Back to School: Best Laptops for College

August 19, 2013 | Posted By: Bryan Marsden | Categorized in: Back to School


As school gets closer, your college bound kids are nagging you that they need a new laptop. With working long hours, you have little time to even look at the current laptop market, let alone actually research which ones you should consider. That is where we come in. We are here to help you, the overworked parents, with making an informed decision on what the best laptops are for your specific needs. With that out of the way, lets get started!

High End Laptops


13” Macbook Air - $1050

The MacBook Air has much more to offer than just a pretty exterior. It has a staggering 12 hour battery life, so you can remain off the plug for around half the day. This means not having to worry about running out of juice in the middle of class. Versatility wise, it can’t be beat. With VMWare or Boot Camp, you can run both Windows and OSX on the same machine. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can run all your media /apps on the OSX side, and MS Office and mild gaming on the Windows side. With a weight of just under 3lbs it's easy to carry for walking around campus.

Other Specs:13.3 screen, 1.3 GHz dual core Intel Haswell CPU, 802.11 ac networking, 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD), 4GB RAM, Thunderbolt port, headhone jack, SDXC card slot

Pros

 

Cons

  • Battery life
  • Next Gen wireless capability
  • Weight (2.96lbs)
  • Versatility
  • Small Hard Drive for price (128GB)
  • Low ram on base model
  • Competition has better screens (I.E. no retina display)

  • Asus Zenbook Prime Touch - $1000


    With it's brushed aluminium chassis, the Zenbook Prime is not only a pretty ultrabook but a very sturdy one also. However, that isn't why we picked this as one of our "best" laptops. With it's wide viewing angles, and great color reproduction, the Zenbook's 1,920 by 1,080 full HD screen is one of the best out there. If you are into watching movies and videos on your laptop, the Zenbook has a clear advantage over the MacBook Air. It is also fully touch capable, which allows you to swipe through applications, or scroll with a wave of your hand. To really get what Windows 8 is all about, you really do need a touch screen. Like the MacBook Air, it is also very light. It comes in at just over 3lbs. Battery life is around good at around 6 hours of mixed use.

    Other Specs: 13.3 screen, 1.7 GHz Intel i5 dual core CPU, 802.11 ac networking, 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD), 4GB RAM, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0 port x2, headhone jack, USB 2.0 x1,DVD Burner, VGA port, HDMI port,

    Pros

     

    Cons

  • Touch screen Capable
  • Weight (3.2lbs)
  • HD 1920 x 1080 Native Resolution
  • Small Hard Drive for price (128GB)
  • Low ram on base model
  • Battery life compared to the MacBook Air

  • Budget Laptops


    Lenovo G580 - $470

    The Lenovo G580 is a no nonsense work horse. It is what people think of, when they think “laptop." It's not as pretty as the two high-end models, but it does have a large screen (15.6 inch), lots of storage (500GB) and an excellent keyboard to type your papers on. Armed with a 2.5GHz i5 Intel processor it’s performance is very good. It also has a DVD burner for those that still have some old media that requires it.

    So why is it only under $500? Well, there is always a trade off on price vs performance. It only has a 5400-rpm HDD, rather than a SSD. It also weighs just over 5lbs, and the chassis is plastic rather than aluminum. Battery life is only 3-5 hours depending on what you are doing.

    Other Specs:15.6 screen, 2.5GHz Intel i5 CPU, 4GB RAM, headphone jack, USB 3.0 x2, USB 2.0x1, VGA port, HDMI port, DVD Burner, 802.11b/g/n wireless.

    Pros

     

    Cons

  • Price
  • Storage space
  • Performance
  • Excellent Keyboard
  • Hard drive speed
  • Low ram on base model
  • Battery life
  • Weight

  • Samsung Chromebook - $250


    The Samsung Chromebook is for the person that spends most of their time online, and doesn't mind doing most of their work in Google docs or other Google cloud services. It has very limited storage at just 16GB, but Google provides 100GB of free cloud storage for 2 years, so it isn't so restraining. It also doesn't come with a standard Intel or AMD CPU, because it isn't running a full OS. This lets it get by with a tablet CPU while still maintaining decent performance. Weight wise, it comes in at just 2.43 lbs, and while the 7 hour battery life isn't outstanding, but it is in line with the Zenbook from above. The keyboard is good, and very easy to type on.

    The downsides (and they are major downsides) is that it has more in common with a tablet, than a true laptop. Everything has to be run through the Chrome browser, and you need to be connected to Wi-Fi to do pretty much everything. Software is very limited, so Google Docs will be your best friend! If you are fine with these limitations, then it's $250 well spent.

    Other Specs: 11.6 screen, Dual-core 1.7 Ghz Cortex Samsung CPU, 2GB RAM, 16GB SSD, USB 3.0 x1, USB 2.0 x1,Combo mic/headphones jack, SD memory card slot, HDMI port, Bluetooth 3.0, Wireless: 802.11 abg/n

    Pros

     

    Cons

  • Price
  • Weight (2.43lbs)
  • Good keyboard
  • Good battery life
  • Can't run Mac or Windows apps
  • Limited offline capability
  • Limited hard drive storage
  • Low RAM limits how many browser tabs you can utilize

  • Hybrid Laptops


    Lenovo Yoga 11S - $800


    Lenovo’s Yoga 11s tries to combine the aspects of a laptop and a tablet into one device. It does this by allowing you to fold the keyboard back 360 degrees. The ability to do this lets you create several different modes to use. Fold the keyboard all the way back, and it deactivates the keyboard and it becomes a full on tablet, with the power of a laptop. Fold the Yoga into a “V” and the devices stands up on it’s own, and you can set it on a table or airplane tray to watch movies on. In laptop mode it functions like any other laptop, and performance is pretty good.

    There are a couple of trade offs to have this kind of flexibility. First, you need to get used to feeling the keys when it is in tablet mode. Second, for an 11-inch laptop, it’s pretty heavy at 3lbs(compare that to a iPad at 1.44lbs). That doesn’t sound bad for a laptop, but it can be an issue if you are holding it in tablet mode for a long period of time. Third, battery life is only around 4-5 hours depending on what you are doing.

    Other Specs: 11.6 inch screen, 1.4GHz Intel i3 CPU, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, USB 3.0 x1, USB 2.0 x1, headphone jack, microphone, HDMI port, SD/MMC card reader, 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0

    Pros

     

    Cons

  • Versatility (I.E. multiple modes)
  • Touchscreen
  • Good performance
  • Full Windows 8 (vs Windows RT)
  • Battery Life
  • Weight in tablet mode
  • Low RAM on base model

  • HP Envy X2 - $650


    The Envy X2 is a true hybrid laptop. When the screen portion is plugged into the keyboard dock it is an 11.6” laptop, but when you pull the screen out of the keyboard dock, it is truly a tablet. It also runs full Windows 8 rather than Windows RT tablet OS. This allows you to run most programs that any other laptop will run. When the screen, and the keyboard or docked, battery life is exceptional at around 10 hours. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable for an 11.6” laptop. Weight wise, it is also very good, with the tablet portion coming in at 1.5lbs, and the keyboard dock adding another 1.6 lbs (3.1lbs total).

    Like any hybrid though, there are some compromises. In the case of the Envy X2 it is performance. It uses an Intel Atom processor rather than a standard laptop Intel i3/i5 CPU. While this makes for a very good battery life, it does cut into the performance a bit. Like the Chromebook, it also only has 2GB RAM, which limits the amount of applications you can have open. Storage is limited, with only a 64GB SSD, which the operating system takes up around 1/3 of that, so your effective storage is 44GB.

    Other Specs: 11.6" screen, 1.8 GHz Intel Atom CPU, 2GB RAM, 64GB SSD, USB 2.0 x2, HDMI port, headphone/mic combo port, wireless 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC capable.

    Pros

     

    Cons

  • Versatility (true laptop/tablet capable)
  • Battery life
  • Weight (3.1lbs when in laptop mode)
  • Touch screen
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Full Windows 8 (vs Windows RT)
  • Low RAM limits multi-tasking
  • Performance (Atom CPU)
  • Storage is minimal
  • Screen could be better


  • Expert Picks:

    We reached out to some of our favorite gadget bloggers for their opinion on Twitter. Jacqueline Cromwell from Geek 4 the Real Girl replied! "If you were considering a tablet, go with a convertible windows 9 machine so you get the power of a tablet and computer. And for a bargain laptop, I'm loving the Asus X501U-RHE1N21!"

    There you have it, our picks for the best laptops for getting your kid ready for back to school. Do you have a favorite laptop that you feel should have been on the list? Let us know in the comments section below!

    Thanks for reading my ramblings!

    Bryan~

    Cash Back Resources

     

    Additional College Resources

  • Best Buy Coupons
  • OfficeMax Coupons
  • HP Home Coupons
  • Lenovo Coupons
  • Newegg Coupons
  • Back to School Checklist for College
  • Gadgets Every College Student Needs
  • 3 College Money-Saving Tips
  • Textbook Deals Cheat Sheet
  • Don't Get Hustled by Your Student Loans




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