As we all get ready for the start of the new school year in the coming weeks, many parents (and students) are getting ready to buy their back-to-school materials and technology, and a new laptop is increasingly a part of that decision, especially for those who are about to start a new level of schooling, whether high school or university.
I’m entering the last semester of a graduate program, and in the many years I’ve been in school over the past decade, acquiring undergraduate and graduate degrees, I’ve also purchased a lot of technology along the way, from graphing calculators to calculus (actually, the same calculus class I kept failing miserably) to laptops for general and computer science courses.
And while I made exactly one mistake buying the wrong calculator (which is why I failed calculus, I swear), I used no fewer than four laptops in my time at school, three of which were an absolute waste of money. .
Not because laptops were particularly bad, mind you. In fact, one of these laptops was actually one of the best laptops for students when it launched in 2015. No, the problem was me and specifically the way I approached technology at the time, and I made some costly mistakes in my college career. .
Now here I am, a sadder and wiser man, pulling you aside on my way to your local dealer to tell my story in hopes that it might help you avoid the same tragic fate.
Don’t buy on the hype
When I made the decision to go back to school in 2014, I was still using an old school Acer Aspire One netbook that served me well. I wish I had kept it, because it was the best laptop I ever had. Instead, I kept hearing about these new 2-in-1 laptops that seemed to be everywhere in those days.
Well, I thought, it would be awesome to take notes on a 2-in-1 and save myself the trouble of dealing with paper notebooks, so I shelled out nearly a grand on a Samsung 2-in-1 that would certainly make my second time at college easier than the last. first.
Have you ever tried to take notes on a 2 in 1 16:9 laptop as if it were a notebook? If you have, you already know it’s a big hassle. The screen just isn’t wide enough to be really useful, and even the best 2-in-1 laptops of 2014 were heavy abominations by today’s standard.
And, tragically, they were even more difficult to handle, especially the larger-screen laptop I had purchased. At over an inch thick, there was no way I could comfortably hold the laptop on my desk and take notes like I planned to do. Not to mention the fact that the style of “stylus” we had back then had a bulb tip as thick as a pencil eraser, so all my notes looked like they were written with a magic marker.
In the end I gave up and went out and bought a real paper notebook and just wrote in it with a pen, defeating the purpose of buying a 2 in 1 in the first place. Even worse, the laptop sucked as a laptop, so it ended up sitting there while I ended up using my trusty netbook and left my bulky, underpowered 2-in-1 laptop to collect dust at home. I practically burned that money down for all the good it did for me.
Think carefully about your needs
Not long after that, I hadn’t learned my lesson about buying on hype and bought one of the first-gen Chromebooks when I saw them on display at a Best Buy. The experience turned me off Chromebooks for nearly half a decade.
The problem wasn’t that the Chromebook failed to do what it promised, it absolutely did. I just hadn’t thought about the kind of things I needed to do when I bought it. At this point, Chromebooks were still just a dedicated way to access Google apps like Docs and Sheets, and if you weren’t connected to the internet, it was useless.
I had started with my dual majors in English and Computer Science at that point, and while I was good at writing articles, my netbook easily wasn’t the same, despite being several years old at this point. There were no C++ compilers in Chrome OS at the time and this was before Chromebooks came with a built-in Linux kernel, so I couldn’t do any of the work with Linux that I needed to do.
And while I could theoretically write code in Google Docs, coding with rich text formatting is a disaster waiting to happen, so once again I ended up letting that laptop sit on top of the 2-in-1 I bought a year earlier. Chromebooks got a lot better a year or two later, but at that time I was making an even more costly mistake than I had already been.
Buy the least expensive option that gets the job done
In 2016 I decided that I would give it a last try for a laptop that would replace my netbook, which I felt was “showing its age”. I decided to get back on the hype train and went with a MacBook Air. It wasn’t that great for programming unless you were programming for a Mac, which I definitely wasn’t, but it still worked well enough. It was also one of the best laptops for writers (and still is), so it worked great for typing assignments for my literature classes, as well as doing my own writing work.
It was also much more expensive than necessary for what I was doing, which could have been done on a much cheaper laptop at the time. I got good use out of my MacBook Air before I finally ended up giving it to my mom who needed a new computer after her decade-old netbook finally died.
What this taught me is twofold: first, netbooks were amazing and we didn’t really appreciate them enough at the time; and second, the cheapest option that can do the job is often a good bet. Just make sure that I can do the work and do your research on what the best cheap laptops can offer before going down that road.
But my $400 netbook from 2010 was what made me finish an entire degree, and I almost cried when he finally gave up on me after several years of honest work, so don’t think you have to go big to get a great one. laptop to school.