Word processors don’t take much to run, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on your writing device.
I see a lot of misconceptions about what devices writers — and just writers — should purchase when they are shopping for a new computer.
You hear a wide range of things, from “just get something cheap” to “you might as well get a gaming laptop.”
None of these answer the question, though. What should writers get? More specifically, what should writers be looking for in a new computer?
Well, that’s what we are here to answer. At last, here are some concrete things writers should consider when shopping for a new computer, as well as answers to some other important questions.
I will be looking at this from the angle of laptops, though you can apply all of this to information to peripherals, displays, and the like if you are buying or building a new PC.
Should You Go Cheap?
Talking about price is always difficult because everyone’s situation is different. That’s why the answer is almost always “it depends.”
In general, though, I say no. Yes, any computer can run Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but that doesn’t make it a good writing computer— as I’ll explain in a moment.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any quality affordable options. There is one cheap option I’ll talk about towards the end.
Does Internal Hardware Matter For Writers?
Another tricky question. And the answer is pretty simple.
Okay, so it isn’t as straight forward as it seems. It depends on what you are doing on the device in its entirety.
Are you just writing — as in writing exclusively and nothing else? Then not really. There are just a few things to look out for.
Are you also gaming or a content creator? Then there are other things you need to consider (which will inherently make the computer more expensive).
However, there are — in my opinion — three key things that writers need to look at when shopping for a new computer. There are other things you should consider, but these three aspects should take priority.
This is the single most important thing writers should consider when shopping for a computer. Not all keyboards are built the same.
No, for real. They just aren’t built the same. If you are building your PC, you should opt for a mechanical keyboard. They are clicky and fun and they make you feel like you’re using a typewriter.
They are also great for gaming, but that only matters if you’re a gamer too.
Some laptops have mechanical keyboards, but they are ungodly expensive, and not really worth it. That means you will be getting a membrane keyboard with your laptop.
I won’t explain the difference between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards, but you can read about it here if you like.
Instead, I’m going to throw some technical terms at you that you should understand when you are comparing keyboards.
Actuation point — Basically, this is how far down a keyboard needs to be pressed before it is registered by the computer. This is also commonly referred to as travel distance.
Generally, you should aim for 3–5mm. That means it isn’t so short you accidentally type something by touching it, and it isn’t so long that you really have to press down to make the key actuate. 3–5mm is purposeful tapping.
Form factor — This is essentially how large or small the keyboard is and the actual space between keys. What’s best for you depends on your hand size and what you are used to. Generally speaking, compact keyboards are more likely to create mistakes and more spread out keyboards can cause unnecessary strain and reduce typing speed.
Ideally, you should be able to rest your hands over the keyboard and have one finger over each key without touching another. All the keys should also be within reach of your fingers without straining or readjusting your hands’ positions.
Tenkey — If you ever see this, it is referring to the number pad. A tenkeyless keyboard doesn’t have a number pad on the side. Generally, you want to have a tenkeyless keyboard in laptops, as including them makes the rest of the keyboard overly cramped.
However, if you are buying a keyboard for your computer or home office setup, a tenkey keyboard certainly isn’t a bad thing to have as long as it is ergonomic and well-spaced.
The shift key — Now, you should know what the shift key is by now. However, I bring this up because it’s important. For the love of God, look at where the shift key is on the keyboard. Some manufacturers change the shift position to save space or make room for other things.
Some keyboards also have a reduced shift key for the same reasons as above. If you are a serious writer, do not get a keyboard with a reduced shift key. This writer had to learn the hard way how unbelievably life-ruining this design choice is. If you are just browsing the web, you can probably survive with a smaller shift key. Writers cannot. Again, make sure your keyboard has a full-size shift key.
The display is another significant feature for writers. You will obviously be spending a lot of time staring at it as you try to hammer out your latest stories or articles. However, when most people talk about displays, they talk about how they look when watching movies or playing games, not writing the next great classic.
However, your display’s quality does matter. Just because its primary function isn’t binging Netflix or playing the latest AAA title doesn’t mean you should go cheap in this area. Here are a few specific terms to understand and look out for while you are comparing displays.
Contrast ratio — This is one of the most important things to consider when looking at modern displays, especially if you are going to be staring at text all day.
The contrast ratio is essentially how dark blacks look compared to how bright whites appear. It’s the contrast in colors, and it is expressed in a ratio. See? Contrast ratios are represented by ratios like 1000:1.
A higher contrast ratio will make the text more legible on your display. Black text against a white background will pop out more, or vice versa if you’re in dark mode. There is no hard and fast rule about what contrast ratio is ideal, but generally, the more you spend the higher it will be. However, 1000:1 is the lowest you should go. Aim for something between 2000:1 and 3000:1.
4K vs FHD — This refers to pixel count. 4K is when a display has roughly four thousand pixels horizontally from one end of the display to the other. The official resolution for 3840x2160, so it isn’t exactly four thousand but it’s close enough.
Full HD (or often seen as FullHD or FHD) is 1920x1080. The real difference between these two is how clear an image appears and how bright the display can get. More pixels equal more light.
Which is better for you again depends on what is best for you. Do you plan on gaming and watching movies on this device as well? Maybe 4K is worth it if that’s the case. However, for most users and particularly writers, the difference between 4K and FHD panels is so insignificant in a laptop it’s rarely worth the upgrade.
Aspect ratio — This is also a critical element of your display and one that will affect the way you interact with apps and documents on your laptop. The aspect ratio is the width of the display compared to the height.
16:9 is the most popular aspect ratio for laptops. Without getting too technical, it is a widescreen format. It got adopted in the mid-2000s along with widescreen TVs because it’s a more ideal experience for watching movies and TV shows.
However, a 16:9 aspect ratio is also great if you plan on having multiple windows or apps up at once. If you want to do a lot of side by side work, a 16:9 display is still the ideal choice.
However, 3:2 displays are also on the rise. These displays are taller than their 16:9 counterparts, but they are still wider than they are tall. This aspect ratio is better for getting more information on the screen. It makes writing in word processors a much more comfortable experience.
If writing is the primary purpose of your laptop and you don’t plan on having multiple windows open, try to find one with a 3:2 aspect ratio.
Battery and Charging
Battery life is an important thing to consider no matter what you use a laptop for. In general, any good laptop can last ten to twelve hours on its own, though gaming laptops on average last closer to five or six hours.
Battery life is important depending on where you intend to do your writing and what other tasks you will be performing on it. However, battery life isn’t the most important thing to consider. You will also want to scope out the charger and how it connects to the laptop.
Generally, the charger should be 65 watts, though gaming laptops tend to come with 100–200 watt chargers.
The wattage will determine how quickly your laptop to charge, which is also determined by the power draw of the laptop’s components. I won’t get too technical, because laptops come with chargers that will work well enough with them.
The connection is more important, in my opinion. Ideally, you should find a laptop that charges through USB-C or at least supports it. USB-C is the new standard, and unless you want to carry around five different cables for all your devices, making USB-C your universal port is the way to go.
Of course, there are always other things to consider. What about storage? Is RAM important for writing? What about the CPU and GPU?
There are plenty of other resources out there that can explain those components and why they are important. But if you are looking for primarily a writing device, these are secondary requirements.
However, to make it easy on you, let’s rapid-fire what you would need for writing.
Storage— Storage determines how many files and applications your computer can hold. There is a wide range of options available in laptops, but you should aim for something with at least 256GB if you plan on keeping the device for an extended time. The exception is the cheap option below.
RAM — RAM is like your device’s short-term memory, and it determines how many tasks your computer can run in the background. For a smooth experience overall, you should look for at least 8GB of RAM.
CPU — For writing purposes, this doesn’t really matter. Pretty much any processor can get the job done. If you want the latest processors as of this writing, look for 10th Gen Intel chips or Ryzen 4000 series processors.
GPU— You don’t need a GPU for writing purposes. It’s a different story if you plan on video editing or playing games, but the integrated graphics are more than enough for anything you’re going to be doing. If you want to know more about GPUs, consider reading up on what makes a good gaming PC/laptop. The GPU is also a critical component for photo or video editing.
What About That Cheap Option?
I said there was a cheap option that should do the job for most people looking just to write. That option is the entry-level Apple iPad. It recently got a refresh to the more recent A12 processor and it works with Apple’s Smart Keyboard. It only has 32GB of storage, but if you are just writing on it that should be plenty for what you are doing, plus you will have access to iCloud and other cloud storage services.
Besides, now that all iPads have mouse and trackpad support, iPads are becoming viable laptop alternatives. I run my whole writing business off an iPad Pro, which is frankly overkill for the type of work I’m doing.
The entry-level iPad starts at $329, and the Smart Keyboard comes at $159. That brings the iPad in at just under $500 for a semi-laptop experience. You will have to shell out some money for a wireless mouse and maybe some expandable storage, but overall the entry-level iPad makes for a decent writing machine for anyone who wants to get started at a low barrier of entry.
You don’t have to shell out a lot of money for a writing machine, but that doesn’t mean you get to cut valuable corners. Hopefully this article helps you find your next computer, whether it is an iPad or one of the latest premium laptops on the market.