As September comes closer day by day, new freshmen like myself are scrambling to figure out what they need to sort out all their college stuff. While I may be of little help with regards to the color of your dorm bed sheets, I can tell you what devices and software I’ll be packing to college. I’ll be fair and include Windows and Android choices along with my Mac and iOS preferences.
In my opinion, 13 inch laptops are the sweet spot for portability and performance in laptops today. The screen size is adequate for everything from browsing to movies while still being light in the laptop bag, which it needs to be since you’ll be taking the machine to class daily. Below are my recommendations for specific models. If you insist on shopping around, look for a 13-inch screen, a Sandy Bridge processor, 4GB of RAM, 2+ USB ports, and a Solid State Drive (pricey!). This should do for anything short of hardcore photo and movie editing (hardcore = a hour or so daily editing media).
Macbook Air 13-inch (My Configuration: 256 GB SSD, 1.8ghz i7)
It’s thin, fast, and sexy, with a dozen or so Windows machines trying to match its looks and failing. Great screen and best touchpad in the biz. Do know that there isn’t a CD drive here, but with the Mac App Store and in the digital world, that’s less of a problem for me. Get an external CD drive and keep it in the desk drawer.
Toshiba Portege R830 (My Configuration: 128 GB SSD, i7)
This is probably the best value for money machine in the industry. While it’s looks are bland, you can customize this baby to what ever your price range can absorb. You’ll get performance and stability with the R830 and it has the elusive CD drive as well.
If you’re not carrying a smartphone, you’re not living in this century. Period. And no, a Blackberry is not a smartphone in my opinion. It is a messaging, email, and phone platform, but not a mobile computing platform. iOS and Android fit that bill. I’m not recommending phones running Windows Phone 7 yet because the app infrastructure is pretty weak as of now. On the iOS side, there is just the iPhone. It’s fantastic, has the best user interface, and is so simple that my 55-year old parents rock iPhone 4s like pros. Android is great platform as well, with enough apps to make you not jealous of how pretty the iPhone apps are. If you’re one to customize most aspects of the device and do not mind a decent learning curve, it may very well be for you. Below are my top picks, but you are open to lots of alternatives on the Android side (another advantage).
Apple iPhone 5/4S (You want to wait for this, Sept-Oct ’11 arrival; here’s the iPhone 4 in the meantime)
Yes, I’m recommending a phone that’s not out yet. Why? Because it’s almost out and it’ll be better than the iPhone 4. Its predecessor has the highest pixel density screen in the industry, a super 5MP camera, and the best app platform out there. There is no simpler and more elegant device out there, and you won’t sacrifice performance for it. The iPhone 5 will almost certainly have a faster processor and better camera, but a bigger screen and slimmer profile have been rumored.
Samsung Galaxy SII
This thing is a beast. It’s got a massive 4.3 inch screen, 8MP camera, and is crazy thin. There are more features in this thing than worth mentioning, and if you’re going Android you probably can’t get better.
While the devices are one aspect of the package, the software is where you will actually be working and being productive (or not). You’ll be writing long papers, taking notes, IMing, listening to music, and watching movies among a long list of digital activities. I’m not going through the basics like Microsoft Office. We’re in college now; it’s time to step it up. You’ll also need to get your life organized. Mom won’t be there to remind you of a deadline or do your laundry. I’ll be using every single thing I recommend in this section, as should you.
Scrivener (Mac and PC) – Writing
There’s going to be a lot more writing in college. And those papers are going to be long. Scrivener is an app with that in mind. You can write, organize, format, and visualize your work like never before. Just go to the link and look around and you’ll think the $40 is a steal.
Evernote (Mac, PC, iOS, Android) – Notes
If you’re still taking notes with Microsoft Word, you need to get with it. Evernote let’s you have different notebooks, clip web pages, sync with the cloud, take notes from your other devices (phones, tablets) and much more. And it’s free.
Wunderlist (All platforms) – Tasks
Homework, deadlines, laundry, meetings, calling home. There’s so much to keep track of now that you’re on your own. My memory sucks but even people with good memory need a way to keep track of stuff. Wunderlist is my task manager of choice. Elegant design + cloud syncing to all devices + shared tasks + free = win.
Dropbox (All platforms) – Backup and Sync
This app is a lifesaver. Get an account and you have folder with a 2GB limit on your computer. Put all your work in there and forget about it. It will auto backup that folder to the cloud and have it accessible from any device you like. For work files, 2GB is adequate and you can opt for the paid plans if you want to put everything. If your laptop gets stolen or crashes, you’ll be thankful that you have everything important on Dropbox.
Google Calendar (All platforms) – Calendar
If you’re handling multiple devices like any dutiful Techizen, you’re going to want to have your calendar wherever you are. Google Calendar will do that without making you think to hard about how to do it. The design is clean, it’s free, and you don’t have to worry about losing stuff when you switch machines/platforms.
Spotify (All platforms, select countries) – Music
Only recently landing in the US, this is the future of music. Pay $5 or $10 a month and get access to what is more or less the equivalent entire iTunes Store. Awesome right? Stream unlimited to your devices and save your favorite playlists locally for offline listening. It’s really as good as it sounds (no pun intended).
Netflix (All platforms, select countries) – Movies
Unlimited movies and TV shows streamed to your computer. Legally. There are a whole host of reasonable monthly plans, but it’ll be totally worth it with late nights in dorms. Tip: Split the plan with your roommate.
Whatsapp (All phone platforms) – Messaging
AT&T just cut it’s cheapest $10 texting plan, leaving you with $20 being your only monthly option. WTF. Get data on your phone and pick up Whatsapp. It’s a one time download charge ($1-$2) and that’s it. It works across pretty much every phone platform (the main advantage of SMS) but it’s faster, better for multimedia, has group chat, along with a whole host of other features. If you want to keep in touch with HS friends while making strong, new connections with college friends, you need a robust IM system. This is one.
While this is a college-centric post, these are really some the devices and tools for life. You’re going going to need a great mobile computer in your pocket, a great computer, and great software to do good work and get the most out of fruits that the digital world bear. With the tools above, you should be set to learn, create, and connect.