Nowadays, a decent laptop is just as essential to a college student as pencil and paper. Not only does it help to get school work done faster and more efficiently, but it also opens doors to unlimited amounts of educational resources and useful information.
If you’re going off to college soon, a laptop should be among the first items on your shopping list. Unfortunately, the market is overly populated with notebooks, many of which will seem like viable options. So, how do you ensure you pick the one that best suits your needs?
1. Go portable
Lugging around books all day be tiring as it is, which means you don’t want a laptop that will add too much bulk to an already heavy load. When shopping, therefore, insist on a slim and compact notebook that will slip easily into your backpack. An under 4-pound laptop will also ward off fatigue as you move from one study room to the next.
That said, your eyes shouldn’t be on the smallest computer on the shelves. Young learners can get by just fine with an 11-inch screen but, for college, you’ll need a laptop that offers adequate display real estate. Student-friendly ultrabooks with 13- to 14-inch panels, such as the Dell XPS 13 and the Microsoft Surface Book, tend to strike the best compromise between portability and usability. If you’re an engineering or architectural student in need of a larger screen, intently scouring the market will get you laptops like the LG Gram 15 and the MacBook Pro 15, both which offer standard-size displays while remaining remarkably slim and light.
2. Durability is important
College will put your laptop’s endurance to the test. Sooner or later, you’ll knock over a glass of juice on the keyboard, or your roommate will trip over the power cord and send the notebook tumbling down. The laptop you get should be able to survive such inevitable accidents. Magnesium alloy, aluminum, and carbon fiber chassis are your best bet for reliable sturdiness. Also, look for additional reinforcements and durability claims from the manufacturer. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, for example, is built to pass military-grade tests for extreme temperatures, shocks, and vibration. And, if your budget is a too tight for the X1, the fairly-priced Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is robust enough for a student’s daily life.
3. Check the keyboard
Because you’ll be spending quite a lot of your time on your laptop typing away assignments and reports, the keyboard should be comfortable enough for use over long hours. Find out which among your options has the best keyboard by comparing factors like keys’ spacing, travel depth, and feedback. Similarly, insist on a decently smooth and responsive touchpad, with reactive multi-touch gesture functionality and enough space for your fingers. Lenovo’s ThinkPads are known to offer some of the best keyboards and touchpads on the market.
4. Get reasonable specs, but don’t overshoot it
College laptops aren’t known for their glass-shattering specs, but that doesn’t mean you should pay little attention to the internal components of your new computer. For starters, it’s one thing to pick the right screen size, but resolution should also be a priority. Unless you’re out for a really inexpensive laptop, set your baseline at 1920 x 1080 (1080p). You can go even higher, with 2560 x 1440 (QHD) or 3840 x 2160 (UHD) resolutions, but keep in mind that those specs land a severe blow to the battery life. The same goes for touchscreens, so don’t get one unless you need it. As for performance, the best college notebooks pack an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, which is enough hardware to handle demanding tasks and heavy multitasking.
You probably won’t have time for any serious gaming so, you can pass on a dedicated graphics card. Instead, invest in a laptop with an SSD (solid-state drive) for fast start-up times, data transfers, app loading times and task switching. Lastly, your laptop’s connectivity options should be up to the current standards. Go for 802.11ac Wi-Fi rather than the older 802.11n, and multiple USB ports for all your peripheral devices.
4. Pick the right OS
Universities sometimes have software requirements to ensure compliance and consistency with present and future workloads. Before rushing to your nearest computer store, reach out to your college and find out if they have any specific policies and preferences. If not, Windows 10 is the most popular and most versatile operating system, and should, therefore, be fine for virtually all college computing activities. However, MacOS is widely preferred among multimedia students, thanks to better compatibility with task-specific graphics hardware and software. Despite offering limited software options, Chrome OS is great for the budget-conscious shopper that’s comfortable with doing everything online.
5. Look for at least 8 hours of battery life
Regardless of your budget, you’re better off with a system that can last more than a few hours or more on a single charge. College is a fast-paced environment, which means you likely won’t get the time to tether yourself to a power outlet. Quality battery life gets you the freedom to use your laptop wherever and whenever you need to, without the worry of unpleasant “low battery” warnings rudely interrupting your workflow. Laptop Mag’s battery test identifies the average for ultraportable laptops at around 8 hours, but some laptops can last much longer. The Lenovo ThinkPad T460, for example, offers a remarkable 17 hours of battery life.
6. Wrap Up & Protect
Buying the ideal student laptop is no easy task. You’ll need to be determined, well-informed, and most importantly, patient to land the best notebook for your needs and budget. Whatever the price you pay, be sure to protect it with an affordable renters insurance policy designed just for college students. For about $.50 cents a day, the GradGuard renters insurance plan will replace your laptop in the case of theft or damage.
Go through your options with a keen eye, while keeping the tips above at the back of your mind. Use them as your personal checklist, if you may, and you’ll have an excellent chance of scoring the laptop that will see you through to graduation.