Jhe end of summer has arrived, and with it the start of a new semester at university. The learning landscape certainly looks brighter than it has in the past couple of years, but the need to have the right equipment is just as important, with many universities offering a mix of in-person learning and online.
From laptops and phones to headphones and note-taking tools, here’s a guide to some of the technologies that will help make the most of the student experience in a time when finances are tight.
Laptops and tablets
Most work ends up being done with a laptop, so getting the right machine makes life a bit easier for students.
Portability and screen size are key tradeoffs. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to work on it, but the heavier it will be to lug around between classes. I recommend a 13-14 inch screen as the happy medium, but if you frequently hook up to a monitor, a smaller machine might be better. Make sure the display is at least 1080p in resolution.
Look for 11th or 12th Gen Intel i5 or i7 processors, at least 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or more of SSD storage.
Don’t be tempted by the cheaper price or larger storage of a laptop with a traditional magnetic hard drive because it will be slow.
Generally, you can get a solid Windows 11 laptop for around £500-600. Be aware that at this price you will be sacrificing typing and mousing experience, screen, speaker and webcam quality, and probably battery life as well. Of the laptops typically offered for around £550, the Acer Aspire 5, HP Pavilion 14 and Dell Inspiron 14 are worth considering with the right specification.
But my pick for a portable machine under £600 would be the mid-range Surface Go 2 Laptop at around £566 with a student discount.
If you’re on a bigger budget and want a better screen, keyboard, trackpad, speakers and performance, my pick for a laptop under £1000 is the Huge Apple MacBookAir M1 at £898 with student discount, which has a revolutionary 16-hour battery life, so you’ll never need to carry your charger around. If you need Windows, the Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop at £849 with a student discount, that’s pretty good too.
The good news is that some great smartphones can be had for under £500.
The recently published Google Pixel 6a is the best budget phone of the year, costing £360 with a student discount. It beats many phones at twice its price, with top performance, a great camera and superb software, including the excellent self-transcribing Google Recorder app.
Alternatively, the iPhoneSE 2022 at around £419 is just as good if you’re in Apple’s ecosystem. It looks dated but has top performance and will last up to seven years with software updates, while most others will last around five years.
If you can stretch it, a tablet can also be a very useful addition to your computing arsenal, providing utility for learning and entertainment.
Apple’s basic iPad, for example, costs £319 or less with a student discount, and has a good 10.2-inch screen, which can be used for taking notes with an Apple Pencil (£85) or as a portable second screen for a Mac when you need it. a second monitor on the go. There are plenty of educational and productivity apps, as well as a keyboard case if you want to use it as a small substitute for a laptop. With all the video or music streaming services available, it also makes a great portable TV.
Amazon is budget conscious Fire tablets costing from £60 offer the entertainment options but aren’t good for productivity. Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 Starting at £219 is more useful but lacks stylus support and the host of productivity and education apps available for the iPad.
Concentrating in the hubbub of a busy library, cafe, or student house can be difficult without good noise-blocking headphones.
Wireless headphones are great for listening on the go. Nothing is in the ear 1 have noise cancellation, sound great, last long on battery, and have a funky see-through design that’s comfortable to wear. They work with Androids or iPhones, as well as laptops, and cost around £89.
Apples AirPods 3 are good too, but they don’t block noise, instead just drowning it out. They’re excellent for calls and can be had for around £180; just watch out for counterfeits.
If concentration is your priority, you can’t beat a great set of over-ear noise canceling headphones. My first choice are the older ones Sony WH-1000XM4, which are still great at blocking out most noise and sound fantastic. They connect to your laptop and phone at the same time, fold up nicely for travel, and are pretty sturdy. Shop around and you can often find them for well under £250.
Keeping your notes, lectures, and digital ideas organized and easily accessible on the go can be tricky, but luckily there are plenty of tools out there that can help.
I’m a long time fan Evernote as a cross-platform tool for collecting notes, images, audio recordings, and pretty much anything else in one, syncable place in the cloud, with apps for nearly every device. It’s free for up to two devices, such as your phone and laptop, with 60MB of monthly downloads, which will be fine for text notes and weird photos. Evernote Personal costs £5.99 per month, or students get 40-50% off an annual subscription.
Microsoft a note is a great alternative, with similar functionality and apps on most devices. It’s free to use, but notes are stored in OneDrive, which comes free with a Microsoft account with 5GB of space. More OneDrive storage costs £1.99 per month for 100GB of space, or it can be purchased with a Microsoft 365 account from £59.99, which includes 1TB of storage plus apps Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
Apples Remarks is also very good, especially for handwritten notes on an iPad, but isn’t cross-platform and can’t handle as many attachments or advanced features. It’s free to use on iPhones, iPads, Macs and in-browser, but uses your free 5GB iCloud storage, with 50GB of storage costing 79p a month.