Updates to the site: Chromebooks and Note-taking

The start of term is coming upon us again soon, so I thought I’d update the advice on our Devices and Note-taking pages to cover Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are hybrids of tablets and laptops, offering the perks and flaws of both. However, they are not to be overlooked when choosing a device to bring to university. Certainly, if you are needing to use any form of specialist software (i.e. more than a web-browser and basic office-type programs), then Chromebooks are not for you. Yet, some of the newer models coming out boast battery life that is double that of a laptop, increasingly important if you want to bring your device to use in lecture rooms ill-equipped for charging laptops.

I’ve managed to get my hands on a Chromebook for testingĀ and recently debated with myself whether I would buy that or a netbook-type laptop. Chromebooks are ideal for Google Docs – the cloud-based way of creating and managing files. In-class, Chromebooks have been used to facilitate collaborative working, sharing documents and doing on-screen analysis of data with add ons like the Fusion tables (see this video on Fusion tables). I tend to use Google Docs a lot, particularly when I’m creating documents or spreadsheets just for my admin, note-taking, or deliberately as ‘work in progress’ collaborative docs.

The limitation comes when you want to do photo editing, create complex documents or utilise specialist statistical analysis software – i.e. you want a real computer. As such, Chromebooks may be adequate for in-class use, but not as a general workstation computer. That informed my decision, so I got a netbook. Though low-powered, and not as much battery life, I’m not attending many lectures these days so for my use case it was more suited.

Anyway, I hope the new guidance and some of my thoughts will help inform your decision making:

Are you using the new tablets?

We’ve recently seen UK supermarkets releasing low-cost tablets to compete with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Google’s Nexus and Apple’s iPad. We’re interested to know what you think of them. Have you bought one? What is it like? Is it well-built? Are the apps we suggest available on your device for reading PDFs or note-taking for example?

Share your thoughts and experiences here to help other students who are deciding what device to use.

Guardian write-ups:

Choosing a device to bring to university

For a lot of new students the choice between a desktop computer, laptop or tablet is a difficult one. What device is best for university?

The short answer is: it depends and there is no one device that does everything the best.

Choosing the right device

When thinking about a computing device, the following considerations may help you make a decision:

  • Does it need to be portable?
    • You may decide to have a ‘base’ computer (large laptop or desktop) for a ‘settled’ place of work, with a smaller device for on-the-go work, group work or for use in class.
  • How long is the battery life?
    • Different laptops have different battery life. It’s important to check this as usually the cheaper models have shorter battery life.
  • What sort of software will I need for my course and what files will I be expected to use?
    • Is specialist software only available on a PC or is it also available on a Mac or as a mobile App?
    • Does the functionality of programmes or files differ between versions/platforms?
    • Does you require a higher level of processor power, memory or disk space?
  • Will I need to print things?
    • It is difficult (sometimes impossible) to print from tablets and mobile Apps. However, most (if not all) institutions will have computer classrooms and printers.
  • Does it have a USB connection and can I back up my files easily?
    • Having a USB stick allows you to save backups of documents offline and in a physical form. Though you can also save to ‘the cloud’ (which is also highly recommended) this is dependent on having an internet connection to upload/access the files.
  • What activities will I be undertaking with the device?
    • If you will be primarily reading, you will want a device with a screen that is best suited to displaying and annotating documents (e.g. a tablet).
    • If you will be typing long essays, you will want a good keyboard to avoid uncomfortable typing positions (e.g. a desktop, laptop, or blue-tooth keyboard-compatible tablet)
    • If you are doing programming, multimedia work or data analysis, this may determine what device you can use by the platform or software you have to use.
  • How much is the device and how much is it to insure?
    • Insurance for theft and damage is a must for any computer equipment that is going to form an essential part of your study life.

Computer classrooms

At this point in time most, if not all, institutions have computer classroom facilities, which provide computers with specialist software for your course and printing facilities. Whilst these are provided, you are restricted by location and possibly availability if they are also used for teaching. Hence, most students do come to university with their own computer, if only to give them the flexibility to work where and when they want.

Mix of devices

Many students will use more than one device, whether that’s their own personal laptop and smart phone in conjunction with institutional computer classrooms, or a desktop with a tablet.

Take a look at our quick guide to the pros and cons of different computing devices for reading on screen to help you decide:

Current student/tutor? Share your experience

If you’re a current student or tutor, post a comment below with the devices you recommend or chose to bring to university and why, and help out new students starting this Autumn.

The Student Guide to iPads & iOS 6

Apple iOS logoFor those of you who are not as familiar Apples iPad/iPhone operating system and user interface here is a free iBook ‘The Student Guide to iPads & iOS 6’ by Jac de Haan.

The Student Guide to iPads & iOS 6

Although it is aimed at students it will be of interest to all whether new to the Mac iOS or an existing user. Even users of other platforms such as Googles Android will find useful ideas which they can apply to their own devises.