Buying a laptop can be stressful – doubly stressful if you or your kids are learning online for the first time. Kids of different ages have different laptop usage scenarios and different needs. And as the choices for the best laptop and the best Chromebook evolve, so do the needs of students. So I spoke to some experts on the subject: students themselves.
My recommendations here are intended to cater to a variety of preferences and price ranges. But they are more of a starting point than an exhaustive list: every student is different. Before making a decision, make sure to read reviews and try out devices for yourself if possible. I will do my best to keep this article up to date with items that are in stock.
Best laptop for students
Best laptop for primary school
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 has mastered it; Glogovac says he’s already learned how to mute and mute himself, “a skill many adults aren’t familiar with.”
That said, it may be worth investing in a keyboard case if you’re going the tablet route. Glogovac has to type her son’s conference codes and passwords for him, which can be cumbersome on the iPad’s flat screen.
As kids get older, the best laptop choice depends on their needs. As a parent, it’s important that you and your child are on the same page about how they want to use it and the size of the programs they want.
Kristin Wallace bought her daughter, Bella, a cheap HP laptop, but didn’t realize how quickly the nine-year-old would fill up to 32GB of storage. “It is very slow and has no room for games. I need a computer with more storage,” says Bella, who uses the laptop to zoom in with friends and take virtual guitar lessons and math enrichment lessons. Wallace plans to buy a better device for Bella in the coming weeks.
Audio quality is an important consideration for children’s laptops. Lisa Mitchell, a primary 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 remote learners who may not be far from an outlet. Bella likes to use her laptop around the house and doesn’t want to carry the cord.
Durability is also worth it, according to Mitchell. If you’re using a tablet, buy a protective case. “If a reasonably priced insurance or replacement policy is available, it’s usually worth the extra cost.”
Best laptop for high school
The high school students I spoke to don’t use their laptops for much more than web-based schoolwork and browsing. Don’t worry too much about power – prioritize a machine that’s comfortable and easy for your child to use.
“We just bought the most basic Chromebook and it’s absolutely perfect,” says Gabrielle Hartley, and attorney and mother of three who take a mix of in-person and online classes. “The most basic Chromebook meets all the needs of the elementary high school student.”
Hartley’s son Max, who is in eighth grade, agrees. “I’d love to have a gaming PC or gaming laptop that can plug into a monitor and play video games at 120 fps, but I really don’t need that,” says Max. “Most 8th grade students won’t be running video games on their laptops or software that requires a lot of power.”
Max mainly uses his laptop for Google Classroom applications, including Gmail, Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. They are very easy to use on his device, which he describes as “a typical Samsung Chromebook”. That said, if your child is entering 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 he’s having trouble with his Chromebook because his school has blocked apps from downloading 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 high school students, any processor developed in the last two years will be able to handle whatever tasks they can throw at it. ”
And then is worth paying for? A comfortable keyboard, several students told me. Many high school students are not used to typing for a long time. You should also look for a device that is compact and easy to carry around, especially if they are preparing for personal school. Shoot an 11- to 13-inch model – certainly nothing bigger than 15 inches.
Best laptop for high school
The laptop needs of high school students can vary based on their interests, but most don’t need powerful machines with lots of bells and whistles, especially if they have problems or serious drawbacks that can interfere with schoolwork. Miles Riehle, a student at Laguna Beach High School, has a high-end Surface Pro 7 but finds it overwhelming. “There are so many other things that I don’t use often,” he said. “Something simpler might be a little simpler.”
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 likes to use an iPad for his schoolwork. Riehle says he prefers a Chromebook because he has an Android phone and often uses Google services.
But nearly every student I spoke to agreed that portability is the most important feature of a high school laptop. Kids taking in-person classes can carry their device with them for much of the day with a stack of other books. Look for a 13- or 14-inch screen or a lighter 15- to 17-inch model.
Students also recommend something sturdy. “Most high school students I’ve seen will throw their laptops in their bags without too much care,” said Moses Buckwalter, a student at Penn Manor High School. Backpacks can also be pushed in the hallway. Distance learners can still get into trouble 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 quite a task to find a charging place during class,” says Cas Heemskerk, a second-year student from the Netherlands. Unlike college students, many high school students don’t often take breaks to recharge their devices, so try to find something that can last an entire day.
Many students recommend a touchscreen with stylus support. Nambiar uses the feature for his biology class, where he does a lot of visual modeling. “The touchscreen is always a bonus for drawing diagrams, while submitting a diagram is quite a process if you’re using a laptop,” says Nambiar. Riehle uses a Surface Pen to fill out school forms and annotate PDFs. Agrawal finds it helpful 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 classes are sometimes interrupted by power cuts, so he recommends an LTE model. Matej Plavevski, a junior at Yahya Kemal College in North Macedonia, recommends looking for an Ethernet port in case slower connections disrupt meetings. That’s hard to find on smaller laptops, but there are a whole host of affordable dongles and docks to consider.
Best laptop for school
Students have the right to spend a little more money than other age groups. Some (especially in STEM courses) can expect fairly demanding work. Assad Abid, an electrical engineering student from Pakistan, has to use simulation software for his assignments. Aakash Chandra, a student at the New Horizon College of Engineering in India, does a lot of programming, in addition to creative work in Premiere Pro and Photoshop, and gaming. Students also noted that it’s worth paying for a laptop that will last a few years after graduation. That means you don’t have to worry about finding and financing your next device until you (hopefully) land a job.
But among high-end, capable devices, there is still a wide range of options. Students stressed that a college laptop should be light. Expect to take it with you between classes, meals, meetings, the library, and other locations on campus. “It’s a blessing that I can carry my laptop and some notebooks without feeling like I have to carry too much for six hours a day,” said Haseeb Waseem, a senior at Villanova University.
Another critically acclaimed feature: battery life. Waseem, who uses an HP Specter, says the all-day juice gives him “the flexibility to study in different locations and even outdoors.”
Speakers and webcams are often overlooked, even in high-end devices. But students say it’s worth looking for good ones if you’re going to college this year. Zoom will be a big part of college life this semester: Many kids will take virtual classes, while others will still meet clubs, study groups, and professors and hang out with friends online. Waseem is unhappy with his laptop’s audio and picture quality, which he says makes it difficult to pay attention in class and interact with other students.
Many students will need to invest more in areas that are aligned with their interests and schoolwork needs. Chandra’s dream laptop would include a stylus and touchscreen for his creative work, as well as a high-end GPU. Waseem, who uses his laptop for a myriad of activities including streaming, encoding, social media, video chatting and Microsoft Office work, would rather prioritize a big screen to keep up with his multitasking.