Warranties, Security, Bundled Office Suite, Miscellany
In the first part of the three-part series, I reviewed the types of laptops suitable for lawyers, what you need to know about processors, and graphics and display adapters. In the second part, I reviewed laptop memory, hard drive options, screen options, and operating system options. In this final installment, I discuss warranties, security issues, and preinstalled Microsoft Office. With this information, you have what you need to make a laptop buying decision. Good luck!
System Warranty: Ideally, you want at least a three-year, next-business-day, on-site warranty with 24/7 technical support. If you think you'll be using your computer for longer, most manufacturers will give you the option to extend your warranty to four or five years. I generally prefer to cycle out computers every three years, so I never get a warranty beyond that. Mail-in or carry-in warranties are going to extend your downtime and likely cause you a lot of waiting and frustration. In my opinion, warranties that require me to ship my computer somewhere or take it to a store are unacceptable.
Manufacturer Warranties Are Better: For example, if I buy a Dell laptop from Amazon, Amazon doesn't offer Dell factory warranties for the computer. Instead, they offer third-party warranties, and those warranties are, in my personal experience, vastly inferior to the warranties purchased directly from Dell (for example, Dell's ProSupport warranties).
Technical Support: I look for North American−based support from representatives for whom English is their first language. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to explain a problem to someone you can't understand. It's worth asking where the support is based before you buy the computer. If technical support is offshore and you can't upgrade to something better, you might want to keep looking.
Accidental Damage Protection: If you are worried that you might accidentally break your laptop, this is an excellent added measure of protection. This protection is normally recommended for laptop computers, but it's probably not worth it for a desktop. It protects you against liquid spills, drops, falls, and electrical surges. Manufacturers such as Dell and Lenovo offer this kind of coverage, and it's surprisingly inexpensive for three years.
Antimalware and Firewall Software: At a minimum, you need antivirus software and a firewall. Broadly, antivirus software keeps malware off your computer, and a firewall keeps hackers out. Windows 8.x and 10 computers have both of these things built in, but the built-in options (such as Windows Defender) typically rank at the bottom of antivirus reviews. Mac PCs do include a firewall but not an antivirus program, so you definitely need to buy one. Some of the big players for Windows or Mac include Bitdefender (my favorite), McAfee, Kaspersky, Webroot, and Symantec.
Fingerprint Reader: Fingerprint (biometric) readers allow you to block unauthorized users of your computer and log in quickly without entering a password. Many manufacturers include free encryption software with your system when this option is selected. This allows you to encrypt your computer so it is unusable without a valid fingerprint swipe. This added level of security is well worth the added cost.
Hard Drive Encryption: If you're going to have confidential client information on your laptop, in my professional opinion, you need to encrypt the hard drive. This can be accomplished several ways. The MacBook comes with an encryption program called FileVault. If you have Windows 8.x Pro or 10 Pro, you have an included encryption program called BitLocker. You can also buy encryption programs such as SecuriKey Pro for Windows or Mac for your PC. Finally, you may have an option when configuring a new laptop to choose a self-encrypting hard drive. For example, the hard drive customization options for a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon include OPAL2.0-capable options, which are self-encrypting.
Bundled Office Suite
If you get Microsoft Office preinstalled on your new computer, the software license typically restricts it to being installed only once and only on the computer it came with. For that reason, more lawyers are choosing to get Microsoft Office as part of an Office 365 bundle. You can transfer those installations of Office 2016 from one computer to another, you get both the Windows and Mac versions, and you can install it on up to five PCs that you use. For more information on this, see the Microsoft website.
I prefer a backlit keyboard if it's available. I am often using my laptop in low-light situations, and although I've been typing for over 32 years, I still want to see the keyboard, particularly when I need to hit an F key. If you're a touch typist, it's also worth test-driving the keyboard before you buy. Keyboards are definitely not all created equal.
Laptop batteries are measured in terms of "cells." The more cells in your battery (3, 4, 6, and 9 are typical), the longer you'll be able to operate unplugged. You should also know that the bigger the battery, the heavier your laptop will be. I prefer laptop models that allow me to swap out batteries without using a screwdriver or invalidating the warranty. Some laptops just don't let you do this. If you can swap batteries on your laptop, I recommend getting an extra one as a backup. Otherwise, you can buy external laptop battery chargers for emergency situations. For example, I have a Dell Power Companion that allows me to charge my laptop as well as up to two tablets or phones.
Webcam and Mic
Any business laptop should have a built-in webcam and integrated mic so you can participate in online meetings, Skype, and use other similar services without buying any additional accessories.
Today, the vast majority of laptops do not include an optical drive of any type. While most software used to come on DVD, today it's most often downloaded. If you need an optical drive, you're better off getting an external drive that connects via USB when you need it. You can buy a nice USB 3.0 external DVD drive for about $35 from Amazon.
A port is a connection point for attaching peripherals or other external devices to your computer. When buying a laptop today, I would want at least one Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C port. These ports use the same types of cables, and devices are interchangeable between them. These are new, extremely high-speed ports that can transfer data while also supplying power. In terms of data transfer, Thunderbolt is faster than USB-C, but devices that work with one will work with the other.