So you’ve just been accepted to college and you’re looking for a new laptop – or you’re at university now and your trusty old computer is struggling to keep up with the workload and it’s time to upgrade. There’s a bewildering array of choices of laptops, tablets, ultrabooks, and netbooks out there, and they change so quickly it can be hard to keep up. The first thing to think about is what you actually need as a student.
As a student, portability’s probably high up the list; you need something slim and light enough to carry around all day, and with enough battery power to last through a few classes.
It needs to keep up with your course – that might just require Word, Excel and PowerPoint, or you might need much more complicated programs for more specific degrees. It needs to handle web browsing, video chatting and the odd download.
For some people, that might be pretty much it. For others it’s just the beginning. Maybe you don’t have a TV in your dorm room, and you need a laptop with a nice high quality screen to watch. Maybe you need photo manipulation and other media gadgets. Maybe you’re looking for something that can handle decent gaming. Not least, you might be looking for something that fits into a student budget.
Netbooks are the perfect low-end student tool. They’re small, light, and they can have up to ten hours of battery life – so slip it in your backpack next to a few books and you’re good for the day.
Unfortunately, being built around the pretty basic Intel Atom or AMD Fusion hardware platforms, netbooks are pretty limited. Beyond the basics, they’ll handle non-HD videos and some basic media manipulation, but they won’t want to do it all at once.
If you want to keep to a strict budget, or if you have a more high-powered set-up at home and just need something to carry around during the day, this is the perfect choice.
A few years ago you wouldn’t have thought of a tablet as a serious work device, but there’s a much wider range available now. Although most follow Apple’s model and are primarily entertainment based, set up for games, music and video, there are more and more designed specifically to get work done.
The new convertible design is also interesting; a few, like Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga, have a folding keyboard built in, letting them flip between touchscreen tablet and workstation.
Even so, they might not be ideal for the student. They carry a much higher price tag than the netbook, with a great emphasis on touchscreen technology and high quality sound and display. That might not appeal to the student looking for nuts-and-bolts basics, but they’re great if you have a slightly higher budget and want your computer to keep you entertained as well as take notes.
If you need a little more raw power, latest Ultrabooks combine a high quality laptop with the portability of a netbook. They’re slightly larger but still designed to carry around, are powered by dual-core Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors – typically having up to 4GBs of memory to the netbooks’ average 1GB –and usually throw in HD graphics cards and much higher screen resolution.
This adds up to a faster, more powerful and prettier machine that has an excellent battery life and still fits in the backpack. Ultrabooks easily handle more complex programs and multitasking; they’re ideal if you’re doing any kind of graphic design or media manipulation; they’re a lot more fun to watch videos on than the old-fashioned-looking netbooks; and those at the top of the range will handle most of your gaming needs to boot.
Of course, all that comes at a price – you might get a deal, but they’re not in the same price range as the netbooks.
The alternative is to stick with what’s worked so far. Typical laptops will be much bulkier than ultrabooks (particularly laptops with large screens) and have much less in the way of battery life than some of the newer devices.
However, laptops have a higher upper range in terms of raw power; at any level you’ll get a lot more speed and power for your money. For the build-it-yourself enthusiasts, they tend to be a lot more customizable than the largely integrated netbooks, tablets and ultrabooks.
As always, the key to getting the most out of your money is figuring out exactly what you need. Don’t get a low-end netbook if you’re planning to play Call of Duty on it, but equally, don’t spend hundreds of extra pounds on a computer with capabilities you’ll never notice it has.