Great Laptops And Tablets For Back To School And Uni

Need help finding the right laptop, tablet or convertible to get you or your kids through school or Uni? We have put together our top picks from the affordable through to more powerful options.


The Basics

Before you start on your quest to buy a shiny, new laptop, convertible or tablet, it's worth considering the basics that should underpin all tech purchases:


Know Your Budget

Setting a budget and sticking to it is paramount when it comes to tech buying, and it's especially important when it comes to getting a laptop or convertible. Laptops are bigger ticket items, which means you'll be living with a device for a longer period of time. Don't skimp out if you need the extra power, but also don't be swayed by specs you don't need. These days even the very cheapest laptops are surprisingly effective. If you want a laptop that also doubles as a tablet, be prepared to pony up some extra cash.


Ask The Teacher

There's no national standard for laptops or convertibles in schools these days, which can make selecting a laptop for schoolwork tough. There are a few ways you can make sure you're buying the right device for their education.

Alternatively, if you want double-confirmation on what you should be buying, go and have a chat to the IT manager at the school. They're technologically proficient for a living, and they're a great place to find a second opinion to confirm your purchase.


Specs Are Important

For general day to day document creation, video watching and web surfing, even the lower end Core i3 and Atom CPUs have more than enough grunt. If you want to run demanding programs look for a Core i5 or better as well as extra RAM, and if you need it, a discrete graphics card.

The trade-off for power (at an affordable price) is often battery life, so keep that in mind. Manufatuers often sell multiple different spec levels of the same laptop, which can be an easy way to find the right balance between power and affordability.

Storage space is always an issue, especially with cheaper laptops which often feature 32GB or 64GB SSDs. Some models have secondary HDDs to store you extra files – a must have if working with images or video. You can also often upgrade the existing storage with a cheap SD card.

If you need to do a lot of typing, a larger 15” laptop gives a normal sized keyboard. You also get handy extras such as DVD drives, albeit for a sometimes hefty weight penalty. If you need something ultraportable and tend to do more reading than typing then a smaller (or removable) keyboard is just fine.

For kids, convertibles are a great place to start as they 'convert' between tablet mode (great for casual use consuming content) and laptop mode (where the work happens).


A Laptop or Tablet for Everyone

We have rounded up our top picks for laptops and convertibles – ranging from those suited to very tight budgets, through the mid-range and into a few higher performance machines that are still under $1000. No matter your need, we have a laptop for you.


HP Stream 11

One of the cheapest laptops on the market at $299, the brightly coloured Stream 11 is a fully featured Windows machine for Chromebook pricing.

It’s got an Intel Celeron N2840 CPU, but it can boost up to 2.58GHz.

Don’t be put off by the lower end processor – in our tests it happily handled normal web browsing and document creation without slowing down.

It’s also got 2GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD – though you can expand the storage via SD card. The 11.6” screen has a typical 1366 x 768 resolution and you get an excellent 9 hours + of battery life.

Just 19.8mm thick and weighing 1.25 KG the Stream 11 is very easy to tote about in a backpack.

CPU: Intel Celeron N2840 2.58GHz Screen: 11.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 32GB eMMC SSD Weight: 1.25 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0 ports Price: $299

ASUS EeeBook X205TA

A modern take on the original netbook concept, the 11.6” X205 costs just $299 and runs a full version of Windows 8.1.

Thanks to the power sipping Quad Core Intel Atom Z3735 CPU, it is totally fanless, which makes it silent (a boon when studying) and eliminates the possibility of debris getting sucked inside.

You also get 2GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC SSD. Despite the modest spec, the EeeBook has enough grunt to create and edit word documents and load up all the tabs you want when researching on the net.

It’s also got a massive 10 hour + battery life and weighs just 0.95 KG.

CPU: Intel Atom Z3735 Screen: 11.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 32GB eMMC SSD Weight: 0.95 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0 ports Price $299

Acer E5-511-280C

Demanding only $448 of your hard earned cash, the Acer is a full size 15.6” laptop.

Rather than a Core i3 CPU, the E5 has an Intel Celeron N2930 processor. This efficient little quad core chip can boost up to 2.16 GHz and offers very similar performance to the cheaper Core i3 CPUs.

The Acer has 4GB and RAM, which combined with the Quad Core CPU means it handles multitasking quite well. It’s also got a 500 GB HDD (not an SSD) and a DVD optical drive.

The screen has a 1366 x 768 resolution and can manage over 7 hours of typical use on a full battery. It is a little chunkier at 2.5 KG, but the larger keyboard and screen make it a solid workhorse.

CPU: Intel Celeron N2930 2.16GHz Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB HDD Weight: 2.5 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 3x 2.0, 1x 3.0 Price: $448

ASUS Transformer Book T100

For just $499, the 10.1” ASUS Transformer Book is one of the most well regarded affordable convertible laptops.

Refusing to be pigeonholed, the T100 is also a very useable Windows tablet. It’s powered by the Intel Quad Core Atom Z3740 CPU, has 2GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC SSD.

For a few extra dollars you can also get a version with a 500GB secondary HDD tucked away in the keyboard.

The 1366 x 768 screen looks sharper than normal because of the smaller size, though the keyboard and trackpad can be a little cramped for long typing sessions.

You can expect 10 hours or more of battery life and the unit charges via micro USB. Overall it weighs 1.1KG, with each half tipping the scales at 550 grams.

CPU: Intel Atom Z3740 Quad Core Screen: 10.1” 1366 x 768 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 64GB eMMC Weight: 1.1 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 1x 3.0 Price: $499

HP Pavilion x2

Available for just $499, the 10.1” Pavilion X2 leans more towards the tablet side of the convertible laptop market. Rather than a hard click in hinge, the x2 uses a flexible magnetically attached keyboard that props itself up like a tablet case.

The system makes it very easy to switch between tablet and laptop use without the fear you could damage the connection.

Inside it has the capable yet efficient Intel Atom Z3745D that trundles along at 1.33 GHz. It’s not the most powerful machine, but thanks to four cores has no trouble with normal use. You also get 2GB of DDR3 and a 32GB eMMC SSD.

The 10.1” display breaks away from the norm with a 1280 x 800 resolution. Thanks to the unique design, the x2 is very light – weighing in at just 550 grams as a tablet and 870 grams with keyboard attached.

You can expect up to 12 hours of battery life as well, which makes the x2 a great choice for long days.

CPU: Intel Atom Z3745 Quad Core Screen: 10.1” 1280 x 800 RAM: 2GB DDR3 HDD: 32GB eMMC Weight: 0.87 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 1x 3.0 Price: $499

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series

Rather than a single laptop, Dell has an entire series that cater to range of budgets and performance needs.

Featuring a 15” frame, a roomy keyboard, a DVD drive and a 15.6” 1366 x 768 screen, the 3000 series can be equipped with low to high end CPUs.

Starting from $598.99, you can grab a great bang for buck model powered by a Core i3-4005U with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD.

For $200 more you can get a Core i5 and 1TB of storage. From $698.99 you can get a power quad core AMD A6-6310 APU with Radeon R4 graphics.

You can also get a smaller 11.6” version with a Core i3 that can transform from a laptop into a tablet.

CPU: Intel Core i3 + Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB – 8GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB / 1TB Weight: 2.19 KG+ Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0, 1x 2.0 Price: From $598.99

Lenovo G50-70

For just $799, the G50-70 is a no nonsense workhorse laptop in a roomy 15.6” form factor. Importantly it packs some decent hardware, with a dual core Intel i5-4210U that runs up to 2.7GHz.

It’s also got 4GB of DDR3, a 500GB HDD and a discrete AMD Radeon R5 M230 with 2GB of its own RAM.

While the ability to run resource hungry software (such as CAD) the Lenovo can also manage a little light gaming during your time off.

The 15.6” has a 1366 x 768 resolution and you get a DVD drive. While cheap and powerful, the battery life on the Lenovo could be better but will manage 3 hours without much fuss.

If you like the laptop but don’t need the higher spec, there is a version without the Radeon videocard and a Core i3 CPU for $100 less.

CPU: Intel Core i5-4210U Screen: 15.6” 1366 x 768 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 500GB Weight: 2.5KG Wi-Fi: 802.11n USB: 2x 2.0, 1x 3.0 Price: $799

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

More expensive than the other laptops at $974, the Surface Pro is one of those devices that just manages to hit the perfect sweet spot between laptop and tablet.

At 12.2 inches, the Pro 3 is bigger than most convertibles, but smaller than a full size laptop. Also compared to the typical low resolutions, it has great 2160 x 1440 panel.

The super slim magnetically connected keyboard makes it very fast and easy to switch between laptop and tablet mode as well.

The entry level Surface comes with an Intel Core i3, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. You can also get it with a more powerful i5 or even i7 CPU, more RAM and a larger SSD.

If you want to go all out, the Surface even has a proper dock available for serious work.

With normal use you should see up to 9 hours of battery life before needing to plug in. The Surface Pro 3 weighs in at 800 grams by itself and is just 9.1mm thick.

CPU: Intel Core i3 4020Y Screen: 12” 2160 x 1440 RAM: 4GB DDR3 HDD: 64GB SSD Weight: 0.8 KG Wi-Fi: 802.11ac USB: 1x 3.0 Price: $974

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Comments

    Good round up.

    The link for the Dell Inspiron 3000 series links here:
    http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/06/dells-computex-2014-tech-gets-australian-pricing/
    Which does not discuss the Inspiron 3000 series at all.

    I brought a second hand Lenovo Thinkpad, which is faster and has a much better keyboard then the $300 laptops here, but cost a bit less. I think when your budget is only a few hundred dollars buying second hand is a better option; if you shop right there aren't really that many risks and you get more computer for the money.

      which model did you get? (thinking of doing that too)

        It's a Thinkpad Edge E431. I would recommend just lurking on eBay until something good shows up, occasionally you'll find something going for way below the normal price. Mine was around 250, and came with an extended battery.

    I did a lot of research and ended up with a 14" Lenovo Thinkpad E440 with i5 processor.

    The screen resolution of all these devices (except the surface) is too small to do anything useful on. We have higher screen resolutions on our phones than we do in our laptops! What gives?

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