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Archive for Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finding affordable, top-performing computers, printers

August 18, 2010

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This summer’s computer models feature cosmetic changes such as bright colors mixed with graphics, according to Consumer Reports.

This summer’s computer models feature cosmetic changes such as bright colors mixed with graphics, according to Consumer Reports.

If you’re shopping for a computer now, there’s good news. Changes to desktops, laptops and netbooks this summer are mostly cosmetic. As newer models begin to replace the 100 in Consumer Reports’ recent Ratings, you might be able to get a good deal on recommended models without sacrificing power or key features.

Consumer Reports’ tests turned up some very good models that it judged CR Best Buys. For example, the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1305, a 13-inch laptop that weighs only 3.7 pounds (there is no optical drive) and boasts a 9-hour battery life, costs just $470. And the Dell Studio One 19, an all-in-one desktop with very good overall performance, costs $630, hundreds less than many of its competitors.

If style is important, you’ll have fun choosing among this summer’s models.

Expect bright colors mixed with graphics such as brushed-on paint or swirling designs. Sony’s lineup includes Hibiscus Pink and Caribbean Green laptops, and Dell’s includes Dim Sum Plum and Teal the Cows Come Home.

Here are other developments that might affect your choice of a computer:

• More touch screens. These let you use your finger on the screen to navigate, zoom, and perform other functions. HP’s all-in-one TouchSmart line has used such displays for a while.

Other touch-screen models include the all-in-one Gateway One series, the Acer AZ5600, and the Dell Studio 17 Touch laptop.

• Competing tablets. With sales of Apple’s iPad surging, other computer manufacturers have begun to introduce tablet models. For example, the 7-inch Archos 7 Home Tablet, which uses the Android operating system, is available for $200.

• 3D displays. A number of computer models already feature this technology. For example, Asus announced the EeeTop PC ET2400 all-in-one. And Lenovo offers a 3D laptop, the IdeaPad Y560d.

How to choose

CR suggests keeping these things in mind when shopping.

• Match a desktop to you needs. Full-sized desktops are feature-laden but take up lots of space. A slim or compact desktop will save space. All-in-ones are the most compact but often cost more.

• Pick the right laptop size. If portability and price are priorities and your workload is light, consider a 10-inch netbook. For heavier work, a 13-inch laptop is a better choice but will cost more.

• Weigh a laptop’s ergonomics. It’s best to try out a laptop in a store before you buy it. Pay special attention to the keyboard size and layout. The keys shouldn’t feel mushy when you type on them. The touch-pad should be large enough for your finger to traverse the span of the display without lifting.

Printers

CR’s latest tests of 112 printers found several speedy, economical all-in-one printers for less than $150. They produce high-quality photos and text and can save space and money compared with a separate printer, scanner and copier.

When shopping for a printer, consumers should assess all costs.

An inexpensive printer can be pricey in the long run if print costs are high, so factor that in when choosing. All-in-ones’ copying function is fine for casual use. Their scanners should be adequate for print originals. Most of the models CR tested were very good for scanning.

The HP Photosmart Premium CD055A#ABA, $140, is an all-in-one inkjet that is very good for printing photos and text. It has a large LCD, which is helpful for cropping photos without a computer. The Lexmark Prospect Pro205, $120, another all-in-one inkjet, prints photos quickly and cheaply and has a built in fax.

CR suggests four ways of printing cheaply with any printer:

• Avoid the Arial font. It uses more ink than Times New Roman and other fonts.

• Print in draft mode or on both sides of the paper.

• Minimize the use of color ink by printing text in grayscale or “use black only” mode.

• Recycle spent cartridges for a refund or credit at an office-supply store.

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