Even if you consider yourself pretty up-to-date with technology, it can still be confusing at the best of times. Forget setting up your iPhone or updating your PC, what if you’re feeling utterly baffled by the instructions themselves? Or the jargon has got so out of your comprehension that you’re considering just chucking in the towel and getting your other half/father/daughter to sort it out for you?
Do not be defeated! We’re here to help. Not only do our fab on-air experts always do their best to explain any lingo that may not be of your every day language, and help you find your way through all the information out there, but we’ve put together a mini guide for you right here as well. Read on to discover our big five topics with words that always seem to come up, acronyms, operating systems and RAM (does anyone even know what RAM is?). We’ll see you on the other (more clued-up) side.
Make a connection
Connectivity can come in many forms – here’s what these buzzwords mean: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, HDMI
Bluetooth is useful for transferring information between two or more devices (such as tablets and printers) which are close to each other, when speed is not an issue. Most tablets and computers will have Bluetooth capability.
Wi-Fi enables you to connect to the web using your home internet connection or a wireless hotspot, such as at a cafe. It allows a faster connection and almost all portable devices are now Wi-Fi enabled.
USB ports are useful for many reasons. You can use them to connect external hard drives, and to supply electrical power to another device. If you want to connect a digital camera or your smartphone to your device, USB ports are something you will want to look out for.
HDMI is used for transferring audio and video data, and you’ll need a special cable to do this. It can be useful to have an HDMI connection if you want to watch a movie from your tablet or laptop on your television.
Put in a stellar performance
Buzzwords: processor, dual-core, quad-core, RAM, memory
What you plan on using your device for will determine the type of performance you need.
The processor is a computer chip that acts as the brain of your device. A more powerful processor will allow your laptop to run more tasks more quickly. In simple terms, processors with more ‘GHz’ are faster, and some computers have multiple processors – these are referred to as cores. The more cores, the more processing power you’ll have available.
Options range from dual to quad-core processors, with most laptops having a minimum of a dual-core processor. If you intend to install a lot of software or apps, and run a lot of programs simultaneously, this is when you should consider a more powerful, quad-core processor. A device with a dual-core processor will be fine for online shopping or watching a film. Typically, most tablets will not have more than two cores, as their software has a limited set of capabilities which cannot take advantage of more.
RAM is a super-fast bit of computer memory that the processor uses to help it perform tasks. The more RAM your device has, the faster it will work – making devices with more RAM better suited to multi-tasking. Many laptops will allow you to add extra RAM later if you need it – there are guides available online to help you do this, but if you’re at all unsure, speak to a professional.
Work the system
Buzzwords: Operating systems, Windows, Android, Apple, iOS, OS X
The operating system is the interface you see on screen when you’re using your smartphone, tablet or computer, and most of us have heard of at least one. These days, we almost all use either Windows, Android or Apple.
Tip: if you use a smartphone, it may be worth having a tablet or laptop that uses the same operating system – you’ll be able to share files, and they’ll work in a similar way.
Android has been developed by Google, and powers a huge number of tablets from lots of different manufacturers. The architecture and structure of the operating system on each one is the same, but each looks a little different because the manufacturer modifies it so it’s unique to their machine. Every Android tablet gives you access to the Google Play store, which contains over a million apps for work and play – from games and music to design and word processing. Some apps will come pre-installed, but this will vary depending on which device you buy.
Apple has created individual operating systems for tablets and laptops so you can get the best from your machine. They are designed to integrate seamlessly, so many people who own an Apple laptop go on to buy an Apple tablet or smartphone, or vice versa. iOS is the iPad version, renowned for being beautifully intuitive and having a tidy, clean design. It’s very easy to use, especially for novices, and Apple’s free iCloud service makes it easy to store and back-up files (like photos and music) without having to own a conventional computer. iOS also powers iPhones, so if you’ve used one of these before this will feel very similar. OS X is the MacBook version. It’s more conventional and will feel sort of familiar if you’re used to using a Windows computer.
All Apple devices give you access to the App Store, which contains hundreds of thousands of free and paid-for apps you can use to personalise your machine, and the iTunes store where you can purchase music and films.
On both laptops and tablets, the Windows main screen features a ‘Start’ button which, when pressed, reveals animated ‘Live Tiles’ that update in real time, and enable you to quickly navigate to your favourite websites, apps, people and places. That aside, especially on laptops, Windows 10 should feel familiar if you’ve used a computer in the last couple of decades. The Windows Store gives you access to apps for just about everything you need, both free and paid-for.
Good storage space
Buzzwords: storage, hard drive, hard disk, GB, TB, memory cards, SSD, the Cloud
Hard drive (sometimes known as hard disk) space is a key factor to consider when choosing a computing device. This is where the operating system and programs are installed, and where you’ll save your photos and music library etc. The capacity is usually measured in ‘GB‘ (short for gigabytes, otherwise known as ‘gig’). The larger the hard disk, the more you can save. Very large hard drives may be measured in ‘TB‘ (or terabytes). A terabyte is the same as 1024GB (to give an example of how much space you get, 16GB will hold 4,000 – 8,000 photos, or 4,000 songs. 500GB will hold 30,000 – 50,000 photos, or around 125,000 songs).
If you find that you need additional storage space, there are many options available. Some, but not all, devices will have slots for micro or full-sized memory cards, which will increase the device’s memory capacity. It is worthwhile checking if the device you plan to buy has this beforehand if you have an extensive photo or music library to house.
Solid State Disks (SSD) are a kind of ‘hard disk’, and are increasingly common as the storage medium of choice in laptops. SSDs are faster than traditional hard disks and use much less power, thereby increasing battery life. SSDs have no moving parts, so have the added benefit of being completely silent in operation too.
‘The cloud‘ is a catch-all term for a lot of similar storage services that all do the same thing: store your files on a remote hard drive. The idea is that you use ‘cloud storage’ to store rarely-used files (like old photos or documents), and only download them to your device when you need them – reducing the amount of storage space your device needs, and making it possible to run a tablet without having to also own a conventional PC. A disadvantage of Cloud services, however, is that you can only access your files when you have an active internet connection, so may be limiting if you plan on using your device away from home frequently.
Are you entertained?
Buzzwords: display, screen resolution, High-Definition, HD, pixels, camera, gaming, graphics card
Your display, or your screen resolution is how fine the picture quality is. If you’ve heard of High Definition or HD TVs, you already might know a little about this. The greater the screen resolution, the more detail you’ll be able to see, which is important for gamers or those using video and photo editing software. In computing terms, a pixel is a single point in a picture. Each pixel on the screen adopts a different colour that, when viewed from afar, makes up an image. An image made up of a million pixels is said to be ‘one megapixel’ or ‘1MP’. Anything that’s described as 1280 x 720 pixels or above qualifies as High Definition.
Lots of tablets and smartphones host a rear-facing camera for shooting photos and videos, with a huge variety in the quality of the cameras included. If you want to take serious professional-quality images, look for a camera that’s rated 5 megapixels or above, but bear in mind that flash quality may not compete against a traditional digital camera. Most laptops and many tablets also feature a front-facing camera or webcam, which is designed for video chat with friends and family, using services like Skype.
A laptop has clear advantages when it comes to serious or in-depth gaming due to its superior screen resolution and performance. For more interactive and arcade-style games like Candy Crush or Angry Birds, though, a tablet or smartphone can still keep you entertained for hours at a time. For most tasks you won’t need a really powerful graphics card, but for games and video it’s worth paying more to get that extra muscle. The graphics card powers the screen and, as you might expect, the faster the card the better the performance.
Tip: A laptop’s graphics card can’t be upgraded later, so make sure to get the right one from the outset.
Phew! We hope you feel that bit more informed and ready to make your way into the technology jungle (personally we’re just happy we finally know what RAM is). Head over to our Electronics page to get stuck in!