Need to know
- You'll need to consider a number of factors when choosing a laptop for your school-aged child
- Price is obviously a key consideration, but so is size, durability, battery life and power
- For CHOICE members, our experts reveal which laptops they recommend for students
Prepping to send your child back to school can be expensive enough, but if your young person needs a laptop or device this year it'll push your costs even higher.
And with such a big expense, you'll want to be sure you make the right choice so it'll (hopefully) see you through until your child finishes school.
So before you drop hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on a new laptop, here's what you need to know.
Plus, for CHOICE members, we'll reveal the student laptops our experts recommend. If you just want to get straight to the best products, jump straight to the results now.
The most important things to consider
Choosing a laptop for a school student is always a trade-off between portability and power: they'll have to haul it around all day in their already-heavy school bag, but it needs to be sufficiently powerful to allow them to easily complete their work.
Durability is also a key consideration, particularly as the device is likely to sustain a few bumps in the school bag or playground over its lifetime. If you have a younger child, you always want to ensure it lasts as long as possible throughout their schooling career.
Things to consider when researching a student laptop:
- Comfort: Is the laptop comfortable to use and comfortable to carry?
- Power: How powerful a laptop does your child need for their work?
- Durability: How long do you need it to last?
- Battery life: A long enough working time between charges to get them through the school day at a minimum
- Price: Everyone's budget is different, but does your high schooler really need a $3000+ high-powered laptop?
- Weight: School bags can already be heavy, so you may need to look at lighter laptops to ease the strain on your child's growing body.
- Screen size: Try to find a happy medium between comfortable to work on and comfortable to carry.
- Ports: You'll need at least one USB-A and one USB-C port.
- RAM: Go for 8GB at an absolute minimum, but aim for 16GB. (32GB is likely overkill.)
- Storage: The safest minimum would probably be 256GB, but if your kid plans on installing multiple games, 512GB might be a safer bet.
- Operating system: Before you buy, check which operating systems your child's school accepts.
There are no hard and fast rules here, but consider the pros and cons of small vs large (see below). It's about finding a balance between how comfortable the laptop is to work on and how easy it is to carry.
It's about finding a balance between how comfortable the laptop is to work on and how easy it is to carry
As a ballpark guide, anything under 13 inches could be uncomfortable to work on for long periods, and more than 16 inches is probably bigger than a student would need. (Although this obviously depends on what they'll be doing on it.)
Your child's school may have specific guidelines for screen size, so make sure you're clear on what the parameters are before you start shopping.
Smaller can be cheaper and more portable, but it's not always the right choice.
- Can be cheaper.
- Easier to carry, especially for younger children.
- You can go for a lower-resolution screen without sacrificing crisp text and images.
- Smaller screen size can be hard on the eyes.
- May be less comfortable for longer work sessions.
- Can have fewer functions than larger laptops/More basic models may have fewer functions and ports than larger, premium laptops.
- Might not be suitable as your child gets older.
Going big from the get-go might seem like a good way to future-proof your child's computer so it'll last them right up to the end of school, but the extra expense and weight can mean they're not suitable for every situation.
- Larger screen is easier to see and puts less strain on necks and shoulders.
- A bigger keyboard is more comfortable to use.
- You'll often get a larger trackpad, which can make fine mouse movements easier.
- They're often more expensive.
- The heavier weight can be difficult for smaller children to carry.
- You'll need a higher resolution screen than for a smaller laptop.
As with all purchases, it's a 'how long is a piece of string?' situation. But here's a ballpark guide:
- You shouldn't need to spend too much more than $1500 for a good Windows school laptop.
- Basic Windows models can be as cheap as $600, but you should expect limited performance and poor screen quality.
- The student-friendly laptops our experts rate range in price from $1298 to $1999.
Particularly for school kids, durability shouldn't be overlooked. Some tablets are highly water-resistant (though their keyboards might not be). Most laptops, on the other hand, are notoriously susceptible to accidental spills.
A rare feature in laptops and tablets is drop and impact resistance. Some tablets can mitigate this with a sturdy case. Laptops are generally safe while in a bag, thanks to their bottom half protecting the screen.
But as for drops, your only recourse might be crossed fingers or a quick prayer – and portable cover on your contents insurance (though you'll need to read the fine print to make sure it covers your child taking it to school).
Students are sometimes required to use specific software for their studies, but you often have a bit more leeway.
Even if you're required to submit work in a certain filetype (such as Microsoft Word's .docx), you might be able to find something that will do the job for free.
For example, alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite abound. LibreOffice and Google's productivity suite are possibly the most popular. Both include a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation program.
Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides are cloud-based, but you can save your files offline, so you don't need an active internet connection to work. But you do need a Google account.
The detailed results of our laptops review, plus the laptops that our experts recommend, are available exclusively to CHOICE members.
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