technofile template Looking for a college laptop? Fresh 'Air' is ideal

Nobody makes a better laptop than Apple, period.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Looking for a college laptop? Fresh 'Air' is ideal

July 29, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

Life is complicated enough. Make at least part of it as simple as possible when you're shopping for a laptop for your college-bound teenager.

Get that kid a Mac.

Anything else is a waste.

Before you accuse me of being a fawning Apple acolyte, let me explain that I stopped fawning when my mom put a bib on me, stopped acolyting when I got hired as a journalist and cut out all the I-Love-Apple stuff when I started teaching both Windows and Mac users.

But I still look at these things pragmatically. Nobody makes a better laptop than Apple. Nobody comes close in terms of service. Nobody puts better software on a computer. Right out of the box you have iTunes, iPhoto, Safari for the Web, Time Machine for backups, Preview for all those PDFs, and much more. No duds and no crapware.

Everybody should know by now that Macs are much safer than Windows PCs, by a ratio of a million to one. (That's a rough guess. There are about 10 million Windows viruses and maybe 10 Mac viruses, so that's how I got that ratio.) Sure, you can stick antivirus software on a Windows PC, but if AV software actually worked the way it should, there wouldn't be a virus problem. In reality, a Windows PC is a magnet for trouble.

People who don't know much about Macs complain that college kids need to use Windows. What they actually mean is that college kids need to use Microsoft Office -- mostly Word, Excel and Power Point. And what they don't realize is that Microsoft sells a Mac version of Office that works the same as the Windows version. (They handle each other's files just fine.)

Pretty good, right? There's more. Does your kid still insist on Windows despite all your urgings about a Mac? All current Macs can turn themselves into Windows PCs, too. If Microsoft Office for the Mac isn't enough, your kid can run any kind of weirdo Windows software, too. All that's needed is a Windows installation disk. With Windows installed, Mac users can switch from Mac to PC just by rebooting.

Apple doesn't make bottom-of-the-line computers. You can find $400 Windows laptops all over the place but you won't find a Mac made that cheaply. On the other hand, that Windows laptop won't be worth more than $90 after three years, while the Mac laptop you bought for $1,200 will still bring half its original price.

The coolest Mac laptop surely is the 11-inch MacBook Air. It's $999. It's no bigger than a copy of Time magazine and almost as thin. A big-sister version, the 13-inch MacBook Air, provides a larger display for $200 more. Both have full-size keyboards and are a delight to type on. (My main laptop is a 13-inch Air.)

Apple does not discount Macs, but it does sell refurbished Apple products of all kinds at reduced prices. To see a list of current refurbs, go to the Apple online store at and scroll down to the lower left. Click on "Refurbished Mac" under "Special Deals." Refurbished products have new warranties and have been completely renewed, even to the extent of getting new batteries and new software.

Of course, you can also buy new Mac laptops online or from a local Apple store. I recommend adding Apple's extra warranty, called Apple Care. It's one of the few extra-cost warranties Consumer's Union has ever recommended, and I have it on my Mac and my iPad.