OPINION: Students will be returning to their university halls in just a few short weeks, so it’s no surprise that we’ve been seeing a bunch of back-to-school tech guides cropping up all over the web. But many of them seem to forget one important aspect of student life – you probably can’t afford the latest MacBook Pro.
Student life is synonymous with a lot of things; making new friends, learning new skills and most importantly, budgeting. For a lot of young people, college and university is the first time wherein you have to make sure that your money is being spent wisely, as you can only get so far on student loans and a part-time job.
That’s where a lot of the current back-to-school rhetoric seems to fall short. Depending on what course you’re taking, you won’t need to be investing in the latest MacBook Air (2023) or MacBook Pro (2023) laptops, as most of what you’ll be doing will involve typing up ungodly long essays or reading the latest chapter of your textbook. Obviously, this will be different if you’re studying a creative course, where you do need access to applications like Adobe Photoshop or Premier, but the overarching trend seems to be pushing expensive laptops onto students that spend most of their time in Microsoft Word.
That’s why I find it strange that no one seems to be suggesting the obvious; invest in a tablet, not a laptop. Tablets these days are capable of almost everything a laptop can do – depending on the price point and brand – and seem to be the perfect substitute for a heavy, expensive laptop.
First and foremost, they’re very portable machines. Not only that, most tablets come with cellular data – or the option to include it – so you don’t need to rely on your university’s overcrowded Wi-Fi. Digital textbooks feel a lot more natural to read on a tablet than a laptop and touchscreen compatibility opens the door for tactile learning experiences, with many having support for a digital stylus.
And most importantly, tablets can function just like laptops do. Multiple brands, including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus and Lenovo, offer tablets that come bundled with keyboard cases and there is no end of Bluetooth wireless mice that can be paired alongside it.
And don’t get me wrong, not all tablets are affordable machines; if you fancy working on the latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro M2 with a Magic Keyboard thrown in, that will set you back an eye watering £1628/$1448 – not exactly student-friendly. But if you opt for the OnePlus Pad and magnetic keyboard, you’ll be spending under £600/$560.
If you are dead against using a tablet for your university work, there are still many laptops out there that will do the job for a reasonable price. There are a multitude of laptops that come with all the bells and whistles you could ask for, but again, you don’t need to buy a machine with the latest Raptor Lake Intel Core processor or RTX 4000 Series GPU to type out an essay.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 springs to mind immediately and even features in our best student laptop roundup. Chromebooks are also reliable options for those that really don’t need any extra grunt; even if my own opinion about Chromebooks is less than stellar, they are perfectly acceptable for most students, with many models falling below the £500/$500 mark.
Ultimately, you will need to do homework – pun intended – on which laptop or tablet works best for you, as your course will have some impact on how much power you really need. But if any English students out there are convinced that they need the latest Apple powerhouse to get through their readings on Jane Eyre, know that you really don’t.
Having a premium laptop is nice and all, but it’s just not a necessity for most people, especially students. So if you’re panicking about buying a new laptop for your next term, take a look at some of the best tablets and best affordable laptops out there before you commit to something that you can definitely do without.
Ctrl+Alt+Del is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.