One of the key skills you will learn at sixth form, college, and university is how to balance work and pleasure – too much of one or the other can be disastrous, especially the former. To help find the happy medium, T3 has compiled a list of the best video game consoles and gaming gadgets for students, helping you unwind in those off-moments between classes and assignments.
We've tested a range of different consoles and options for this buying guide and have distilled it down to five options: Sony's PlayStation 4; Microsoft's Xbox One; Nintendo's Switch; the Apple iPad Air; and the Acer Predator Helios 300. Each of these represents a different style of gaming and has its strengths and weaknesses.
Serious gamers, for example, who want to customisability of a PC, will want to plump for the Acer Predator, a fearsome performance laptop that costs around £800 and has top-of-the-line specs. The PS4 is great for people that want console-level serious gaming combined with a great media system for Netflix binges, while the Switch is great for casual gaming.
So, prospective or current student, read on to find out which gaming set up is best for you.
Our top pick is the PS4, combining serious gaming chops with a media powerhouse.
Reasons to buy
It's no secret that Sony's PS4 has been a massive hit among almost everyone: hardcore gaming fans, casual gamers, and people who just want a great way to watch stuff in the evening. There really is something there for everyone. Sony has recently introduced the PS4 Pro, a much more powerful – and expensive – variant that can play 4K games with easy. We think the Slim version is enough for most people though, which is why we're recommending it.
As we mentioned, hardcore gamers have a lot to like about the PS4. For starters, the sheer level of exclusive games – from Spider-Man to Uncharted to The Last of Us – makes it hard to beat. Combined with the cross-platform games, of which there are plenty, this really is an A+ gaming machine.
But what about when you just want to unwind? Sony has you covered here, too, with a fully-fledged media centre built right into the console. There are apps for all the usual suspects – Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV – and many others you might not even have considered. Of course, this is nothing groundbreaking (Xbox has it too) but Sony has made extra care to make the experiences as seamless as possible.
For most students, it's hard to beat the charms of the PS4 Slim: very reasonably priced, great for gaming (both casual and not), sleek design, and it has everything you need to unwind after a long day of academia.
Smaller, stylish, and great for gaming.
Reasons to buy
Microsoft has been in a bit of a rut with the Xbox line recently as Sony, driven by the PS4, has dominated the conversation and sales. But the Xbox One S – and its larger Xbox One X counterpart – have done a lot to shift the tide in the other direction. With a slimmer and sleeker design, paired with updated internals and quieter fans, the S has really taken the One line in the right direction.
For students, you get all of the same media-ready features as the PS4, aided by Microsoft's decision to build the Xbox on top of Windows 10 and its app store. Games-wise, there's also a lot to love here, including a fair few top-tier exclusives, like the Forza and Halo series.
While the One S can't handle 4K gaming like the X version, it does come with an Ultra HD 4K Blu-Ray player, making media content absolutely sparkles. It's also equipped with HDR, meaning it can upscale other content to 1080p for the best viewing experience. All of this comes on top of the huge range of streaming media apps that are available.
The joy-filled handheld console is hard to beat.
Reasons to buy
Nintendo really knocked it out of the park with this one, as evidenced by the Switch being the fastest selling console of all time. For hand-held gaming fun – and we mean proper fun – you really can't do any better. The docking system is ingenious, letting you play on either the handheld part or on a TV, which works perfectly.
The game choice is absolutely top-draw too, with huge titles like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild both looking amazing and being super fun to play. Oh, and Mario Kart is available too, if you weren't already convinced.
If you're more interested in casual gaming, then the Switch is the console for you. It misses out on some of the more media-heavy uses that the PS4 and One S are perfect for, what with being connected to a TV by default, but Netflix and co. are now available.
The ultimate set up we would recommend is having both a PS4 or Xbox and a Switch, for on-the-go play or for when you're feeling like playing something super fun that isn't an AAA, dozens-of-hours-to-complete game.
For really casual gaming, Apple has the answer
Reasons to buy
As we said above, the Switch is the perfect console for casual game but what about casual casual gaming? Well, Apple has come up with the answer in the form of the recently-updated iPad Air, the mid-tier tablet that packs a similar punch to the Pro but at a fraction of the cost.
Running the latest version of iOS, combined with Apple's powerful A12 CPU, there are a huge range of games available for the Air, some of them on the very casual end and some on the more. There are literally too many to list, so rest assured there will be at least 10 perfect games for you.
When you aren't hammering away at a game, the iPad Air also has lots of other talents that are very useful. The App Store is packed full of productivity apps, for example, making it the perfect companion for students. Media apps are also extremely plentiful, fulfilling any content desires you may have. Social media is also heavily present.
There really isn't much the iPad Air can't do, besides run AAA console-level titles. But, for most people, that might not be a problem.
5. Acer Predator Helios 300
For those who love PC gaming, on a budget.
Reasons to buy
Completely the list is the Acer Predator Helios 300, a top-end gaming laptop that doesn't break the bank – or, at least, in comparison to some of its peers. The Helios 300 is an absolute beast of a machine, packing a 15.6-inch Full HD display alongside Intel's Core i7 CPU and hybrid 128GB SSD-1TB HDD set up, offering peak gaming performance without adding too much bulk.
The biggest upside here is that the Helios 300 runs Windows 10, meaning that died in the wool PC gamers can get their fix on the go. While £800 might seem quite expensive, it's actually very reasonably priced in comparison to some of its larger peers from the likes of Alienware and Gigabyte.
The sheer level of top-top-top-tier games available for PC right now is incredible, far out matching the console equivalents in so many ways. If the thought of owning a console is making you miss Steam already, then this really is the rig for you.