Best Mac For College Students 2015

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You worked incredibly hard to get yourself (or your child) into college. Now when it’s time to pack up your bags and head off to campus, you’ll want to bring along all the right technology to help you do your best.


Most of Apple’s Mac lineup is overdue for a refresh, but if you’re shopping for college, you might consider a MacBook or iPad Pro. Both have key features that make them especially handy for college students. And both are eligible for Apple’s back-to-school promotion.

If you buy an eligible Mac (any model but the Mac mini), you can get a free pair of Beats Solo2 Wireless Heaphones, via a $299.95 instant credit. Buy an eligible iPhone (6, 6 Plus, 6s, or 6s Plus) or an iPad Pro, and you’ll get a $199.95 credit for a pair of Powerbeats2 Wireless Heaphones—and you can pay $100 more to get the Beats Solo2 instead. This promotion expires September 5, and conditions apply, so be sure to read all the fine print.

These are our picks for the best Apple gear for students—what to buy now, and what to wait for, as several major Apple product lines should see refreshes by the end of 2016.

12-inch MacBook

Look, I’ll just level with you: This isn’t the greatest time in history to be in the market for a cutting-edge Mac laptop. As of this writing, the MacBook Air lineup has not been refreshed in 525 days, since March of 2015, and the Retina MacBook Pro lineup has languished 454 days, since May 2015. Rumor has it, Apple is poised to introduce totally redesigned MacBook Pros this fall, but perhaps not until October.

So if you need something today, the 12-inch MacBook (starting at $1299 in the Apple Store) is the most recently upgraded Mac laptop, having gotten a proper refresh this April. It’s got a lovely Retina screen, and at just a hair over 2 pounds, it’s the lightest Mac you can buy, which makes it perfect for students whose laptops spend a lot of time in backpacks getting lugged from the dorms to class to the library and back.

The MacBook only has a single USB-C port, along with a standard headphone jack. This shouldn’t slow you down when taking notes in class or studying in the library—it gets 10 hours of battery life, after all. And you can always pick up a dock for the desk in your dorm room. A USB-C dock would let you keep peripherals hooked up, like a hard drive for backups, an external display, or just a couple spare USB ports to charge your iPhone and iPad. We like the $45 Satechi Type-C Pass Through USB Hub with USB-C Charging Port if you don’t plan to hook up an external display, or the $150 OWC USB-C Dock if you do.

Best Apple laptop for students

9.7-inch iPad Pro

The iPad Pro isn’t a real laptop replacement, but if it can handle most of the tasks you would need a laptop for, who cares? With a Smart Keyboard, you’ve got everything you need to type notes during class. Or grab an Apple Pencil and use a clever app like GoodNotes 4 to scratch notes on an infinitely scrolling notepad—they’ll sync to your Dropbox and thanks to OCR you can search them later.

The iPad Pro has some more advantages for students too. With a Wi-Fi plus cellular model, you’ll always be online, on campus or off. The multitasking features in iOS 9 let you research in Safari while writing a paper in Byword or Scrivener—or just watch movies in the Picture in Picture window while you’re catching up on your reading. In fact, I’d rather read ebooks on an iPad than any other device, and the iPad Pro has Night Shift and True Tone to keep those late-night study sessions easy on the eyes.

Of course, college isn’t all work and no play, and an iPad has tons of entertainment options too, from streaming video services to games. With a $49 Lightning Digital AV Adapter, you can hook it up to your TV without needing a set-top box—but you could beam content over wirelessly with a $35 Chromecast or a $149 Apple TV.

Oh, and if you ever find yourself with free time to learn things on your own, outside of class (yeah, right), the iPad Pro is the perfect device for diving into Apple’s brilliant Swift Playgrounds app, in preview now and shipping this fall alongside iOS 10. This teaches you Apple’s Swift programming language step-by-step, no coding experience required, but it’s as fun as any cerebral puzzle game.

Best iPad for students
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Apple TV

You don’t need an Apple TV to succeed in school. But you don’t need a cable bill at college, either. For $149, the Apple TV can turn the cheapest 1080p TV you can find into a connected cornucopia of content, from Netflix and Hulu to Apple Music to the cable-like packages of Sling. You’ll have fun watching Game of Thrones with your dormmates, or blowing off steam after a test with a few rounds of NBA 2K16.

Grab a gamepad if you plan to do much gaming—these are our favorites—and consider the $199 64GB model of Apple TV. But if all you want to do is binge-watch your latest Netflix obsessions (hey, there are different kinds of all-nighters), the 32GB model is plenty. Either one will be able to AirPlay content from your other Apple gear, which can come in handy when you’re having a group study session and want to mirror your MacBook or iPad’s screen on your TV.

Best set-top box for dorm rooms
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What to wait for

We’re stuck in a little bit of a holding pattern waiting for some Apple products that should be coming soon. These probably shouldn’t find their way into your shopping cart today, but they’ll all be solid buys for students when Apple does refresh them.

Apple Watch

The rumors about an Apple Watch 2 say it could be announced in September, alongside the next iPhone. So it might not be the best time to pick up the first model, although it’s never been cheaper, starting at $299 for the 38mm Apple Watch Sport. After a year, I still love mine the most for its fitness features, and students should find the glanceable info it provides invaluable. It’ll let you keep track of your calendar, see when the next bus is coming, order an Uber, answer a phone call, set alarms, make Apple Pay transactions, and never miss a text from your bestie.

MacBook Air

I love the MacBook Air—even without a Retina display, it’s got the right mix of size, weight, performance, and ports that I need day in and day out. The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $999, and the 11-inch at $899, and that starter model is no slouch. The 13-incher, for example, comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5, 256GB of flash storage, and 8GB of RAM, which Apple just made standard in April. If the company can keep those prices the same while upgrading the line to newer processors, this could be a more convenient option for students than the single-port MacBook.

MacBook Pro

If you’re smart enough to get into college, you’re hopefully wise enough to wait for the heavily rumored MacBook Pro refresh we’ve been hearing about. Apple reportedly plans to slim down the MacBook Pro, and add Touch ID as well as a pressure sensitive trackpad. The row of function keys along the top will be replaced by a strip of touch-sensitive OLED keys that can change depending on what app you’re using. Current MacBook Pros start at $1299 for the 13-inch and $1999 for the 15-inch, but it could conceivably last you all four years.

The next iPhone

Since a new iPhone comes out every September, buying one in August is a last resort—as in, only if your screen is so smashed you’re cutting your thumb every time you slide to unlock. (But first, try to hobble by with a screen protector or just a layer of clear packing tape.) While you could pick up an iPhone 6s now and just rely on iOS 10’s launch this fall to make your phone feel new, it’s probably best to wait for the iPhone 7. It should have a better camera, faster processor, more storage (starting at 32GB)—but no headphone jack. So I guess if that’s a dealbreaker, the iPhone 6s (or the iPhone SE) is your last chance to upgrade to a headphone-jacked phone, but then again, the 6s price should drop when the new one comes out.

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If you’re headed off to college soon, you’re almost certainly going to need a laptop. Many classes have mandatory online components now. And besides, it’s a lot easier to read typed notes instead of trying to decipher your handwriting — trust me on this. In fact, some colleges even require students to own a laptop these days, so you might as well invest in a good one, right? With that in mind, here’s what you need to consider while shopping for a college laptop:

First off, you need to remember that heavy laptops can be a deal breaker in college. If you plan on walking to and from all of your classes, you don’t want a whopping five-pound notebook swinging from your shoulder. Smaller, lighter models are likely a better fit living on campus. Lighter is usually better, but it’s not always in the cards.

Next, consider battery life. If you’re going to be gone all day long, you don’t want to worry about running out of power half-way through. Being tethered to a wall completely defeats the point of owning a laptop in the first place, right? Before you pull the trigger, make sure your laptop will be able to keep up with your busy schedule.

Lastly, keep in mind how much you’re willing to spend and what your priorities are. If you’re studying video production you need to invest in a powerful machine despite the expense. If you’re an English major, you can likely get away with a much smaller budget. Know what your college career is going to demand ahead of time, and shop accordingly. Now, let’s look at a selection of laptops suited for the college lifestyle.

MacBook Air

  • Price: $900 and up

For general-purpose tasks like word processing, email, and web browsing, the MacBook Air is the gold standard. Available in both 11-inch and 13-inch models, the Air is a thin and powerful laptop that has drastically influenced the Ultrabook concept that Intel has so successfully marketed.

With flash storage, a dynamically-clocked Intel Core i5/i7 processor, integrated Intel HD Graphics 6000, and all-day battery life in less than a three pound package, it’s easy to see why the MacBook Air is the best-selling Apple laptop. It’s frustrating that we still don’t have a model with a Retina display, but the value proposition here is still much stronger than Apple’s regular MacBook line.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display

  • Price: $1300 and up

The MacBook Pro is a very different machine than its smaller brother. As the “Pro” label implies, this series of laptops is for people in need of substantial horsepower. Made in 13-inch and 15-inch variants, the MacBook Pro is designed from the ground up to empower people working in creative fields. With its excellent high-resolution Retina display, up to 1TB of flash storage, up to a quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, and eight-to-ten hours of battery life, this laptop is a perfect fit for anything from video production to programming.

Ranging from 3.48 to 4.46 pounds, this is a bit heftier than the MacBook Air, but that sacrifice is well worth it if your field of study needs that added horsepower. If you’re mostly just writing papers and surfing the web, this probably isn’t the best fit for you.

Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook Touch

  • Price: $900 and up

Tablets and laptops both have their uses in a college environment, and this slick model from Dell gives you the best of both worlds. This is a 12.5-inch laptop, but it benefits from a novel “flip-hinge” that quickly transforms the device into a touchscreen tablet. With 4GB of RAM, a 128GB solid state drive, a 1080p display, a lightweight body, and over eight hours of battery life, this ultrabook gives college students exactly what they need to get work done while remaining flexible enough to use anywhere.

Lenovo ThinkPad X250

  • Price: $756 and up

Laptop Best For College Students

If you’re looking for an affordable and utilitarian laptop, check out this Thinkpad from Lenovo. You can grab yourself a low-spec model with a dual-core Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, a 12.5-inch display, and a pair of batteries for just over 750 bucks. Even better, the stock model weighs in at just 2.88 pounds!

Of course, you can upgrade to an Intel Core i7 CPU, a 512GB solid state drive, and 1080p display, but those changes dramatically raise the asking price and potentially increase the overall weight. The choice is yours, though, so customize as you see fit.

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Note: If you’re worried about the SuperFish vulnerability, you can rest easy. ThinkPads were not impacted by SuperFish at all, so you can purchase this model with confidence.

12-Inch ASUS Chromebook

  • Price: $179.99 and up

Best Mac For College Students 2015 Gmc

Of course, not everyone can afford to buy high-end laptops for college. But fear not, you can still get the job done without spending a lot of cash. Take this 12-inch Chromebook from ASUS for example. For just $260, you get an 11.6-inch display, a dual-core 2.16GHz Intel Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 32GB solid state drive, Bluetooth 4.0, and 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi support. Better yet, it only weighs 2.5 pounds, and offers up to 11 hours of battery life.

It’s certainly not the most powerful or versatile laptop on this list, but the incredibly low asking price makes up for its shortcomings. If you’re on a very tight budget for college, and you don’t need to run software like AutoCAD or Photoshop, this is absolutely the laptop you should get.

The old college try

Regardless of your budget, there’s something here to fit your needs. I know that money can be really tight when you’re a full-time student, but it’s absolutely worth the investment. Keeping your computer with you in class and at home means all of your notes and assignments are in one place, and that will make a world of difference when finals roll around.

Best Mac For College Bound Student

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