Shopping for a laptop can be stressful – doubly stressful if you or your kids are first learning online. Children of different ages have different use cases for laptops and different needs. As technology advances, so do students' needs. So I spoke to some experts on the subject: the students themselves.
My recommendations here are meant to accommodate a wide variety of preferences and price ranges. But they're more of a starting point than an exhaustive list: every student is different. Before making a decision, make sure that you read the reviews and try the devices for yourself if you can. I will do my best to keep this article updated of any items that are in stock.
Google's Pixelbook Go has solid battery life and a wavy base that is easy to grasp. This makes it a great choice for kids.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
Best laptops for elementary school students
For younger students, a touchscreen device is easier to use than a keyboard and touchpad, says Michelle Glogovac, whose five-year-old son will be giving distance learning for the first six weeks of the fall semester. Glogovac's son uses an iPad for Webex meetings with his kindergarten class. He's got the hang of it. Glogovac says he has already learned to mute and unmute himself, "a skill that many adults are unfamiliar with."
That said, it can be worth investing in a keyboard case if you're going the tablet route. Glogovac has to enter her son's meeting codes and passwords for him, which can be awkward on the iPad's flat screen.
As kids get older, the best laptop choices will depend on their needs. As a parent, it is important that you and your child are in sync about how they want to use them and how big the programs they want.
Kristin Wallace bought an inexpensive HP laptop for her daughter Bella, but didn't know how quickly the nine-year-old would fill 32GB of storage. “It's very slow and there is no room for games. I need a computer with more memory, ”said Bella, who uses the laptop to zoom in with friends and take virtual guitar and math lessons. Wallace plans to buy Bella a better device in the next few weeks.
Audio quality is an important consideration for children's laptops. Lisa Mitchell, a media specialist in basic libraries, says her students use their devices to watch YouTube videos in addition to their online classes. Battery life is also beneficial for distance students who may not be far from an electrical outlet. Bella enjoys using her laptop around the house and doesn't want to bring the cable with her.
According to Mitchell, it's also worth paying for shelf life. If you are using a tablet, get a protective case. "If cheap insurance or replacement policy is available, it is usually worth the additional cost."
Lenovo's Chromebook Duet is only $ 289, but it can easily run numerous tabs and apps.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge
Best laptops for middle school students
The middle school students I spoke to don't use their laptops much more than they do web-based schoolwork and surfing. Don't worry about power supplies – prioritize a machine that is convenient and easy for your child to use.
"We just got the simplest Chromebook and it's absolutely perfect," said Gabrielle Hartley, a lawyer and mother of three who will be taking a mix of in-person and online classes this fall. "The simplest Chromebook meets all the needs of the common middle school student."
Chromebooks like this one from Acer are great choices for students using Google Classroom.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge
Hartley's son Max, who is in eighth grade, agrees. "I'd really like to have a gaming PC or laptop that can be plugged into a monitor and run video games at 120 fps, but I really don't need that," says Max. "Most eighth graders won't get video games on their laptops or run software that uses a lot of power. "
Max uses his laptop primarily for Google Classroom applications including Gmail, Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. They are very easy to use on his device, which he calls the "ordinary Samsung Chromebook". However, if your child starts middle school this year, it may be worth checking with teachers about which operating system is best compatible with the workflow. Caspian Fischer Odén, a ninth grader from Sweden, told me he was having problems with his Chromebook because his school blocked apps from downloading from the Google Play Store.
Even kids with more demanding hobbies believe that 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 school students, any processor developed in the last two years can handle any task it can do."
So what is it worth paying for? A comfortable keyboard, several students told me. Many middle school students are not used to typing for long periods of time. You should also look for a device that is compact and easy to transport, especially when preparing for a personal school. Shoot for an 11- to 13-inch model – certainly nothing larger than 15 inches.
The Surface Laptop 3 is a powerful, no-nonsense laptop – just what a lot of high schoolers want.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Best laptops for high school students
High school students' laptop requirements can vary based on their interests, but most don't need powerful machines with lots of bells and whistles – especially if they have glitches or serious drawbacks that could 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 very 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, Illinois, has an iMac at home and enjoys using an iPad for schoolwork. Riehle says he'd prefer a Chromebook because he has an Android phone and uses Google services a lot.
But almost every student I spoke to agreed that the most important feature of a high school laptop is portability. Children taking personal classes can carry their device around with a pile of other books for much of the day. Look for a 13 "or 14" screen, or a lighter 15 "to 17" model.
Students also recommend something sturdy. "Most high schoolers I've seen will throw their laptops in their pockets without too much care," says Moses Buckwalter, a Penn Manor High School student. Backpacks can also be jostled in the hallway. Distance students can still run into trouble at home. "Anything can happen," says Aadit Agrawal, a student from India. "My own brother scratched my laptop with his nails."
Battery life is another important feature. "Finding a place to recharge in class can be a real problem," says Cas Heemskerk, a student from the Netherlands. Unlike college students, many high schoolers don't have frequent breaks to juice their devices. So try to find something that can last a full day.
Many students recommend a stylus-supported touchscreen. Nambiar uses the feature for his biology class where he does a lot of visual modeling. "The touchscreen is always a bonus for drawing charts. If you're using a laptop, submitting a chart you've drawn is a whole process," says Nambiar. Riehle fills out school forms with a Surface Pen and comments on PDFs. 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 power outages, so he recommends an LTE model. Matej Plavevski, junior at Yahya Kemal College in North Macedonia, recommends looking for an Ethernet port in case slower connections interfere with meetings. That's hard to find on smaller laptops, but there are a ton of affordable dongles and docks to consider.
For students looking for an affordable laptop, the HP Envy x360 is just as capable as some expensive competitors.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge
Best laptops for college students
College kids rightly spend slightly more money than other age groups. Some (especially in STEM courses) can expect quite demanding work. Assad Abid, an electrical engineering student from Pakistan, has to run simulation software for his tasks. 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 games. Students also noted that it is worth paying for a laptop that will last for a few years after graduation. That means you don't have to worry about finding and funding your next device until you (hopefully) find a job.
However, there are still a wide variety of options among the high-end, powerful devices. The students emphasized that a college laptop should be light. Expect to get it 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'm carrying six hours a day too much," says Haseeb Waseem, senior at Villanova University, who is a mixture of personal and personal is taking virtual classes this fall.
The Dell XPS 13 has different configurations. Students with light workloads may prefer the base model, while gamers and creatives can add a GPU.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge
Another widely acclaimed feature: battery life. Waseem, who uses an HP Specter, says the all-day juice gives it "the flexibility to study in different places and even outside of it".
Speakers and webcams are often overlooked, even on top-end devices. But students say it's worth looking for good ones when you start college this year. Zoom will be a huge part of college life this semester: many kids will be attending virtual classes while others will continue to meet up with clubs, study groups, and professors, and hang out with friends online. Waseem is not happy with the audio and picture quality of his laptop, which in his opinion has made it difficult to be attentive in class and to interact with other students.
Many students need to invest more in areas tailored to their interests and school needs. Chandra's dream laptop would include a pen and touchscreen for his creative work, as well as a high-end GPU. Waseem, who uses his laptop for a variety of activities including streaming, coding, social media, video chatting, and Microsoft Office work, would prefer to prioritize a big screen to keep an eye on his multitasking.