Sunday 4 December 2016

Top five gadgets to help you through college

Are you armed with the best tech to negotiate the new term? Adrian Weckler looks at the best laptops, tablets, headphones and smartphones to keep students powered up this year

Published 22/08/2016 | 06:00

Sony h.ear 100ABN, €249 from Littlewoods
Sony h.ear 100ABN, €249 from Littlewoods

1. Sony h.ear 100ABN, Price: €249 from Littlewoods

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There's more to good headphones than Beats. These over-ear cans from Sony look great and perform superbly. Because they're noise-cancelling headphones, they also act as a superb buffer against external disruption when you're trying to study. They're light and padded, which adds to their comfort on your head over long periods. They have quick-access buttons (volume, pause, forward, back) which stop you having to take your phone out of your pocket so often when listening to music. These buttons also include an on-off switch for the noise-cancelling feature, which gives you options for battery life. They fold up tightly enough to fit into a large coat pocket or a modestly-sized compartment in an average bag

Apple iPad Pro 13 (€899 from PC World)
Apple iPad Pro 13 (€899 from PC World)

2. Apple iPad Pro 13, Price: €899 from PC World

I'm including Apple's top-end iPad here because productivity iPads can now perform at the same level as laptops for most tasks. And this iPad is just as powerful with a gorgeous 13-inch screen. It also works brilliantly with a couple of custom keyboards, not least Apple's own Smart Keyboard. The iPad Pro has a few other major advantages over laptops. First, it's more portable and generally lighter, meaning you can pop it in a bag easier. Second, it recharges using an ordinary iPhone Lightning connection. And because of its top-class screen and four stereo speakers, it makes an unrivalled Netflix or movie screen for a generation that barely watch traditional telly anymore. The downside is that it's fairly expensive: the 128GB version costs over €1,200.

3. Acer Chromebook R11, Price: €399 from Argos

Acer's R11 convertible touchscreen Chromebook is nicely styled with a usable keyboard and a reasonably bright touchscreen. It's cheap, cheerful and very usable. The laptop's 11.6-inch screen folds over to turn the device into a large tablet, albeit one running on Google's desktop-like Chrome operating system. As it's a Chromebook, the vast majority of its functionality is based on 'cloud' apps like Google Docs - you won't be using this as an anchor device for an iPhone or iPod. There's also the bare minimum of onboard storage with just 16GB available. It has an HDMI port, a couple of USB ports and an SD memory card slot. It's a nice budget laptop option.

4. Dell XPS 13, Price: €1,189 from Dell.ie

If you're likely to need a serious, performance-driven laptop that can handle any kind of college project or software variation, Dell's XPS 13 is a pretty good choice. It has excellent power configurations, starting at an Intel i5 chip, 8GB of Ram and 256GB of internal storage memory. The 2k 'full HD' screen is also impressive. But its design is equally of note here: Dell has all but eliminated the screen's bezel to a hair's breadth. This means that what is supposed to be a 13-inch laptop takes up no more space than a 12-inch or 11-inch laptop, with consequent transportation advantages. The loss of the bezel also means that the XPS 13 is incredibly light. (At 1.2kg, it's over 10pc lighter than Apple's skinny 13-inch MacBook Air.) Battery life is good to excellent, at well over seven hours' use. The backlit keyboard is decent and there's plenty of connections of offer, with USB 3, Thunderbolt and a memory card port.

5. Sony xperia E5, Price: €220 sim-free from Argos

Sony's new budget Xperia E5 is bright, fairly powerful and has a decent camera. It feels easy to use despite being more than €300 less than many of the phones you're pitched these days. In other words, you can go full-power on Instagram, Facebook, Gmail, Outlook Exchange, Twitter and your media subscriptions without any real loss of performance on a device that's within the price range of almost everybody. The nearest you'll find to a catch is that its 16GB of internal storage isn't really enough these days (although to make up for this, Sony has added a memory card slot for up to 200GB extra). The speaker on the phone is surprisingly good for a budget model, while the five-inch screen just about makes the snazzy standard with 194 pixels per inch. The E5's 2,700mAh battery life is adequate and gets a general user through a full day's use.

Acer Chromebook R11 (€339 from Argos)
Acer Chromebook R11 (€339 from Argos)
Dell XPS 13 (€1,189 from Dell.ie)
Dell XPS 13 (€1,189 from Dell.ie)
Sony Xperia E5 (€220 sim-free from Argos)
Sony Xperia E5 (€220 sim-free from Argos)

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