02.What to look for
In many schools, particularly those that had geared up for the DER program, the school will have focused its resources on supporting Windows computers. New devices will come with the Windows 8 operating system, but may or may not be bundled with productivity software. Check for this, because you'll need a suite of programs that includes a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software.
Often you will find that bundled with a new Windows computer will come Microsoft Office Home and Student productivity package, currently in the 2013 version. This includes Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote programs, along with 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage. If it's not included with the computer and you want it, you can add it for $169.
Alternatively, you can usually opt to save some money by buying your computer without included productivity software and simply download a FREE open source productivity suite such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice. These provide programs with functionality similar to Microsoft Office, including the ability to open and save the standard Microsoft Office file formats, but at no charge. You can install them on as many computers as you want. Versions are available for Windows, OS X and Linux.
If your school uses Apple laptops, you will still need productivity software and can either buy Microsoft Office for Mac Home and Student 2011, or you can once again opt for a FREE download of the OS X versions of the productivity suites LibreOffice or OpenOffice.
Some schools have opted for iPads, which come with Apple’s own productivity software iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) and iLife (iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband).
Like the Surface tablet, an iPad can be made more functional with the addition of a physical keyboard, such as those from Logitech.
Both Microsoft and Apple offer discounted education pricing for students.
- Check with the school for their minimum and recommended configurations.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Don’t be tempted by expensive components that aren't necessary.
- Don’t skimp on memory (RAM) – 4GB is a good rule of thumb for laptops.
- Consider buying from smaller retailers or online as well as national chain stores. Some smaller stores may have good deals. Also check out online specials.
- Go with a brand name, if possible, and check service availability/turnaround and warranty terms.
- If shopping in-store, don’t be afraid to ask for a deal. You can get a good price if you buy extra accessories and software at the same time.
- Be wary of buying extended warranties - they offer little extra protection over your standard Australian consumer rights.
Help with costs
Depending on the type of device you go for and the variations of processor, memory (RAM) and storage (HDD or SSD), a take-to-school device can vary quite a lot in cost.
For those who need some help coping with costs, the Schoolkids Bonus, which replaced the Education Tax Refund, aims to help eligible families and students with the education-related costs of primary and secondary school studies. Eligible families and students receive up to $820 (two instalments of $410) for each child in secondary school. Half is paid in January and half in July.