Maybe you’ve decided against a PC, or perhaps you’re still weighing your options. Whatever the case, you’re in the right place, because for the second part of our Back to School technology guide we’re exploring how the various Apple products can make an impact this autumn. See the first part of our Back to School guide here.

Unlike the Windows based machines, there are far fewer Apple based machines. What it boils down to for the majority of consumers when considering a Mac is whether they’re looking for high-end performance or low-profile convenience.

While MacBook Pros with Retina Display provide both power and portability, MacBook Airs accomplish the latter with much more precision than their older sibling. Weighing in at 2.38 lbs for the 11-inch model and 2.96 lbs for the 13-inch, the MacBook Air barely weighs down a book bag.

Not only that, but the 11-inch model and the 13-inch system hold an impressive nine and 12 hours of battery life respectively – a perfect amount of time for taking notes during a day full of lectures or meetings. While some manufacturers test their batteries on less resource intensive tasks like web browsing or word processing, Apple tests the MacBook with more realistic tasks such as watching videos on iTunes, so chances are real-world use will live up to the claimed battery life.

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display packs more of a punch, but at a higher cost. The MacBook Air ranges between $999 and $1,299, while the Pro starts at $1,399 and goes as high as $2,699 with its base models – custom configurations can go much higher in price.

One major benefit of a MacBook Pro is its storage capacity – the Air tops out at 512GB of storage, while the Pro can be configured to double that number – and its internal power. The Pro lineup also has a dedicated video processor and a higher end Intel CPU, while the Air relies on its lower powered CPU for video content.

What this means to you – the consumer – is that if you’re going to be working with graphically intense applications like Photoshop, Adobe InDesign or Final Cut Pro, you might want to pony up the extra cash for a MacBook Pro. The Intel processor that the MacBook Air comes with should handle intensive tasks in moderation, but its limitations would be obvious to a power user.

However, both lines of computers won’t be slow for everyday tasks, because both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro come equipped with solid-state drives (SSD) using PCIe technology. These drives differ from traditional hard disk drives, because they use flash storage that reads stored content virtually instantly – or “in a flash,” if you’d like to think of it like that – rather than waiting for a disk to spin and piece together the content.

You can think of a solid-state drive as a photograph or a painting – something that can be viewed instantly – while a traditional disk drive is like a jigsaw puzzle that has to be assembled before it can be admired. The content that an SSD saves is never fragmented into pieces, so it never has that waiting period while it gets pieced back together. Apple started focusing more heavily on the SSD technology after it was used successfully in iPads and iPhones.

New tablet smell

Now that you have that MacBook, it’s time to think about finding a device to compliment the computer, or maybe you don’t need a laptop, but you’d like to have something inexpensive to take notes and connect with others through email.

That’s when the iPad comes in pretty handy, as it set the standard for “convenience computing.” Whether it’s used for textbooks or playing games in class (wink), the iPad is always there when you need it.

So what choices do you have to make between the different iPads? The biggest thing to consider is what you’ll be using it for. Typically with any tablet people will be using them on the go, so the smaller form factor of the iPad Mini with Retina Display is appealing as it fits more comfortably inside a purse, backpack or even a notebook or binder.

It also accomplishes the same things as an iPad Air, with little to no performance loss. Tablets aren’t used for the same graphically rich applications as a laptop, so there’s no need to worry about dedicated video cards and extra horsepower.

Where people typically run into issues is when storing content. That a 35MB application might not seem like a lot, but when there’s 50 to 100 apps being installed, it adds up pretty quickly. Plus the actual iOS system takes up a few gigabytes right from the start.

If you’re going to be downloading a lot of apps and renting a few movies a month, it’s not a bad idea to make a 32GB model the minimum, and strongly consider making the jump to the 64GB. It will save a lot of headaches in the future if you plan ahead, as the iPad cannot be upgraded in the future without having to purchase an entirely new device.

One thing to keep in mind when purchasing an iPad – or any electronic device – is to advertise yourself as a student. Often you’ll be asked for verification, but many retailers – such as Futureshop, Best Buy and the Apple Store – will have special promotions throughout the month of August exclusive to students. These promotions can include anything from free software to technical support to increased discounts.

With all of that considered, if you’re looking for a device for both note taking and serious homework, the iPad is a generous one stop shop. All newly purchased iPads come with the iWork suite preinstalled, which allows users to create, edit and share PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets that can also be edited on Mac and PC devices.

Software to match

While Apple hardware is designed to be sleek and sexy, the software to go along with the hardware is built primarily around a third quality – to be practical and usable right outside of the box. All Apple devices come preinstalled with the iWork suite for word processing, presentations and mathematical work, and the iLife suite for photo, video and audio editing.

If you’re a creative type or a business type, you’ll have the basic tools you need to do your job when purchasing a Mac. Not only that, but if you’ve opted for an iCloud account, you can access your documents from any computer connected to the web and edit the documents through the iCloud website without needing to install any additional software.

Because of its integration with iCloud, the Apple software makes it simple to keep tabs on your work on campus if you forget a device at home. It also makes it easy to jump back and forth between taking notes in class and working on that late night project in the library – after all, you can never skip a beat when working towards that deadline.

Apple devices can also be easily configured to work with Google, Microsoft and other services that universities and businesses are turning to in order to manager their students and employees online. For example, the University of Calgary recently announced that it would be converting student email to Office 365 for University.

When using a Macintosh computer or an iPad, University of Calgary students will be able to use the Calendar application to easily manage their constant deadlines and chaotic class schedule. The Office 365 service will read the information from each device, and push any new or changed events to individual devices. Mount Royal students will be able to do the same using the Google services as a backbone.

If you’re looking for additional software, Office 365 is also available for Apple devices. Like the PC version, the University edition will only allow two devices – tablets and computers fall into the same category here. If you’re looking for Microsoft software, the Office 365 suite is the best bet at the moment, as the Office suite for Mac is due for an upgrade anytime and the Office 365 package will provide that update when it finally gets released.

It’s safe to say that I’m a fairly passionate person. I take everything I do seriously, and I have a diverse range of interests. While I am passionate about more things compared to others – technology...

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  1. Seriously considering an iPad, but I think I heard something about a newer model just about to be released. (I guess that’s always the case) But do you think the new iPads will be out in time for school?

    1. I have heard rumours that suggest a late fall launch of the new iPad. It sounds like they’re going to announce an iPhone next month, and then an iPad sometime after!

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