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What computer should I buy for college?
In trying to determine what your computer needs are for college, you really have more of a computing question than a computer question. Only after you’ve thought about what you plan to do with a computer (and then where you plan to do it), will you be able to effectively determine what your computer needs are. And while it’s not totally necessary that you wait until you get to school to do it, I think you’ll make a better decision as to your needs. By waiting, you will see what your habits and preferences dictate (and your timing too).
By “computing question”, I mean you need to figure out first what your computing needs are – what you want or need a computer to do for you. Do you plan to use it for research? Is it for typing papers? What about e-mail? How about watching movies or online gaming? How much do you plan to use it to keep up with your friends? What about multimedia editing? Graphic or 3D design?
Once you’ve figured out what you need a computer to do, you have to figure out where you’ll be using it. Will you be studying in your room or at the Student Union? Writing your papers at the library or in bed? Obviously, mobile computing is wonderful. And with today’s wireless networks, we expect to be connected everywhere we go. But what do you need, and what will it take to get that accomplished?
Depending on the answers to these questions, along with who’s buying and what the budget is, different answers will surface. While it would be nice to have a desktop computer for your room, a laptop to be able to take to group meetings and on which to take class notes, and a tablet on which to play, check e-mail and update your social media status, most of us don’t really have that option. If you did, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article!
My intent with this article is to give you some things to think about, provide a few suggestions, and to inform you about some really good options that can save you some money.
First, if you can initially only afford one device, it should definitely be portable – a laptop of some kind. Depending on how portable you want it, as well as how able you are to lug it around with you, you’ll need to consider size. You’ll also need to consider size when considering the keyboard. If you have big fingers, you’ll need more room, and the keyboard on an 11 inch laptop might cause you problems. For others, only an 11 inch laptop will be small enough to be carried everywhere they go, thus making it that much more useful. Also, don’t forget your eyesight. If it’s your only device, a small monitor might be tough on your eyes for extended use. Portability is nice, but squinting at a small screen for hours on end while you’re typing a paper or scouring the web researching your topic of choice, can give you a headache.
For this item, you probably want a 14 or 15 inch ultrabook (boots fast, powerful, long battery life, not too bulky or heavy, etc.). Every manufacturer has some, and there are a wide variety of prices. A Mac sure would be nice here, but they cost a few hundred more bucks than anybody else. I would purchase a Dell XPS 14 Ultrabook, if it were me (http://www.dell.com/us/eep/p/inspiron-14z-5423/pd.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=eep), starting at just over $800.00.
If you’ve decided you want/need a tablet for your everyday portable needs, that can open up your computer choices too. You could either go with a larger laptop (one with a bigger screen or just less need for it to be light) since portability would be less important, OR you could go with something I’m pretty sold on, and that’s an all-in-one.
But let’s talk about the tablet first. It’s easy to automatically just think iPad (http://www.apple.com/ipad/), since that’s the best there is (and, for $500, the coolest!). I’d encourage you to consider less expensive, and nearly as functional, options. First, there’s the iPad Mini that has most everything the iPad does, except the Retina screen. That saves you $170 to start with! Then I’d consider a Kindle Fire HD (www.amazon.com/kindlefire) or the Google Nexus 7(http://www.google.com/nexus/) . Both are only $229 (though Kindle has an economy model for $179), and can do MOST of the things an iPad can… I own a Fire HD, and love it! As long as I’m near a WiFi hotspot (like on campus, at the coffee shop, or at home), I can surf the web, read and send e-mails, record lectures, play games, use my calendar, and much more!
Now let’s talk about that all-in-one… Santa brought my kids a Dell One 20 (http://www.dell.com/us/eep/p/inspiron-one-20-2020-aio/pd.aspx?~ck=mn - now starting a little over $500) for Christmas, and I like it A LOT! It’s powerful enough to do everything they need (music, videos, games, homework, web surfing, etc.), and I can run several programs at the same time and still have several browser windows open. There’s tons of storage, and it has a solid warranty (Santa sprung for 2 extra years). But best of all, the all-in-one REALLY reduces clutter. It doesn’t take up much space since the CPU is in the monitor, but the elimination of all those wires makes it look really clean too. I would have preferred Santa spring for a wireless keyboard and mouse, and eliminate even more wires, but I don’t think that was an option at that time (or maybe Santa waited too close to Christmas to make the purchase…). Anyway, the Mac model of a one-piece computer (no separate CPU) works for other manufacturers too, and it’s a great choice for your cramped room at college.
My suggestion for an economical, but still multi-device, computing plan is as follows: By using your HDTV as a monitor and coupling it with a Mac Mini (http://www.apple.com/mac-mini/) and a wireless keyboard and mouse (http://www.logitech.com/en-us/keyboards/keyboard-mice-combos) you get a great computer at a very reasonable price (starting at $599, plus $40 - $60 for the keyboard/mouse, and using the HDTV you already bought). In addition, buy a Kindle Fire HDX (7 in.) for $229, and you’ll have a very good tablet that really does a lot. So for just over $900 (once you throw in a $49 Amazon Prime Student account, http://www.amazon.com/gp/student/signup/info), you have a computer for your room and a tablet to take with you on the go.
If I could buy anything I wanted, I still think I’d only buy two devices. For my room, I’d get a Dell XPS One 27 Touch (http://www.dell.com/us/eep/p/xps-one-27-2710-aio-t/fs) with a wireless keyboard/mouse. The 27-inch touch screen all-in-one that ranges from just over $1,500 to just under $2,500. And for my mobile needs, I’d get an iPad with a Retina Display. With that setup, the only thing missing would be ease of taking notes in class (it’s probably not a good solution to plan on taking tons of notes in class on your iPad – it’s just not made for that). I could game or watch TV and movies on my computer or type a paper, all from across the room, and my iPad would have the cool factor, I’d be able to do anything with it, and it would always be with me.
Remember, whatever computer device(s) you buy, you need to protect it/them – both physically from damage and theft, and from viruses and outside attacks. You need to have a protective case/pack for anything portable (that you will use). You need to keep your device(s) with you or safe at all times (if there’s a common crime at college, it’s backpack theft!).
In addition, make sure you are protecting your data and personal information with a virus protection product. I have a family member who works in IT for a major computer manufacturer, and he recommends Microsoft Security Essentials (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download). It’s free! Also, most computers these days either come with or have the option of a year or so of McAfee or Norton protection, so you may already be covered…
And you also need to save files constantly and backup everything you do – not just saving your papers before you turn them in – but your music, photographs, and everything you have copies of on your computer. Get an external or portable hard drive or consider paying for cloud storage that you can access from any computer.
All of this is your responsibility now, and “somehow my paper got deleted” or “my computer crashed” isn’t going to save your grade when you have nothing to turn in.
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NOTE: If it appears to you I am providing advertising for Dell, Amazon, or Apple with my links, I am not. These links are simply my opinions. I use or have used products from each manufacturer through either my own purchase or a purchase by my employer.
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