Student Guide – How to Buy the Right Tablet PC

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The month of July is halfway over. Students all over the world have begun to prepare for another busy school year this fall. In addition to the “kids” headed to universities for undergraduate work (outside of partying, chasing co-eds). There are graduate students, medical students, law students and even those preparing to go abroad for schooling.

Summer is coming to an end. It’s time to get serious! (well for some)

At the top of many students’ “to do lists” is to purchase a piece of technology to serve as the primary tool to organize, connect, take and store class notes and produce written work to be handed in to demanding professors.

Some students will choose a desktop computer. Many are seeking a notebook computer. Chances are if you are reading this piece, right here at, then you are one of the best computing devices for the academic community at large – the Tablet PC!

Who knows how far the Tablet PC will take you?

The Tablet PC is a very exciting and powerful platform, however Tablet PCs vary greatly in designs, features, capabilities and price. Making the right choice can be a daunting and confusing task. To help make the process easy, we have outlined some steps to guide you through the confusion and hype. Read on to assure that you make the right choice in your Tablet PC purchase! We are here to help you with our special tips on “How to Buy the Right Tablet PC”.

Step One –  Decide What “Kind” of Tablet PC You Need

The best place to start is by deciding what kind of computer you plan to carry around. Or is it going to stay on your desk?. Perhaps you aren’t the type to take it with you. Will your Tablet PC sit on your desk 90% of the time? Will your Tablet PC go with you to class every day? Knowing how, when and where you will be using your Tablet PC is an essiential first step in deciding which models to consider for purchase. Once you answer these questions, you will want to choose between three major classes:

  • ultraportables
  • thin-and-lights
  • desktop replacements

The “ultraportable” Tablet PC will allow moderate battery life and add practically no weight to your bag. These models offer compromised processing power and stick to the basic features you need to connect wirelessly on the go. ultraportables perform the majority of typical daily computing tasks, but often offer a small screen of 10″ or less.

note: We are including “slate” Tablet PCs (no keyboard) here, since slates are generally very light, but limited in overall processing power. 

In this category, you would consider models such as the Fujitsu LifeBook P1500, Samsung Q1 UMPC and the Motion Computing LE1600. Remember that the “ultraportable” class of devices are really not the best choice for your “only” computer. Having a full desktop back at your dorm or apartment will complement this option perfectly.

Thin-and-light” Tablet PCs are a perfect compromise for most users and in my opinion an excellent option for students. These models typically offer several hours of battery life, a palatable screen size (12″ or more) and handle daily computing tasks with ease. Extended battery options, wireless connectivity and a variety of external ports are the types of features you will find in this class of Tablet PCs. Models in the thin-and-light category include the Toshiba Portege M400, HP Compaq TC4400, Fujitsu LifeBook T4210 and the IMB/Lenovo ThinkPad X41.

For those users who want to have a large and/or widescreen display, a full-sized keyboard, and perhaps play games the “desktop replacement” category of Tablet PCs may be the right type for you. Although you get a large display, extra power, optical drives standard (note: some “ultraportables” do have an optical drive) and generally better graphics performance, a desktop replacement can be too heavy to carry around comfortably. It is a larger machine that will take up more space in your bag and on your classroom desk. The extra power requirements for the bigger screen will leave you with hardly more than an hour or so of battery life. However, if you don’t care to carry your Tablet PC with you on the go, a desktop replacement makes a perfect “only” computer and will handle just about any demanding computing task you throw at it. Some models in this class to consider are the Toshiba Satellite R20/R25, Gateway M285, Toshiba Tecra M7 and Acer TravelMate C310.

Step Two –  Decide What Features You Require

It is a good idea to create a list of features that you must have on your Tablet PC before you begin to shop. It can be overwhelming to look at all of the bells and whistles a particular model offers all at once. The point of sale is when you may get sidetracked and overlook an important feature. We recommend that you jot down a list ahead of time and be prepared to check it over before finalizing a purchase.

Here is our list of recommended features to consider for your needs. You can use this as a starting point for your own list:

  • Optical Drive – Does it offer DVD playback, DVD burning, CD Burning?

  • RAM – You will need 512MB of RAM minimum. Do you require more for video editing or other demanding tasks such as CAD or rendering with Photoshop filters?

  • Hard Drive – We recommend a hard drive that spins at 5400RPM (or faster) and no less than 4200RPM. Will your drive be big enough to store all of your music, school files and programs? These days 60GB or more usually does the trick. You may require 80GB or more if you need to work with video or store large files.

  • Keyboard – Do you need a keyboard built-in (convertible Tablet PC)? Is the keyboard large enough for typing long papers?

  • Wireless – Does the Tablet PC have Wi-Fi built in? Do you need Bluetooth to connect to a mobile phone or BT modem?

  • Expansion/Ports – Can you install your current EVDO (wireless LAN card)? Does this model have a built-in smart card reader? Does it read the cards from your digital camera? Are there enough USB ports for your needs, etc.

Step Three –  Plan Your Budget/ Research Discounts

You probably already know how much you have to spend on your new Tablet PC. But did you also consider the cost for the software you will need to buy also? Be sure to calculate the total cost of everything you will need so that you don’t find yourself with a Tablet PC and no money to buy any required software.

Be sure to check your eligablility for student discounts on any software titles you will need. You can save hundreds of dollars by going this route. Look into your campus store or better yet visit sites like Academic Superstore to save 30%-70% on everyday sofware titles delivered right to your door! You would be amazed at how much less you will spend on your software with the full-featured “academic versions”.

Final Words

Read reviews and opinions on specific Tablet PC models right here on Read the forums and feel free to ask questions before you buy your tablet so that you are informed and feel confident in the model you decide to purchase. If you have just read this article, then you are already prepared to make a good decision for the right Tablet PC for you!

Barry J. Doyle
Editior in Chief



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