Wednesday 14 October 2015

A Mom's Perspective on Buying College & University #Tech: Mac vs PC

Two Teens, Two Laptops: Different but Equal

Those who know me know that A) I'm the mother to two evil teens, and B) I'm a tech-challenged Mom surviving in a household of tech-savvy beings. Although it means 24/7 in-house IT it also means that like many parents I have no clue when it comes to buying pricey technology my kids require for school. 

This year we purchased both kids new laptops which we consider to be one-time post secondary education expenses. Unlike the evil teens first laptops where price was a major factor, this time we weren't necessarily looking for the cheapest option, but rather the best value and bang for our buck over the next four years. 

My kids are very different in personality, interests, and what they need and use their laptops for, so not surprisingly their laptop choices are very different as well. Thing 1 needed a laptop that was 15 inches, with specific specs for his college Accounting program, so he opted for the Dell LATITUDE E5550, while Thing 2 his wants his laptop to be smaller, lighter without losing function or aesthetics, so went with the Apple 13 inch Retina Macbook Pro. 

It's the classic PC vs Mac scenario. 

Things Mom considers before buying: The 5 W's 
  • Who: know your kid and what is important to them. Is it size, speed, gaming capabilities, ability to upgrade?
  • What: is the laptop being used for? Are there requirements or specific specs needed to meet the requirements for school? Will it be used to stream video or for games? 
  • When: do you need to purchase it? Give yourself and your kids time to think about what they want and need. Research options available, read consumer reviews, and look into available discount programs. You don't want to be rushed into a decision and time allows you to wait and find the right laptop at the right price point. 
  • Where: will this laptop be used? School, home, work, on the road. Does it need to stand up to being lugged around in a knapsack. I strongly recommend investing in a good laptop bag or knapsack to protect your investment.
  • Why: pick one laptop over another? Why do you need this over that? My kids need to be able to clearly articulate and justify why the added expense of a laptop such as the Dell or Mac makes sense over lower end models. For each individual the justification and their importance for both academic and personal reasons will vary.
If my kids can't answer these questions, or aren't willing to put the time into doing the research, so they can break it down into terms I can understand this bank is closed for business. It's just too much money to wing it or make time pressured snap decisions. 

I could refer you to all the impressive specs for both of these laptops, but frankly it's all Wah Wah Wah to me. So I asked Thing 2 to break it down into Mom speak so I had some understanding of what I was bankrolling and why. 

Just for the sake of comparison the Dell was on sale and was just under $1200 all in, and the Mac was just over $1400 all in. (FYI Evil teens these will not be replaced for at least four years, so treat them with care!)

For those who would like more information and specs on the Dell LATITUDE E5550 or the Apple Retina Macbook Pro.

So here's what Thing 2 had to say: 
What he likes:
  • Has among the best screens of any laptop currently on the market.
  • Footprint is ideal: measuring W: 12.35" L: 8.62" only .71" thick with a weight of 3.48lbs. (Mom speak for fits in knapsack and portable)
  • Very fast mobile i5 or i7 dual core, as well as 8GB of DDR3 RAM in stock configuration (no idea what this means but sounds impressive).
  • Comes with iWork Suite but Microsoft Office Suite is available for Mac should you prefer it.
  • Physical hardware among the best in class. (Mom speak for looks nice - strong and manly)
  • The track pad is arguably the best of any laptop on the market. Backlit chiclet keys with ample travel and tactility. The track pad was Thing2 biggest complaint about his previous laptop (and he complained about it a lot!). It may seem like a minor thing, but given the amount invested into a laptop and impact on user experience this is important. We learned the hard way to try before you buy. 
What he doesn't like:
  • The intel integrated graphics means if you like to game this may not be the laptop for you. 
  • Missing Windows applications may be an issue for those who need them for work, school, or just as a preference.
  • Parts are not upgradable: the SSD and RAM are soldered to motherboard. This means you must spec the laptop how you want it at the time of purchase and live with those decisions for the full lifespan of the laptop.
Other notes:
People often speak of an "apple tax" and that you pay more for apple products for the name, but for this laptop you would be hard pressed to find one with these specs for less than the price of this Macbook. 

What he likes:
  • Due to its business origin has a rugged design likely to withstand years of being thrown in a knapsack without problems.
  • Large 1920 x 1080 anti-glare display.
  • Capable i5 5300u dual core processor with hyper threading to create 2 real cores and 2 virtual core (wah wah wah ... no idea what this means but again sounds impressive).
  • Very good backlit keyboard and track pad. The keys are chiclet style and offer a good amount of tactility and type travel.
  • Boasts a 12 hour battery life that is more than enough for a full day or work or school.
  • Offers full range of Windows applications.
  • Good price point (especially when it is on sale!)
  • Nice understated design.
  • Parts such as the RAM or the hard drive are easily updated after purchase which provides some future-proofing.
What he doesn't like:
  • Plastic construction.
  • Like the Macbook Pro it has intel integrated graphics and is therefore not ideal for intensive gaming at high resolution.
  • This laptop uses a hard drive which is slower, louder and more easily damaged if dropped than an SSD (solid state drive), however since the hard drive is removable you have the option of upgrading to a SSD at a later date.
  • This laptop is large measuring W: 14.8" L: 10.1" 0.9" thick and weighing 4.71lbs. 
Other notes: 
Size is really about preference and purpose. In this case a larger screen was required to display full page reports and documents. 
In my opinion this laptop is on the large size for Thing 1 to carry around and fit on lecture hall desks to take notes, so we purchased a tablet and the Live Scribe Smart Pen 3 for note taking. This brings the total investment costs to the same amount as his brothers, but configured in a way that works better for him.  

Our Tech Investment Portfolios: Different but Equal

Thing 1 is happy to let his father find him a laptop that meets the requirements for school and is less particular about the aesthetics than his brother. He just wants it to work and be fast. Because of the laptop size requirements for school, adding other tech tools like a tablet and Live Scribe SmartPen makes sense for him. He like his brother has a desktop computer so gaming capabilities on his laptop is not an issue. 

Thing 2 wants a small portable laptop he can bring to school daily and edit video and photos easily on. The experience, feel, build quality and design are much more important to him. He knows specifically what he wants from his laptop, and after several expensive almost right purchase decisions largely made on cost, we decided it is cheaper in the long run and better value to get him the laptop he wanted all along. He is happier, treats it better, and researched in advance exactly what he would need from his laptop for the next four years.

Yep, just me Cathy thinking out loud about teens and tech.

Note: I was not compensated for this post. The purpose of this post was merely to share my experience and tips with my readers. All opinions are my own and reflect my personal experience with the brands or products. 

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