Computer and cell phone recommendations

I last updated this page on December 23, 2014

I use Republic Wireless and highly recommend it. You buy a Motorola Moto-E from them for $129 and chose a plan, no contract required: About $14/month for unlimited voice, text, and data. No joke! I used to pay $80 to $100 a month on
another carrier, just like almost everyone else. I have used Republic Wireless for the last 16 months and IT'S GREAT! The service cost is low because of a unique feature where it uses local wifi, if accessible, to carry your call into the dialed network rather than cell service. If local wifi is not available your call is made using ordinary cell service. You don't even know which mode is being used, it's seamless and transparent to you. Call anyone on any system, no problem, no constraints. Because it tries wifi first, I have even used it in hotels and schools in England (where wifi was accessible to me) to make and receive calls to and from the US; it works great, there's is no cost for the call, and people reach me by dialing my ordinary number (they didn't even realize that I was in England)! The phone runs Android and has excellent quality and features, a great camera (I use it to make teaching videos), sound recorder, speed and battery life.When I switched from my former phone carrier the savings paid for the phone within 3 months and after that it's all been savings!

I am now using the Asus X551 laptop for all my work and I love it! This is very similar to the X502C that is I describe in the video below. As of today (December 23, 2014) the X551 on sale for only $199 at MicroCenter, CLICK HERE to get to that web page. That's not a typo. The regular price of $249 (which is still an extremely good deal) has been reduced to $199. This machine has some real advantages, although it lacks a CD/DVD drive (which I don't find any hindrance; software installs are downloaded from the web these days, not supplied on physical media). This computer has two cores (two CPUs), 4 Gb of memory, a 320 Gb hard drive, and runs at a respectable 1.5 Gz. But the most stunning advantage of it aside from its very light weight is that Asus seems to have tuned Windows/8 for this machine. Unlike other laptops I have used that take a minute or more to boot up Windows/8.1, this one boots up in about 14 seconds and when you shut it down it shuts down even faster, within 3 seconds! It also uses low-voltage circuitry that generates very little heat, and what heat it does generate is exhausted through very clever venting at the hinge where the screen joins the keyboard, not at the side. Asus did superb design work on this laptop!

Look--my full time work depends on a computer to teach online. If the X551 and X502C work well for me, they would surely work well for a student! If you're on a budget (or even if you're not) why spend six times this much for a laptop for school? These are superb, well-constructed machines, and they are fast!

If the lack of a CD/DVD in this machine is a problem, just get a USB-connected DVD drive for $30-50. But honestly, you don't need it. I can't think of any software I have bought in the last two years that installs via physical media, it's all downloaded now via the internet. I find that the convenience of the lighter weight and slim profile of this laptop far outweighs the minimal use I would make of a CD/DVD in it. :) Jim

Here's the point I wanted to make: my low-end Asus is perfectly fine for internet work and it runs LibreOffice (the free, open source, MS Office alternative) really well! That software is available for download without charge, as is a lot of other fine educational software on the same terms (free!). Like almost all new computers these days this computer comes with Windows/8. Despite what you may have heard, it's not really Microsoft's Edsel (the Edsel was Vista) although a lot of the decisions Microsoft made about it seem questionable. Windows/8 works, and here's a rundown of my results:
  • Windows/8 runs fine on machines of this type. 
  • Wifi works fine.
  • LibreOffice and the Chrome browser install and work fine.
  • Google docs and the other Google products work fine.
  • The camera and microphone already in the machine work fine.
  • Audacity works fine on it for sound editing.
  • Video editing and rendering work fine on it using the VideoPad editor from NCH Software. (I haven't tried Windows Movie Maker on it, and have no time for that anyway since it doesn't seem to be too useful to me). 
  • The Windows/8.1 upgrade is free with these machines since Microsoft gives it away to current users of Windows/8. But if you're in a hurry to use the machine,use it with the Windows/8 it comes with until you have time to update. Just make sure you first install your virus checker. It comes with 30 days worth of McAffee, but I use Avast, which is free, and it installed fine.
My kids are grown and out of college. But if any were still in college and needed a laptop for school this is the kind of system I would get. Well under $300, handles anything you want to do on the web, reading .pdf material you might need for schoolwork, any kind of essay-writing, spreadsheet work, and presentation work (LibreOffice provides support for all of this!). LibreOffice is especially appealing now that Microsoft has gone over to a "subscription" model for the current version of Office where you have to pay $79 every year to keep using it. LibreOffice works well and is free; you cannot argue with that! And it can read MS Office files and create them.

What will this kind of low-end laptop probably not do well? I don't think it will play video-intensive games well but since I don't play computer games I don't plan on testing those. I don't watch DVD videos on this or any other computer, but it runs YouTube videos great!

BOTTOM LINE: There's no need to spend more than $300 on a laptop for college use and every reason not to! There's certainly no need to spend money on word processing and similar software since LibreOffice is available for Windows/PCs and for Macs, and even for Linux machines! If you need a machine for your college work save your money and consider one of these kinds of systems. Yes, I know Macs are gorgeous and appealing, but you can get the type of machine I have talked about here 25% to 30% of the price of a Mac and save yourself about $1000, which isn't exactly chickenfeed! And consider this: which would you rather lose, have stolen, or drop and wreck, and if any of that did happen, which could you replace more readily?

Disclaimer: Just for the record, I don't have any financial interest in any of the manufacturers or vendors mentioned on this page, nor have any of them given me anything to bias what I post here! A legal beagle one time clued me in that it's good to confirm this in case someone thinks I'm posting biased info! The only reason I share the result of my evaluations of equipment and software is that I frequently get asked questions about these things and I find that it's more productive to make postings here than give out personal opinions one at a time individually. BTW, what I write here is of course personal opinions based on my own research, which may be incomplete or faulty. No guarantee stated or implied. Use at your own risk. Results may vary. Consult your doctor for medical advice or an attorney for legal information. If any of this depresses you, consult a psychiatrist, priest, or minister.