Even for those who feel at home with their nose in a textbook, the end of summer break is a bummer. But as much as it's a return to school and schedules, it's an opportunity. This is a fine excuse to invest in some fresh tech to make the coming academia-addled year a little more bearable.
If you're still reliant on a desktop, or if your laptop winces at the sight of a high-definition video lecture, it's time to look into an upgrade. And thankfully if you know where to look, it's possible to get a sleek and impressive notebook without blowing through your savings (or student loans).
We've pored through our laptop reviews from the past several months and picked out five laptops for school (with a few honorable mentions) that range from bag-sized little options for classroom note-taking to more powerful selections that'll do better around a dorm room for a variety of budgets.
For the undeclared or liberal arts student that's strapped for cash (i.e. most students these days), it's hard to go wrong with a Chromebook. And Toshiba's entry just so happens to be one of the best. One of the few models available with a 13.3-inch screen, the Toshiba Chromebook (starting at $279, £207, AU$440) will get you through any term paper or assignment that you'd otherwise use Microsoft Office for.
However, this is neither the most powerful machine around nor the most supported in terms of apps. So, don't be surprised if your professor's online class tool of choice won't work on your Chromebook.
That said, app support is only growing as Chromebooks invade schools of all levels. If you've yet to declare a major or don't have much need for very specific apps or hardware, this is no doubt the way to save a few hundred bucks.
- Read our full Toshiba Chromebook review
Dell Inspiron 15 7000
Looking for a general use machine for the dorm with that premium feel and performance to match, without the primo price tag? Then look no further than the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series (starting at $649, £629, AU$1,899).
With an aluminum finish, excellently snappy keyboard and trackpad, this multimedia laptop will not steer you wrong while typing away in your dorm or the local library. However, be warned that this unit errs on the heavy side. Commuters: prepare your backs.
But that's one of very few caveats to attain something close to that Apple look and feel without paying through the nose for it. If you need a general use laptop that both looks and feels powerful for less, this should be your first stop.
- Read our full Dell Inspiron 15 7000 review
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
Let's say you're attending the business school within your college of choice, but want to both impress your professors (and your peers), but want a machine that can have fun, too. The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga (starting at $949, £851, AU$1,399) offers both, with its trademark ThinkPad looks, power and sensibilities and Yoga-inspired versatility.
While it's tough to find many concrete uses for such features – like several touch-focused use modes – in the business, they make more sense for the student. Take notes and churn through spreadsheets while looking like a pro, and prop up the device in tent mode while winding down with a Netflix binge in the dorm.
The ThinkPad Yoga is positioned as a business tablet with a penchant for leisure, with so-so results. But Lenovo might have missed this notebook's true calling: the MBA candidate.
- Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review
Dell Precision M3800
If you're working toward a career in film editing or post-production, 3D modeling and design, or some hardcore data crunching, this mobile workstation is all you. The Dell Precision M3800 (starting at $2,570, £1,756, AU$3,299) is by no means cheap, but is designed to handle the most intense computing tasks with ease.
With Nvidia Quadro graphics and an optional 3,200 x 1,800 15.6-inch screen, you'll be able to get work done fast and see more of what you're doing. Not to mention that the machine also looks super slick, with an aluminum lid and soft-touch plastic finish.
This is one of the ultimate MacBook Pro competitors if there ever was one, from its internals to its dashing good looks. The Precsion M3800 is proof that not all mobile workstations need be backbreakers or harsh on the eyes.
- Read our full Dell Precision M3800 review
13-inch MacBook Air
Now now, before you start, this has way less to do with being with the "in" crowd than it does with unparalleled battery life and an operating system that's ramping up in popularity in a number fields, namely media. If you're after a degree in anything from design to advertising to editorial (and more), chances are those companies are running on Mac OS.
Therefore, it's best to get intimately familiar with the de facto flagship OS of the media world now for an extra résumé mention than to spend the first few weeks of your first internship learning an all-new system. Plus, the 13-inch MacBook Air (starting at $999, £849, AU$1,199) is cheaper and more powerful than ever.
Finally, the MacBook Air is one of the thinnest, lightest and longest-lasting laptops available today. Windows laptops is just now catching up in these categories. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better technological investment for breaking into the media world.
- Read our full 13-inch MacBook Air review
Originally contributed by Chris Thornett