I retired from office life some years ago, but I will start working from home as a lawyer. I have an iPhone and an iPad but need to purchase a laptop to carry out several tasks. These include: adding to a database that has been set up using Excel, booking flights and hotel accommodation, sending and receiving emails, producing invoices and flyers, and using Skype.


The lawyer has an Apple MacBook Pro 13.

I was thinking of purchasing a Windows laptop and using either Google Sheets etc., or office.com – which are all free – or purchasing Microsoft Office 2010 and storing the work in Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive. Would this work, as we would both be using different systems, i.e., a MacBook and a Windows laptop? Estelle

I recommend buying a desktop PC, rather than a laptop, for working from home. Desktop PCs are much better for your health. They let you use a better keyboard, a bigger screen, and a mouse. Also, they usually give you more power for your money, and they are easier to repair and upgrade and last longer.

If you don’t have space for a desktop PC, I recommend using your laptop on a riser (which could be a stack of books) with an ergonomic USB keyboard and mouse.

PC or Mac?

There are three main things to consider. First, your computer must run all the software you need to do the job. Second, it helps if you already know how to use the operating system. Third, can you afford it?

In the first place, it looks as though you will be using Microsoft Office, perhaps with Publisher, for producing flyers. Microsoft Office runs on both PCs and Macs, so you can certainly work together. Technically, the Windows versions of Outlook – used for email, contacts, and shared calendars – and Excel are more powerful than the Mac versions, but if you both use Macs, you’ll be at the same level. The main drawback is that Microsoft doesn’t offer Publisher for the Mac, but you can probably use the open-source Scribus instead.

As for the operating system, I assume you’re already familiar with Windows XP and possibly Vista. Therefore, you will have to spend some time learning a new operating system, whether that’s Windows 10 or macOS (formerly Mac OS X). If you already know how to use Windows 7, you can still buy business laptops running Windows 7 Pro. This will be supported until 2020, though you will have to move to Windows 10 eventually.

Thirdly, Apple’s prices are a barrier for many buyers. The cheapest Windows 10 laptops cost around £130, compared with £749 for the cheapest MacBook Air. But Apple also charges more for phones and tablets, and you already own both an iPhone and an iPad. If you were willing to pay for these, perhaps you’d be willing to pay Apple’s PC prices as well.

If so, then my first budget choice would be a 21.5in iMac (£899), preferably with an upgrade to 16GB of memory (£160). It’s not so much a desktop as a laptop on a stick, but it gives you the ergonomic advantages of a big screen and a separate keyboard and mouse.

If you must have a laptop, the cheapest MacBook Pro costs the same (£899), but its 13.3 screen is obviously smaller than the iMac’s 21.5 screens. For an extra £100, you could buy the newer, smarter MacBook Pro with a Retina screen (£999). This has a resolution of 2560 x1600 instead of 1280 x 800 pixels.

These are Apple’s entry-level prices. However, a Retina MacBook Pro (£999) with 16GB of memory and Apple Care (£199) comes out at £1,358, which is serious money for Sky Birds.

Windows options

Today’s cheapest Windows 10 laptops include the Lenovo Ideapad 100s and the HP Stream 11, which cost pennies less than £130. These may do what you want, but I’d still recommend against them. They have small (11.6in) screens, limited memories (2GB), and small, slow 32GB eMMC storage chips.

You should really aim for a laptop with a bigger screen, 4GB or more memory, and either a hard drive or a larger SSD (solid-state drive).

Going up to a 15.6 screen still gives you plenty of cheap choices. For example, you could get an Ideapad 100s with 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive for £199.99, or with 8GB and a 1TB hard drive for £249.95. Better still, John Lewis sells the same 8GB laptop with a faster Intel Core i3-5005U processor for £289.95. John Lewis includes a two-year guarantee, so you will buy a new PC if it fails after that.

Alternatives include the Asus X540 (from £229, was £399.99) and X553SA (£289.95), and various models of the Acer Aspire ES1-531 (from £229.99). They’re all much of a muchness, so drop by a local store and see if there’s one you fancy. Obviously, these laptops are nothing like as well made as to the MacBooks at three or four times the price, but they only need to be robust enough to survive your home environment. Also, while they don’t have excellent keyboards (the Ideapad 100s’ isn’t too bad), I’m assuming you’ll use them with an external keyboard and mouse.

You can buy better Windows laptops if you are willing to spend more: examples include the Asus Zenbook X305 (£579.95) and the Lenovo Yoga 500 (£549.99) or 700 (£749.95). But these are getting close to MacBook price territory…

If you prefer a laptop running Windows 7 Pro, look at the Dell Vostro 3558. (Vostro is Dell’s range for small office/home office users.) This is a solid laptop with a decent keyboard for £229 plus delivery plus VAT (currently £274.80 at Dell UK), or £269 if you swap the 500GB hard drive for a 128GB SSD. Which I would. Either way, the big attraction is that you can add three years of next-business-day on-site support for only £91. (Yes, they come to your house. They’ve been to mine.) Debenhams is retailing the Vostro 3558 at £286, but that comes with the standard one-year warranty.

Go for Office 365

To minimize problems, you should aim to use the same version of Microsoft Office as your employer, so talk them into signing up for Microsoft Office 365 Business. This provides the Office suite (including OneNote and Publisher) running on your PC or Mac, the online, smartphone, and tablet versions, 1TB of cloud storage per user, plus email and telephone support for £7 per person per month, plus VAT. That’s less than the hourly wage for most UK adults, and lawyers can charge from £150 to £850 or more per hour.