Off to College? Tech expert, Mark Kavanagh, on what you need to prepare for the year ahead

College-essentials

Tech journalist, Mark Kavanagh, tells us what you’ll need to get ready for the college year.

It’s not long now until students across the country are back to school and college. This is a potentially exciting time for geeks, as going back to college means stocking up on tech essentials. The likes of fast charging portable power packs, charging cables, affordable cost-efficient printers and digital styluses are all up for consideration.

And don’t forget how crucial – and beneficial – Microsoft’s Office suite can be for education. But the primary college tech tool has got to be a laptop or some form of laptop replacement.

In my opinion, students are now spoiled for choice.

Not only have you an array of excellent Windows 10 laptops to choose from, but in recent years top quality tablets and Chromebooks can be added into the mix of choices along with the higher specs – and prices – of Apple’s MacBooks and iMacs.

So it makes sense to choose a store such as Harvey Norman, which has the staff who can advise on and explain in detail the key differences in those four most important areas: performance, weight, thickness and battery life.

Some might just want a device for taking notes, getting online and maybe streaming a TV series or two – in which case a tablet or Chromebook should do – but others may have to render 3D graphics or work with processing-power-hungry programs.

In that case, performance is key. Look for an Intel Core i5 chipset or higher, and choose a machine with 8GB, 12GB or 16GB of RAM. For most common tasks, 8GB is sufficient, but users of power-intensive applications will require 12GB or 16GB.

If you have a budget of €1200, I’d recommend the Acer Swift 5 laptop. It’s got a 15.6in full HD display, 256GB storage, plenty of connectivity options, 8GB RAM and a Core i5 processor – it’s the perfect everyday laptop. It’s robust enough to withstand a fall but portable enough to carry everywhere. It’s often described as ultra-light.

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Which brings us to how carefully you should consider the weight of your machine.

Remember, you are going to be carrying it around every day, so make sure it does not weigh you down. The travel weight is what’s important. This figure should include the weight of the laptop with its power adapter. There are plenty of lightweight options on the market but bear in mind that a thin and light laptop with lots of features is going to be more expensive.

All machines tend to list three physical dimensions for their size: width, depth and height or thickness.

The thickness of the laptop is key in terms of how snugly it will fit in your messenger bag or backpack. Usually, if a single thickness is listed, this is the thickest point of the laptop’s height. Decent endurance from the battery is vital in a laptop. Some smaller notebook models only keep going for four or five hours. Depending on your college schedule, you are likely to need a machine that gives you all-day battery life – at least eight hours of juice from a single charge.

I can’t recommend Microsoft Office highly enough. Every student is going to need Microsoft Word at some point – but the suite includes a host of other great programs such as Outlook and OneNote. The latter can be synced across all of your devices and I use it every day on every device.

You can get a Personal subscription to Office 365 for €69 per year and this includes 1TB of online storage in One Drive (so you can access your files, photos and data from absolutely anywhere).

But I’d recommend the family option – a Home subscription to Office 365 for €99 per year gives you 1TB of storage for up to six users as well as access to the full range of Microsoft programs and apps. And you can sync your laptop with your phone and/or tablet and use Office on multiple machines. You can also buy a Home & Student pack for a one-off purchase of €149 but this has no access to One Drive, Skype or Outlook.

Students who are considering tablets have the iPad Pro as the benchmark to judge all others by. Prices start at €969 and iPad Pro comes with a lot more power than the regular tablet. I use one every day. It’s a beast and one of the fastest computers you can buy.

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If you prefer Android, Samsung has just announced the Galaxy Tab S6 which matches the iPad Pro in most ways – the range of tablet-specific apps on Android is not as wide. Both of these tablets come with an optional digital stylus. There are other options in this area from companies such as adonit, Livescribe and Moleskine.

Mark Kavanagh is the Chief Sub Editor of the Irish Daily Star.

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