Desperately Geeking Susan


Q: It’s time for me to get a new computer, but I am not sure whether I should purchase a desktop, laptop, netbook or, perhaps, even a tablet. Which solution do you think is best? —Susan


A: Susan, you have asked a loaded question, which reminds me of the adage “Ask 10 consultants, get 11 answers.” There is no single correct answer because it depends on many factors such as the type of work you do, the programs you run, how much you travel, and personal preferences. Nonetheless, your question is common, and I think the best I can do is tell you what I use (and recommend) and hope this information is useful. I use four types of computers, and each is valuable to me in its own way, as follows:


1. Desktop computer. I prefer a high-powered desktop computer with multiple monitors (mine has four) for getting most of my important work done. My workstation is well-designed and highly functional, with a comfortable chair so I can be highly productive all day.


2. Laptop computer. I carry a laptop when I travel to stay connected to the office, to get work done in a pinch, and to deliver technology presentations. Laptops are essential to my work. However, the truth is that I am not a big fan of laptops because they have smaller screens and smaller keyboards, and I find them uncomfortable to use for extended periods. I usually either place the laptop in my lap, forcing me to crane my neck down; or I place the laptop on a desk that is too high—an uncomfortable position for my arms. Neither is conducive to working eight hours straight, but often I find that my laptop is an essential tool.


3. Tablet. Desktop computers are most useful for crunching data such as heavy-duty spreadsheet preparation, writing lengthy documents, preparing tax returns, managing an accounting system, etc. However, when it comes to accessing, viewing or reading information, a tablet device such as an iPad 2 is most useful. My iPad 2 is lightweight, turns on instantly, stores electronic versions of the books and magazines I am reading, organizes pictures and video clips, provides access to email, delivers the latest news stories, and provides quick access to the Internet. Best of all, my tablet does not tether me to a desk. This helps me to be more productive away from my desk.


4. Smartphone. A smartphone is essentially both a cellphone and a small hand-held computer. In addition to keeping me connected via mobile phone, my smartphone contains dozens of applications such as turn-by-turn GPS directions, maps, weather updates and travel expense management tools. I can also use my smartphone to take pictures, check and respond to email, and access the Internet.


Ignoring software, my costs for these four devices are as follows:


  • Desktop (Lenovo ThinkCentre running Windows 7 Professional with four monitors and webcam): $1,400 (purchased May 2011)
  • Laptop (HP Pavilion): $599 (purchased March 2010—refurbished price)
  • Tablet (Apple iPad 2): $499 (purchased April 2011)
  • Smartphone (HTC Droid Incredible): Free with $70 per month two-year contract (purchased October 2010).


Susan, while the functionality of these four devices overlaps somewhat, I find that each one makes me more productive in its own way. If you do not travel or visit client offices, perhaps you could forgo the laptop computer; however, based on my experience, I would recommend all four of these devices to any tech-savvy CPA.


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