Switched on to the best deals

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If you ask your parents about the old days of personal devices, you won’t hear about tiny phones and iPads. You will hear about huge boxes with metal parts that needed to be connected to one another and the apocalyptic noises from pushing the “On” button.

These things were the routine for the students of the past, and a usual for now iPad was probably only a dream of young Steve Jobs.  Huge encasing for a microchip, a big heavy as hell monitor, CD-ROM, and other things we know very well may be like dinosaurs for our children.

Nowadays, students can take only a tablet or a smartphone that doesn’t even weight a pound to the class and have all the books and writings there. The laptops that were immensely expensive, are now in every house, looking stylish and functioning fast. The ritual of packing a huge PC into a box, putting it to an old poor Ford Escort, and struggling through the road to the university is long forgotten.

Today, if you are willing to sacrifice a few bells and whistles, you can bag a laptop or tablet for less than the cost of a train ticket to . . . just about anywhere. The only downside is the choice, which can be overwhelming. Here are the Times’s budget laptop picks for this year.

At the cheap end, it’s hard to beat the HP Stream 11 (£179.99). It’s certainly no brick, fitting comfortably into a rucksack or a laptop bag, and weighs much less than many of its peers. It features an HD webcam (for Skype calls to Mum and Dad, of course) and its speakers are decent enough to fill a bedroom with music. It comes with Windows 10 and 100 gigabytes of free cloud storage for two years. The one downside is its display, which is a little grainy. However, for word processing, web browsing and just about anything other than watching Full HD video, the screen works just fine.

If you’re feeling brave enough to graduate to a Chromebook, the pick of the bunch is Toshiba’s Chromebook 2. It comes with 100GB of online storage, Skullcandy speakers and free access to Google’s suite of office programs, such as Docs, Sheets and Slides (the rough equivalents of Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint). The basic model costs about £220 online, but you can upgrade to a Full HD screen – essential for binge-watching Game of Thrones or, more likely, ingesting hours of daytime television.

It’s worth noting that Chromebooks have to be connected to the internet virtually all the time to use Google’s programs. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many programs that you can install on normal laptops and Macs — iTunes, for example — will not work on a Chromebook.

If it simply has to be Apple, the Macbook Air is the best value for money, especially when compared with the new Macbook, which, although lighter than the Air, is not particularly powerful and is more expensive.

The entry-level 11in Macbook Air costs £750 and the 13in version, £850. Aside from a slightly bigger screen, the 13in model also has double the memory of the 11in version. It’s worth trying a search in Apple’s Certified Refurbished store for discounts.

If you would prefer a tablet, Microsoft’s Surface 3 is the best budget choice, given its excellent battery life, portability and healthy 10.8in screen. The entry-level model, which you can find for about £350 online, comes with Windows 10, a free year’s subscription to Office 365 Personal, Full HD display and 64GB of onboard storage.

It’s a very good choice if you’re planning to do anything arty; the Surface Pen, which you can buy separately for about £50, is a stylus for graphic design programs. The main downside is that the Surface 3 does not come with a physical keyboard, which at a hefty £110 isn’t cheap, either.

Whatever laptop you decide you’re going to invest in, you should always make sure that you’re getting the best possible price for it by checking out some price comparison sites. You need to know that you’re definitely getting the best possible price, but also that you’re buying a high quality product with great reviews from former users. Finding out what others say about a product can be difficult, but if you go through a review site like Only Reviews, you’ll often find that products that you’re considering have been tried and tested, and that consumers have put together all of the key point that you might need to consider before forking out on an important piece of kit.

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