Buying a laptop for school? A parent’s guide

It’s that ‘Back to Skool’ time of the year again. Like most parents, we’re getting the usual uniform, shoes and coats. I have also added a laptop to the list of ‘things to buy’. Laptops are not usually on a back to school list, I want to be prepared for a potential Covid-19 lockdown. I want to minimise any disruption to education. Until now, we have managed to share devices but this is just not a viable solution on a long term basis.

As the techie in my family, there were various things I considered. I mainly focused on the cost of laptops for budget-conscious parents, like myself. I also considered how the kids would use the laptop. At most, I expect my kids to use it for schoolwork, a little bit of gaming (Robloks) and watching Youtube.

There are three types of operating systems on the market: ChromeOS, Windows or macOS. Apple laptops use macOS and are the most expensive – new ones start at £1000+. You could get an old refurbished one for under £400, but it will be a few years old.

I looked at affordable laptops across a range of brands. Value for money is important right now so if the price is your main factor, then Chromebooks are the way to go. They tend to be cheaper than any Windows laptop, but this is at the cost of processing power.

Chromebooks are great for streaming video, surfing the web and school/college/uni work. Their operating system is similar to Android, so they have access to the apps in the Google Play store. They also tend to be cheaper than Android tablets, mainly because the laptops can be built with larger components.

Best affordable Chromebook:

Since lockdown, Chromebooks have become more popular so deals are difficult to come by. The cheapest Chromebook we’ve found is the Asus C223NA 11.6″. It is priced at £179.99 from Amazon and comes with a mouse.

best laptop for kids

Don’t expect ground-shaking performance or a full HD viewing experience, but if your kids need to get online and the price is your key consideration, then this is the laptop for you. 

If you place it on top of a piece of A4, you’ll see paper around the edges. It also weighs less than a kilogram, so it’s mega portable.

The laptop has an HD camera at the top of the screen, so your kids can do video calls with their teachers. It also has three USB sockets, two of which are the newer, rounded USB-C. On paper, you should get about 10 hours of use before it needs a charge, but that will depend on what you are doing.

Since you’ll need a Google account to sign in to the computer, you’ve got access to the free 15GB of cloud storage on Drive. If you need more on the Chromebook itself, there’s also a microSD card slot on the Asus C223NA. Spending an extra £10 on the SanDisk Ultra 64GB microSD card will literally triple your storage capacity.

If you don’t want to go down the Chromebook route, there are Windows laptops that are in a similar price range. 

Best affordable Windows laptop:

The Asus Vivobook E402YA 14″ laptop is available from Amazon at £199.99. Again, the price means that you won’t get great performance, but it will be fine for doing schoolwork from home. The 14″ screen is obviously bigger than the Chromebook’s 11″. You also have more storage at 64GB, but the trade-off is that the battery lasts for six hours or so.

However, this deal comes with a year’s subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal, (usually £59.99 per year), so it’s literally ready for home learning. The built-in camera isn’t the best, so you might want to consider using a separate webcam, like the ieGeek Webcam.

If you’ve got a bit more to spend, then consider this great deal at Amazon: the Asus 15.6″ C523NA Chromebook with Touchscreen, reduced from £379.99 to £279.99.

An affordable laptop
Asus-C523NA laptop

This full-size laptop has a full HD screen with a brushed aluminium look on the cover, that can fold flat. There are three USB sockets, one of which is the newer USB-C type, and a microSD card slot to extend the built-in 64GB for storage.

My affordable laptop recommendation:

My top recommendation is the Chromebook, Asus C523NA with its bigger touchscreen. Chromebooks generally start up faster than Windows PCs. Plus, any software you’ve bought for your Android phone can be used on the Asus C523NA. Another great advantage is that Google controls what goes on to the Chromebook, so there are frequent security updates so it’s safe and secure to use.

What devices have your kids been using to learn at home? Let me know in the comments.