In today’s increasingly digital age, buying the right laptop and electronics for college is a top priority. Between researching and writing papers, keeping up with social media, binge-watching Netflix, and working on creative side projects, technology holds the key to our success (and sanity) throughout those four years.
But shopping for the right tech can sometimes be overwhelming. Rows upon rows of macs, HPs, tablets and smartphones can make you feel like you’re drowning in a web of wires. And I haven’t even mentioned the outrageous prices yet.
But there’s no need to fret — I’m here to share what I learned when I was shopping for a laptop and other electronics before my freshman year.
Check out this complete guide to buying laptops/electronics, and you’ll get helpful tips to find the best fit.
1: Look for Deals
As mentioned before, laptops can be quite pricey. Luckily, there are a ton of student deals and offers to help you save money. Companies like Best Buy, Apple, HP, Amazon, Dell, Microsoft (and many more) offer student discounts that could help you save upwards of hundreds of dollars.
All you have to do is a bit of research. It can be the difference between saving a few hundred on a Macbook, or getting a great deal on 2-in-1 laptops at Best Buy. Oh, and did I mention that HP does half-off sometimes? I’m serious.
If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, don’t just walk into any tech store one day and buy the first laptop you see. Take advantage of these opportunities — after all, utilizing student discounts is one of the great privileges of being in school.
2: Choose an Operating System (and Brand)
Mac, Windows, or Chrome OS? When it comes to buying a laptop, there are a lot of options for operating systems (OS). If you’re not familiar with any one (or all) of these, it can be quite tricky to decide which will fulfill your tech needs best. Trust me, I’ve been there. I wasn’t very tech-savvy when I went laptop shopping for the first time, and I ended up spending hours with the Geek Squad asking question after question about OS. If you want to avoid that embarrassment, here’s a general run-down to get you started.
- Mac (Apple): Apple’s latest desktop operating system, macOS High Sierra, comes with all macbooks. Generally speaking, the operating system functions similarly to Windows, but offers a unique interface and new features, including high efficiency video compression, a higher functioning graphics processor, and more tools for editing/organizing photos. Rather than the traditional Windows design, macbooks offer an apps dock rather than a start menu and taskbar at the bottom of the screen, and instead of the Cortana digital assistant, mac users are given Siri. One thing you can’t get with mac, however, is a touch-screen laptop.
- Windows (Microsoft): One of the great advantages that windows offers over Mac and Chrome, is its flexibility. Windows operating system appears on a plethora of makes and models, allowing you to sift through a greater variety of laptops (and price ranges). The latest version of the operating system, Windows 10, offers a variety of features, including the ability to switch between tablet or desktop mode, a new start menu with live tiles, easier email applications, and the opportunity to use a stylus. In addition, since Windows appears on a wide-range of models, the operating system allows you to have a touch-screen laptop.
- Chrome (Google): Google’s operating system is both simple and secure, and can be found on a variety of inexpensive Chromebooks. However, critics have written about a number of limitations that exist within Chrome, but not Windows or Mac. Despite this, Chrome’s interface is thought to look a lot like Windows, and Chromebooks have been particularly notable for their portability and good battery life.
3: Pick the Right Size
You probably don’t want to lug around a massive laptop to class everyday. And likewise, you don’t want to be limited with something that’s too small.
Choosing the right size for you is an important step in figuring out what laptop to buy. Typically, laptops are categorized by their display sizes and can range from the smaller end of 11-12 inches, all the way to the large screen 17-18 inch computers.
To choose a size, it’s important to note what the primary function of your laptop will be. Looking for portability? Go with something smaller and more lightweight. The standard laptop is 15 inches, which is the most popular size, but it’s all a matter of preference.
4: To Touch or Not to Touch?
As stated before, not all operating systems and brands offer touch screen laptops. If you’re a die-hard Apple user, then it’s probably something you’re willing to compromise. However, there can be a lot of interesting advantages to having a touch screen, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
Pros: Having a touch screen laptop could be a quicker, more intuitive way to interact with the screen. Actually touching and swiping a screen gives you direct access to make shortcuts and motions that are sometimes difficult to find on a keyboard. Additionally, having a touch screen can allow for the use of a stylus, which can function as a way to hand-write information and save time if you’re a slow typer. Touch screens can also allow you to utilize creative projects, by giving you access to physically draw and write by hand.
Cons: Touch screen laptops require more power, therefore, you might be compromising your battery life. A good way to evaluate this is by comparing the battery life ratings for both a touch screen laptop and its non-touch model (if available). Additionally, touch screen laptops are often a lot more expensive than non-touch, and may result in an extra couple hundred dollars.
5: Evaluate Function — What are you using it for?
Are you a design student? Editor? Coder? Artist? Gamer? In other words, will you be using your laptop to program, create and utilize a number of different softwares?
Or, do you just need a solid computer that you can perform daily collegiate tasks on?
These are important distinctions. If you’re looking for more specific features, it might be worth the added cost to buy a laptop that has a higher processing power, speed and storage capacity. Though it can get expensive, it might be the difference between excelling in your creative endeavors, and not.
But, if you really just need a solid functioning computer for everyday college needs (writing papers, checking emails etc.), you might want to consider looking into some cheaper options.
There are plenty of great laptops that can fulfill those needs for an affordable price.
Laptops aren’t the only necessary piece of technology you should take with you to college. Here’s a list of other electronics (and where to buy them) that will be sure to come in handy.
Having a tablet or electronic reader in addition to a laptop can bring a lot of benefits to college life — especially if you’re a big reader. It can be pretty nauseating to stare at a laptop screen all day, but many tablets and e-readers offer a “reading mode” to imitate the look of an actual book. In addition, if you find yourself missing out on a touch screen laptop, having a tablet can be your official electronic format to scribble, draw, write and touch.
Here are a few great places/brands to look for:
Kindle (oasis, paperwhite, fire): Amazon
Nook: Barnes & Noble
Kobo Aura: Kobobooks
Fire HD: Amazon
Samsung Galaxy: Best Buy
2: External Hard Drive
Imagine: You just came home from a 4-month study abroad and you transferred all of your exoticallly breathtaking photos onto your laptop. You try to access them, but your laptop won’t turn on. You take it to get fixed, and they tell you it’s crashed — that everything is gone. That picture of you on the top of Mt. Vesuvius. The photo of a beach in Barcelona. The sunset hills of Tuscany.
In the back of your mind, you think, “All of those memories could still be here if only I bought that external hard drive….”
Don’t let that be you!
External hard drives can really save your life in these situations. Depending on how much you need out of them, they can range from around $50-150, and can be purchased through Best Buy, Amazon, Staples, etc.
3: Bluetooth Speaker
Having a bluetooth speaker really comes in handy. They’re portable, easy to connect to, and pretty affordable. Not only is a bluetooth speaker perfect for social situations, but they can also make doing your homework, cleaning your dorm room, or hanging out on campus so much more fun. Who wouldn’t want a little music for those things?
Check out these affordable ones:
Bose: Soundlink Mini (Amazon)
Sony XB10 (Best Buy)
JBL Flip 3 (Amazon)
4: USB Flash Drive
Whether you’re writing papers, saving projects, or storing photos, having a good USB flash drive is a great way to transport information from one computer to the next. You’re almost guaranteed to need one at some point for presentations, or projects, so it’s smart to keep one in your backpack at all times.
Walking to the library at 8:00 a.m. to print a 10-page paper is a great way to ruin your morning. By having your own printer in your dorm or off-campus housing, you can keep from trekking somewhere last-minute, or paying a printing fine to the university. This piece of technology can really come in handy for big projects and papers, and it will be sure to save you time.
Check out these affordable options for printers:
And, if you’re still stuck shopping and need help finding the best deals for your laptop and other electronics, check out The University Network for student discounts and other deals. TUN’s Student Save Engine is designed to save students money on everyday items that college students need and point you in the right direction. You can also earn TUN Tokens when you shop at participating brands, which you can redeem for quality products, gift cards, online classes or cash.
Natalie Colarossi is a journalism major and global studies minor working toward her bachelor’s degree at Ohio University. She is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has covered a number of topics including art, culture, politics, music, and travel. Her greatest passion and priority is to travel, and she hopes to experience as many places and cultures as possible.