The author makes no guarantees about the reader's satisfaction with their eventual computer choice. I don't want any hate mail in eighteen months when your computer runs out of batteries in the middle of a presentation because someone forgot to charge it.
One question I always get about two and a half weeks after graduation is "so I have a bunch of graduation money...what type of computer should I get?" I'm not sure why they ask me...but it's a question I always like answering. And so, here's the 2015 version of my answer:
Short answer: Get a Macbook Air 13" with at least 8GB memory and at least 128 GB storage, though preferably 256GB.
Long answer: The first thing you need to ask yourself is Apple vs. Windows. While most people have used Windows devices their whole lives, I've always found Apple's to be far more user friendly and far more intuitive. For the normal person who just wants to use the internet, type documents, manage photos and music, and edit the occasional video or two, a Macbook is exactly what you want. Yes, you can build up a PC to run intense graphics and render RAW video files, or get a super cheap netbook that only costs $300, but in both cases you're appealing to the fringes. In computers, as with all things, you get what you pay for. A cheap computer will only be good for a year or two, and super tripped-out PC likely costs more than required. A Macbook, while more expensive than some PC models, will last you a quality five years and maybe longer. That extra $150 now will more than pay for itself later.
At this point, if you've decided you want a PC, good luck. There's about thousand versions out there each with their own pros and cons. Stick with something that has solid-state storage if possible and has at least 8GB of memory. Other than that, the options are endless.
If you're still with me, let's go get a Macbook. There's currently three major models available: the Macbook, the Macbook Air, and the Retina Macbook Pro. Here's why the Macbook Air is most likely the computer for you:
Macbook: Back in March, Apple released the new gold Macbook. It looked really cool, was incredibly thin, and had a retina 12" display. I immediately wanted one...until I looked at the specs. The guts of this machine are way underpowered. It'll work just fine for now...but in two years, you'll be running much slower than you should. Additionally, the cost of this computer is much higher than some superior Macbook Airs. Yes, the casing is thin and the screen is stellar, but this model isn't ready for prime time yet. I'll be by 2017, this will be the computer to get...but for now, don't fall for the flare. Save yourself some money; it's a trap.
Macbook Pro: The Macbook Pro with Retina is easily the best computer that Apple makes. It has a 13" or 15" retina display, sold-state storage, and it's really thin as well (though not quite as thin and light as the Air and the "regular" Macbook). If you were an adult with tons of money to spend, or if you're going into a graphics/media intensive field, then this is the computer for you. For most of you though, it's way too expensive. If you're the average user I mentioned before (internet, word processing, light video work, photos, and music) you're basically slicing a loaf of bread with a lightsaber; it might sound cool, but it's a waste of technology. Don't feel pressured to get this one.
Macbook Air: The Macbook Air falls nicely into the middle ground between these two. It's thinner than the Pro but thicker than the gold model. It's got all the internals you'll need including plenty of ports, solid-state storage, and a speed processor. The only weak link is the lack of retina display, but the screen is still very high resolution. The nine hour battery life isn't just a hollow promise, it's a fact. You can use this machine all day away from the cord and still have battery to spare. If you've been using a PC your whole life, this is an easy step up. The Macbook Air comes it two sizes- 11" and 13". While the 11" might look cute, it's a bit small for my taste. Go with the 13" if you can afford it.
When you go to checkout, be sure you get at least 8GB of memory. Memory is basically how much stuff your computer can do at one time. Most people skimp on memory and then, three years later when programs get more powerful, their machines start to stall. Plan for the future and get at least 8GB of memory. As for storage, get as much as you can afford. I think 256GB is ideal but plenty of people have gotten by with 128GB. Of course 512GB is even better but that's out of many people's price range.
Finally...DO NOT buy Applecare. Apple pushes their insurance policy on you hard if you attempt to purchase a computer in the store. Basically, it covers your machine against failure for three years (instead of the one year factory warranty). Sounds like a good idea except for two things: it doesn't cover against spills, drops, or other user errors, and...Apple computers aren't likely to break in the first three years anyway. If your computer is going to have an internal, Apple-created error, it's probably going to happen in the first few months, in which case your computer is still under warranty. The odds of your motherboard crashing only during years 2 or 3 is rather low. I'm sure it's been a good idea for some people at certain points in history, but for most of us, it's just pure profit Apple attempts to squeeze out of you as you checkout.
And so, if I were you and heading off to college for the Fall 2015, I'd pick up a Macbook Air 13", 8GB, 256GB storage machine. Happy hunting!