Adrian Weckler: Top five must-have college gadgets
Going to college is a time for expanding one's mind and specialising in a profession. So what are the tools that can help you along the way? Which are best for work and for play? And which are within reach on a budget?Here are five options from Adrian Weckler
Google Chromecast Price: €40
For students moving out home for the new term, home entertainment is not what it once was. Where once CDs and DVDs ruled, now it's Spotify and Netflix. For the latter, Google's Chromecast dongle is an excellent little gadget. It pairs up with a phone or tablet and then plugs directly into a telly to relay the Netflix stream from your phone or tablet. It can be used on almost any modern TV and it relays the movies in high definition. With its own software built in, it's hard to think of a more useful budget gadget.
Vodafone Smart 4 Price: €80
There is little that students regard as more personal to their technology arsenal than a phone. Some, however, don't realise that you don't have to dig out €600 to get a usable, adequately sized handset that provides a decent, non-crappy experience. In other words, not every good smartphone has to be an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S5. Vodafone's Smart 4 is a case in point. Its 4.5-inch screen is big enough not to feel like an entry-level stand-in, while its use of the latest version of Android puts it ahead of several rivals. It has a reasonable 5-megapixel camera and it also looks pretty good, a valid consideration in student circles.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Price: from €820
One of the strongest challenges to Apple's MacBook Air is likely to come from Microsoft's super slim, powerful Surface Pro 3. The 12-inch machine is a hybrid device, meaning it can work as a (Windows) tablet just as well as a laptop. But its core attraction is an attractive, light laptop that gives full power and a lot of flexibility. The biggest difference between this model and the existing Surface Pro 2 is the larger screen size (by one inch), thinner form factor and newly-adjustable kickstand (the kickstand in the original Surface Pro was maddening). It also comes with more power options. Make no mistake: this is no tablet that executes office-type applications when a keyboard is wirelessly connected. This is a full-bore computer that can run almost any software you already have. Its main challenge is price: will students pay close to €1,000 for a non-Apple laptop?
Apple MacBook Air Price: from €875
Forget about everything you've heard about fashion and trends: Apple's MacBook Air is the still the standard to beat in laptops for all students, bar those studying deeply technical courses. It's not the fastest, the slimmest or the best-connected of its kind, but it arguably still retains the best user experience. The entry-level 11-inch model sports a decent Intel i5 processor, 4GB of Ram and a (modest) 128GB storage disk. But the unit's operating system, keyboard and overall design makes it a pleasure to use while also being very reliable. Apple's student deals bring it under €900.
HP Chromebook Price: €320
For students looking for a good laptop on a budget, it's hard to see past Chromebooks. This new category of laptop delivers a fast, slim, light machine at half the price of rivals, largely because they bypass Windows and focus on online applications such as Google Docs. This might seem scary but it's actually what most people use their laptops for, either at work or play. HP's model is probably the best of the three available in Irish shops, because it has slightly more Ram memory (4GB) than rival machines from Acer, Samsung or Toshiba. Despite slimmed down hard drives (just 16GB), these are great laptops.