Shopping for a laptop can be stressful — doubly stressful if you or your children will be learning online for the first time. Kids of different ages have a range of …
Shopping for a laptop can be stressful — doubly stressful if you or your children will be learning online for the first time. Kids of different ages have a range of different laptop use cases and different needs.
And as the choices for best laptop and best Chromebook evolve, so do students’ needs. So I spoke to some experts on the subject: students themselves.
For younger students, a touchscreen device is easier to use than a keyboard and touchpad, says Michelle Glogovac. Glogovac’s five-year-old son uses an iPad for Webex meetings with his kindergarten class. He’s gotten the hang of it; Glogovac says he’s already learned how to mute and unmute himself, “a skill that many adults aren’t familiar with.”
That said, it may be worth investing in a keyboard case if you go the tablet route. Glogovac has to type her son’s meeting codes and passwords for him, which can be cumbersome on the iPad’s flat screen.
As kids get older, their best laptop choice will vary depending on their needs. As a parent, it’s important that you and your child are in sync about how they intend to use it and the size of the programs they want.
Best laptop for students
Audio quality is an important consideration for kids’ laptops. Lisa Mitchell, an elementary library media specialist, says her students use their devices to watch YouTube videos in addition to their online classes. Battery life is also a plus, even for distance learners who may not be far from a wall outlet. Bella likes to use her laptop all around the house and doesn’t want to bring the cord with her.
- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition ($199): a colorful, fast tablet with kid-friendly content
Best laptop for elementary school
- HP Chromebook x360 ($279): an affordable Chromebook with great battery life
The middle school students I spoke to don’t use their laptops for much more than web-based schoolwork and browsing. Don’t be too concerned about power — prioritize a machine that’s comfortable and easy for your child to use.
- Acer Chromebook Spin 713 ($629): a fantastic Chromebook that’s not too pricey
“We just got the most basic Chromebook and it is totally perfect,” says Gabrielle Hartley, an attorney and mother of three children who take a mix of in-person and online classes. “The most basic Chromebook serves all the needs of the basic middle schooler.”
- Acer Swift 3 ($613): a super light laptop that performs well
- Dell XPS 13 ($930): a solid clamshell Windows laptop
- Surface Laptop 4 ($999): an excellent, light laptop that’s comfortable to use
- HP Spectre x360 14 ($1,269): a premium convertible with standout battery life
Best laptop for high school
Hartley’s son Max, who is in eighth grade, agrees. “I would really like a gaming PC or gaming laptop that can plug into a monitor and run video games with 120fps, but I really don’t need that,” Max says. “Most eighth graders aren’t going to be running any video games on their laptops or any software that requires a lot of power.”
Best laptop for college
Max mostly uses his laptop for Google Classroom applications, including Gmail, Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. They’re very easy to use on his device, which he describes as “a run-of-the-mill Samsung Chromebook.”
That said, if your child is starting middle school this year, it could be worth checking with their teachers to see what operating system is most compatible with their workflow. Caspian Fischer Odén, a ninth grader from Sweden, told me he has trouble with his Chromebook because his school has blocked downloading apps from the Google Play Store.
Even kids with more demanding hobbies think a budget device can get the job done. Sam Hickman, an eighth grader from the UK who uses his laptop for photo and video editing, says, “For most middle schoolers, any processor developed within the last two years will be able to handle any tasks they can throw at it.”
So, what is worth paying for? A comfortable keyboard, several students told me. Many middle school kids aren’t used to typing for long periods of time.
You should also look for a device that’s compact and easy for them to carry around, particularly if they’re preparing for in-person school. Shoot for an 11- to 13-inch model — certainly nothing larger than 15 inches.