SLIDESHOW

How to Test a Laptop in the Store

Use our experts' guide to in-store testing before you spend big bucks on your next laptop.

How to Test a Laptop in the Store

You need a new laptop. In the store, you see three different models that might work, but you don’t know how to decide on the best one for you (not the best one for the salesperson). These sets of quick and simple in-store performance tests will separate the winners from the posers, and lead you to a decision you can feel good about.

Note that these tests provide only part of the information that will go into your buying decision. They’re best used to choose from several devices that you’ve already determined have the features you seek.

Also remember that how many tests you’ll be able to do will vary from store to store. Depending on the outlet, you’ll find display models that are fully functioning and ready to use (and test), or you’ll find a room full of gadgets that are largely disabled or not turned on at all. Our advice is to shop in stores that allow for a hands-on buying decision.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Boot Time

Using a stopwatch (or stopwatch app), measure the time between pushing the power button and when the machine is ready.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Viewing Angle

Look at the monitor from different angles, vertically and horizontally. Do colors change, or does the screen dim?

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Display

Go to a website with some monitor test patterns (such as this one), and view the patterns while adjusting the brightness. Does the display get bright enough to use outdoors? Is it too glossy and reflective?

Keyboard

Keyboards are somewhat subjective—different people (with thick or slender fingers) like different keyboards. Just make sure that you’re comfortable with the feel of the one you’re trying out.

Open a word processing program such as Notepad or Word, and run off a couple of paragraphs. Can you type quickly and accurately?

If the laptop is connected to the Net, you can take a free 1-minute typing test at www.typingtest.com, comparing your words-per-minute scores between computers.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

App Launching

Fire up whatever applications are installed, and see how quick it feels. Look for apps that are on all of the models you’re considering, run them, and compare the speeds between systems. Make sure that the apps reside on the PC itself and do not rely on a wireless network.

Touchpad

Test the touchpad’s navigation chops by scrolling through websites and other windows. Move the cursor around, and click away; open context menus (right-click). Does it let you point and click where you want to? Does the touchpad register your palms touching it, causing the cursor to jump as you type?

Photograph by Robert Cardin