In a world of hype and options, no-nonsense practicality is key for small businesses

The amount of tech-based offerings available to businesses is still growing explosively, and it’s not likely that we’ll see any slowdown soon. Wearables like ‘smart glasses’ may soon have a place in the office, but they’re not quite there yet… to say the least. There seems to be an app for everything these days; mobile phone/ tablet POS software is even eliminating the need for expensive EPOS in some small business settings.

What’s a little disconcerting is that the wave of new tech (some of it excellent, much of it popular mainly for its novelty value), is sweeping us along at such a pace that many small business owners have been wholly distracted from the fact that their single most important tech provision is changing and diversifying rapidly. The word ‘laptop’ becomes increasingly meaningless as portable PCs become more and more purpose-built. Consumer interest may be dropping off, but small business itin business there’s no replacement, and there might not be until we break free from silicon. There are now two species of laptop which are so far removed from the Toshiba Satellite C50-B I’m writing on that they deserve to be treated as different devices.

Creating or editing video or images? Designing dynamic, content-rich web pages? Developing and testing apps? This is the domain of the workstation. Packing a ton more power than a conventional laptop and designed to hold their own in a room full of desktops, good workstations have proper processing, more RAM than you could possibly need and dedicated graphics and sound. The HP ZBook 14 G2 might actually be the best value workstation on the market, coming in at a little over £750. Weighing just 1.71kg and packing an Intel i7 with 4MB cache, 1GB GDDR5 graphics memory, 16GB DDR3L RAM and a 256GB SSD, this workstation does just about everything right. It’s a beast in terms of performance, but it still goes in a bag when you need to take it with you.

Specs sound a bit weak? Need your data on drive, not in the cloud? You could check out Lenovo’s small business ITThinkPad W550s, a colossus of a laptop with a 15.5-inch screen (vs. the ZBook’s 13.3) and 512GB of superfast solid state storage. If that’s not enough for you, you could check out Dell’s Precision M6800; a 17.3 screen sits on top of best in-class power and storage to make this workstation the most powerful in its class.

With cloud storage eliminating the need for large hard drives, super-efficient lighter-weight SSDs and batteries are allowing lower-performance laptops to shed pounds. For at least the past decade, the laptop has primarily functioned as a portal onto the internet; the resource demands are minimal, and convenience wins out over processing power. Chromebooks are designed to run an internet browser and not much else. If your office is mainly comprised of email clients, word processors and spreadsheets, the Chromebook is clearly the way to go.
Chromebooks run from the stunningly good value Lenovo Ideabook 100S, which you can pick up for a little over £150, to the puzzlingly high-end Chromebook Pixel from Google themselves, which tops £1000. The best pickups are in the £200-300 range. The king of Chromebooks right now might be the Toshiba Chromebook 2; featuring a beautiful 13.3-inch 1080p screen and enough processing power to handle basically any internet-related task, Toshiba’s offering seems almost small business ITunderpriced at £200.

If, however, you just really want something exciting, the most promising device has to be the smartwatch. Unless you desperately want an Apple device on your wrist, you might want to avoid the predictably overpriced Apple Watch; they haven’t really got it right yet, and the enormous range of features and interaction methods makes for a surprisingly counter-intuitive user experience. Running on the Linux-based Tizen OS, the Samsung Gear S2 stands out, featuring a round screen ringed by a rotating bevel, which makes for just about the best secondary control method of any smartwatch on the market. The OS is smoother than Android Wear (and much smoother than Apple’s watchOS 2), but does result in Samsung’s smartwatch having less app compatibility. If you’re concerned about platform, the LG Watch R runs on Android Wear, offering a round screen with excellent build quality.

The most central and familiar bit of kit might not be the most exciting, but it is by far the most important. In a world of hype, shutting out the buzz surrounding exploratory areas like augmented reality and focusing on the absolutely proven business-critical machines you use every single day is the best way of ensuring that your investment translates to smoother running, higher margins and overall better profitability.


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