Well it’s that time of year when kids are going back to school and for those lucky enough to attend college for the first time, it’s time to figure out what laptops to get. Here are the good, better and best recommendations.
Good: Dell XPS 13 (2018) $1300
This is the premium ultraportable laptop. This is the first ultra portable and for most kids, this is all they are going to need. Laptops have pretty much stabilized in performance over the last five years or so and this represent a good compromise. It is a 13″ screen which is fine and most importantly nearly weightless at 3 pounds. And has a long battery life. And it finally has made the conversion to USB C, so although a pain now it should last for a while. At $1,300 for this configuration, it is pretty reasonable.
As a minimum, you want to get at least 8GB and 16GB would be better, but the most important thing is a big enough SSD which is 256GB for most people. You can also get a touchscreen and a 4K display but at this size screen, a 4K display is not going to matter (your eyes can see the difference in pixels to tell).
Also most Windows machines now have a touchscreen, personally, it is not something that I use very much with a PC. And performance-wise, it is good for Google docs and browsing and watching videos. It also works well for most introduction programming courses.
The Achilles heel of all these laptops is the support and durability, most folks find that they will eventually kill their laptops, but there are two things that you can do to prevent it. The first is a keyboard cover to prevent spills getting in and the second is a good case to prevent the dents and dings. These aluminum cases are awesome until you actually break one. So beware.
Better: MacBook Pro 13″ without Touch Bar (2017) closeout
These are actually a decent deal now. You can get a 8GB/256GB SSD drive model for $1300. There are two tricks to getting it. First is to check appleinsider.com and see what the current sales are. But there are two additional ways. First is that students typically get discounts both with the Apple Education site and also at Best Buy.
The main advantage here is the durability of the system, Apple really does a good job on longevity and if you get the $260 Applecare, you get a full three year warranty. make sure again to get a good case and keyboard cover as denting the case is a good way to have Apple not honor the warranty. And as another aside, like all things Amazon, make sure you are checking fakespot.com before you buy anything. It’s particularly important with keyboard covers as there are some awful ones. UPPERCASE really makes the best ones.
The main things you are giving up is the Touch Bar which is essentially useless and the move to USB C, it has two USB C ports (more than enough for most uses).
The Best Buy site works with you signing up as a student and then you get an email with a discount code. Right now there is a $150 sale so that you can get this laptop for $1,249. The other places to go are B&H Photovideo and Adorama. These can make sense if you live in a sales tax state and they will ship sales tax-free outside of NY. You can get these for $1,299 from these sites. Apple gives you a $300 wireless headphone, but otherwise is more expensive right now.
There there are two additional things that you should to get the best deals. That is with Best Buy, get the MileagePlus X application on your phone, this offers and additional 1 United mile for every dollar, so it’s an easy way to get 1,500 miles. Then make sure you are a subscriber to the Best Buy rewards programs as this will be worth an additional 1% or so (you can buy some dongles or something like that with it).
Best: MacBook Pro 13″ with Touch Bar (2018)
This is the most expensive option, but you get some key things. First is that the SSD is blazing (I mean blazingly like 2GBps vs 500MBps on typical SSDs). Right now speed is much more a function of SSD speed than the processor. it is also four cores, so if you are doing lots of stuff, then this helps although having just 8GB is not going to help much. For this machine popping to 16GB/512GB SSD makes sense. It is the best choice after all.
The other upgrades are four USB C ports that run at full speed which is pretty good, although most folks will never use them all.
Why move up to that level? Well first of all 16GB means that you will have more room to run multiple applications. Fortunately MacOS does not seem to be climbing much in memory requirements (the old days of 2GB and 4GB main memory were really painful), but if you are editing photos for instance or videos this does make a difference.
Non-features are the Touch Bar, although there are some cute applications that run on the little thing, but mainly, like the function keys, I don’t really use it except maybe to change the volume or screen brightness.
You should get 512GB is you have lots of photos that you are editing or using VMware Fusion VMs. The cost of this is pretty expensive and it costs almost $2K to get a machine with the full 3-year Apple warranty. Also get the requisite keyboard protection and case. On the other hand, if you do buy ahead like this you are more likely to get something that will actually last a true 8 years. All of our MacBook 2008 and 2009 are doing actually pretty well hardware-wise.
While B*H is offering $100 off right now for these brand new models, the best deal would seem to be from Apple Education. They are offering a $300 list price Beats wireless headphone. Wireless is really the way to go now.