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Back to School: Best Tablet Computers for Students

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[The following is a guest post from Kenny Kraisornkowit who offers shopping advice, product reviews and ways to save money on tech gear and gadgets at Savoo, the U.K.-based version of the popular deal site, Savings.com. As you can from my previous posts, I've got Touchpads on my mind 24-7 nowadays.]

School’s going to be rolling around soon and all the cool kids on campus aren’t going to be carrying around textbooks or notepads. The coolest ones won’t even have laptops anymore, because laptops were so 2010. The future’s here and that means we’re living in a world with tablets, touchscreens, and digital books to save you from having to lug a 20 lb. backpack across campus.

What’s that you say? You don’t actually have one of your own yet? Not to worry, as there are a ton of options to choose from regardless of both your needs and your budget.

The “I just want something cheap to use to play Angry Birds and check Facebook instead of paying attention to my professor.”

Although technically an e-book reader and not a tablet, the Barnes & Noble Nook Color is the perfect budget tablet. The Nook Color runs a proprietary version of Android 2.2 that limits both the kinds of e-books you can read as well as the apps you can run, but with a little tech savviness and (realistically) about 30-60 minutes of your time, you can have a fully functional tablet in your hand running the latest and great iteration of Android.

With a screen that’s a scant 7”, the Nook Color makes an ideal travel companion that doesn’t force you to give up too much screen area. Additionally, its vibrant display with wide viewing angles great for watching video on the go. Find it new on BN.com for $249 or refurbished for $199.

The “I want something with the portability of the Nook Color, except I also want it to be a real tablet and not an e-book reader that I spent an hour hacking up.”

For years, HTC has been pumping out awesome smartphones that have helped the company build up a devout following--so it’s only natural that they would extend their magic to tablets. The HTC Flyer is a 7” offering that features that features the fantastic build quality that has become a hallmark of their smartphones, except in a larger size. What’s more, the tablet also comes with an optional pressure sensitive stylus (notable because they typically don’t work with capacitive touch screens) that they’re calling the Scribe Pen, making the Flyer an ideal choice for artists.

The Flyer’s solid aluminum construction makes it a rugged companion, perfect for students that might not always be quite so careful with their possessions. You’ll find it at in stores for $499, but you’ll have to toss in an additional $79 for the Scribe Pen.

The “Okay fine I admit tablets are the future of computers, but I don’t really want to give up the versatility of my laptop just yet."

Having already made their mark as a manufacturer of both desktop and notebook computers, Asus made a huge splash by jumping into the tablet arena with their first major offering:  the Asus Transformer. Like most of the newer Android tablets the Transformer uses Android 3.0, otherwise known as Honeycomb. What sets it apart, however, is its ability to connect to a specially made dock that allows it to function as what’s essentially a laptop computer.

The seamless integration of its keyboard dock makes the Asus Transformer the perfect choice for the enterprising student that still needs to bang out the occasional paper or two because let’s face it--typing on a touchscreen for any extended period of time is little more than an exercise in frustration. At $399, the Transformer also beats out most of its competition by at least $100. Add in the keyboard dock for another $149.

The “I would get an iPad but I already have an Android Phone and I really don’t want to have to buy my apps all over again so this is the best Android option available regardless of price.”

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is hands down the best Honeycomb Android tablet you can get for the money. Although it’s missing the versatility that the Transformer’s keyboard dock offers, it more than makes up for it in speed, build quality, weight (or lack thereof), and refinement of both the software and hardware. In fact, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is so thin and light that it actually matches or beats the iPad 2 in each of those respective categories.

Like Samsung’s Galaxy S line of phones, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 features a bright and vibrant screen that’s almost unmatched by anything else currently available on the market. Furthermore, its battery life in real world usage is second only to the iPad 2, at nearly 10 hours. Find the Galaxy Tab 10.1 at a number of retailers for $499.

The "I'm not sure what this tablet-mania is all about or if I want to invest $300-400 in one."

Think $500 is too much for a tablet computer?  Is $300 still too pricey?  How about $99?  Yup, you heard right: HP's entry in the tablet arena was originally priced at $499. [Editor's note: even at that price I found some good reasons to ask if the HP Touchpad was a smart buy]. However, HP's recent decision to discontinue webOS, the TouchPad is now available for a mere $99 for the 16GB version and $149 for 32GB.  Although the TouchPad has received mixed reviews and suffers from slow performance, if you're hesitant about shelling out the big bucks for a tablet computer think of the TouchPad as an opportunity to test drive the technology.  You can't even buy a Kindle for that price, so if all you did with the TouchPad is load your e-textbooks on it, you're still saving money. [Editor's Note: Plus, if you don't like it, you can probably sell it for pretty much what you paid for it.]

The iPad 2

The most tablet specific apps and the most refined experience wrapped up in a quality package that’s typical of Apple’s quality. If you haven’t locked yourself into the Android ecosystem with your smartphone (not that there’s anything wrong with Android, it’s actually my mobile OS of choice), the iPad 2 is hands down the choice to run with if you’ve got $499 burning a hole in your pocket.

I sum this up with the following lines, heavily paraphrased from the movie, Up in the Air:

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. Your pencils, your calculator, your pens, all the little things. You go bigger. Your notebook, your papers, your textbooks. Feel the weight of that bag.

Except you don’t feel the weight of that bag on your back. It’s only 1 pound because that’s what your tablet weighs, and it’s in your hands and not in your bag.

Posted on August 22, 2011.

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One Response to “Back to School: Best Tablet Computers for Students”

  1. Sean Murphy says:

    A very nicely written piece about what a student would require from his tablet PC.

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