Mac-to-School with the Apple MacBook Air and iPad

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Written by @TreBouncee

Back to school is always a busy time at Micro Center. Students need a plethora of things, making this time of year the Season of Tech. From laptops and desktops to the increased popularity of mobile devices like the iPad or other tablets, students are gearing up for school.

Apple Macs and iPads are a mainstay on college campuses and for good reasons. Students cited the ease of use, longevity, and build quality as reasons why. Working at Micro Center, I’ve seen a similar trend. Students like Apple and I can’t blame them. With that in mind, I pulled two stellar Apple products that make for great back-to-school tech, whether you pick them up separately or together.

The MacBook M2 Air

In 2022, Apple announced the M2 MacBook Air to follow up the revolutionary M1 chip. The M2 featured increased CPU and GPU performance along with faster memory bandwidth and support for larger RAM sizes. For the average student, those spec bumps may not mean all that much. But when you factor in the discounts and deals available at Micro Center, that bump starts to look pretty good from a power-for-price standpoint.

The M2 Air is a fantastic machine for just about anyone, but for students in particular it has a combination of advantages, the most immediately noticeable being size. The machine comes in at just 2.7 pounds, making it lighter than its predecessor. As students go to and from class, the thin design should allow for not only your laptop to make the trip but also any accessories or books. The Air comes with only three ports, so it's possible students will need an adaptor. Thankfully, the Air is light enough for those adapters to travel alongside the MacBook with ease.

As mentioned, improvements go well beyond the updated design. Performance is given a huge boost thanks to the new M2 processor. In testing, single-core scores top out at 1919 on the M2, whereas on the M1 the single-core performance topped out at 1707. The multi-core score had an even wider gap at 8928 for M2 and 7419 for the M1.

While you get increased performance, you don’t sacrifice battery life as any of the M2 airs can get you up to 18 hours.  Simply put, students will feel the speed of the machine as they browse and surf the internet as well as when they do something more intense like coding, content creation, or gaming while still having enough battery to get through the school day.

MagSafe was reintroduced in 2022 with the M2 Air, and I believe that is an advantage for students in a rigorous college environment. That magnetic charger could be the saving grace of someone tripping over your charging cord. Instead of pulling your whole Air to the ground when that cord is yanked, it will safely and harmlessly unplug instead.

The M2 Air got a ‘small’ refresh in 2023 in the form of the long-rumored 15-inch Air. Bringing largely the same internals but getting a few extra inches on the screen may be worth it for the students who value screen real estate over portability considerations. That 15-inch Liquid Retina Display can be a game changer for anyone working with a visual medium!

Both the 13-inch M2 Air and its 15-inch counterpart both come in 4 colors: Space grey, Silver, Starlight, and Midnight. They also come with base storage options of 256 GB or 512 GB. I often recommend the base of 256 GB in whatever color you fancy. Admittedly this does limit your storage a bit, especially given how long Macs last, but with the advancement of the cloud and external storage options, you could save a lot of money to put toward Micro Center’s protection plan or AppleCare+ while still being able to save everything you need – and have the assurance that if anything happens to your Mac, you’ll be able to get it repaired!

Because a lot of students have already bought into the Apple ecosystem, adding the MacBook would unify that connective experience. From answering a FaceTime call or iMessage on your MacBook to using AirDrop to transfer files back and forth between devices, the convivence the Apple ecosystem offers is a massive draw for Apple users.

Speaking of unifying the ecosystem, for those that don’t have an Apple device yet or only have one, I’d recommend a product that could be of great use at the college level and be relatively easy on the pockets.

The Apple iPad

The iPad initially released in 2007 and retailed at $499. The device was wildly popular despite its for-its-time high price tag and set the stage for the successors we have today. The students I’ve come in contact with in 2023 are using their iPads for everything from note-taking to content consumption and even content creation!

That note-taking element is a potential game-changer for any student. Being able to handwrite your notes has been shown to help with memorization, which is obviously key to learning the material. You’d also have the option to get creative with the learning process and use the built-in camera to record lectures and listen back later. The two iPads I would recommend for this added functionality would be the iPad 9th Generation or 10th Generation.

I believe the 9th Gen is an iPad that almost anyone could make use of. From during research for your next paper to browsing YouTube, from note taking in class to watching your favorite show on Netflix, this iPad is more than capable of handling it all. The 9th generation retails at $329 but can commonly be found at Micro Center for much less. It features an A13 Bionic chip and is compatible with the 1st generation Apple pencil.

The 10th Generation gets a cosmetic upgrade as well as a performance boost with its retail price of $449.  The 10th gen ditches the lightning port for USB-C and abandons the physical home button to increase the screen size from 10.2” to 10.9”. The performance upgrade comes from the jump from the A13 chip to the A14, which offers a little over a 15% bump in CPU clock speed. In real-world use, that difference may not seem like much, but the newer chip can extend the device's lifetime – no need to upgrade as quickly as older models lose support! The 10th gen is also frequently on sale, making for an even better long-term-value purchase. It maintains 1st gen pencil support while giving you a newer chip and a larger screen. While the 9th Gen offers a great value, I’d recommend the 10th Gen in no small part because of these upgrades.

It's no secret that Apple devices are popular at colleges across the country and ease of use and ecosystem are large reasons why.  Being able to integrate your computer, phone and tablet together makes your workflow seamless. That’s a convenience that students will absolutely appreciate. 

More from the Micro Center Community:

Looking for more information about tech buying? We’ve got Community sections dedicated to buying guides and reviews, as well as buying guides for Back-To-School Computers and Build-Your-Own Computers. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to post a new discussion and the Community will be happy to help!


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