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Grow Your Business Technology

Business vs. Consumer Laptops: What You Need to Know

Business vs. Consumer Laptops: What You Need to Know
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

If you're in the market for a laptop that you plan on using primarily or partially for business use, you may be wondering if there's a real difference between devices marketed as business laptops and those sold as consumer products. Despite the increasingly blurred lines between most modern workers' work lives and personal lives, laptops still live in two distinct classes. While you may still opt for a consumer laptop for business use, as many solopreneurs and side-hustlers do, it's good to know what you're getting into ahead of time.

These are the main differences between business laptops and consumer laptops.

When laptop companies design consumer laptops, they do so assuming buyers will want to upgrade frequently to stay on top of the latest trends. They also assume consumer users are not as tough on their laptops as business users. Both ideas influence the way business and consumer laptops are built.

Business laptops are created for long-term, all-day usage. Since companies don't want to constantly upgrade entire fleets of laptops, business designs don't vary drastically from year to year. Consistent design makes it easier to maintain laptops over time, and features such as swappable batteries extend the overall lifespan of business-focused devices. Additionally, quality business machines are built with an eye on durability, many are water- and dust-resistant, and most reputable brands are built to withstand occasional drops and knocks. Consumer laptops, on the other hand, are built with planned obsolescence in mind and aren't intended to be used for 40 hours a week for years on end. [Looking for the right business laptop for your company? Check out our top picks.]

Business laptops have gotten slightly better-looking, but for the aesthetically inclined, there's no denying that consumer laptops are much nicer to look at and handle than business laptops.

Consumer laptops tend to have bright, glossy displays, modern island-style keyboards, and eye-catching chassis. Consumer laptops have also historically offered more versatility thanks to daring designs like 360-degree hinges, built-in styluses, detachable screens and roomy touchpads. That's still the case, but business laptops are finally starting to catch up. Business 2-in-1s, which were once nonexistent, can now be purchased from big names such as Dell and Lenovo, and styluses are increasingly being used in business contexts outside of graphic design.

The demand for attractive business devices isn't going away anytime soon, but for now, the most eye-catching designs out there belong to the consumer market. If design is a major motivator for you, as it is for many business shoppers, make sure you opt for a consumer laptop that's comfortable to use all day long; glossy screens and shallow keyboards are OK for sporadic use but grow tiresome quickly.

Since businesses don't typically purchase laptops one at a time, lines of business laptops are designed with diverse users in mind. As such, many business laptops have lots of configuration options available. While consumer laptops may offer some opportunity for custom specs, like additional storage or a higher-quality display, they don't come close to offering the custom options business machines bring to the table.  

Dell and Lenovo are undoubtedly the industry leaders in customization, allowing business shoppers to select everything from the processor to the battery to the backlighting on the keyboard. Additionally, online business shoppers can sort results based on specs, which is helpful when buying in bulk for divisions with different requirements.

Biometric fingerprint scanners are practically standard on business laptops, even entry-level models, but they're still relatively rare on consumer laptops. Business laptops are also typically built with software that makes it easier to manage and secure devices on enterprise-class networks. While this does give business devices an edge over consumer laptops, this is an area where the difference between business and consumer laptops is narrowing. As mobile device management (MDM) cloud solutions become more user-friendly and less expensive, it will be progressively easier for businesses (including small ones) to manage business and consumer products at the same time.

For now, many SMBs are still better off sticking to business devices when they can. Business laptops often come with optional security subscriptions, and many laptop sellers offer additional (paid) tech support for SMBs that don't have in-house tech expertise.

As you can see, there are more compelling reasons to opt for a business device than a consumer device when you're buying work laptops. However, the most important thing is productivity, and many small businesses successfully manage consumer and business hardware side by side.

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro, Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.