Thursday 20 June 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


Apple MacBook Air
Apple MacBook Air
Microsoft Surface Go
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q My daughter is going to college and I want to get her a laptop. She won't need it for anything intensive, just projects, writing and research. Is there one you can recommend?

A There are plenty of laptops around that will do a decent job for her. For college, I think that two factors are important: weight and battery life. This is assuming that she might be taking it around with her on campus or into the library.

You don't mention budget, so I'm going to give you a range, starting at premium level and finishing off at a budget model.

(I'm also going to assume that this is for general college study, not an especially heavy duty technical or specialist course - if this is wrong, email me back and I will adjust the recommendation.)

At the top, the two I'd recommend are Apple's MacBook Air (€1,129 from various retailers) and Dell's XPS 13 '2-in-1' (€1,300 from Both are top-of-the-line machines that will last years, are relatively light to carry and have great features and specifications. They're both 13-inch laptops, have a great battery and are a pleasure to use. The prices I'm quoting include the basic storage memory allocation (128GB); this is enough for anyone who won't be loading movies or thousands of photos on to it. However, if you want more storage (256GB or 512GB), you'll end up paying around €200 (and upwards) more.

The advantage to the Dell is that its high-definition touchscreen flips right over so that it can also be used as a presentation tool or a great screen to watch Netflix in your daughter's downtime.

The MacBook's strength is that Apple's operating system is still a bit friendlier and easier to use than Windows, and increasingly synchronises with iPhones. For example, it can make or take FaceTime calls or iMessages.

If that seems a bit pricey, there are several decent models around the €700 to €800 mark.

For example, HP's 14-inch Intel Core i5 laptop (€780 from Currys) is completely solid with a very good battery life. It's not quite as sleek as the premium machines but it will definitely do the job.

At a cheaper level, you're looking at HP's Pavilion 14-bk070 (€539 from PC World) or Lenovo's Ideapad 320 (€449 from Harvey Norman). The HP is slightly faster and more powerful and has better battery life, while the cheaper Lenovo offers more storage but is significantly heavier.

In case you're wondering about an iPad or 'work' tablet, the good ones cost almost as much as premium laptops. The best model, the iPad Pro, costs €930 including the Smart Keyboard cover. It's a brilliant, powerful, light machine (which I personally use a lot) but students often look for something more traditionally in a laptop form function. So while I generally recommend it, I can't thoroughly say it'll work for your daughter better than other laptops.

One last thing: try to avoid ultra-budget laptops that cost under €300. By and large, they're junk. (An exception is a Chromebook, which works off web apps and is relatively stable, despite typically costing only €299.)

RECOMMENDATION: Apple MacBook Air (left, €1,129)

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Two to Try

Microsoft Surface Go  (€459 on pre-order)

If you're looking for a really light, portable touchscreen tablet-laptop hybrid, Microsoft's new Surface Go might work. It's the same size and weight as an iPad but runs Windows, so you can use a cursor and a touchpad if you really like that format. The basic model comes with a pretty slim 64GB of storage memory and the chip is fairly weak, meaning it's a little slow. To use as a laptop, you also need the keyboard, which costs an additional €100.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 (€699)

Samsung has always had a tough time competing with the iPad in the tablet world, so it's going after a more work-friendly device. The new Galaxy Tab S4 still runs Android but can be plugged into a display accessory (Samsung's Dex) to turn it into a full PC. Its 10.5-inch 'super Amoled' screen is the same size as the current iPad Pro. However, a keyboard costs extra.

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