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How to find the best tablet or laptop for school

Does your child need to bring their own device or tech to school? Here's advice on what to buy and things to consider.

young boy doing homework on laptop
Last updated: 08 February 2024

If you're at the stage where your child needs a new laptop or tablet to use in the classroom, it can be tricky deciding what to buy. 

Your child may be pressuring you to buy something that is the latest and greatest on-trend tech, or you may be tempted to grab whatever happens to be on sale. But before you buy, it's worth understanding exactly what your school's requirements are, and how your child will be using the device. 

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What is a BYOD or BYOT policy?

Different schools take different approaches to technology, and the specific policies – likely called BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) or BYOT (Bring Your Own Tech) – may depend on the age of the student. The school may make recommendations as to the model of device students are permitted to bring, or you may be able to choose your own. There may also be some software that is required on the device.

Hopefully, your school has provided you with some guidelines around what your child will actually be needing and what it will be used for, or the information can also sometimes be found on the school website under a BYOD or BYOT section. There may even be specific members of staff who are available to answer your questions.

 A school might:

  • have an open BYOT policy, which accepts any personally owned device, provided it can connect to the internet; or
  • lay out a list of BYOD requirements and leave you to source your own. This is more common in a teacher-based environment where the focus is on students having the same software and desktop experience.

A school's list of BYOD requirements can be daunting, but it's important to pay close attention so you can buy your child the best device for their needs (and your budget), and ensure you comply with the school's requirements.

Whether your school has an open BYOT or specified BYOD policy, there are a few factors that will play into your decision. Ideally the device will last your child around four years or more, so in addition to technical requirements – such as the specifications of the model and device – you'll also want to consider cost, value, durability and ease of use. 

Laptop or tablet: Which type of device do you need?

Traditional clamshell-style laptops are often suggested by BYOD policies, but there are alternatives. 

Two in ones (2-in-1s) are laptops that have a touchscreen and fold-back or removable keyboard for use as a tablet with fingers or an electronic pen/stylus. Some look just like a laptop until they flip or come apart. 

Surface go back to school-OL1

The Microsoft Surface Go 2-in-1 hybrid tablet, with burgundy detachable type cover.

Other hybrid devices, such as the Microsoft Surface Go or Samsung Galaxy Book2, are Windows tablets with detachable keyboard covers (sold separately for Surface devices). This makes them super lightweight, but they can be pricey.

Other tablets, such as iPads, sometimes fit the requirements, but check with your school to see if they're allowed. You may also need to buy a physical keyboard cover or attachment. If the students need to use specific device-based apps, there will need to be an iPad version available. 

Specifications and things to consider

Operating system (OS)

Windows and macOS are commonly accepted by schools, as is iOS (iPads) sometimes. Chrome OS (for Chromebooks) and Android are less common. 

For Windows laptops, go for Windows 11 or one that is eligible for a Windows 11 upgrade, which is most laptops made around 2018 or later. Windows 10 will stop receiving security updates in October 2025, so will become a security risk. Earlier versions of Windows have already lost support.

A quick way to check for Windows 11 eligibility is to look for "TPM 2.0" support. If it has an earlier version of TPM, it can't switch to Windows 11 when the time comes. For more info, check out Microsoft's Windows 11 system requirements.


The Wi-Fi connection of many schools is usually 5GHz – not the equally common 2.4GHz. Modern laptops support both frequencies, but some older laptops might not. 

Look for Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) or Wi-Fi 6E.

Maximum weight

Your child will be carrying this device in their backpack to and from school every day, so you want to make sure the model you buy isn't too heavy and that they'll feel comfortable with it in their backpack. Some schools recommend a maximum weight of 2kg. 

While many laptops can be heavy, there are plenty of decent laptops that weigh 1.5kg or less. 

Screen size

Any size from 8 inches to 15 inches may be accepted and this may be stipulated in the school's requirements. 

Larger laptops with larger screens are usually easier to work on for long periods of time, but smaller ones are generally lighter and easier to carry around.

Minimum RAM (memory)

Even if a school only requires 4GB for a Windows device, aim for a minimum 8GB RAM if you want an efficient Windows computer that will last more than a couple of years. If your child will be using the laptop for tasks beyond basic word processing, browsing, and light software usage, 16GB might be a better bet, but the school might be able to advise you on that.

32GB and above is overkill for students, so save your money.

iPads and other tablets don't have the same memory requirements. Any relatively new iPad or Android tablet (mid-range or above) will probably be fine.

Storage capacity

A 256GB internal drive could suffice for a laptop, especially given online storage services such as OneDrive and Google Drive. 

If you expect the laptop to store a lot of videos or high-resolution images for classwork, you might need 512GB or more, but the school should be able to advise on this.

There are still some budget laptops out there with 128GB storage, but this will quickly fill up. MacOS and Windows take up a lot of storage, so you might be left with around 90GB or less to play with. Given storage drives get slower the closer they get to their maximum capacity, you'll start to get frustrated with the performance even before the drive hits its limit.

Tablets can generally get by with less storage, such as 128GB, in part because their operating systems take up less storage space.

Storage drive type

Schools may specify a "solid-state drive" (SSD) for laptops rather than an internal hard drive. Don't let this confuse you.

You're unlikely to come across a modern laptop that doesn't use an SSD as its main or only drive. There are different types of SSD, but any of them should be fine for school work.

Some have a secondary, slower "hard drive" (HDD) for additional storage because this allows more capacity for a much lower price, but it's usually best used for media storage and files or programs you don't use very often.

Note: HDDs are more susceptible to damage from drops or hard knocks, while SSDs are often one of the more hardy components of a laptop.

Software support

Your device needs to support any software specifically required by the school. This is usually an operating system-based restriction, so if your OS is in line with the BYOD requirements, you should be fine.

Some more-demanding software has system requirements (minimum hardware specifications), such as 8GB RAM, etc.

A school would hopefully include these in the system requirements, but it might be wise to check if any more-demanding software will be used in subsequent years.

Battery life

Your child may not be able to easily charge their device throughout the school day so opt for devices that have eight hours or more of advertised battery life, and don't go below six. Some schools will not allow students to charge their devices at school, as cords and chargers can present a trip hazard and can be easily lost. 

If a school has enough charging stations that students can leave their laptops and tablets plugged in during all classes, it's a good idea to go into the settings and limit its maximum charge to around 80–85%. Keeping lithium batteries at close to 100% charge is seriously bad for their health.


How much should you spend?

  • At recommended retail price, you shouldn't need to go above $1200 for a good, new Windows 10 school laptop.
  • Eligible basic Windows models can go as low as $400, though expect limited performance and only HD screen quality.
  • The latest 10.2-inch iPad (9th gen) starts at $549, plus $269 for the Smart Keyboard cover.
  • For macOS users, the MacBook Air (with M1 chip) is a good option, starting at $1499. Apple doesn't make budget laptops, which means any Mac laptop from the past couple of years will be more than powerful enough.

Discounts and deals

Microsoft offers discounted prices for education use, and some retailers, such as Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi, offer education BYOD discounts for specific devices. Key sales periods such as the November Black Friday sales and Boxing Day sales are also a great time to pick up discounted models ahead of the new school year. 

Should you buy your child a secondhand device for school?

You might be able to find a cheap, used laptop online, but be extra careful of private purchases and always inspect the goods carefully and try them out before you buy. You should also look up the make and model online to confirm its specifications match your needs.

What if you can't afford a new device for your child?

Everyone should be able to have access to technology so if you're struggling to afford the cost of a new device, or you don't currently own a device that fits your school's specifications, approach your school and see if they have any programs or devices available for loan. Microsoft's Shape the Future program allows qualifying primary and secondary educational establishments to buy devices with discounted Windows licences.

Your state government may offer heavily discounted or free one-off software licences to students for some apps. Look up your state's BYOD policy for more information on educational software licence discounts.


A laptop or tablet can take a battering in the school bag, even if you do have good protection for it (which is essential). Kids are also prone to losing things. If you've spent a fair whack on a device, it's worth looking at insurance.

You can insure your laptop by:

Most insurers offer portable contents cover as an optional extra; some include it by default. Usually portable contents cover will come with sublimits. This could be anywhere from $500 up to $10,000. If the replacement cost of your laptop is more than your insurer's sublimit, then you can usually opt to list it on your policy for an amount of your choosing (though this of course comes with a higher premium).

You can get specialty insurance for your laptop direct from an insurer, from the retail store where you buy the laptop, or from an 'on-demand' insurance provider which is typically an app on your phone where you can turn the insurance cover on and off.

Policy exclusions

Yes, you do need to read the fine print. In particular, pay attention to who is 'insured' by the policy. If it's your name on the policy, will the laptop be covered if other family members such as your children take it to school?

And similar to travel insurance, portable contents cover will generally exclude cover for loss or theft of items out of your direct sight in a place where the public has access to. Depending on how the insurer interprets this, it may include a workplace or a classroom. 

In other words, if the laptop goes missing from the classroom while your child is looking in the other direction, such as talking to a classmate, an unscrupulous insurer may deny a subsequent claim for loss.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.