Another back-to-school season is upon us, which means for many college and university students it’s time to upgrade their tech arsenal.
Whether it’s Mac or PC, laptop or tablet, there is something out there for every student and major. Here are some of the devices that we found may work best for this year’s class (in no particular order).
13-inch MacBook Pro with touchbar (2017 model) Starts at $2399
Ah yes, the MacBook Pro, a popular laptop seen throughout campuses for the past number of years.
The touch bar iteration first came out last year and has just recently received a bump up in specs to the latest Intel processor, which claims about a 20 per cent speed boost.
We took a look at the 13-inch version, and it has plenty of power for students — if not overkill for those taking more writing and text-based courses. Some just love the Mac operating system though and having the option to do some video and photo editing on the side is a bonus.
This MacBook Pro design hasn’t been without controversy though. The flagship feature is its touchbar — which changes shortcuts over the keyboard in real time based on the application — is still trying to prove itself with slow developer support.
The other complaint is with its ports. Or lack of. With four USB-C ports, expect to use a lot of dongles. That said, there is a lot of power under the hood of the MacBook Pro and it’s still one of the best high-end laptops out there — especially for students in creative majors.
If you don’t need the latest and greatest though, you can also order refurbished previous generation MacBook Pros on Apple’s website directly.
10.5-inch iPad Pro Starts at $869
While Apple doesn’t want to embrace touchscreens on laptops yet, they are opting for a hybrid option with its new 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
This model came out in June with smaller bezels and therefore more screen real estate the results in a similar size to the old 9.7-inch model.
The tablet has a lot of power for a mobile device, so as long as you can find apps that fit your workflow and program requirements. The app catalogue continues to grow though, and iOS 11 will help with the adoption rate.
Apple is really pushing this new iPad model as something that can be a laptop replacement, and now more than ever the iPad is actually becoming that — so long as you have the right add-on accessories.
A keyboard of some kind is a must for the iPad to be a true laptop replacement, for example. But the Apple Smart Keyboard we tried one will run you $229.
The other asterisk is that a lot of the desktop-replacement features come with iOS 11, which is just in beta now and comes out in the fall. That said, I’ve been using it and new features such as better multi-tasking, drag and drop between apps and a permanent dock make the iPad a realistic laptop replacement.
Then when you toss in the Pencil, which is Apple’s iPad stylus for $129, you have a fairly robust device. This new 10.5-inch iPad actually has screen improvements for better Pencil response time, as well as overall improvements to colours, brightness and less reflection.
Is it for everyone? No. But if you’re going into a program that is largely word processing and office based or requires some drawing or notetaking, then it’s a handy lightweight option. Especially with iOS 11, which makes the iPad far more robust and laptop-like than before.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Starts at $1599
Microsoft’s Surface Pro line has been slowly creeping into Apple’s student and professional territory in recent years, and the new Surface Pro that came out in June is continuing that trend.
The company has been refining the Pro over the years to feel more premium in terms of build quality, as well as continually update its Windows 10 operating system to be more tablet friendly.
And this is the main allure of the Surface Pro. It is the full blown, Windows 10 operating system in a device that can be used as both a laptop and a tablet if you are willing to purchase right additional accessories — like the iPad Pro.
Microsoft’s Type cover is $160, stylus Pen is $100 and Arc touch mouse is $70. But once you have all of the pieces, the Surface Pro makes an incredibly compelling argument for a student laptop.
Probably my biggest complaint, however, is that the Surface Pro can flimsy on your lap due to its kickstand, plus it’s not that great for graphic-intensive apps like gaming.
Otherwise it’s definitely worth checking out, as the Surface line makes for the most appealing consumer Windows offering due to both the hardware and software being designed to work together.
Dell XPS 13 Starts at $1699
If you don’t need a tablet and want a more conventional Windows 10 laptop, then Dell has a solid option here with the new XPS 13.
The laptop has a nice thin-bezel design for a premium looking design and a long battery life that will easily clear 10 hours of normal use. It does have a lack of port problem like the MacBook Pro, so expect dongles.
Like with the Surface Pro, the XPS 13 has enough power to do some video or photo editing and basic games, but don’t expect a graphical beast. It’s more than enough for students who want to play the occasional light-weight game though.
The XPS 13 has a touch screen, which plays nice with Windows 10’s touch capabilities. It also has the keyboard included in the price since it’s a laptop and not a hybrid, so no need to purchase that extra accessory.
The XPS 13 also has the neat trick of turning the screen around to use it like a tablet and you can use Dell’s active pen stylus to write, but it doesn’t feel as nice as responsive as Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
Basically, if you want a Windows machine but don’t want to go the Surface route, then Dell’s XPS 13 is one of the best options for a premium Windows 10 machine. Just expect some pre-loaded Dell bloatware that you wouldn’t get with a pure Microsoft product, as with any third party unit.
Asus Chromebook Flip Starts at $649
Yes, all of these solutions so far have been pricey. But don’t worry, there are cheaper solutions too. Tuition and textbooks are expensive, after all.
Chromebooks, for example, are great if all you need to do is basic word processing, spread sheets, email and web browsing. One such device is Asus’ Chromebook Flip.The device runs Google’s Chrome operating system, which uses Google’s suite of cloud-based apps. This means it works under the assumption you’ll have wireless internet access most of the time, with the option for occasional offline work if you download ahead of time.
The Flip also can install Chrome apps from Google’s app store as well as some Android Apps. The problem is the store is a bit empty compared to other ecosystems, but it’s still growing as more people adopt Chromebooks.
This Chromebook Flip in particular has a touch screen that can also flip around and turn into a tablet, which can be nice for certain applications and also why the price is a little higher than other Chromebooks on the market. Realistically, most will use it in laptop mode though as it isn’t the highest quality of screen.
So which one is the best to go with? Honestly, it really comes down to what the student is going to school for.
Those going into a heavy arts or creative focused program may still prefer the MacBook Pro, especially if they need that extra power.
Students that want a mix of professional and creative with drawing and basic use should look at the Surface Pro or new iPad Pro, as they both have a ton of potential.
Those with a professional focus — essentially lots of word processing, spreadsheets, emails and the like — will do just find with a cheaper Windows laptop or Chromebook.
All of these are great devices though and just have their quirks or specialities that, again, comes down to what the student is studying, application support and operating system personal preference.