checkout. Don’t do it. This one from Anker costs the same but has three USB ports. (Update: The recommended adapter sold out after the column was published; we also recommend this $30 5-in-1 hub from Anker, which is in stock.)

If you follow all of these rules and still come up with a bad laptop, don’t blame me. Blame the insane number of choices.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: Updated Aug 08, 2021



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New York Watch Auctions Record Uptick in Sales in the Face of Market Slowdown
By LAURIE KAHLE
Mon, Jun 24, 2024 4 min

Luxury watch collectors showed ongoing strong demand for Patek Philippe, growing interest in modern watches and a preference for larger case sizes and leather straps at the June watch sales in New York, according to an analysis of the major auctions.

Independent and neo-vintage categories, meanwhile, experienced declines in total sales and average prices, said the report from  EveryWatch, a global online platform for watch information. Overall, the New York auctions achieved total sales of US$52.27 million, a 9.87% increase from the previous year, on the sale of 470 lots, reflecting a 37% increase in volume. Unsold rates ticked down a few points to 5.31%, according to the platform’s analysis.

EveryWatch gathered data from official auction results for sales held in New York from June 5 to 10 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. Limited to watch sales exclusively, each auction’s data was reviewed and compiled for several categories, including total lots, sales and sold rates, highest prices achieved, performance against estimates, sales trends in case materials and sizes as well as dial colors, and more. The resulting analysis provides a detailed overview of market trends and performance.

The Charles Frodsham Pocket watch sold at Phillips for $433,400.

“We still see a strong thirst for rare, interesting, and exceptional watches, modern and vintage alike, despite a little slow down in the market overall,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of the California-based pre-owned online watch dealer BobsWatches.com, in an email. “The results show that there is still a lot of money floating around out there in the economy looking for quality assets.”

Patek Philippe came out on top with more than US$17.68 million on the sale of 122 lots. It also claimed the top lot: Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime 6300G-010, still in the sealed factory packaging, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$5.4 million, much to the dismay of the brand’s president, Thierry Stern . The London-based industry news website WatchPro estimates the flip made the actor as much as US$2 million in just a few years.

At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire
Richard Mille

“As we have seen before and again in the recent Sotheby’s sale, provenance can really drive prices higher than market value with regards to the Sylvester Stallone Panerai watches and his standard Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1a offered,” Altieri says.

Patek Philippe claimed half of the top 10 lots, while Rolex and Richard Mille claimed two each, and Philippe Dufour claimed the No. 3 slot with a 1999 Duality, which sold at Phillips for about US$2.1 million.

“In-line with EveryWatch’s observation of the market’s strong preference for strap watches, the top lot of our auction was a Philippe Dufour Duality,” says Paul Boutros, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of watches, Americas, in an email. “The only known example with two dials and hand sets, and presented on a leather strap, it achieved a result of over US$2 million—well above its high estimate of US$1.6 million.”

In all, four watches surpassed the US$1 million mark, down from seven in 2023. At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire, the most expensive watch sold at Christie’s in New York. That sale also saw a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM52-01 CA-FQ Tourbillon Skull Model go for US$1.26 million to an online buyer.

Rolex expert Altieri was surprised one of the brand’s timepieces did not crack the US$1 million threshold but notes that a rare Rolex Daytona 6239 in yellow gold with a “Paul Newman John Player Special” dial came close at US$952,500 in the Phillips sale.

The Crown did rank second in terms of brand clout, achieving sales of US$8.95 million with 110 lots. However, both Patek Philippe and Rolex experienced a sales decline by 8.55% and 2.46%, respectively. The independent brand Richard Mille, with US$6.71 million in sales, marked a 912% increase from the previous year with 15 lots, up from 5 lots in 2023.

The results underscored recent reports of prices falling on the secondary market for specific coveted models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The summary points out that five top models produced high sales but with a fall in average prices.

The Rolex Daytona topped the list with 42 appearances, averaging US$132,053, a 41% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, with two of the top five watches, made 26 appearances with an average price of US$111,198, a 26% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar followed with 23 appearances and a US$231,877 average price, signifying a fall of 43%, and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had 22 appearances and an average price of US$105,673, a 10% decrease. The Rolex Day Date is the only watch in the top five that tracks an increase in average price, which at US$72,459 clocked a 92% increase over last year.

In terms of categories, modern watches (2005 and newer) led the market with US$30 million in total sales from 226 lots, representing a 53.54% increase in sales and a 3.78% increase in average sales price over 2023. Vintage watches (pre-1985) logged a modest 6.22% increase in total sales and an 89.89% increase in total lots to 169.

However, the average price was down across vintage, independent, and neo-vintage (1990-2005) watches. Independent brands saw sales fall 24.10% to US$8.47 million and average prices falling 42.17%, while neo-vintage watches experienced the largest decline in sales and lots, with total sales falling 44.7% to US$8.25 million, and average sales price falling 35.73% to US$111,000.

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