Shopping for a laptop can be stressful – doubly stressful if you or your children are learning online for the first time. Children of different ages have a variety of cases for laptop use and different needs. And as technology evolves, so do students’ needs. So I talked to some experts on the subject: the students themselves.
My recommendations here are intended to meet a variety of preferences and price ranges. But they are a jumping off point rather than an exhaustive list: every student is different. Before making a decision, you want to make sure you read the reviews and test devices yourself if you can. I will do my best to keep this article updated with items in stock.
Best laptops for elementary school students
For younger students, a touch screen device is easier to use than a keyboard and touchpad, says Michelle Glogovac, whose five-year-old son will learn distance learning during the first six weeks of the fall semester. Glogovac’s son uses an iPad for Webex meetings with his kindergarten class. He has got it; Glogovac says he has already learned to turn off and on himself, “a skill many adults do not know.”
As I said, it may be worth investing in a keyboard case if you go on the tablet. Glogovac has to enter his son’s meeting codes and passwords for him, which can be awkward on the iPad’s flat screen.
As children get older, their best choice of laptop will vary depending on their needs. As a parent, it is important that you and your child synchronize how they intend to use it and the size of the programs they want.
Kristin Wallace bought a budget HP laptop for her daughter, Bella, but did not realize how fast the nine-year-old would fill 32 GB of storage. “It’s really slow and has no room for games. I need a computer with more storage space, says Bella, who uses the laptop to zoom in with friends and take virtual guitar lessons and math enrichment classes. Wallace plans to buy Bella a better device in the coming weeks.
Sound quality is an important factor for children’s laptops. Lisa Mitchell, a specialized media librarian in the media, 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 students who are not far from a wall outlet. Bella likes to use her laptop around the house and does not want to take the cord with her.
Sustainability is also worth paying for, according to Mitchell. If you use a tablet, you get a protective case. “If there is a reasonable insurance or compensation policy, it is usually worth the extra cost.”
Best laptops for high school students
The middle school teachers I talked to do not use their laptops for much more than web-based schoolwork and surfing. Do not worry too much about power – prioritize a machine that is comfortable and easy for your child to use.
“We have just the most basic Chromebook and it’s absolutely perfect,” said Gabrielle Hartley, a lawyer and mother of three who will be taking a mix of personal and online classes this fall. “The most basic Chromebook meets all the needs of the elementary school.”
Hartley’s son Max, who is in the eighth grade, agrees. “I would really like a gaming computer or gaming laptop that can connect to a monitor and run video games at 120 fps, but I really do not need that,” says Max. “Most eighth graders will not run any video games on their laptops or software that require a lot of power.”
Max mostly uses his laptop for Google Classroom applications, including Gmail, Slides, Google Docs and Google Sheets. They are very easy to use on their device, which he describes as “a factory-run Samsung Chromebook.” That said, if your child is starting high school this year, it may be worth checking with their teachers to see which operating system is most compatible with their workflow. Caspian Fischer Odén, a ninth grader from Sweden, told me that he has a problem with his Chromebook because his school has blocked the download of apps from the Google Play Store.
Even children with more demanding hobbies believe that a budget unit 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-aged schools, all the processors developed in the last two years will be able to handle all the tasks they can throw at it.”
So what is worth paying for? A comfortable keyboard, several students told me. Many children in school are not used to writing for long periods. You should also look for a device that is compact and easy for them to carry, especially if they are preparing for school. Shoot for an 11 to 13-inch model – really no bigger than 15 inches.
Best laptops for high school students
High school laptop needs can vary depending on their interests, but most do not need powerful machines with lots of bells and whistles – especially if they come with glitches or serious drawbacks that can interfere with school work. Miles Riehle, a student at Laguna Beach High School, has a high-end Surface Pro 7 but finds it overwhelming. “There’s so much else I don’t use that often,” he said. “Something simpler could be a little easier.”
The best operating system may depend on what your child is used to. Aryan Nambiar, a student at Barrington High School in Illinois, has an iMac at home and enjoys using an iPad for her schoolwork. Riehle says he prefers a Chromebook because he has an Android phone and often uses Google services.
But almost all the students I talked to agreed that the most important thing about a laptop in high school is portability. Children who attend personal classes can carry their devices for large parts of the day with a bundle of other books. Look for a 13- or 14-inch screen or a lighter 15- to 17-inch model.
Students also recommend something robust. “Most high schools I’ve seen will throw their laptops in the bag without too much care,” said Moses Buckwalter, a student at Penn Manor High School. Backpacks can also be slid down the hall. Distance students may still encounter problems at home. “Anything can happen,” said Aadit Agrawal, a high school student from India. “My own brother scratched my laptop with his nails.”
Battery life is another important feature. “It can be a real struggle to find a place to recharge while you are in class,” says Cas Heemskerk, a second from the Netherlands. Unlike college students, many high schools do not often have breaks to juice up their units, so try to find something that can last an entire day.
Many students recommend a touch screen with touch support. Nambiar uses the function for his biology class, where he does a lot of visual modeling. “The touch screen is always a bonus for drawing charts, while using a laptop would be a whole process to submit a chart you drew,” says Nambiar. Riehle uses a Surface Pen to fill out school forms and comment on PDF files. Agrawal finds it useful to take notes on the same screen as his online lessons.
Depending on the broadband situation in your area, you may also want a laptop with multiple connectivity options. Agrawal’s online courses are sometimes interrupted by switches, so he recommends an LTE model. Matej Plavevski, a junior at Yahya Kemal College in northern Macedonia, recommends looking for an Ethernet port in case slower connections interfere with meetings. It’s hard to find on smaller laptops, but there are a lot of affordable dongles and bridges to keep in mind.
Best laptops for college students
College children are entitled to spend a little more money than other age groups. Some (especially in STEM courses) can expect to do some rather demanding work. Assad Abid, a basic technician from Pakistan, has to run simulation software for his missions. Aakash Chandra, a student at New Horizon College of Engineering in India, does a lot of coding, in addition to creative work in Premiere Pro and Photoshop, and games. Students also noted that it is worth paying for a laptop that will last for a few years after graduation. This means that you do not have to worry about finding and financing your next unit until you (hopefully) have worked in a job.
But among advanced, capable devices, there is still a wide range of options. The students emphasized that a laptop in school should be lightweight. Expect to take it between classes, meals, meetings, the library and other places on campus. “It’s a blessing to be able to carry my laptop as well as some notebooks without feeling like I’ve carrying too much for six hours a day,” said Haseeb Waseem, a senior at Villanova University who is taking a mix of personal and virtual classes this fall. .
Another universally praised feature: battery life. Waseem, who uses an HP Specter, says the juice all day gives him “the flexibility to study in a bunch of different places and even outside.”
Speakers and webcams are often overlooked, even in top modules. But students say it’s worth looking for good if you start college this year. Zoom will be a big part of university life this semester: many children will attend virtual classes, while others will still meet clubs, study groups and professors as well as hang out with friends online. Waseem is not happy with the sound and picture quality of his laptop, which he says has made it difficult to pay attention in class and collaborate with other students.
Many students will need to invest more in areas that are tailored to their interests and school work. Chandra’s dream laptop would include a touch screen and touch screen for his creative work as well as an advanced GPU. Waseem, who uses his laptop for a wide range of activities, including streaming, coding, social media, video chat and Microsoft Office work, prefers to prioritize a large screen to keep track of his multitasking.