Saturday, July 23, 2016

Send your student off to college with the right technology - July 22, 2016

Soon, some of last month’s high school graduates will have those excited yet fearful knots in their bellies as they head off to colleges and universities.

The days of sending them off with a manual typewriter are long gone. A tradition of this column is to consider what we should equip these new freshmen with before they go.

It seems this year the picture is clearer than in past years. I think a student needs primarily three devices.

Foremost is a laptop. A laptop to today’s young person, and I don’t really need to tell any parent this, is their window to learning and also to entertainment.

They will use it to research and write papers, interact with their professors and coursework through sites like Blackboard, and use a variety of online services and software needed for classes.

And they will use it to watch videos on Netflix, Hulu and network television websites. Many students will not want to haul a TV to a dorm, content with a laptop.

The risk of losing or breaking a laptop that is carried from dorm to classes and back again is great. I do not believe most students need a high-end laptop. There are students who need a high-performance laptop if they need to edit video, run high-end architectural computer-assisted design software or some kinds of application development.

For most, their computing needs will be mostly online research, email and writing papers. A basic under-$500 laptop will meet their needs.

And by not spending a great deal, the financial pain of replacing a lost or damaged laptop is lessened.

And if a higher-performance laptop is needed in later years of school, the lower-power laptop makes an effective backup system if needed.

If you go Macintosh, the Apple store will advise you. They’ll probably aim a student at a Macbook Air.

When shopping for a low-end Windows laptop, I find it is best to not get the lowest-priced one as much as I would avoid the higher-priced models. Get something with two or more times the memory Windows 10 needs. So a laptop with four gigabytes of memory is a good start. It will run faster.

Hard-drive space is important. You do not want your student deleting something old to make space for a new project, only to wish later they still had it. Research done for one project, might be a good start for a later project.

Battery life is important for some students. Laptops are used in classrooms, libraries and other places where power might not be easily accessible.

And finally, processor speed is important. The newest, fastest processors can cost more by themselves than an entire reasonably priced laptop, so don’t feel you need the latest and greatest. The older processors are a better value.

It is a balancing act. Look for quality, price, memory, processor, storage and battery. There is no right or wrong answer.

Some students may prefer a Microsoft Surface-type PC. These are tablets with an optional keyboard that runs Windows 10. While their portability is nice if your student prefers to type in bed, Surface types do not work as well as typing with them on a hard desk.

While many assignments can be handed in online, some professors still require hard copy. Schools have printers available, but students tell me it can be difficult to find a working and available one. Having their own wireless printer in their room makes their life easier and is my second suggested piece of hardware.

The last piece of hardware needed is of course a smart phone. Not only is this a student’s primary way to communicate, it is now an integral part of their social life.

In the classroom, its camera can scan documents, record white boards, help gather experimental data and a host of other uses. Phones are their alarm clocks, timers, audio recorders, music players, video cameras, video players and hundreds of other functions.

And, as an off-topic reminder, Windows 10 is available free only until July 29. After that it will cost $120.

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