Best Mac for students
Whether you’re off to college or back to school choosing the best Mac can be tricky. Martyn Casserly is here to help
A t first glance Macs might still seem expensive, especially when compared with the £300 laptops that you’ll find on offer in Tesco and PC World, but while those cheaper machines are built down to a price, Apple believes firmly in creating devices that are powerful and meant to last.
A Mac you buy for university should quite happily see you through all the adventures of your course
and still be something you’ll want to carry on using for a few years afterwards.
But deciding which model is best for you can be tricky. Some of this depends on what type of student you are, and of course your budgetary arrangements will be a significant factor.
To help you buy the right model we’ve gathered together all the facts you need to know and created a student’s guide to buying a Mac. We’ll consider what students are likely to need from their Mac, and what features you should pay more for.
We then take a closer look at Apple’s range of Macs and the built to order options available that might be useful. Plus, we’ve also collected together some accessories, software and services that could come in handy during your course.
The first thing we want to mention before talking about anything else is Apple’s Education Store (tinyurl.com/y8o3gbbm). We look at this in more detail on page 25.
As the student life involves a far amount of mobility – travelling to lectures, libraries, the occasional coffee shop, and so on – it makes sense to consider a laptop rather than a desktop device.
While the screen sizes in MacBooks are smaller than iMacs, you can always find an inexpensive screen, or even your TV, and connect that to your MacBook when you need a larger display. Then once you’re done with the big screen, you still have your mobile powerhouse machine and all your files.
One Mac that’s easy to take off your shopping list is the Mac Pro (if you haven’t done so already).
At £2,999 (from fave. co/2t3dKRO) it’s overkill for nearly all student tasks and unless you are involved in some heavy number crunching or professionallevel video editing, you won’t value its power.
Even in a field like computer science or 3D animation you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. In the vast majority of cases you would be better served saving the money and opting for a cheaper model, especially when you consider that you’d need to buy a screen, keyboard and mouse for the Pro.
If you’re looking for stability and a reliable operating system that won’t crash each time you try and save your work, then the MacBook range of laptops is truly impressive. Given Apple’s pricing strategy, it might seem like they are expensive versus their Windows alternatives, however the added premium is justified.
Starting with the MacBook Pro, these laptops are seen as the most expensive and powerful Mac
laptops. Apple updated the range earlier this year to add more power and efficiency thanks to new Intel chips, so now’s a great time to buy, too.
The range starts at £1,249 (from fave. co/2t3gPS7) for the 13in non-Touch Bar version and goes up to £2,699 (from fave.co/2tJWXjO) for the top-of-the-range 15in Touch Bar version.
The Touch Bar, while stunning, is still largely a gimmick that most students can do without. If the 13in display is big enough for you and you’re set on the MacBook Pro, we’d recommend opting for the model priced at £1,449 (from fave.co/2t3eUNg).
That model has Intel’s 7th Generation Kaby Lake dual-core i5 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage. There’s Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 and two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. USB-C does cause a bit of an issue because it replaces USB-A, but there are adaptors available that will help.
If you’re looking for a MacBook that doesn’t break the bank, but still offers good portability, then the Air might be the perfect fit.
It has a 13in screen, and comes equipped with a 1.8GHz Intel i5 processor, 128GB or 256GB of storage, and 8GB 1,600MHz RAM. It costs £949 (from fave.co/2t2PZtf) for the base model, or £1,099 (from fave.co/2sOU67Z) for the 256GB model. View in the Apple Store here.
The Air features the right ports too, with two USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt 2 port, an SDXC card slot and a MagSafe 2 power port. This makes the Air cheaper than other Macs while also being very portable, and therefore more practical for students to take to lectures.
One the downside, it has a slower processor than the MacBook Pro and significantly less graphics power, but it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference in everyday tasks.
Along with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Apple also offers a laptop that’s simply called MacBook. This 12in MacBook is actually thinner than the MacBook Air and features a gorgeous design. But is it the right option for students?
Starting at £1,249 (from fave.co/2sZW1Lc), the MacBook is more expensive than the Air, even though it has a weaker processor. The base model offers a dual-core 1.2GHz Intel Core m3 processor, 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 615.
It does have its design going for it though, as its incredibly thin and lightweight, just 13.1mm at its thickest, which is 24 percent thinner than the Air.
The next model in the range costs a cool £1,549 (from fave.co/2tJhLs4) and bumps the
internal memory of the MacBook up from 256- to 512GB. Its processor is also given a slight bump up to 1.3GHz from 1.2GHz, but everything else (including its 12in screen) stays the same.
As mentioned above when we discussed the MacBook Pro, the fact that you’ll have to buy an adaptor to use any external hard drives, USB sticks, or even a wired Internet connection with your MacBook, and the fact that there are more powerful (and cheaper) laptops available, makes it difficult to recommend the MacBook for university studies. Get a cheaper, or more powerful, Air instead.
The iMac might be one for consideration for a student, but it’s not a portable computer, which might deter many students from purchasing one. You won’t be able to take it with you to lectures, but you will be able to work more efficiently through its bigger 21.5- or 27in screen.
The cheapest model comes in at £1,049 (from fave.co/2sPpkfr). It has a 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, a 1TB hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 6000 and a 21.5in 1920x1080 sRGB display. We find the hard drive its weakest point, as it slows down everything on the Mac – from saving a document to powering the Mac on. We would suggest paying an extra £90 for a 1TB Fusion Drive or even an additional £180 for 256GB flash storage – this will greatly improve performance.
The slightly more expensive iMac (£1,249 from fave.co/2sPn6wE) is a much different proposition.
It has a 3GHz quad-core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive (we’d still recommend a Fusion Drive update if you can afford the extra £90). It’s a great Mac for graphic designers and video editors alike, as it combines a lot of storage with a good processor and the ‘4K’ screen is excellent. For £1,449 (from fave. co/2t3csqa) you can get a 21.5in iMac that’s even faster, with a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5. It also has 8GB RAM and this time offers a 1TB Fusion drive. The price is nudging upwards, but it’s a beautiful machine. At the top of the tree are the beautiful 27in iMacs with 5K Retina display, which are hugely powerful, elegant, and costs upwards of £1,749 (from fave.co/2wt8vcp), which isn’t bad for what you get, but we feel this is above the budget and overkill for a lot of students.
We have mixed feelings about the Mac mini. On the one hand it remains an excellent low-cost Mac, while on the other hand the recent upgrade has
taken away some of the things that made it such an attractive Mac.
Still, the entry model Mac mini is only £479 (from fave.co/2sPo4Jl), which makes it the most affordable Mac by quite a distance. It houses a 1.4GHz Intel i5 CPU, that feels perfectly fine for everyday tasks.
If you are on a real budget this is the way to go. Get an entry-level model and ask around for an old keyboard, mouse and monitor.
You may be using second-hand accessories but your Mac will sit at the heart of it all. You could also plug the Mac mini into your TV, although we wouldn’t recommend writing your dissertation on a TV screen.
Which Mac should you get for university?
Last year the best all-round choice for students was the MacBook Air, and this year it’s still our top recommendation. It’s light, fast, and at £949 for the entry model it offer good value for an excellent machine. If you’re looking to save a few pounds, then keep an eye on the Apple Refurb Store (tinyurl.com/ybopp226). Airs turn up with great
frequency, and you can typically get £50 to £100 off. Refurbished Mac models are fully checked and come with a one-year guarantee.
The MacBook Air, might not seem like a worthwhile purchase for most, given the Pro and regular MacBook offer something extra in either build or performance, but with its included USB-A ports, lightweight design, cheaper price, the MacBook Air is our top recommendation.
If you can afford more, we would opt for the nonTouch Bar MacBook Pro model.