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Top gadgets to help you through life at college

You're going to college - so what are the gadgets you're going to need to survive, particularly with online learning in mind? Technology Editor Adrian Weckler looks at the best budget and high-end options

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Avita 14-inch Pura R5 laptop

Avita 14-inch Pura R5 laptop

Avita 14-inch Pura R5 laptop

1. The laptop: If you're on a budget, it's worth considering Avita's 14-inch Pura R5 laptop (pictured, €460 from Expert). Although it feels a little cheap in the hand, it has enough to get the basics done fairly well. It comes in different colours, too.

If you have a bit more to spend on a laptop, Lenovo's 14-inch Yoga C740 (€899 from Currys) is an all-round good choice for a number of reasons. First, it's a two-in-one device with a touchscreen that swivels right around. This means it's excellent for after-hours use, such as Netflix. It also comes with a pen stylus, which can be very useful for signing e-documents (increasingly common during the pandemic) or note-taking. Finally, it has good power, with 8GB of Ram, the newest Intel i5 processor and a reasonable 256GB of storage.

2. The 'pro' tablet

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Apple 10.5-inch iPad Air

Apple 10.5-inch iPad Air

Apple 10.5-inch iPad Air

 

For the money, Apple's 10.5-inch iPad Air (€745 with Smart Keyboard cover) is the best value, most productive non-laptop computer around. It's basically the last generation iPad Pro re-badged. (For context, the current iPad Pro costs almost €350 more without too many more features.) That means it's lightning fast and can easily handle things like Microsoft Office or multi-tasking. It's also the ultimate 'non-work' work device, as comfortable playing Netflix or YouTube or games as it is doing work email or Microsoft Teams calls. The 'Files' app on it now also makes it easier to arrange documents and attachments, something that was way trickier before. And it's also very light and portable and can be recharged using your existing iPhone cable. The only thing to watch out for is that Apple is expected to update the range next month, so you might get it cheaper at that point.

3. The phone

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Nokia 5.3

Nokia 5.3

Nokia 5.3

 

For those on a very tight budget, Nokia's 5.3 (€179 from Littlewoods) is probably the best value ultra-affordable smartphone out there right now. With a price tag of around a fifth of that of your typical flagship handset, it's a large, slim, nicely designed 6.5-inch phone that has enough power to get you through the day. The shape and finish is its main highlight, with looks that put it beyond its sub-€200 price level. It has a good battery and 64GB of storage.

If you can afford something more, Samsung's Note 10 Lite (€669 from Currys) is a great all-round handset that packs in huge functionality at a lower price than the typical flagship. Other than the 6.7-inch screen, great battery, generous 128GB of storage and decent triple-camera array, its main attraction is a built-in 'S Pen' stylus. This is really useful for those PDFs or Word documents that need urgent attention, as well as taking notes. It has decent handwriting recognition that now incorporates search function support. In other words, if you write out some notes with the S Pen, you can search for words within those scrawled notes later on. Another use for the stylus is its ability to trigger photos from the camera, which makes for a handy selfie machine.

4. The webcam

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The Papalook HD webcam

The Papalook HD webcam

The Papalook HD webcam

 

One difference to this year's academic term is uncertainty over how much time - if any, at all - will be spent in classes. That could mean more video sessions over Zoom or Teams. Unfortunately, most new laptops still have poor quality webcams, as they were largely designed and shipped before the lockdown struck. The good news is that decent webcams don't cost the earth. Two good examples are Papalook's HD webcam (€75) and Ausdom's AW635 (€60), both available from Amazon.co.uk. Papalook's PA452 model is a reliable model that gives a pretty good 'full HD' picture quality. It also has a built-in microphone. Ausdom's AW635 model is a little cheaper but still gives you 'full HD' (1080p), which is realistically as much as you want for just about any video call. It has a proper glass lens with an f2.0 aperture, which means it's decent in low light.

5. The handy accessory

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PNY all-in-one USB-C dock

PNY all-in-one USB-C dock

PNY all-in-one USB-C dock

 

If you look at many new lightweight laptops in 2020, you'll notice they have one thing in common: a lack of ports. From the MacBook Air to the Surface Pro X, it's common now for ultraportable work laptops to sport just one or two USB-C ports for everything. But many of us still have rather more devices to connect, from external webcams for Zoom calls to memory card readers or storage drives. PNY's all-in-one USB-C dock (€85 from Amazon.co.uk) is a very useful fix for this. It has a nice cross-selection of ports that include two standard USB-A ports, one USB-C port and one enhanced USB-C (PD charging) port - the type you can charge another large gadget off. It also gives you HDMI, VGA, RJ45 and memory card (SD and microSD) ports. In other words, it has you covered for a lot. It connects itself to the laptop via its own USB-C connection and is quite lightweight.

Irish Independent