Like almost everyone else I know, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about cool new sexy gadgets. Yet when I think about how I spend my day and how I get things done, I realise that most of it is spent with a laptop – a business laptop to be more precise. It's time to face facts: The iPhone and iPad, Galaxy S4 and Note tablets are all exciting devices, but when it comes to really getting things done, they’re not business devices.
MacBooks can work for business, and the enterprising worker might be able to convince his boss that an Alienware notebook is a perfect business laptop, but the reality is that businesses tend to choose more pedestrian looking (and affordable) fare for their business laptops. Models like the Lenovo ThinkPad, for example. In talking with system manufacturers, I've learned that there are six crucial elements every business laptop must have, and none of them have anything to do with good looks or entertaining and time wasting apps or games.
1. Stability of image
Businesses – large and small – need to manage desktops and laptops in the most efficient way possible. When they buy a laptop, they need to understand it fully from the get-go – and then not think about it again. In other words, every laptop of the same make, model, and configuration they buy from a manufacturer has to stay that way a good long while. Why? Companies don't want to waste time with IT issues such as trying to understand why, for instance, a driver has changed, and is now causing some manner of conflict. The pre-installed software should remain consistent. There should be no surprises like unwanted bloatware, or apps that the business needs going missing. The operating system version needs to be the same, too.
Obviously, companies often take an image they have lying around and pour that into your brand new laptop, which is fine, if nothing has changed in the laptop. If something like a critical piece of hardware has changed, that old image could mean disaster for the new system.
2. Life cycle: Longer than 18 to 24 months
This is connected to the above point. That image and the laptop configuration can't radically change in six months. Docking stations and power supplies should work on all systems bought within the last two years. Moreover, companies expect a make and model to live on for at least a year – if only for budgetary considerations. Realistically, companies can expect the price of a business laptop to stay static for six months and drop over the next 12 months. If businesses follow design and development trends in their laptop purchases, they'll quickly lose control of their system budgets.
For businesses, laptop security is a multi-layered affair. There is, naturally, security software. A company will standardise on either a multi-license or enterprise-level package, one they can update over the network or with a USB stick (for smaller firms). However, businesses also need more security, such as fingerprint or smartcard readers married to a Trusted Platform Module, and encryption options like BitLocker. Why is that important? Far too many business laptops are lost in the backs of cabs, on planes, and in airport security lines. If the finder (or thief) pulls the hard drive from the system, it will be impossible to read. Even inside the system, the encrypted hard drive's data should be impenetrable. No business wants the finder to start perusing company secrets. An encrypted drive is, at least, one level of protection.
You won't perform a lot of upgrades on a business laptop, but you can count on at least two. Most business laptops get at least one memory upgrade and, typically, one hard drive replacement over the span of their office life. These should be easy to do and not overly costly either. In other words, the parts should not be too high-end or unique that you can't find or afford them. Some businesses like to buy these upgrades in bulk and have them on hand when someone asks for them. IT managers also like systems that let them deploy updates from their base station. Intel's VPro (found in business laptops) makes it possible to remotely deploy images, security updates, patches, and more.
5. Base-level battery life
If you're buying laptops for your employees, then you likely expect them to work when on the road. Road warriors need at least 5 hours of battery life, and ideally more. Note that as time goes on, after repeated charging the battery will slowly lose its capacity, and that’s why switching out a battery is the third most common replacement on any laptop. Look for laptops that offer affordable extra battery options.
6. Tough or fixable
Okay, I don't know if the laptop needs to be military-grade tough, but it better be able to handle more than a few drops. Even though employees will keep their laptops desk-bound a majority of the time, they will also balance them on their knees, on the corner of counters, near drinks, etc. And sometimes, they'll slip from their grasp. Believe me, it doesn't take much of a drop to crack a motherboard or a screen, or to destroy a hard drive (SSD drives may start to look more attractive because of this). My Lenovo ThinkPad senses a fall and locks the hard drive in place. You should look for manufacturers that build reliable systems, offer three year warranties, and will fix failing hardware if necessary.
One final bonus thought: Make sure the laptop is light enough for employees to commute with their systems. If that means spending a couple of hundred pounds more, do it. You will get more productivity from those employees in the end.
What are your key requirements for a good business laptop? Tell me in the comments section below.