Back-to-school season means lots of people are looking for new laptops. And not just kids.
The National Center for Education Statistics says there are nearly 9 million college and graduate school students 25 or older.
But whether you’re going to school, upgrading your system or outfitting a home office, now may be a good time to shop. You’ll find bargains, new lightweight options and a fresh version of Windows. Consumer Reports gives the details:
It’s bargain season. You should be able to find lots of sales as manufacturers drop prices on older computers to make way for the latest back-to-school models. Many of those are very good laptops, with fast performance, plenty of onboard storage and sleek designs.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system launched in late July, but don’t let that keep you from looking at older models running Windows 8.1; the company will offer free upgrades for a year.
Laptops are more portable than ever. Computers have been shedding inches and ounces for several years. One reason is that processors have become more energy-efficient, allowing engineers to choose thinner, lighter fans for cooling.
In the past 12 months, several laptops have incorporated chips that do not need fans at all — and those models have really slimmed down. The MacBook Air, once the standard-setter for svelte engineering, looks downright clunky compared with the new 12-inch MacBook, a fanless model that is barely more than a half-inch at its thickest point and weighs just 2 pounds.
Even slightly heavier laptops for sale this summer are feathery in comparison to the machines of a few years ago.
Battery life is getting longer. Those energy-efficient processors are extremely good for battery life. One laptop that Consumer Reports tested, Toshiba’s Portege Z30-BSMBN22, lasted an incredible 19 hours between charges.
Convertibles add useful options. Convertibles and detachables might seem destined to rely on compromises — failing to work optimally as either laptops or tablets. But in Consumer Reports’ tests, they perform just as well as conventional laptops — and they do not always cost a premium. They can make it more comfortable to watch a movie or let you leave the keyboard behind.
Tablets and Chromebooks make valid alternatives to laptops, but only for users who can work around their limitations.
It’s tempting to use a tablet as your computer. Most models weigh a pound or less, and the lightest laptop weighs close to 2 pounds. Plus, depending on the laptops you’re comparing, a tablet may be much cheaper.
But there are downsides. You won’t have as much built-in storage as you get on many laptops. You’ll want to add a keyboard, which may weigh more than a pound. And many apps are less robust versions of your computer applications.
There is a full version of Office, called Office 365, available for Android and Apple tablets, but it requires a $99 per year subscription and an Internet connection. Free versions exist for both platforms, but, if you’re doing anything beyond the basics, you might find that they fall short.
Chromebooks look like regular laptops, but they use Google’s Chrome operating system rather than Windows or the Mac OS, and their users rely on Google Docs and the company’s other office programs.
The services work well, and they are widely used even by people with traditional computers, both for collaboration and for their automatic cloud storage.
On the other hand, Chromebooks have limitations. If you want to work offline, you need to plan ahead. Beyond Google Docs and the other office programs, the apps are mostly browser bookmarks, although Google is working slowly to enable Android apps to run on Chrome. And there is not a lot of storage space on a Chromebook.