Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Digital Savant: Be Aware of Shifts in Buying Back-to-School Tech Big College Purchases Can Often Go Unused If They're Not Up to the Market's Speed

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Digital Savant: Be Aware of Shifts in Buying Back-to-School Tech Big College Purchases Can Often Go Unused If They're Not Up to the Market's Speed

Article excerpt

Cutting the cord might be a little easier if everything weren't wireless.

For parents of students heading off to college or returning to dorm/starter-apartment life, you want to help out with the right tools for higher learning. But technology moves so quickly that bad buys are likely to end up quickly forgotten in a drawer. And unless you've won the lottery, you're probably already sweating all the collegiate expenses stacking up.

In putting together a list of some tech basics, let's lean toward items that aren't overpriced and impractical. (No college freshman, in my opinion, needs a $2,500 4K HDTV unless she is willing to pay for it herself. Also, please get off my lawn.)

I've been doing this back-to-school tech guide for a few years and the same rules tend to apply every August: with laptops, you get what you pay for (and you should spring for that extended warranty); with accessories such as headphones and flash drives, good enough tends to be more than enough; and tablets such as the Apple iPad are great for a lot of reasons, but they haven't replaced computers.

With that in mind, here are a few recommendations and alternates for tech products in the most popular categories.

LAPTOPS

Not to harp on Apple, but except for very inexpensive laptops in the sub-$500 range, discussion must start with the MacBook Air, the sleek sliver of a machine that received a speed upgrade in April. It starts at $899 for the 11-inch model or $999 for the 13-inch with a $100 Apple Store gift card thrown in for students. If price is still a concern, keep in mind that Apple bundles in great software at no additional cost, including iMovie, iPhoto and Garage Band, all of which are due for big updates soon as part of a free operating system upgrade in the fall.

Dell has of late stepped up its design game, and two of its laptops have caught my eye - the XPS 13 (starts at $1,199), which has the option of a touch screen, and the more staid Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1, which folds back from a laptop to a tablet-style touchscreen device. It starts at $399 and, like the XPS 13, runs Windows 8.1. For PC purchases of $699 or more, Dell is offering a free Venue tablet as a back-to-school promotion.

HP's Pavilion x360 13z touch laptop has an AMD quad-core processor inside and sells for $479. It features a touch screen for Windows 8.1 and also folds back on itself to resemble a tablet, just like Dell's Inspiron model.

Chromebooks, which run Google's Chrome OS software, used to be too underpowered and limited for older students to take seriously. But as a secondary computer or for students who live their academic lives in Web browsers and Google Drive documents, a Chromebook may be just enough to get a lot done. The Asus C300MA, at $250, seems like a good bet at a very low price.

TABLETS

Just a year or two ago, it seemed as if tablets were poised to leave the desktop and laptop computer market in the dust. But then a funny thing happened. iPad sales plateaued, a glut of tablet competitors failed to topple Apple's device and traditional computers made a comeback.

Still, don't count tablets out entirely. The Apple iPad Air (starts at $499) and its small cousin the iPad Mini with Retina Display (starts at $399) are tough to ignore. They're light, powerful and run more mobile apps, including iPhone apps, than any competitor. …

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