When it comes to laptop sales, many computer manufacturers look to August and September as their key selling seasons. Back-to-school season used to mean notebooks, binders and pens. Nowadays, laptops for college students and many high school students outnumber any paper products.
In fact, many programs require laptops for college students.
With all the choices out there, how do you know which laptop to buy? The first thing to do is find out if there are any requirements. Does the school require laptops for students to be Microsoft (MSFT) Windows compatible? Does a course require software that’s only available on an Apple (AAPL) Mac or a Windows PC?
Next, narrow down any personal requirements such as budget, display-size preference, performance and battery life.
Still not sure? We’ve put together a list of five of the most popular back-to-school laptops for students to help you out.
Back-to-School Laptops for Students: Lenovo Yoga 2
Lenovo (LNVGY) has become a mobile PC powerhouse since buying IBM’s (IBM) ThinkPad division in 2005. While its powerful notebooks, Ultrabooks and convertibles are popular with the business crowd, Lenovo also makes laptops for college students and home use.
The original Yoga convertible was popular for its 360-degree flip-and-fold design that let users flip the laptop’s display to face the back, transforming the device into a tablet of sorts. The flip feature also works well for presentations or for using the display to watch movies in a dorm.
The Yoga 2 has a 10-point multitouch display, Dolby Home Theater speakers, motion control (using the built-in webcam as an input device), voice control and still offers that neat transforming trick. The Yoga 2 starts at a back-to-school-friendly price of $699 and comes in black, silver or — for those who want to stand out in a crowd — a cool clementine orange option.
Back-to-School Laptops for Students: Acer C720P Chromebook
Google (GOOG) Chromebooks can make excellent laptops for students, and they’ve become incredibly popular in the education market thanks to their extremely low prices, ease of use and low-maintenance requirements.
Google says a Chromebook can save schools $5,200 over three years compared to a traditional laptop. Buying a Chromebook won’t save you quite that much money personally, but if you can live without Windows applications (these devices use Google apps instead) and don’t care about games, a Chromebook is a very budget-friendly back-to-school option.
While you can find Chromebooks in the $200 range, I would spend a little extra for the Acer C720P, a Chromebook with an Intel (INTC) CPU, a decent quality HD LED display, a good keyboard, 7.5-hour battery life and a 32 GB SSD — double the storage of most Chromebooks.
Back-to-School Laptops for Students: Acer Aspire R7
Acer strikes again, this time with a Windows laptop for those who need power and a big display.
The Aspire R7 has a 15.6-inch full HD display, a 1.8 GHz Core i5 CPU, 6 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. The Aspire R7 is not a screaming performance machine, but it’s affordable at just over $800.
Acer sent me one of these to try out, and its signature “Ezel” hinge is a sturdy aluminum mount that allows you to adjust that big display almost infinitely — move it forward, tilt it for the perfect angle while typing, extend it almost like an iMac or even position it horizontally for touch input.
The downside? Compared to other laptops for students on our back-to-school list, the Aspire R7 is heavy (5.3 pounds) and gets only 4.5 hours of battery life.
Back-to-School Laptops for Students: Apple MacBook Air
Apple (AAPL) still owns the ultra-compact market, and when it comes to laptops for college students, you see more MacBook Airs on campus than any other mobile PC.
There’s a lot to like about the MacBook Air, including all Flash storage, Intel Haswell Core CPUs, all-day battery life, back-lit keyboard (great for typing during lectures) and an ultra-thin, sub-three-pound weight.
However, if you choose this laptop, then you’ll want to load it up at time of purchase as it still doesn’t have Retina or full HD display and upgradability is next to nil.
Technically, you can run Windows on it (using Boot Camp or third-party virtualization software), but if you need to run Windows software, you’re probably better off with a Windows notebook than this Mac.
The MacBook Air is also a tad on the expensive side (starting at $899 for the base 11-inch model). Although, Apple offers an educational discount and is currently running a back-to-school promotion that nets you a $100 Apple Store gift card to help offset the cost.
Back-to-School Laptops for Students: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Finally, a possibility for the student who wants a big tablet — someone in a graphics art or design program for instance — but also the ability to run Windows 8.1 software and the option of an integrated keyboard. Microsoft’s (MSFT) new Surface Pro 3 may be the ideal back-to-school device for someone in this position.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a Surface Pro 3, and between the pen input, folding keyboard cover, and full Windows 8.1 software support, Microsoft doesn’t have many competitors.
The Surface Pro 3 is not cheap (the base model goes for $799 plus another $100 or so for the Type Cover), but if a Surface Pro 3 could take the place of two devices (a tablet and a laptop), the price will seem more reasonable.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.