Fall Laptop Buyers' Guide: 5 Tips and Picks - Technologist
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Fall Laptop Buyers' Guide: 5 Tips and Picks

It's time for classes! Or, if you're a bit older, maybe it's time to upgrade your aging laptop. But there are so many things to consider, besides price: touchscreen, solid state drives, RAM, processor, weight, battery life, screen size, operating system, and build quality -- where do you begin?

Not to worry. Here are five tips and picks to simplify things greatly:

1. Mac or Windows? It Probably Doesn't Matter.

Ten years ago, this was a question. Now? Most software, including Microsoft Office, is available on both platforms, and 90 percent of your day will be spent in a Web browser anyway. Besides, with Windows 8 being all touch-friendly and not-at-all Windowsy, you're in for an adjustment either way.

Check with your school, employer, or software vendor to be sure, but this is probably simply a matter of personal preference. And if you do make the switch to Mac, we've got your back.

2. Money Ain't a Thing? Go MacBook.

There's a reason it took me 28 years to get a Mac: price. Even the entry-level MacBook Air 11-inch is $900, though student discounts are available. Now that I have one, however, I finally get it: everything about a MacBook is better: the battery life, the build quality, the keyboard and trackpad.

Between the Air and Pro, MacBook Airs get better battery life and are cheaper, but the screen is significantly worse than the Pro line. If you can wait a few months (perhaps as late as early 2015), it is widely rumored that an update to the Air line will bring a much better screen and a 12-inch form factor.

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3. Windows? You Need These Specs.

A touchscreen, for one -- Windows 8 is not designed for keyboards and mice. Besides that, look for these specs:

  • A Core-series processor (Google the model and make sure it is a Haswell);
  • 4 GB of RAM or more;
  • A solid state hard drive (these are limited in storage capacity, but make up for it in speed and power efficiency);
  • An external hard drive for music, movies, and pictures (cloud storage is mandatory for backing up notes, but you'll want more space and offline connectivity for fun and games);
  • A 13-inch or smaller screen, thin-and-light form factor (you'll be lugging casebooks around too);
  • Six hours or more of battery life (your classroom may have plug-ins, but meetings and coffee shops may not).

A choice I've heard a lot of great things about is Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro: It flips back into a tablet, has all of the requisite specs, and can be found on sale for under $1,000. That's the high-end of Windows, by the way -- you can find much cheaper alternatives that stick to the above spec list.

4. Stay Away From...

Though some will disagree with me on these:

  • Tablets, even those with detachable keyboards (you're going to spend 40 to 80 hours per week in front of this thing -- comfort is key);
  • Chromebooks (professionals generally use Microsoft Office, or maybe Apple's iWork suite, not Google Docs);
  • Heavy and massive laptops. Do you really want to carry a 17-inch laptop along with your casebooks? Get an external monitor for times where you want a bigger screen.

5. Software: Procrastination is Good for You.

If you're about to embark upon your 1L (or 2L or 3L) journey, wait until you get your .edu email address to purchase any software, such as Microsoft Office. You'll get massive discounts, such as $79 for four years of Office 365, which comes with a full terabyte of cloud storage space.

Other software we'd recommend: OneNote (free) or Evernote (free and paid), Google Docs (free) or Office Web Apps (free) for collaborative projects, and DropBox/OneDrive/Google Drive/Box/Any cloud storage for backing up notes.

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