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Laptop, Netbook, or Tablet: What's Best for College?

By Edited Apr 27, 2015 5 5

Best Gadgets for College Students

Technology moves very fast and for college students this is very good news! There are so many new devices in the laptop, netbook, and the tablet categories that it’s often very difficult to stay current - but rest assured the advances will make your college life easier. As a college student, you need to find the most useful electronics - and find the best deals - to make your time in college more fun, rewarding, efficient, and simple. Whether you are in the market for a new product from Apple, HP, Dell, Toshiba, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Toshiba, Viewsonic, Motorola, or others -- this is a great time for technology for the college and university student.

Apple-MacBook-Pro-college-laptop
If you consider the big three categories of laptop, netbook, and tablet, there are many pros and cons which should be part of your decision-making process. The best development is that with more and more content, storage, and applications being moved to the “cloud’ in the ongoing cloud computing revolution, the power of any handheld device or smartphone now far exceeds what was available even just a few years ago. (Just think about how Google Docs, Dropbox, Salesforce.com, Amazon, and other online “services” have changed the tech landscape.) 

Choosing a Laptop Computer for a College Student

PROS: The laptop computer is the first device that most students want to purchase to cut the “tether” of the home or dorm room desktop computer. Many laptops now easily rival the computing power and processing speed of the most cutting-edge desktop computers. Depending on your requirements, the screen size, hard drive storage, and more - a laptop could be all you ever need. With a laptop as your main tool, there will be times when an external mouse (beyond a track pad), and external monitor(s) will be useful. It’s also common to connect a laptop to dual monitors allowing the user access to three screens (the laptop and the two others) for increased working desktop space. The latest laptops from Dell, HP, Apple, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and others are all worth your consideration.

CONS: Even a seemingly portable laptop, especially those models with the larger 17-inch screens can become a burden. When college students are carrying a number of textbooks and other personal items, a heavy laptop (and power supply) can be overwhelming. This is what makes college and university students consider a netbook or a tablet in the first place. The dowside is that although laptops can be cheap (about $500), they are often more expensive than consumers expect because of the portability premium. You are often paying more for the convenience of the computing power that you can take with you - as much as $2500 in some cases. 

 

Choosing a Netbook Computer for a College Student

PROS: Netbooks are so small and convenient, that this category of portable computing has really exploded in the last few years. The same benefits of a laptop can be found in netbooks, however often without the same processing and storage capabilities. These netbooks are great because they’re lightweight and very often sold at a fraction of the cost of a full-size laptop. They often weigh less than 5 pounds and cost between $299 and $499! Because the companies producing them often have extensive experience manufacturing laptops, the netbooks on the market now are quality pieces of technology and electronics simply made to compact specifications. Acer, HP (Hewlett-Packard), Toshiba, ASUS, Dell, and others have made serious inroads to this category. Most of the devices in the netbook category features Windows (Vista, XP, or Windows 7), run at 1.0 - 1.66 GHz speeds, feature 1 or 2 GB of RAM, and have storage of either 250, 320, or 500 GB. 

CONS: To accomodate their reduced size (very often between 10.1” and 11.6”), most netbooks feature a very small (QWERTY) keyboard. Some users - especially those with larger hands - find the cramped arrangement of keys somewhat difficult for extended writing/typing. The smaller netbooks can also be prone to theft more easily based on their size and easy concealment. With limited power, limited expansion possilities, and other constraints - some users find these more than a reduced-size version of a laptop. They are often essentially an “entry-level” laptop without a lot of the power and storage of the larger item.

 

Choosing a Tablet Computer for a College Student

Blackberry-Playbook-tablet-for-college
PROS: With the release of the iPad, the tablet category has really changed personal technology and consumer electronics in the last few years. Multi-touch response, fast processors, and crisp resolution has meant that many of the uses for a laptop can easily be accomplished on one of the new tablets from HP, Samsung, Motorola, Apple, ASUS, Toshiba, Lenovo, Coby, Sony, Dell, Vizio, Amazon, and others. Also, Google's Nexus 7 tablet was recently launched at a price point that will make serious waves. If you want to surf the web, send emails, watch movies or YouTube videos, then a tablet is a great choice. And because of the rapid development of third-party apps (applications) for these tablets, the functionality can be very targeted for your specific needs. The new tablets are compact, lightweight, and can easily fit in with any other books in a backpack, purse, or messenger bag. They are perfect for use in WI-FI hotspots (often campus wide depending on where you go to school), or nearly anywhere else depending on your data network. Based on widespread adoption, the iTunes eco-system, the availability of third-party apps and other developments - many still consider the Apple iPad the category leader, even with new influx of Android tablets.

Google-nexus-7-tablet-for-college
CONS: These tablets are in such demand, these also present a risk of theft or loss - whether it’s a simple ebook reader like the Barnes & Noble Nook, or the Amazon Kindle or Kindle Fire, as well as a full-scale tablet computer. The other issue is that the virtual screen, which works for emails, online forms, and more - would be a difficult choice for extended word-processing work. It is possible to buy remote docks, stylus pens, and bluetooth connected keyboards for some of these devices to make bigger projects possible - however there are still limitations from using specialty software (beyond apps). [The Apple tablet also has the limitation of not reading Adobe flash-based websites -- a long-term corporate decision that bothers many iPad users.] While additional accessories may solve these issues, the added cost for the college student could then rival the laptop category.

Conclusion: Netbook, Tablet, or a Laptop for College

College students can clearly function without the need of a clunky desktop computer in their dorm rooms or at home. The recent tech and electronic developments has made it possible now for a laptop, netbook, or tablet to be your main gear while you complete your university degree program. With SSD solid state drives, cloud storage, and cloud based apps - this is getting easier every semester - and as Apple and others push forward with their plans for digital textbooks on tablets - even a heavy backpack full of course texts may be a thing of the past very soon. 

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Comments

May 23, 2012 2:54pm
aberdelle
It is hard to imagine that I didn't even have a cell phone until my freshmen year in college, and i'm not that old (30). Good synopsis of laptops vs net-books vs tablets. I am in the market, so I have been looking into all these options, but for the home so desktop is in the mix.

A suggestion would be to get a slim desktop (along the lines of Mini-mac) for home to do the word processing, and a tablet for on the go. I would think this will get you the most bang for your buck (prob similar to a laptop in pricing).
Jun 18, 2012 7:58am
CapstoneTrends
Good suggestion - something like a Mac Mini plus a tablet would work for most people. I still like having the portability of a laptop at home -- working in any room matters to me, especially with applications not yet on tablets... Thanks!
Jun 19, 2012 8:27am
luvmyland
Personally, I prefer laptop comparing to tablet. Laptop able to offers more benefits e.g. better CPU / Memory capability which tablets not able to offers in today market.
Oct 18, 2012 1:58am
susanmiller2012
May be yes.. seems look like the same.. for sure.. anyways thanks for your thoughts!!
Jul 1, 2012 2:47am
andrewlemon
Nice analysis. I've found I've ended up using both the NetBoot and the iPad. The iPad has been good for the media comsumption, emails and internet on the move and certainly much less weight and bulk to carry around. While the netbook has been needed for the word processing,spreadsheets etc.
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