Students should consider everything from price to performance before buying a laptop computer.
Computers were once merely a useful commodity for college students; now, during the coronavirus quarantine, they're a necessity. But some students rely on older laptops that are more likely to break down, and low-income families often can't afford them at all.
Not having a laptop can be a major problem when all classes are online. While school districts across the country are distributing free laptops to students for remote learning, only a handful of colleges are matching that effort. Campus computer labs and libraries are closed due to the pandemic, and laptop checkouts are widely unavailable. That means college students are mostly on their own when it comes to accessing education online — at least for now.
Buying a potentially expensive piece of hardware can be a scary prospect. What are the best options for students on a budget? And what should they keep in mind when making the purchase?
Students should carefully weigh things like price and performance, and should ask themselves these questions: How long is the battery life? Does it have a webcam? Is it heavy? Will it handle extracurricular activities, such as listening to music, streaming movies, and social networking?
TheBestSchools.org has compiled the following tips and recommendations to help students find the best laptops for them.
How to Get Discounts on Your Laptop
Student bookstore discounts
It's common for campus bookstores to offer educational and seasonal discounts on computers. A 10% discount could trim $100 off the price of a new laptop or tablet.
Contact your campus bookstore and ask if any discounts on laptops are available. If the campus facility is closed, the same educational discounts should apply to the online version of the bookstore. Online stores typically ship equipment or hold it for you at the physical store.
But don't jump at the first sale. Compare prices between laptops at the bookstore and those on the market before making a purchase. There could be a more competitive deal online, such as through the educational departments of Apple or Dell. Apple is currently selling its 13-inch MacBook Air 2020 for $900 — down from an original price of $1,299.
The best bet any student can make is to buy a brand new laptop. But if that option isn't available, refurbished computers are worth consideration. While they aren't new, the laptops' various components — including the battery, internal storage, power supply, and ports — get restored to a favorable condition.
However, there are a few caveats to consider. Buying a refurbished or used laptop may mean a cheaper price tag, but it can be risky. Refurbished computers are usually older models, and because laptop batteries diminish over time, a refurb may have shorter battery life than the latest generation. Poor Wi-Fi connectivity, slower performance, and hardware defects are also common issues.
It's also important to remember that "used" and "refurbished" are not interchangeable. "Used" laptops may or may not be working, while "refurbished" laptops have been checked over. Consumers often sell used laptops on websites such as eBay and Craigslist, where there may be less accountability for how they perform.
It's best to buy a refurbished laptop from a reputable online retailer that offers a warranty. Refurbished laptops on Amazon come with warranties, as well as a 30-day return policy. Newegg is another trustworthy online retailer.
Sometimes a computer is too expensive to pay for all at once. Laptop financing plans allow students to pay for their devices a little bit at a time over extended periods.
Most retailers offer payment plans, though it often means signing up for promotional accounts. For instance, Amazon offers 12-month special financing for purchases costing more than $599, but it requires the Amazon.com Store Card. Keep in mind that there are penalties if you don't meet your payments.
Yes, You Can Buy a Serviceable Laptop for Under $500
Though cheaper notebooks won't have all the same bells and whistles as higher-priced laptops — or as much processing speed — they can still deliver a fast and responsive user experience.
The Apple MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are the gold standards for higher ed because most college students buy them. However, they can also be the priciest. The majority of top-rated laptops cost $720-$1,500. These prices may be too high unless you find a killer deal.
— Acer and Aspire
Acer's Chromebook and Aspire series are among the best budget laptops available on the market. However, as mentioned before, Chromebooks can't run third-party programs, and their popularity means they often go out of stock.
Critics praise the Acer Chromebook 514's battery life, touch display, backlit keyboard, touchpad, and affordable price of $429. The Acer Chromebook 15, which can sell for $160, has high performance, about nine hours of battery life, and an aluminum design that weighs 4.85 pounds.
— Other Favorites
Another popular option is the sleek, tablet-style Microsoft Surface Go for as low as $449, the versatile Lenovo IdeaPad L340 for $499, and the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 for $429. Prices may vary depending on warranties, retailers, and the year, make, and model of the computer.
Buying a new laptop is a big decision. Students can avoid making hasty or uninformed purchases by doing their research, analyzing the pros and cons of each computer, and asking themselves how they plan to use it.