Ask Engadget: Should I buy a laptop or a 2-in-1 for school?

There are pros and cons either way.

The support shared among readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we've known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In fact, our community's knowledge and insights are a reason why many of you participate in the comments.

We truly value the time and detail you all spend in responding to questions from your fellow tech-obsessed commenters, which is why we've decided to bring back our "Ask Engadget" column. This week's question is a buying comparison between a Chromebook or a 2-in-1 Surface Pro 7. Weigh in with your advice in the comments -- and feel free to send your own questions along to!

I'm going to college in September and I want a device that can do all. At first I wanted to get a Surface Pro 7 since it's both a laptop and tablet (I would think a tablet is necessary for drawing diagrams) but then my friend told me I should just go for a Chromebook since it's cheaper and will get me by. What do you think?

Devindra Hardawar

Devindra Hardawar
Senior Editor

Don't we all just want a machine that'll do everything? Unfortunately, it's tough to figure out your needs without knowing what you're going to be studying.

First off, I'll point you to our laptop buying guide for students, as it covers most of what you'll need to know. I really like the latest Surface Pro ($799+), but take note that you'll also get great stylus support on the Surface Laptop ($799+). It sounds like you're intrigued by the Pro's tablet potential, and that's indeed useful. Just be aware that Windows still isn't great as a tablet OS. But if you just want a slate to watch Netflix in bed, the Pro will be fine.

If you're going to be taking courses that involve plenty of hand drawing, the Pro 7 also makes sense. I definitely won't suggest a Chromebook for college, though. While they make great inexpensive secondary machines, especially if your main machine is a heavy laptop or desktop, they're still a bit limited. Chromebooks excel at basic productivity work and web browsing, but offline support still isn't great, and you won't be able to run specialized apps like Photoshop, which some courses might require.

If you want to be ready for everything during college, a decent ultraportable makes sense. Consider the XPS 13 ($1,100+) if it turns out you won't need to draw many diagrams. And on the Apple side of things, the 13-inch MacBook Pro ($1,299+) is currently your most versatile option.

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