Tech:do i need a laptop for uni

This guide covers the general opinion as to whether it's absolutely necessary to have a Laptop at university, and aims to guide you whether a laptop is a necessity for you, or not.


It is a commonly known fact that you get less for your money buying a laptop than you would if you bought a desktop, and we all know that students are (generally) skint most of the time and love getting a good deal. But there seems to also be a commonly held belief among freshers that you need to have a laptop at university - one that the author hopes to debunk with this article.

Home Truths about Laptops at Uni

Distraction or study aid?

There's this wonderful image that almost everyone has when they're going to uni (probably perpetuated by American Teen Flicks), that everyone will be sat in a big lecture theatre and everyone will be tapping away on a laptop taking notes. Sorry to burst the bubble, but it doesn't happen. It's almost universally more convenient to scribble notes down with a pen and paper. In fact, many lecturers prefer you to actually give your whole attention to the lecture and provide annotated copies of the slides, or even make available recordings of the lectures. Some lecturers even forbid the use of laptops and other electronic devices during lectures because they become a distraction.

This is probably the biggest problem with laptops in lectures - they're incredibly distracting:

  • The incessant tapping in a quiet lecture theatre is very annoying to those around you
  • Nosy people will get distracted looking at what you're up to
  • Campus Wi-Fi gives you instant access to Social Notworking sites like Facebook etc.

Running out of Juice

Another problem in many lecture theatres is electricity. Budget laptops will almost certainly come complete with a woeful battery, meaning that you'll need to be somewhat frugal with your usage if you can't get near a power socket, and in general, most lecture theatres do not have many power sockets, and most of these will either be at the front, or inaccessible due to gangways etc. It's also worth mentioning that unless you really take meticulous care of your laptop, its Li Ion battery's performance will degrade over time; so while you might be able to last a full lecture at the beginning of the year, you may find that towards the end of the year, or in the next year, your battery might start giving up part of the way through the lecture.

"Would you mind moving over a bit?"

Lecture theatres are usually not the most comfortable places to be. They're pretty cramped and you often won't have acres of desk space to put a laptop on, especially if you have a bog standard 15.4" notebook. You'll find that you won't have much space for anything other than your laptop, and that'll annoy your next door neighbour. Also consider how your laptop exhausts the heat it generates. Some laptops vent hot air out of the side of the chassis, which again may annoy the person sitting next to you, as you slowly toast their hand.

Stationery weighs less than a Laptop. Fact.

It just does. And it's more robust, too. While you're on campus, a pad of paper and some biros weigh far less than a laptop. Most people will have a satchel or messenger bag to carry their stuff around in, and the last thing you want to be doing when you've just come from the library to get some (usually pretty heavy and bulky) textbooks out is to be cramming them into a bag along with your fragile laptop.

It'll probably never move from your desk

Once you realise how inconvenient laptops can be at uni, you'll probably never move it from your desk. Even in your room in halls etc. you probably won't do anything more than turn it round to watch a bit of iPlayer, or a DVD in bed.

In summary

You'll probably see by now that laptops aren't much more convenient than a desktop, so why spend more money, for a worse specced laptop? The vast majority of people should, on this basis, buy a cheaper, better specced Desktop and take it to Uni.

Surely there are some reasons to have a laptop at Uni?

Indeed there are. Incidentally, the author of this article uses a laptop at uni!

Sometimes you really do need the portability of a laptop. You may not have someone to drive you and all your stuff to uni, so travelling light will be absolutely essential. Sometimes there are situations where you need to keep your work on one computer and be able to work at uni and back at home. You may go to a uni that's short on open access PCs, or you may simply prefer to do all your work in the library. These are very specific situations, though and it's sensible to go in with the mindset that you probably don't need a laptop unless it will make life absolutely impossible.

So what would you advise?

If you have £400 to spend, you will get far more for your money buying a basic desktop. If you have a bit more to spend, then you can still have a bit of portability by buying a desktop and a netbook for getting on Facebook while on campus. These days, though, many people will have smartphones that they can access the net on, so this is becoming less of a consideration.

If you really do need a laptop, then you should, in the Author's opinion, probably spend a little more on getting a more compact, slightly more powerful one from a decent manufacturer. Good examples of this are 12 or 13" offerings, such as Dell Vostro's, Lenovo Thinkpads, Samsungs, Apple MacBook etc. These laptops will generally have better battery life, are lighter than your basic 15.4" tank, and generally have decent build quality, which is of paramount importance if you're going to be repeatedly throwing it in the bag for 3 years. Investing in a good quality, practical laptop will serve you well if you desperately need one for uni.