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Your Touch Buying Guide

Touch computers are something like blank slates: They can become almost anything you like, from a screen for family movie night to a tool for crafting business presentations. That’s part of the challenge in selecting one. Is manipulating spreadsheet cells a bigger concern than collecting cupcake recipes? Whatever your priorities, you need to balance your needs to choose the touch device that’s right for you. This guide can help.

For Elementary/High School Students

When it comes to touch technology, kids are more like adults than you might imagine. They want them for work — school work and educational games, that is — and they want them for play. A device that’s easy on small hands, such as the Kindle Fire with its seven-inch display, makes sense, though older students may be able to handle — and grow — with a Chromebook, such as the Samsung Chromebook, a model weighing just 2.5 pounds. Just be sure to use any available parental controls and instruct your children on the responsibilities (and, yes, the dangers) of having an internet-connected computer.

If your teenager already has a touch-screen phone (and many do), then consider a Chromebook or a full-fledged touch-screen laptop, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U310. The Lenovo is a so-called Ultrabook — a lightweight computer with an Intel processor and plenty of computing power. High school students want a computer that’s flexible enough to handle Office applications, yet also be suitable for editing a short video for a class project (or, perhaps, a foray into filmmaking with friends). Of course, if your teenager is sharing a family computer, then a tablet, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, may be the ticket.

College Students

When you’re in college, you need a computer capable of everything from producing PowerPoint presentations to handling complex computations. You don’t want to sacrifice computing power, but at the same time you want a device that’s portable enough to carry to class — and fun enough to crank out tunes with a DJ app or zone out with a mindless YouTube clip. The best option? A relatively lightweight Ultrabook, such as the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, which comes with a 500-gigabyte hard drive and the touch-ready Windows 8 operating system. Of course, students who already have a laptop may want an additional touch device for on-the-go note-taking and on-demand television. In this case, portability trumps power, and smart options include the Kindle Fire HD and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. With a Bluetooth keyboard, such as the Logitech Bluetooth Wireless Tablet Keyboard, a tablet can be the perfect, backpack-friendly note-taking device.

Young Professionals

Today’s tablets, even those with smaller screens, such as the 7-inch version of the Kindle Fire, can handle an astonishing variety of tasks. You want to edit a Word document? Yes, it’ll do that, with an app such as Docs to Go. You need to access your calendar, your email, and even shared Google documents? Yes, it’ll do that too. If you’ve got an on-the-go lifestyle — taking the train to work, waiting for a friend at a cafe, heading off for a weekend away (yet needing access to your work documents) — then consider a device like the Fire or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which will let you connect to WiFi hotspots. A tablet computer gives you the portability you want and need, even as it lets you do everything from read e-books (or whitepapers) to watch movies on Netflix.

Moms and Dads

Versatility is crucial for a touch computing device for parents. One minute you’ll have it propped on a kitchen countertop to read a recipe for popovers, and the next minute you’ll be handing it your 7-year-old to play Mathmateer. A convertible Ultrabook, such as the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist, can do all of this. You can use it as a full-fledged computer, suitable for those times when you’ve got to work at home (or organize your finances with Mint or Quicken), but it can also do lots more: help you organize family photos, show off videos and slideshows, or just sit back and relax with a movie (or a book in bed).

Business Travelers

Heading out on a sales trip? Or maybe to make a presentation at a conference? You want a touch-screen device that can do it all. And these days, you don’t need to sacrifice entertainment for efficiency. You can have a touch-screen laptop that’s suitable for putting the finishing of a PowerPoint presentation, even if it’s on a cross-country flight, and also watching a movie when you want to take a break. The key to this? Battery life. Look for a touch-screen Ultrabook, a laptop that’s lightweight and runs Windows 8.

Tech Savvy Connoisseur

Let’s face it. If you’re the type who reads Engadget and Gizmodo, then you probably have some pretty distinct preferences when it comes to touch computers, especially concerning the software powering the device. Just don’t let your long-held views stop you from surveying the increasingly vast number of options for touch-screen devices. In particular, step away from rigid views about technology specs — the precise screen resolution, say, or what processor a tablet uses — and just try out devices you might not have considered. Plenty of people who have used Windows for years now opt for the Kindle Fire or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, even as devotees of Gmail and Android phones are realizing the joys of a desktop with a touch-screen, such as the Dell Inspiron One 2305. Open yourself up to the possibilities, and you’ll likely be surprised at the innovations available — even from companies you didn’t think of as innovators.

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