Wednesday, September 25, 2013

re-entering the PC world: a Staples back to school notebook package review

Since we’ve started back to school, I find that I spend almost all of my time at my new desk {more on that later!}during the day. I feel like I almost have a 9 to 5 job right now with homeschooling alone. I am adjusting to the long hours in front of the computer, and though I only have one hand 95% of the time, I am thankfully still able to use the mouse with it when the kids aren’t asking me questions. :)

Right around the same time we decided to homeschool again and use a video curriculum x 3, Staples offered to send me a back to school package to review! Perfect timing, no doubt {and we know who is in that business! :D}… since we could use the extra computer right now. They just asked me to try out their products and give my honest opinions about them. Easy enough, right? :) I was in!

I was sent this little wireless Western Digital router, a year of Norton Anti-virus, and an easy button, along with a laptop and a backpack:

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Here’s the funny thing. I’m firmly in the Apple fangirl- make it easy for me-camp, and I have a super-technical husband {he does PC support for a living, basically}, which means I’ve never had to plug in a router or install antivirus software or learn how to use Windows  for 6+ years. :) So this whole review thing was fun for me because I’ve never done those technical things before! And when they sent me a PC to review, I was excited to try out Windows 8 and see how it compares to Apple’s OS these days.

I was sent the Toshiba Satellite L75D-A7283, a 17.3 inch laptop with Windows 8, 6 GB of RAM, and a 750 GB hard drive. Pretty spectacular specifications in the laptop world, I think. If I were to buy a comparable Mac it would be more than $2500, but this one was right at $400 after rebates and discounts. Kind of crazy cheap. It does have a cheaper AMD A4 processor though- a big difference from an Apple or nicer PC notebook.

Check out the size of this beast- that’s a regular pencil down there on the keyboard to give you an idea:

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As a blogger, I have to tell you, I appreciate the large size very much. I’m used to working on a 13-inch high resolution monitor, so having 17.3 inches of screen real estate makes a huge difference to me. When the children use it for school it won’t matter as much to them, but it’s great for my almost 31-year-old eyes. I also really like the fact that it has very loud DTS speakers, so we can all watch videos together on special projects like animal research and science experiments {or watch movies in the car on long trips… ;)}.

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Windows 8 didn’t bring me great joy, though. I am not a fan of their façade interface- it’s like there’s two operating systems, but the pretty side {the main menu} only allowed you to do half of the things you need to do- otherwise it takes you back to the old window style navigation on another old style Windows desktop. Very weird. It was almost like Microsoft ran out of time and money to complete it- either that or they figure most people will never need to add network printers, arrange secondary monitors, or add pictures to their computer? I know enough about Windows to get around mostly, and what I didn’t know my husband did, so I never had any real problems- it was just strange the way Windows 8 had lots of gaps in their “simpler” interface.

But I can’t blame the hardware for that. Toshiba seems to make quality machines, and this one is actually pretty nice. The case is pretty, the screen is glossy, and the raised keys are nice, and I’ve had no video problems with this one like I’ve had when I’ve tried to use HPs and Acers in the past. The battery is so-so, and twice it shut down on me without warning because it ran out after a few hours- I guess I’m used to a huge warning like I get on my Mac. :)

I deleted most of the original things on the home screen. I wasn’t fond of the live tiles, but I liked how everything I use is easily found with one Windows keystroke {see it down there by the alt key?}.

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My very favorite thing about any Windows machine is this though:

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Windows Live Writer is the best program for blogging- it allows you to blog offline, without a browser, which is a huge advantage if you’re a blogger going on trips at all. I am torn between PCs and Macs for this very reason. I like seeing the way my blog looks, and I’m typing in Live Writer as we speak. It looks like a Word document, but it allows you to format your posts exactly like it looks online {most of the time}- unlike my Mac where I have to be on the internet and use a browser and Blogger’s HTML online editor. I think it’s a huge win for PCs if you ask me. I really like this feature, and that’s what I’ve been using it for the most over the few days I’ve had it so far.

So, the Mac vs. PC battle feels like a toss up for me now. I’m really impressed with the Toshiba’s performance so far-it does everything I want to do like Evernote, emailing, picture editing, and blogging, and it plays our special videos for homeschooling- something my Macbook cannot do thanks to the BJU Press app that plays the videos.

Here are the pros and cons on this specific PC from my perspective…

What I love about the Toshiba Satellite L75D:

it’s huge!
it’s attractive- easy on the eyes.
smooth edged corners {my Macbook was very sharp}
the keys are raised and separated- gives you more room for your hands
Windows Live Writer is great for blogging on the road without internet access
the extra number pad is convenient.
great speakers- DTS bar is very loud
easy to plug in additional devices like mouse, CD’s, SD cards, software thanks to Windows 8
great resolution/screen space
the Windows 8 screen key is invaluable
the ports are on the sides- easy to access
it has a CD-ROM drive- something I haven’t had on my Macbook Air
cheap ~$400 range- the price for a comparable Mac would be $2700

what I don’t love about the PC:

the monitor out plug is right where the mouse goes
battery life is so-so
windows 8 isn’t intuitive- I had no idea how to close programs or shut down the machine and it takes way too much effort to do so
its occasionally sluggish- sometimes it takes a while for typing to appear on the screen
it’s heavy – around 6 lbs.
Microsoft office programs cost $$
the multi-desktop aspect of Windows 8- if you can’t find it in the new “simple” interface, it takes you back to the old style.

I was also excited to try the other items Staples sent along. Can a girl who has never touched one use a router out of the box? I wanted to see… :)

I pulled out the WD router, and used the installation CD right away to help me set it up.

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I got this screen, so I followed the color coding and plugged it in to our modem.

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Unfortunately, the WD interface failed me- I did what it said and it wouldn’t connect. But I refused to ask Rob- I was going to do it by myself. ;) Then I clicked down in the corner of Windows and said connect, and the Windows interface helped me out and told me what to do, and it connected instantly. :)

Rob almost couldn’t believe I could hook up a router when it was telling me it was broken. He forgets that I’ve been married to a technical support guy for 11 years. :) That and he didn’t know Windows told me to look for the PIN number. {brownie points for windows 8!}. So that worked, and the internet was back up very quickly. So far so good! I didn’t break the internet, and the router works great. I also installed Norton Anti-virus without a hitch. We’ll see how it protects, but I haven’t noticed it slowing everything down yet.

I love our new leather backpack too- it’s super comfy and a gender-neutral classic.

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The boys can carry their work in it on the road, Rob can take it to work, or I can use it as a diaper bag/laptop/purse combo. I think it will be in our family for years. :) The brand is Solo, and it’s very well made- I just love real leather.

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But out of everything, I think we all agree this has been the biggest hit for everyone at our house:

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The kids press it after they finish each subject during school, and after I tell them to do something around the house now. It’s hilarious, but I love that it makes them excited to finish a task.  I would have bought one years ago if I knew the power it held. It’s like magic! ;) Goodness, I’m such a mom.

Thanks again to Staples for providing these items for us to review!

And…I’m giving away one magical easy button {I’m buying it for you because I love it so much!}.

Just leave any comment below to enter {with your email address} so I can contact you! The contest closes and the winner will be announced Monday, Sept. 30, 2013! {winner must be a U.S. resident}

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Full disclosure: Staples.com provided me with these products for review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are strictly my own.

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