How to buy a Best Laptop

LAPTOPS

Before you can buy the best laptop for school or college, you need to narrow down your options.

There are, broadly speaking, six classes of laptop available at the moment, ranging from traditional laptops through to convertibles and hybrids and tablets that can double up. Google’s Chrome books throw yet another choice into the mix, providing a low-cost alternative to Windows and OS X laptop PCs. Which should you go for? Well, it all depends on how you plan to use your laptops, and on the pros and cons of each individual type.

Varieties of Laptops

Traditional laptops

With screen sizes ranging from 14 to 17.6in, traditional laptops are still a great choice for everyday use in the classroom or at home. They generally offer the best performance for a given price; provide a large, comfortable screen and keyboard; and have the power and storage space for more advanced applications, such as video-editing, image-editing, science and engineering applications. You can even find units with dedicated graphics processors – ideal for graphically intensive applications and after-school games. Traditional laptops can also offer a full suite of connections, with multiple USB ports, HDMI outputs and audio sockets. They’re not really all that portable – pity the student who has to lug one around all day long – but otherwise they’re great all-rounders.

Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are premium thin and light laptops, with the focus on portability, long battery life and style. As such, they’re rarely cheap, making them more suitable for staff than students. You can find entry-level models and end-of-life deals if you look around, though. With 11.6in to 13.3in screens, Ultrabooks make great take-anywhere laptops, with reasonable connectivity and performance, but better battery life than the conventional types. Many come with excellent high-resolution screens, which helps make up for the fact that the screens themselves are smaller. Ultrabooks can still run demanding applications, although many ship with smaller, solid-state hard disks, which benefit speed and battery life at the expense of capacity.

Convertible laptops

Convertible laptops are simply laptops that use a cleverly hinged display to switch between laptop and tablet-like form factors, with the screen folding flat against the keyboard when you don’t want the latter. Convertibles are becoming popular in schools because they combine many of the benefits of an Ultrabook with those of a tablet, so you have the intuitive feel and immediacy of touch-based apps when you need it, but still have a keyboard for writing coursework on. Screen sizes usually range from 11.6in to 13.3in, and while convertibles don’t have the premium feel of Ultrabooks, they’re not too dissimilar in terms of size and weight. Whether you’re buying for students at home or for your school, a convertible is the laptop that does it all.

2-in-1 device

These are 10.6in to 12.6in tablets that convert into laptops with the aid of a specially designed keyboard or keyboard dock. As such, they’re designed for portability and all-day battery life, so they’re great for students needing to get around on campus, or to work between home and school or college. They’re also a great choice for schools looking to implement 1:1 schemes. As with Ultrabooks, high-resolution screens are increasingly the norm. The downside is that you lose some of the performance and connectivity of the convertible and Ultrabook, and will have to work on a smaller screen. Some 2-in-1 devices also work on Android rather than Windows.

Tablet with keyboard accessory

Here we mean tablets that are designed to work primarily as tablets, but that can double as a laptop with the addition of a wireless keyboard accessory or optional dock. These offer the same basic advantages as the 2-in-1 device, but can be even lighter and more portable, particularly if you don’t need to bring the keyboard with you all the time. They’re perfect for schools moving towards touchscreen-friendly apps, and they’re often well built and very affordable, with excellent battery life. On the negative side, performance is often limited, while that small screen – often 10.1in to 10.6in – can be hard on the eyes if used all day. On a practical note, tablets without a keyboard dock may need some means of support, such as a stand or folding case.

Chromebook

A Chromebook is simply a lightweight laptop that runs Google’s Chrome OS. Most have an 11.6in to 14in screen, and weigh in at just 1kg to 2kg. They offer many of the advantages of an Ultrabook – although not the premium materials – and the best are speedy and well built, with good to excellent screens. Chromebooks have become popular in schools because the devices themselves are cheap, and the apps and services they run are often free. However, they can’t run standard Windows applications, and they’re almost entirely dependent on cloud-based apps and services, and therefore good Wi-Fi and broadband connectivity. This isn’t a major problem when so many schools are adopting these apps and services, and Chromebooks are quick to start, great for sharing among students and easy to maintain.