I'm looking at picking up a gift for someone who is starting college soon. They don't have a computer, but some are available at school labs. I was thinking of getting them either a lower end notebook or a good tablet with a keyboard case. Budget is going to be in the $500 range. I can see the tablet being more desirable for completing assignments, but I'd probably rather lug a tablet to class for notes, etc. Both are fun for entertainment in different ways, so that's probably not a deciding factor.
Honestly, I'd say neither. I understand the pure intentions behind the question, and gesture, but unless this person has iron clad study habits, what tends to happen is that instead of listening to the lecture they'll be on Facebook or Twitter talking to friends.
If anything, get them a desktop that they can have in their dorm room. Labs can sometimes be full, so it'd be nice for them to have an option in those instances, but when they're in class you want them to be focused on that class. I'm sure you don't want to be responsible for them goofing off on the Internet and then getting poor grades. With tuition rates going through the roof almost everywhere, the cost of even a single failed class delaying graduation can be immensely expensive. We all know someone who's all of 18-19 won't be thinking about all the years into adulthood they will be paying back those student loans, and certainly don't understand that those debts follow you to the grave, there's no getting rid of them. Doesn't mean that we can't help them from the shadows, so to speak.
Well, if they're starting college soon, they WILL have to be mobile, with whatever they use, so I say a desktop would be really silly. A laptop would be ideal, only because it's far more comfortable to use, than an pad. When writing assignments and coordinating projects, a laptop is a lot more efficient and less time consuming, than figuring it out on a pad. The pad is less user friendly, as a lot of people aren't used to the new layout, unlike a laptop, where everyone is used to the keyboard-montior layout one way or another.
The other thing is that given your price range, it seems like you're looking for a very basic laptop, since you won't get anything more for $500. That said, we can rule out an effective gaming laptop, and stick to the basic notebooks/ultrabooks.
You'll have to do your research for this, since I have no idea what specs will suit the person you're buying it for, but take a look at Dell. They have very basic models and are very customer-friendly, so there won't be any problems there. You can also look at Samsung and Acer for laptops that perform basic functions to a reasonable extent. HP is also an option, however their support sucks. Hope I helped.
I think either solution can work, but based on your budget and the fact that they have readily available computer labs, I think the tablet will allow them mobility and will give them a device to use in and out of the classroom with ease. I would see what kind of operating system their smart phone uses before selecting a tablet. If they currently use android, get them an ASUS Infinity Tab. If they have an iPhone, get them a refurbished iPad 2/3 from Apple and a Zagg Folio or something similar.
I might even consider the Microsoft Surface Pro when it comes out in January - full Windows 8 in a tablet. Best of both worlds
I would get a laptop because there may be situations where going to the computer would be a real pain especially if everyone needs to finish an assignment and all the computers in the lab are taken. I recall several times back in college where I had to wait for over an hour just for a computer.
A tablet is more convenient, but probably less suitable especially if he/she needs to run a Microsoft Office program like Office or any other program that needs a Windows environment.
Thanks, randini, those were along the lines of laptops I was looking at. It doesn't need to be powerful, just enough to do research, notes and papers on.
I didn't really need specific recommendations, though, just trying to decide which path to look down. If I go the android path, I'd be getting android tablet, likely. That's what her phone is and they are a bit more flexible, IMO. Laptops, I'd probably be looking AMD APU so I could get some graphics flexibility, even though I don't think she will game. (Maybe the SIMS)
Either option will definitely get the job done - it's all about knowing what she will do on a daily basis. If she is taking a desktop to colleague with her, then a tablet would be the perfect companion. If she isn't, even though they have a comp lab I would still get her a laptop on the high-side of your price range. CPU is the part I always recommend splurging on, RAM and HDD are easily replaceable and you can save a lot of money in most cases.