Buying a new computing device

Today my cousin asked for my advice about getting a new computing device for her daughter who is going off to university.  Her daughter wisely wanted something lightweight, probably figuring that she’d be carrying it with her all the time.

My primary recommendation was to procrastinate the purchase for as long as possible.  There were two reasons for this.  The first was that she should put off the purchase until she could learn what was common – or even expected – at her university.  For example, do professors make their PowerPoint slides available and expect essays in Microsoft Word format?  Or do they take everything in rich text or PDF?  Is there a Citrix client or other common software that the university makes available or expects you to use?  In this vein, I just read this interesting ZDNet article the other day.

Fire-trucks-on-parade-smallPersonally, my next computer will probably be a Windows 8.1 tablet with an attachable/detachable keyboard.  That’s because I really like Office 2012, and most of my correspondence is business related and therefore uses Word/PowerPoint/Excel.  I’d also really like a device that supports a stylus for creating quick diagrams or sketches.  The nice thing about the Windows tablets is they usually come with a USB connection or two, so you could even plug in an inexpensive printer or USB backup drive.  I know all the cool kids are backing up to the cloud these days, so here’s hoping your dorm comes with seriously high-speed to support everybody working on last-minute assignments.  🙂

Our-family-and-the-sun-smallIf you can wait a month or two then new Windows 8.1 devices – with Office already installed – will be coming out soon (but you probably don’t want to wait).  I’m also hearing good things about Lenovo’s consumer oriented hardware these days (check out this tablet).

If you’re already into the Apple ecosystem then obviously an iPad is probably a better idea.  You can even get an iPad keyboard case.  Again, if all of your professors are going to be distributing notes in Word/PowerPoint an iPad isn’t going to cut it (I’ve heard that the cross-platform Office support just isn’t there).

If you can’t wait, drive down to the local best-buy and try out a bunch of devices and see which one you like the best.   Heck, choose an Android device if it meets your needs!  But definitely go with a well-defined set of requirements such as: screen size, weight, keyboard case, document support, application support, stylus?, other peripherals (like printer) support, and warranty, etc.

I hope that helps,


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Talked with my cousin and found out that she’ll be taking Biology and Kremlinology, both of which likely require drawing diagrams in class.  So I actually recommended an old fashioned technology called pencil and paper, and then a beefier computer for home use that she wouldn’t lug to class.

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