So you need a portable computer for your child to take to school this year?
It’s a tough question; there are so many choices, Netbook, Notebook, Laptop, Tablet, and Chromebook? What is the answer? Do you really understand what these different categories are? What should you consider when shopping?
Well you start by looking at the schools specification requirements. Typically these requirements are pretty confusing because the schools rarely require much power, so the specs they quote are ancient and have very little relationship to what you see in the advertisements.
Zionsville High School recently sent their requirements to me and with a few exceptions, almost anything will work. What will not work is a Tablet (iPad, or Android), and a Chromebook.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with these terms, a Chromebooks is the $250 “notebook” that Google advertises on TV. These ads have people convinced that a new notebook is under $300, and so they get sticker shock when they get to the store and start shopping. A Chromebook is based on Linux and does not run applications; it’s basically a tablet with a new operating system. Your kids are going to need to run applications to do their school work.
A tablet, like a Kindle Fire or an iPad, doesn’t run regular applications either, and so the school cannot use those.
Netbooks, which look like a notebook, but are much smaller, start around $300. Netbooks use a very low power processor, designed to maximize battery life. These little computers do meet the specs, at least for Zionsville High School, but they have a very small screen (typically 10”) and keyboard. Most students find them hard to work on after a few days. The screen is so small that only about half a typical website will show on it, you have to scroll to see the rest. Additionally netbooks do not have optical drives (DVD-ROM, CD-Rom drives) so you have to buy an external DVD drive or you cannot install applications that are delivered on disks. Lastly because of the low power processor, netbooks typically struggle with applications that your student will probably want to use when they are not doing schoolwork, i.e. games like Sims, and some multimedia applications.
Some people are confused by the terms notebooks, and laptops. They are the same thing. The correct term is notebook. Calling it a laptop is like calling a tissue a Kleenex, everyone knows what you mean, but Kleenex is just a brand name.
OK, now we know what all these things are, what should you shop for? How much will you spend? What brands are best? What should you avoid?
I believe a notebook is the correct choice, because netbooks are just too small and slow. There are several categories of notebooks, Ultrabook class, Business Class, Value class, Gaming notebooks, and Convertibles. For the purpose of this discussion I will not get into Gaming notebooks.
A convertible is a notebook with a screen that swivels and folds down so it looks like a tablet. These are great for medical students who have to carry their notebooks around and make notes while standing. They are very pricy, starting around $1000 at the low end.
An Ultrabook is the new class of notebooks that came out last year, these were designed to compete with the MacBook Air, and they are very slim and light. Like a netbook they do not have optical drives, they come with home or multimedia based versions of Windows 8, and they typically do not have a network jack. You must connect to the internet wirelessly. Because of the light weight and slim size Ultrabooks tend to be more fragile. The Big Box stores carry Ultrabooks from several manufacturers and prices start around $500. They also make Ultrabook Convertibles, which are a combination of the two classes.
Business notebooks are more traditional in that they have optical drives, they often have a numeric keypad built into the keyboard, they often come with the Professional versions of Windows, and they are still available with Windows 7. Typically they are built to withstand rougher treatment. We sell Business class notebooks and they start around $600.
Value class notebooks are very similar to business class, except they typically have a less expensive processor (often AMD processors), the bodies are more plastic looking and feeling, and they come with the home or multimedia versions of Windows 8. Value class notebooks start as low as $350 in the Big Box stores.
Now that you know what you are looking at, what other things should you consider? First let me say this, don’t be confused or mislead by the advertising you see. All the GHz, GB’s and TB’s in the world will not help your child get through the school year. They need a tool that does what they need efficiently. We’ve found that Intel processors run cooler, and tend to have a much longer life span than AMD processors, so we recommend Intel Pentium Dual Core, and Intel Core series (i3, i5, i7) processors. Any of these processors will handle all the applications your student wants to run, avoid the Atom series processors.
There are only a few companies in the world that actually make notebooks. They are called ODM’s (Original Design Manufacturers). These are companies with names like Compal Electronics, Arima, Quanta Computer, and Inventec. Almost every brand you see is one of these brands, rebadged as a Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba, Gateway, etc.
I tell you this so you can understand the brand name is less important regarding build quality and much more important when it comes to service. Companies like Gateway, eMachines, and Toshiba have a horrible reputation (and in my experience a horrible track record) when it comes to service after a sale. Since all the computers come from the same ODM’s the only thing that matters about brand is what happens when you call them for warranty service.
We have had very good experience dealing with warranty issues with companies like Lenovo, HP, Asus, and Acer. We recommend those brands.
When it comes to hard drive size, the smallest one you find will be big enough for all the school projects and applications your student needs, getting a larger drive only means they can store more music, pictures and videos. 250GB is more than they will need.
Lastly let’s consider size. The average new notebook is a 15.6” size, that being the size of the screen. They make 17.3” notebooks, and I’ve even seen a few 18” models. On the smaller side they have 14” and they go down to about 13.3”. Below 13.3 you start getting into the netbooks.
The thing to think about on size is not how nice the screen looks, but how much does that sucker weigh? Your child has to carry this thing strapped to their back for the entire day as they hustle from class to class. The difference between an 8lb 17.3” notebook and a 4.5lb 14” notebook gets to be a lot by quittin’ time.
Talking with High School age students and with the staff at ZCHS, the 14” models seem to be the most popular size for students. A 14” screen is still easy for those young eyes to see, and taking 4lbs off their back is welcome relief.
I hope this helps, if you would like to sit down and discuss your child’s needs, give me a call.