What Technology Do I Need for College?

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Back to School: The Better Laptops and Accessories for Pre-Med College Students

Our high school was into Chromebooks, and each student got one for the last two years of high school. My legacy laptop went to my brother when I got the school provided Chromebook, and for some reason, he refuses to give it back to me. So, now I have to get my own stack of technology for college.

And when I say “stack of technology,” that is indeed the case. Not just a laptop.

As a pre-med student, I need some good equipment to keep myself organized, prepared, and efficient in doing all my schoolwork. But what kind of equipment should I get? Laptop or desktop? Should I get a tablet, like an iPad? What about a printer?

In this post, I’ll look at a few of the options we have and tell you which I like the best, based on my own experiences selecting the technology. Credit also goes to my dad (thanks, Dad!) for helping me select the technology.

Biggest decision: Windows, Mac or Android?

This is the first big decision in your technology selection and is a real cross-road sign.

By staying in the ecosystem (iPhone, iPad, Mac), or (Windows tablet, PC) you will leverage apps that you buy on one operating system across the entire stack, including the backup, support, and storage.

The reality is that my decision will be between the Windows or Mac, as a Chromebook will not work well for the pre-med program. With the heavy math, physics, and research-need for statistical packages, the Chromebook has a long way to go to match the horsepower of the Windows or iOS machines.

What Kind of Laptop Should I Get?

I spent two hours looking at the Apple store in the Kenwood Mall here in Cincy, and also at the Windows store. Right now, the choice is a no brainer: a 13-inch Macbook Pro 2016, with a 256 SSD memory. The Mac Air was a distant second – for a similar price you get a much slower processor, and a lower resolution on the screen.

Some reasons that were important to me: 1.) availability of support and help, 2.) training courses, 3.) extended warranty and 4.) user interface.

Visual cues for the availability of support and help: There were 30+ sales (…”genius”…) people in the Apple Store, and over 100 people shopping. We got a “genius” to explain the options we have, and the support if something goes wrong. You can sign up for free training courses at https://www.apple.com/today/ if you are not familiar with the Mac interface.

The support desk was staffed at the Apple store on a Sunday late afternoon and saw people that left smiling – a good sign. It also helps that where I go to school in Columbus there are two Apple stores nearby, so I can take my laptop there and ask for help from a live person if absolutely needed.

Last thing, I plan to take a few Mac courses over the summer at our Kenwood Apple store, to make sure I am familiar with the Mac, and my transition from Chromebook to Mac goes smoothly.

Again, the last thing I need is one more source of stress as I start college.  Keeping the Mac performance up, installing apps, connecting to a network and a printer are all things I need to be proficient before I start school.

In the Microsoft store there were two salespeople, and we were the only customers. We looked at the Lenovo Yoga device on the Windows side – a nice device, however with no student discounts, and a price similar to the Macbook Pro. No support or training desk that we have seen there.

The extended support options for the two platforms were similarly priced (Apple offers a $184 extended warranty for extra 3 years for the MacPro, the Microsoft was $140 for two years). Make sure you ask for the student discount!

The OS X operating system looks perfect for multitasking, schoolwork, and organizing. It has a sleek interface and is just a very smooth experience.

Windows 8 on the other hand just feels clumsy and is not as accessible. I cannot recommend OS X highly enough. The extra money is worth it and everyone assures me that the hardware will last me throughout all four years of college.

One last thing for the student discount: you need a college email activated, and your acceptance letter in case you don’t already have a college ID (I don’t have one yet).  As the Apple store genius told me, “we are trying to keep things simple.”

How About Microsoft Office?

How about Word, Excel, and PowerPoint? I know I will need these to submit papers and presentations, and Excel is still the most used application when it comes to research mechanics.

Both the Apple store and the Microsoft staff suggested I buy the Office package from the Ohio State store directly, they suggested it is free or about $5 for the suite. Microsoft has some great student discounts for that package.

Should I Buy a Printer?

Lots of advice on this one on the internet, and lots of pros and cons from my friends already in college.

My father says yes. I see his point – the convenience of having one in your room and not having to drag yourself to the library for printing is a huge plus. It might seem minor, but I’m sure I will appreciate this once the school year starts. I would recommend either a Brother multifunction printer (which can also scan) or a cheap HP laserjet which will last you a long, long time. We have a black and white Brother laser printer at home that goes about 3,000 pages for $50 consumables. Will get something similar. If you can get one that prints from the cloud, the better. It will save you time, and the setup will be simpler.

Update – we bought a Brother printer, duplex, black and white, for $89 on Amazon, with a toner cartridge that runs 2600 pages for another $49. The printer is wifi enabled.

Is a Tablet a Must-Have?

No, not at all. It is a luxury item, but if you want the lightweight and convenience of a tablet, you really can’t go wrong with the iPad.  The new iPads that came out this summer cost a bit above $300. Combine it with a Bluetooth keyboard and you’ve got a light-duty laptop ready for writing, researching, and note-taking projects. If you want to take it a step further, you can also get cool accessories such as a mouse or trackpad to make work on your iPad a bit easier. Maybe a good headset as well, given that a lot of work will be in the college dorm, library or other public spaces.

If you go with the Windows stack, a big simplification comes from the tablet/ PC new form factor available in the market.  Personally I did not like the Windows tablet that much – I found it to be bulkier than the iPad, but ‘to each its own’ when it comes to preferences. Having a  Mac as “lean-in” device for writing and research, and an iPad as a “lean-out” activities as reading and a quick check of the calendar or a reference seems to me as a better pair of technology and experience than connecting and disconnecting the Windows tablet to the keyboard

What Kind of Smartphone Should I Be Looking for?

I do have an iPhone, so I am incredibly biased here. My brother uses an Android tablet, and I stick with my allegiance based on the experience I had with that.

So, without question, I would say the iPhone. It’s sleek, easy to use, and best of all it syncs everything with your Macbook to ensure you have everything backed up. If you get an iPad, a Macbook, and an iPhone you will have the ultimate package and all of your data will be connected and constantly synced to all your devices — a very good option in my opinion, but you don’t need the iPad as much. A Macbook and an iPhone 6s/7 will do.

Accessories for Your Laptop: Do I Need an External Monitor?

An external monitor is a luxury item that most pre-med students can’t afford and don’t really need to. Unless you’re doing heavy-duty art, graphics, media, or video work, you can skip it.

External monitors can also be difficult to protect from opportunistic thieves and it’s just another hassle to worry about. I decided I don’t need one, at least for my first year,

One Extra  Little Tip for Personal Productivity

Personally, I hate carrying any heavy computer equipment. My Chromebook was the maximum weight that I wanted to lug around. If I’m going to class, my “go-to” set up is simple: an iPhone and a Bluetooth keyboard.

Since you’re going to carry your phone with you anyway, adding a lightweight Bluetooth keyboard to your book bag is the easiest, simplest way to have a fast and simple setup for note-taking, firing off a quick email, even writing up a presentation. A keyboard runs $13.99 on Amazon and is one of the best pieces of technology you can add to your stack.

When you pair your phone with a kickstand case, you’ll never think about carrying a big laptop or tablet with you — except when you actually need it.

How Should I Protect My Equipment?

There are plenty of options provided by Kensington for your Macbook Air or your other equipment. One I like quite a bit is a security docking platform.

If you’re going to the library, and you want something quick and easy, use a specially-built cable that can tie your computer to a desk temporarily to keep it safe and secure while you’re finding a book (or using the restroom). It runs for $29.95 on Amazon and will deter someone from picking up your brand new, shiny MacPro.

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