In the past ten years innovation has exploded on the personal computer front. Smart phones, tablets, super thin laptops, all in one desktops — when considering a device that lets you stay organized and connected, there are more options now than ever. Have a space limited apartment? Need a computer mostly just to browse the web and consume media? Explore your options before making a purchase, and pick a device class that fits perfectly with your lifestyle and personal needs.
Ultrabooks and the Macbook Air
If you're looking for a machine primed for productivity but with a minimal footprint in your home, Apple's 11" and 13" Macbook Air both offer just enough power to get things done. Similarly, Intel's Ultrabooks, now offered by many prominent PC manufacturers, are comparably thin laptops running Windows. They range generally from 10" to 15", often with more than enough power for everything the average PC user could need. This class of machines also offers some pretty impressive battery life, making them ideal for students, or for people who work remotely, letting you set up for a few hours in a local coffee shop without worrying about being next to a power outlet.
Have no room for a home office in a small apartment? Looking for a device which you can set up at the kitchen table but easily stow away on a shelf for charging? It's likely that an Ultrabook class laptop or a Macbook Air is ideal for you.
Desktops and all-in-one computers
With powerful and compelling and options in the laptop space, it's becoming less common for the average consumer to need a full desktop computer. Sometimes, though, there are special use cases where a desktop might be an attractive option. The option of using a keyboard, mouse and display of your choosing may be a better fit for users who have special ergonomic considerations. Often people who have more limited vision will appreciate a larger screen size for increased legibility as well. Otherwise, the desktop may be more limited to the power user, for advanced video editing or PC gaming, with advanced options for customizability and upgrade over time.
If you feel you need a bit more screen real estate than a 11" to 15" laptop could provide, have more system intensive professional or hobbyist needs, or just like the option of being able to choose a mouse and keyboard that fits your ergonomics needs, a desktop may be your best option. For a more permanent home office solution, the iMac all-in-one PC is a highly attractive option, offering 21" and 27" models with various upgrades available in-purchase to build a machine that suits your needs. With the growing popularity of more mobile options, there are often very affordable options in the Windows based PC desktop market for a more customizable and expandable home computing solution.
Professional laptops, and the Macbook Pro
With much of the power usually associated with desktops now available in professional class laptops, the pro-on-the-go has some impressive options for a small footprint, high-performance machine. The Macbook Pro, available in 13" and 15", has long been the choice portable for design and video professionals. If you're interested in photo editing, video, or recording music or audio, but find yourself limited in apartment space, it's likely that a pro laptop is a better option, as opposed to the Macbook Air or a comparable Ultrabook. PC gamers also have some great options from companies like Alienware, with high powered and robust laptops focused on graphic performance.
If you're a media or design professional who often works remotely or from the road, or just have limited space in your home for an office but still need a machine that can do almost everything, it's likely a professional grade laptop will cater to most (if not all) of your work and leisure needs.
Smartphones and portable media player devices
Though more limited in their capacity for use in serious work, in many facets of our day to day, smartphones have replaced the need for larger, more powerful computers. The ever popular Apple iPhone and iPod touch both offer access to a near limitless supply of media, games and productivity apps. Allowing you to stay organized, with a wide range of note taking, calendar, and communications apps, smart phones and mobile media devices (like the iPod Touch) give you pocket access to a very personal computer.
With Android devices that range up to 5" (like the stylus capable Galaxy Note), consuming media like books and television, sketching out ideas, or taking hand drawn notation is no longer reserved for larger devices. For many entry level and even professional users who find themselves always on the go, a smartphone has likely replaced a laptop or desktop as their primary access point to the web and email. Most smartphones also come with a pretty decent camera, making them, for most people, a replacement for point and shoot cameras or entry level camcorders.
Smartphones also offer a pretty shallow learning curve, which for many entry level users, even children or an absolute beginner, makes jumping in a lot less intimidating. Find yourself spending more time on your phone than anything else? it's likely you don't need much more than that. Dig a little deeper in the app store and find yourself some productivity and organization apps, and be a smartphone power user, making your phone your perfect personal computer.
A natural evolution of the smart phone, tablets offer the same touch friendly ease of use, with a larger screen, which for many users makes a tablet really the perfect personal device. With options from Apple, Google and numerous third party manufacturers ranging from 7 inches up to close to 11, tablets are super portable, while offering enough screen real estate to get a surprising amount of work done. Mobile devices, both smartphones and tablets, have seen incredible app development, offering affordable and highly usable software to easily extend the built-in features of your device in comparison to the traditional PC app software ecosystems.
Find yourself living mostly out of a messenger bag or backpack? A tablet combined with a smartphone, and even a Bluetooth keyboard, might just be enough for most users to find themselves never needing a laptop or desktop computer. Perfect for lounging on a couch reading a magazine, watching TV or movies, or for taking notes in a meeting or lecture hall, tablets offer an ample replacement for magazines, books, a pad of paper, and more, making the world of professional and casual computing accessible to almost everyone.
Over the past decade, new product categories and innovations have opened up technology to a whole new range of potential users. Greater accessibility and a far wider range of device sizes have made computers far more personal to use. You'll note that in this breakdown, we see devices ranging from under 4" right up to 27" (and potentially beyond). This explosion in diversity and range of size and features means it's easier than ever to find a device that fits your lifestyle. Whether it's setting up a multi-monitor home office, or a personal productivity solution that fits in your bag, pick a device that fits your lifestyle and enjoy a more individual personal computer experience.
(Images: Sean Rioux)