Computers & Electronics

Advice needed: Best laptop for university student?

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[OP]
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Nov 17, 2017
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Advice needed: Best laptop for university student?

My oldest child is heading to university soon. Just wondering which type of portable device is best for university students. I heard that some university students take notes directly on their device (either typed or handwritten). Would a laptop with touch screen work well? Normal labtop (smaller size screen?)?

Or something like the ipad Pro? If Ipad Pro, do you recommend a labtop also? We are using iphones and older ipads in our household at the present time.

Budget up to $1000-1500. Of course, the cheaper the better.

Besides devices, any special apps or programs that are also helpful for attending classes? taking notes? etc.

Any advice would be appreciated. Especially from present university students.
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Jun 27, 2004
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ThinkPad X1 Yoga or ThinkPad X390 Yoga. Or maybe any Lenovo Yoga class notebooks.
I don't know about all of them, but the X1y (14") and X390y (13") have touchscreens and a Wacom tablet built into the screen, so you can use a pen. Yoga = hinged so the screen can flip 360 degrees. They're not cheap, but you should be able to find a configuration that falls within $1500. You missed the deal a couple of months ago when the 2018 X1y was selling for $1000.
lenovo-canada-lenovo-thinkpad-x1-yoga-3 ... 5-2370701/
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Oct 17, 2004
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fourcylinder wrote: Pen and paper are the best note taking tools. If your child is a keener, their smartphone's audio recording feature may be useful.
It varies by person, personally I'm a slow writer and could never keep up with notes using pen and paper.

To the OP, you may want to check with the school. Some schools & programs will have recommended specifications for laptops. Some schools even sell them, normally it might be interesting to have on campus support but right now... :)
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Jun 9, 2012
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As someone who is currently in college, I can say that a laptop that is lightweight and can act as a 2 in 1 with good battery life should be your top priority. Your child will benefit from having the ability to draw stuff by hand if needed for some lectures, having more space in their bag for textbooks (if necessary), not worrying about constantly micromanaging the shut downs on the laptop every time after class in order to conserve battery life.

Although I think a 2 in 1 might be excessive, it really depends on what major they are going for. If it's something in the Arts then you can probably get away from having to draw stuff. Most of the time those students will just be typing out essays or doing research for some paper that they need to write. If it's something in the sciences then they probably would benefit more since there's lots of drawings that instructors do in class to illustrate higher level concepts. Especially for math classes, where typing isn't an option and your only options would be to write/draw it on paper or do it on a touch screen.

I don't really recommend an ipad, it doesn't have a physical keyboard which is something most students will need for taking down notes during lectures and then use those notes for studying exams. I can say for a fact that it's much easier to manage notes that are typed out on a computer than having them done by hand on paper which takes up additional space in my backpack and if it gets wet, it becomes more of a mess to look thru.

As for programs, I see some students use Onenote which lets them draw/type stuff onto pre-posted lecture notes or draw stuff for notes. Personally, I only ever used Microsoft Word with lots of bolded and underlined bullet points so that I know that those are important areas to study, understand and review before an exam.

As for laptop sizes, I think something that isn't larger than 15.6 inches would be fine. If the laptop gets too large, it will be difficult to use on the small pullout tables that some schools use for their lectures. Not to mention it would hog up more space and increase the weight and fatigue of carrying and walking around with a much larger laptop. Personally, I use a 14 inch laptop and it works fine for me when I use it only for taking notes during lectures. If your child wants a larger screen, I am pretty sure there are computers in the library or labs that they can use to do more work on a larger screen or they could maybe utilize a dock at home for their laptop if they prefer working at home.

Some have mentioned specs, but I don't think specs matter since most schools will have labs with the necessary software that you can use to do school work on anyways, if you still insist on working at home then you'll need to also budget for a proper desktop system, laptop systems are not adequate for stuff like Photoshop or after effects (software used by digital design students). Not to mention some computer programs can only be used on campus, if you want to use it from home you'll need to pay out of pocket or find some way of getting it working on your own computer.
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I swear by the thinkpad T series, so I'd recommend a refurbished Thinkpad, or new thinkpad on sale.

Anything with a decent keyboard and battery life should do it. Touchscreen is a gimmick, though combined with pdf annotation and a stylus it can be useful.
"I possess a device, in my pocket, capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers"
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Aug 12, 2014
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Dunkster wrote: My oldest child is heading to university soon. Just wondering which type of portable device is best for university students. I heard that some university students take notes directly on their device (either typed or handwritten). Would a laptop with touch screen work well? Normal labtop (smaller size screen?)?

Or something like the ipad Pro? If Ipad Pro, do you recommend a labtop also? We are using iphones and older ipads in our household at the present time.

Budget up to $1000-1500. Of course, the cheaper the better.

Besides devices, any special apps or programs that are also helpful for attending classes? taking notes? etc.

Any advice would be appreciated. Especially from present university students.
it depends the field of study, needs and school settings.

for example, when i studied at mcgill, i need to go different buildings at different locations at the downtown campus (uphill to McIntyre and downhill to Otto Mass), so it was not practical having a big heavy laptop. i use it mostly for searching molecule properties, typing reports, reading journals and taking note during lectures.

One of the reasons that i had a small laptop, it is because lots of big lecture rooms have chairs that has only a small integrated table. (half the size of a tray table of an economy seat on a flight)

However, my small laptop wasn't good enough for my computer science class, but i used computers from the engineering lab while on campus, so it was bearable.

you have to think in terms of battery life too, since one cannot always find a plug. I always use device manger to disable devices in order to maximize my battery life. if your kid is in business school, it might be better to have a laptop with a good variety of output so that one can use one's laptop for presentation. it's much better than using the room's computer, since you have much more control or liberty.

I wouldn't waste on an ipad, you can't extract much value.

I would suggest, if you have an old laptop, use it for a few months and ask your kid what kind of laptop he really needs and buy one during black Fridays or Christmas.

also, touch screen is not piratical. if your kid doesn't like a touchpad, buy a model that has an trackpoint such thinkpad.
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Jun 9, 2012
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wirespeed wrote: it depends the field of study, needs and school settings.

for example, when i studied at mcgill, i need to go different buildings at different locations at the downtown campus (uphill to McIntyre and downhill to Otto Mass), so it was not practical having a big heavy laptop. i use it mostly for searching molecule properties, typing reports, reading journals and taking note during lectures.

One of the reasons that i had a small laptop, it is because lots of big lecture rooms have chairs that has only a small integrated table. (half the size of a tray table of an economy seat on a flight)

However, my small laptop wasn't good enough for my computer science class, but i used computers from the engineering lab while on campus, so it was bearable.

you have to think in terms of battery life too, since one cannot always find a plug. I always use device manger to disable devices in order to maximize my battery life. if your kid is in business school, it might be better to have a laptop with a good variety of output so that one can use one's laptop for presentation. it's much better than using the room's computer, since you have much more control or liberty.

I wouldn't waste on an ipad, you can't extract much value.

I would suggest, if you have an old laptop, use it for a few months and ask your kid what kind of laptop he really needs and buy one during black Fridays or Christmas.

also, touch screen is not piratical. if your kid doesn't like a touchpad, buy a model that has an trackpoint such thinkpad.
Soo true. Heavy + big laptops + the charging cord is a pain to carry. Some times you don't even get a seat in some lectures and you just have to type on your lap. This isn't a problem if the laptop is lightweight.

A big screen is good for getting more tasks done, but I agree that it's better to use the computer labs or buy a separate monitor/TV at home and just dock the laptop to it.

I have a touch screen laptop and I only ever use it for pressing buttons rather than drawing stuff. I still do my drawings on paper since you'll need to replicate similar drawings during exams on paper. At least using the touch screen for navigation is faster than using the touchpad, although sometimes I also bring a cordless mouse with me so it feels more like working from home than at school.
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Jun 27, 2006
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wirespeed wrote:
I would suggest, if you have an old laptop, use it for a few months and ask your kid what kind of laptop he really needs and buy one during black Fridays or Christmas.

also, touch screen is not piratical. if your kid doesn't like a touchpad, buy a model that has an trackpoint such thinkpad.
This is a good approach until he/she figures out what works best.

Since the laptop will be opened and closed from class to class, I would suggest getting a business class laptop (Lenovo, Dell, HP, they all have them) The better build quality vs a consumer machine will become apparent after a few months if not sooner. Also. spend the money on a nicer screen.
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Apr 11, 2011
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Memramcook
Dunkster wrote: My oldest child is heading to university soon. Just wondering which type of portable device is best for university students. I heard that some university students take notes directly on their device (either typed or handwritten). Would a laptop with touch screen work well? Normal labtop (smaller size screen?)?

Or something like the ipad Pro? If Ipad Pro, do you recommend a labtop also? We are using iphones and older ipads in our household at the present time.

Budget up to $1000-1500. Of course, the cheaper the better.

Besides devices, any special apps or programs that are also helpful for attending classes? taking notes? etc.

Any advice would be appreciated. Especially from present university students.
I see a lot of Macs in the classroom. Like Wirespeed mentioned, I would check with the department at the university or school for what they recommend. Sometimes students have access to Microsoft Office and other software so check with the university before purchasing some software.

The back to school promotion is on at Apple. Check out their educational website for details.

Bob
[OP]
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Nov 17, 2017
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Thanks for the suggestions everyone. She has an old bulky laptop at the present moment and she is going to first year sciences.

Leaning towards smaller laptop with better battery life. Not sure about touchscreen. Still not sure whether to stick with Windows or maybe get a Mac. She has iPhone, regular iPad, etc.
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If you go with Mac, be sure to ask if it has a soldered SSD. Be prepared to do backups all the time to an external drive :) .
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Jul 26, 2007
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Dunkster wrote: Thanks for the suggestions everyone. She has an old bulky laptop at the present moment and she is going to first year sciences.

Leaning towards smaller laptop with better battery life. Not sure about touchscreen. Still not sure whether to stick with Windows or maybe get a Mac. She has iPhone, regular iPad, etc.
Because you and your daughter is unsure, just give whatever is in the house and ask her to tell you what she wants in first day, week or month start of the school. Most people opt for small and light and portable. Perhaps she thinks different and wants something else like tablet and wireless keyboard that would weigh half of small laptop.

Or maybe she don't want laptop at all and works better with a pen and paper. Or maybe a video recorder instead.
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Jan 17, 2009
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Depends on budget really. Apple education store MacBook Air at $1169+tax and she'll get a pair of free AirPods (or sell them to recover some of the cost). It's very popular on campus' for a reason.

People on here hate Apple but they can really take a beating, have amazing battery life, super light, and if she has any issues you can just tell her to take it to an Apple store which makes life easier for you. I gifted my sister my old MBA for her university and I saw it a few years later with a giant dent in the corner and covered in scratches but still ran great. If she already owns iPhone/iPad its a nice companion.

Don't buy software like Office, most universities give the popular stuff for free for currently enrolled students.
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Jul 16, 2019
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Dunkster wrote: Thanks for the suggestions everyone. She has an old bulky laptop at the present moment and she is going to first year sciences.

Leaning towards smaller laptop with better battery life. Not sure about touchscreen. Still not sure whether to stick with Windows or maybe get a Mac. She has iPhone, regular iPad, etc.
Having had the experience with 2 University students, here are my suggestions.
One is gamer so had to get a gaming laptop. He did not care about lugging a heavy laptop around so long as it could game. Also he was in Comp Science so a powerful laptop is what he wanted. $2k.
Other wanted a thin and light laptop for business classes. Used public transit and has to walk a lot too so thin and light was key. Got her a Zenbook and she loves it.
Touchscreen seems to be a nice to have so unless your student really wants it, you can probably pass. Touchscreen also adds to size and weight.
BTS ads from retailers will have a ton of decent laptops. The lower priced ones are better suited for HS students and they generally stay at home. You should get a decent laptop for around $600-$800 with specs like i5/12/512 in a reasonably thin size. For $800-$1400, you will get a thin laptop with likely a metal chassis which will be more durable. While a lot of students in HS buy 15" laptops, I would suggest a 13 or 14" laptop for a Univ student as they are more portable. Ideally, I like 14" screen as it gives you close to 15" but compact enough to carry and fits much better on planes.
Something like this would do well for 4 years and it has a metal body and is thin and light. Also super powerful, maybe more than she needs.
https://www.staples.ca/products/2979662 ... orce-mx350
Apple is also great but that is a brand preference statement. You will not get a more powerful laptop, paying for the brand and ecosystem. My daughter also wanted a Apple but that was more for brand/style. She was perfectly happy with the Zenbook as there was no conceivable benefit to the Apple and I would have to pay $500 more at least.
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Speaking of transit, my kid used his phone to do most his assignments in the bus.
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amazon-ca-lenovo-flex-5-14-2-1-laptop-r ... #p32841428

Swap out the 256gb with a 1TB.

The active stylus will be a lifesaver; I used OneNote religiously through school; it's amazing to have all my notes saved to the cloud and organized by date/subject. If your forget your power brick and run out of batteries; you can pull up all your notes on your phone. Or log into a library computer and bam; all of your notes are there.
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If she uses apple products, it's probably better to go with a macbook air. Most software works with apple products these days, except a few that only work on Windows.
peteryorkuca wrote: Speaking of transit, my kid used his phone to do most his assignments in the bus.
I don't really recommend doing that, it's best to make use of the bus time to get some rest and do your course work in a quite place instead. Although if the work is boring than I guess it could work.
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BigBrother0 wrote: If she uses apple products, it's probably better to go with a macbook air. Most software works with apple products these days, except a few that only work on Windows.



I don't really recommend doing that, it's best to make use of the bus time to get some rest and do your course work in a quite place instead. Although if the work is boring than I guess it could work.
I have no saying on what my kid does except to observe and give him better gear to do what he wants.

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