As we all prepare 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 supplies and technology, and a new laptop is increasingly part of that decision, especially for those who are about to embark on a new level of education, whether that be secondary/high school or college.
I’m going into the final semester of a graduate program myself, and in the many years that I’ve been in school over the past ten years and earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I’ve also bought a lot of technology along the way, from graphing calculators to calculus classes (actually same calculus class I failed miserably in) to laptops for general and computer science courses.
And while I made exactly one mistake by buying the wrong calculator (which is totally why I failed at math, I swear), I’ve used no less than four laptops in my time at school, three of which were an absolute waste of money. were money.
Not because the laptops were particularly bad, mind you. In fact, one of those laptops was actually one of the best student laptops around when it was released 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, taking you aside on the way to your local retailer to tell you my story in the hopes that it may help you avoid the same tragic fate.
Don’t buy into hype
When I made the decision to go back to school in 2014, I was still rocking an old-school Acer Aspire One netbook that served me very well. I wish I had just stuck with it because it was the best laptop I’ve ever owned. Instead, I kept hearing about these new confused 2-in-1 laptops that seemed to be everywhere at the time.
Well, I thought it would be pretty awesome to take notes on a 2-in-1 and save myself the trouble of dealing with paper notebooks, so I crashed nearly a thousand bucks on a Samsung 2-in- 1 which would definitely make my second time in college easier than my first.
Have you ever tried taking notes on a 16:9 2-in-1 laptop as if it were a notebook? If you’ve done that, you already know it’s a huge hassle. The screen is just not nearly wide enough to be really useful, and even the best 2-in-1 laptops in 2014 were impractical abominations by today’s standards.
And tragically, they were even unmanageable back then, especially the larger screen laptop I bought. At over an inch thick, there was no way I could comfortably hold the laptop on my desk and take notes the way I intended to. Not to mention 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.
I eventually gave up and went out and bought a real paper notebook and just wrote in it with a pen, negating the purpose of buying a 2-in-1 in the first place. And worse, the laptop was as bad as a laptop, so it sat there while I instead used my trusty netbook and left my bulky, undersized 2-in-1 laptop at home to collect dust. I pretty much set that money on fire for all the good it’s done me.
Think carefully about your needs
Not long after, I hadn’t learned my lesson about buying hypes, and I bought one of the early-generation Chromebooks when I saw them on display at a Best Buy. The experience has kept me away from Chromebooks for nearly half a decade.
The problem wasn’t that the Chromebook didn’t do what it promised, it absolutely did. I just hadn’t thought about the kind of stuff I needed when I bought it. At the time, Chromebooks were just a special way to access Google apps like Docs and Sheets, and if you weren’t connected to the Internet, it was useless.
At that time I had started my double major in English and Computer Science, and while it was fine for writing papers, my netbook did it easily, despite being several years old. There were no C++ compilers on Chrome OS at the time and this was before Chromebooks came with an integrated Linux kernel, so I couldn’t do the work with Linux 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 I ended up having that laptop again sitting on top of the 2-in-1 I bought a year ago. earlier. Chromebooks got a lot better over the next two years, but by then I was making an even more expensive mistake than I’d already made.
Buy the cheapest option that gets the job done
In 2016, I decided that I would try one last time to get a laptop that would replace my netbook, which I thought was “showing its age”. I decided to get back on the hype train and went with a MacBook Air. It wasn’t great for programming unless you were programming for a Mac, which I certainly wasn’t, but it still worked well enough. It was also (and still is) one of the best laptops for writers, so it worked great for typing papers for my literature classes and for my own writing.
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 made good use of my MacBook Air before finally giving it to my mother who needed a new computer after her ten-year-old netbook finally passed away.
What this ultimately taught me is twofold: first, netbooks were incredible and we really didn’t appreciate them enough back then; and second, the cheapest option that can get the job done is often a good bet. Just make sure it can get the job done and do your research on what the best cheap laptops can offer before hitting that road.
But my $400 netbook from 2010 eventually got me through an entire bachelor’s degree, and I almost cried when it finally held me up after several years of honest labor, so don’t feel like you have to go big to get a great one. to get a laptop for school.