Thursday, August 1, 2013

IMHO: The overall best laptop for back to school

No I was not paid by a company in particular to write this.

Lately I have been getting asked what I think the best laptop for going back to school is and I always want to say the new Macbook Air 2013 13 inch display.  I don't come right out and say it because with friends and family I like to ask them questions first about what they are going to use it for, how big of a screen would they like to view on, and how much do you want to spend, etc.  But no matter what their answers are, I always find myself saying in the back of my mind, you really should get the Macbook Air 2013 with the 13inch display.  Why?


Lets face it, if you are going to be taking this to class to take notes, work on projects or papers between classes, or just browsing the web for funny gifs and videos, then you don't want something that weights a lot.  At just under 3 pounds, this laptop will help you not develop spinal problems in the future, though I can't speak for all the books and lab binders you will have to carry too.

Adding to your weight issues are the laptop charging cords.  With any laptop brand you are looking at adding at least another pound to your back.  But with the new Macbook Air that comes with Intel's new Haswell processor, you can leave your charging cord at home (or dorm room).  The new 13 inch Macbook Air has an estimated 12 hour battery life (industry average is around 4 to 5) with moderate use.  So you can grab it off the charger just before an 8 am class and it should still be good until you get back before 8pm.  The 11 inch model does have improved battery life from last years model as well but its estimation is around 9 hours.


The reason I chose the 13 inch over the 11 inch model is the SD card slot.  Both models come with the same dual microphones (helps with noise cancelation) and web cam (720p video resolution) for video conferencing, 2 USB 3.0 slots, and a Thunderbolt port but the 11 inch does not have a SDXC card slot.  To some people this might be trivial but in the course of the next few years if the student gets a good camera (other than their cell phone) it will be easier for them to upload off the card than other means.

Speaking of 13 inch screen size.  Well....... it's a 13 inch display.  While two inches in screen display might not seem like a lot, in a dark class or study room or long day of reading off the screen, not having to strain to read the screen is always a good thing.  Also the keyboard isn't as cramped on the 13 inch model.  The keys are naturally spaced out like most keyboards on any laptop but with the 11 inch model, understandably they had to condense a lot to get the laptop smaller.  The naturally spaced keyboard just makes it easier type.

The track pad.  No I am not kidding.  This is a feature that Apple has gotten right for years and Windows laptop manufacturers keep failing at.  Don't believe me.  Try one at your local store.  Also, you ever notice how Apple doesn't make a mini mouse for use with their laptops but so many accessory manufacturers make them for Windows laptops.  If the track pad is great, there is little to no use for a mini travel mouse.  Again, helps keep the bulk of things you have to take besides your laptop down.


One thing included in Macbook Air's (not matter the display size) is use SSD's (solid state drives) for hard drives instead of the traditional rotating disk hard drives.  Two great benefits are boot up times and sleep wake up times.  I have a SSD in my laptop and from hitting the power button to my desktop being available and ready to go is 6 seconds.  On my other laptop top with a traditional hard drive, about a minute fifteen seconds.  That might not seem like a lot of time to some people but if you just ran into class late or think of an idea and need to get typing ASAP, its the difference between a small wait and a eternity.  The same can be said with wake up time from just being in sleep mode.  With my SSD, it is instantly.  Fast enough that my laptop screen isn't lifted up to its view position before the screen is on.  Versus my traditional hard drive that is about 12 to 14 seconds of blank black screen before the desktop is in view and ready to go.

Software Availability

As a user of both Mac OS X (Apple's operating system) and Windows 7 (I am still waiting on the final iteration of Windows 8.x) I can stay that free software on the internet with regards to Windows 7 or OS X isn't truly free.  There is a lot of bloatware that gets downloaded and installed that over time weighs down a computer and makes it slower, and slower, and slower.  With the Mac app store, you can free software that doesn't come with all that bloatware.  Of course there software programs you can buy too, but when you can get free that works and does what you need it to do, why not choose the free option.  I know people will have worries about writing things that are Microsoft Word, Excel, or Powerpoint compatible but stop.  There are many free options (Google Docs) that you can use with a Macbook Air and can always buy Microsoft Office for Mac as well.

There are a few drawbacks to the Macbook Air that should be weighed on a personal level of usability. Since this is a very thin laptop, there is no CD or DVD drive.  I don't think you will miss it as much as you think you would.  A lot of the major games and software programs people use are available for download.  So unless you are bent on keeping CD music alive or making holiday DVDs for the whole family, it's not something you will miss.  If you find a year or two later you truly need one, you can get a range of external CD or DVD drives for less than $100.

Another drawback some people see no HDMI port to hook your laptop up to your TV.  With the advent of Apple TV or Google's new Chromecast  you can solve that problem for as little as $35 and not have to worry about being wired to your TV when you can do it wirelessly.

I know what a lot of people say about Mac laptops is that they are expensive.  Yes they are slightly premium laptops but in my humble opinion worth it if you are going to at least keep it for 4 years, if not more.  Now I say slightly premium laptops because there are premium laptops made by names most people are familiar with (ASUS, Acer, Samsung, HP, Dell, Toshiba) that you don't see in stores but only online on their websites that are way more expensive and have the same features.  Looking at the price, you pay for a new cell phone, $500 to $800 (cost up front for the phone plus the subsidy built into the cost of the plan ever month for 2 years), every two years so $1000 for something over the course of 4+ years is a lot easier on your wallet.  And will help lead to getting a degree more than the cellphone will!

So there you have it, my humble opinion on the best laptop for back to school.  It might be pricey and to some make you seem like an Apple snob but what really counts is reliability and doing what you need it to do.  So if a non Apple product works, then that is great.  But if you have tried and tried Windows laptops and after one or two years you keep getting that "ugh" feeling from them, why not try some thing different.

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