Choosing the Best Laptop for School

As the new school year draws closer, busy parents begin planning for term one and beyond. While shopping for books, pencils and other school “staples” (excuse the pun) is relatively straightforward, buying back to school tech can become a mission in itself. Here are tech expert Trevor Long’s top tips for choosing the right device in 2018 – from understanding what your child needs, to getting the best value for money this back to school season.

 

Check your school’s requirements

Many schools will recommend a device for your child as part of their Bring Your Own Device policy (BYOD). Often this policy will suggest particular brands and models. So what do you do if the devices that are listed are out of your price range, or your child claims it won’t do the things they want it to? This can be a cause for concern, as you search for a middle ground between the schools’ requirements, your child’s wants, and what your budget can afford. My tip is not to be fooled by your kids here - there are experts in store who can confirm if a particular device will meet the minimum requirements of your school’s policy. I’d also recommend jumping over to the Officeworks Tech Selector - it’s a handy tool that will help you find and compare devices based on your child’s needs and your budget.

 

Understand the key specs

Pay particular attention to the processor, memory and storage size when comparing devices, as they each impact the computer’s performance in different ways. In particular:

  • The processor (CPU) - the processor is like the “brain” of the computer. A more powerful processor means a faster computer speed and the ability to do more intensive tasks.
  • The memory - The more memory your child’s computer has, the more its processor can do at any one time. More memory means your child will be able to multi-task more effectively, while running more intensive programs.
  • Hard drive storage - the hard drive is where all of your child’s files will be stored, so the amount of storage space will determine how much data can be saved to the device. Remember you can easily increase storage space by connecting an external hard drive via a USB port.
 

Ensure the Operating System is compatible

While a shiny new MacBook might be what your child wants, your school’s software programs may not support all systems (many schools run Windows-based programs). Make sure to check that your child’s new device will be compatible, allowing them to collaborate at school and complete work both in and out of the classroom. Some tips around operating systems for popular devices:

  • Apple laptops (MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro) run off macOS. As an additional extra, they can be configured to run Windows.
  • Chromebooks only run on the Linux-based Chrome operating system (which means they are not directly compatible with Windows or Mac).
  • Tablets come in a range of operating systems, including Apple macOS (iPad), Android (Samsung Galaxy Tab and Lenovo), and Windows (Microsoft Surface and Dell).
 
 

Consider battery life and Wi-Fi compatibility

There are two other key features that are absolutely necessary in school laptops:

  1. They must have a wireless “AC” connection. This is the latest and fastest form of Wi-Fi available.
  2. They must have an “all day” battery. Teachers don’t want power cords running across the room, so the device must be able to last through the day.
 

Look a year ahead

When selecting a laptop for school use, it’s important to consider how your child’s needs may change as they grow. For example, a child entering year six may benefit from a laptop even though it’s not yet a school requirement. But with high school on the horizon, it’s worth checking what they’ll require next year, and buying something that will meet their needs across a few years.

In the earlier school years (primary and early high school) consider the durability your child’s devices. The thinner and lighter it is, the higher the risk it could break if dropped. Where possible, head in-store and feel the device to see how sturdy the screen is before purchasing.

There are some great laptops in the $250-$600 price range that will suit your child’s needs during primary school. Two great deals to look out for this back to school are the HP Stream 11.6” laptop, which is made for school use and priced at $296, or if you’re looking for a convertible (flip around screen) the HP x 360 for $498. These devices are capable of handling basic primary school computing tasks, such as internet research, word processing and presentations, with ease.

As your child progresses through high school, you will need to look at updating their tech in line with individual class requirements. For example, if your child pursues design, media or music electives in later years, they are going to need a laptop with greater processing power and more memory, allowing them to run more intensive programs and tasks. The Acer Spin 5 has a more powerful Intel Core i5 processor in a convertible form factor with a touch screen at $998, while the MacBook Air is also a popular choice for high-schoolers at $1,299 – both are well equipped to handle music, video and graphics editing tasks, both at incredible value this year.

 

Protect your device

There are options for device insurance at time of purchase. While insurance comes at an extra cost, consider the excess against the expense of a new device - it could be a smart move down the track.

Don’t let your new computer be used without installing internet security software, avoiding viruses down the line and keeping your device secure while browsing the web.

 

Back to school roundup

I’ve taken a look through the back to school range for 2018, and there are some really great devices available at incredibly low prices. Here’s my roundup of the tech worth checking out this year:

 

And remember, if you’re still unsure about which device will be right for your child, jump over to the Officeworks Tech Selector to find and compare options within your budget.


Trevor Long

Trevor Long is a technology journalist with over 20 years’ experience in the media. Trevor hosts a weekly radio show on 2UE called Talking Tech and is often seen providing technology commentary across Channel 9’s, A Current Affair and the Today Show nationally. Trevor is the co-founder and publisher of EFTM, an online site covering all things motoring, lifestyle and technology and produces two of the most popular podcasts in Australia.