Back-to-school tech-buying guide

Head back to school with the right laptop or tablet computer
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01.BYO computer, but which one?

BYO laptop

If you have kids at school, there's now an extra item on back to school lists: a laptop or tablet computer such as an iPad. Funding has now run out for the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) program, which started in 2009 and ended in 2013. The so-called one-laptop-per-child program aimed to provide each public high school student with a laptop across years 9 to 12, along with better facilities and support for schools.

This year, however, many schools will ask students to bring their own computer devices to school, including smartphones, tablets and laptops. That adds a weighty cost to the back-to-school outfit, so you need to spend wisely. 

Our back-to-school guide can help you beat the BYO-tech blues and pick the best model for child's your needs.


The government-handout laptops are no longer, so students may have to take their own laptops to school next year, but what do they need? There’s enormous variety in size, spec, price and performance of notebook computers, leaving non-techy adults and kids alike awash in a sea of confusing claims and general uncertainty.

BYOD (bring your own device) and BYOT (bring your own technology) are the new catchcries. The difference is that with BYOD, a school requests a particular computer model, which the student must supply. BYOT means students can choose their own computers. However, be careful, as some may use the terms interchangeably.

So before rushing out to grab a bargain, check with the school and see what their computer equipment policy is – BYOD or BYOT. Do they prefer to supply a device and charge you for it? Or is there an option for students to pick their own? And, if so, does the school have any specific guidelines.

For example, in NSW the Department of Education has released a BYOD/BYOT policy for its 2200 schools (see The policy recognises that technology changes rapidly and many students already have their own smartphones and computers and aims to harness this, but puts the onus on school principals to implement the schools’ BYOD policy.

Endless options

ONLINE_LaptopBuyingGuide_Hybrid_Dell_XPS_Duo_12If the school lets students bring their own, check if there is a particular type of device they cater for. Does the school prefer a specific brand or model range? Windows PC or Mac? Which operating system should you get? Laptop or tablet? The differences are significant.

The terms laptop and notebook are generally considered interchangeable in reference to portable computers. But there are several subcategories to consider: Ultraportable, netbook, Chromebook, MacBook, hybrid. And, of course, there are tablets.

  • Ultraportables are small, powerful laptops but relatively expensive. Ultrabooks are a subcategory of ultraportables. 
  • Netbooks are small and cheap, but relatively low performance.
  • Chromebooks look like a laptop but run only the Chrome OS operating system, not Windows, and require a constant connection to the internet.
  • MacBooks are Apple’s laptops and run OS X. The MacBook Air range is the smallest and cheapest. They can also be configured to run Windows as an optional extra.
  • Hybrids offer the look and feel of a laptop plus the versatility of a tablet, usually via a removable screen, but they’re relatively expensive.
  • Tablets come in Windows, iOS and Android versions. A tablet is generally smaller, lighter and cheaper than a laptop. They don’t usually have a separate physical keyboard, but one can be connected directly or via Bluetooth. Tablets that take an attachable keyboard can be the equivalent of a hybrid. The Windows Surface Pro tablet is a good example, but you need to buy the keyboard as an extra.
For detailed information on choosing a laptop, see our laptop buying guide.



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