Best Laptops for College Students

Years ago, college students used pencil and paper to take notes during class. The norm today is to use a laptop for note taking as well as research and assignment preparation. Most assignments are now given with a specific style in mind that should be used through a word processor. A college education requires a computer, but desktop computers are not mobile enough, so a laptop is key. Finding the right laptop for your personal needs is important and every student will need something specific based on the type of education they are pursuing.

The Age Old Debate: Mac vs. PC

The first choice you need to make is which brand of computer you wish to use during your education. In most cases, either will offer the same benefits, but those pursuing a publishing, design or art degree may find that Macs are the machines of choice in the field. Even if you are not completely comfortable with the layout of the Mac OS it is worth learning on it as you pursue a degree in one of these fields. Most other fields should have no impact on your choice of brand.

In the 90’s the “cool” kids had Mossimo Jeans while the less popular kids had Levi’s. That is the essential difference between PCs and Macs. While Apple has done a great job in pushing the brand to be the go to machine for those looking for a sleek style, the PC side of things has kept up, but on a less centralized front. Since many manufacturers build laptops, the styles vary a great deal and you can often find a sleek and stylish laptop that will turn more heads than anything Apple offers. Apple is consistent though and you will pay a price for the name, so if cost is the main concern, you may want to turn towards a Windows based laptop.

The operating systems are different and since PCs are the more prevalent of the two, worldwide, they are also more susceptible to viruses and hacks. There are plenty programs to protect your PC, but hackers are brilliant when it comes to minor and major viruses that can bypass these types of security programs. While Macs are targeted by fewer viruses and hacks, they are far from immune and with the growth in popularity, the attacks will rise in frequency. Either choice should be made with the intention of securing your laptop as much as possible. Battery life is generally much longer on Mac based laptops, reaching up to 12 hours of battery life. In generally PC based laptops will not get anywhere close. If you plan on being away from a charger for more than 6 hours, you may be forced to find additional power options if you decide to go the PC route.

Productivity will not differ between the two brands of laptops, but you will want to go with the one you are most familiar with. Macs have a unique operating system that a small percentage of people have used in their lifetime. Most people understand Windows 7 and Windows 8 is constantly being upgraded and tweaked to make it more user friendly. There is software available to allow Macs to run PC operating systems and software, but then you are simply paying a higher price for what you would get on a Windows based laptop. Both offer plenty of productivity software such as presentation, word processing and other useful software, so your choice should ultimately come down to your personal needs, not the advertising that is thrown around so frequently.

Best in Class

Apple: MacBook Air

Less than an inch thick and featuring an 11 – 13 inch display, the newest MacBook Air offers plenty of portability and power in an incredibly sleek and stylish design. Prices range from $1000 – $1100 for the newest versions, but that will be the basic build. For your needs, it may be enough, but keep in mind that you are paying some for the brand name as well as the product itself. The MacBook Air also boasts a light, yet sturdy, design that weighs less than 2.5 pounds. Your textbooks probably weigh much more than that on average. An Intel Core processor ensures the laptop is fast and can handle multiple programs which will come in very handy as you start to handle more and more tasks for your assignments.

Productivity: Lenova ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Lenova has made a name for itself with some of the fastest ultrabooks on the market. Ultralight, ultradurable and highly portable, the super thin laptop holds an extremely long charge. While the price is a bit higher than the MacBook Air at $1200+ you start with a larger screen (14 inches) and have plenty of room to upgrade and customize the laptop to meet your specific needs. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of the midrange models offered by Lenova, so if you are looking to spend more you can get even more bells and whistles included.

Gaming: Alienware 14 – 18

All work and no play can make college a little difficult to stay happy with. Finding a way to relieve a little stress is extremely helpful as you move towards bigger assignments and finals. If gaming is your chosen hobby, Alienware is the perfect place for you to start. You will have to sacrifice some portability for all of the power that comes with the laptop, and you will need to pay a premium depending on how powerful you want the machine to be, but the end result will be a laptop that works at blazing fast speeds and lets you play the latest games at a respectable frame rate and graphical setting. Alienware 14 laptops are the starting point for most students, but you will find that Alienware offers a wide variety of customization options to let you build the perfect laptop for your own needs. Ranging from just over $1,000 for the bare bones gaming machine up to well over $2,000 your budget will help you decide how important gaming is. Just keep in mind that all the flash and extras come at a cost, price wise and portability wise.

Budget Friendly: Dell Latitude 3330 Education and Small Business Laptop

The Dell Latitude 3330 isn’t built for anything except for productivity. You will find that the laptop is light weight and affordable, but only able to handle office or education based software. Beyond that, the system will work for streaming movies and listening to music, but you should not purchase this particular laptop for anything more than school work. The advantage of going with a bare bones laptop such as this comes to light when you look at the price. Broke college students may not have $500 dollars to drop on the system outright, but you can find attractive financing offers for as low as $15 a month. Drop a few cups of java and grab a soda each month and your budget won’t notice the difference.

Google Chromebook: Chromebook Pixel

Chromebooks stand on their own as unique laptops built on the Google OS that is starting to grow in popularity. While a very basic Chromebook can be purchased for under $300 you may find the Chromebook Pixel to be perfect for college. With 4.3 million pixels (more than your eye could every actually notice, crisp text, bright and vivid colors and an extra wide viewing angle ensures that the Pixel will be perfect for collaborative work with study groups. Laptops often do a poor job of letting those not sitting directly in front of the screen see the laptop as intended. Colors will go to negatives and the normally crisp and easy to read text becomes painful to look at. With the Chromebook Pixel, viewing angles are much wider ensuring multiple students can sit around the laptop and enjoy the same vivid view. A 12.85 inch screen is large enough to allow multitasking, but not so large that it won’t fit in a bag or backpack. A touch screen allows for quicker navigation and more interactivity. The jury is still out on just how powerful the system is once you move beyond school work, but the Pixel will definitely give you the productivity and clarity that you need for projects and watching movies. A sleek design will also turn a few heads as the Chromebook craze hasn’t kicked in just yet.