Ask LH: Which Laptops Are Good Choices For School?

Hi Lifehacker, Next year the school my sons attend is introducing a BYOD policy, so I have to buy laptops or tablets for each of them. They both have desktops at home.

Both of them need Windows 8.1 (Macs aren't allowed for app access reasons), a 10-inch screen and a long-lasting battery that will run for the whole day. For year 8, 2GB of RAM is the minimum, and 32GB of storage is needed (SSDs are recommended). For year 10, those specs go up to 4GB of RAM and 64GB. Any recommendations? I don't have a huge budget and they need to last — I don't want to have to buy another in a few years! Thanks, Parental Purchase

Laptop picture from Shutterstock

Dear PP,

Regardless of what the school says, we recommend getting no less than 4GB of memory for both laptops. An extra stick of RAM won't ramp up the costs by much and the performance gains will definitely be worth it.

We also wouldn't skimp on hard drive space; especially if they're going to be storing lots of software, photos or videos on there. If we had to choose between a 32GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive, we know which one we'd pick. As for the OS, nearly every Windows laptop is now running 8.1 out-of-the-box, so there's no need to worry on that score.

Keeping your budget down to a reasonable level shouldn't be too difficult. Presumably, these laptops will be used for run-of-the-mill schoolwork as opposed to processor-intensive tasks like graphic design or HD video editing. This means you can afford to skimp on high-end components.

Whatever you do, don't let the salesperson beguile you with fancy graphic cards or top-of-the-range CPUs. Your kids just need something for everyday tasks such as web browsing, word processing and the odd piece of educational software. An entry-level machine should therefore be perfectly adequate. (The potential for gaming will of course be limited, but that's probably a good thing.)

If your budget is extremely limited, it might be worth using your Schoolkids Bonus to supplement the overall cost. (Assuming you're eligible, of course.) This is a yearly payment of up to $842 for secondary school students that is split over two installments.

Naturally, it's a good idea to go with a well-known brand name rather than some Chinese company that you've never heard of. According to this recent SquareTrade study Asus laptops have the lowest failure rates of the major manufacturers, followed by Toshiba, Sony, Apple and Dell.

It's been a while since we played around with a new laptop, but one model we've recommend to school students in the past is Asus' Transformer Book T100. This is an ultraportable tablet/laptop hybrid that has a 10.1-inch multi-touch display that can detach from the keyboard. In other words, your kids will get the productivity of a laptop and the convenience of a tablet.

The T100 is powered by a pretty decent Intel quad-core processor. It boasts battery life of up to 11 hours and comes bundled with Microsoft Office Home and Microsoft Student. It currently retails for a rather steep $599, although you can snap one up online for as little as $430.

Another option that's worth considering is the Microsoft Surface 2. Like the T100 mentioned above, this can be converted from a tablet to a laptop, although in this case you'll need to purchase the keyboard separately. (Fortunately, the device will happily recognise most wireless keyboards so there's no need to splurge on Microsoft's expensive Type Cover if you don't want to.)

While a little under-specced for a primary PC, the Surface 2 makes for an excellent student laptop. Noteworthy specifications include a 10.6-inch Full HD touchscreen display, USB 3.0 connectivity, up to ten hours battery life and Microsoft Office 2013 RT pre-installed. You can currently get the 32GB Surface 2 for $399 while the 64GB version sells for $499. You can boost the storage space of both models via an external HDD.

We're also interested to hear what our readers think. If you know of any laptops that are specifically good for students, share you recommendations in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    I work IT in a school. Consideration 1 - battery life. That's what catch people up. There will most likely be a lot of people that don't take this into consideration and any public charging spaces will be hotly contested.

    Also get a really good case. Make sure it protects the corners (big zipper around the edges is bad).

    Last edited 31/10/14 2:53 pm

    I Just finished Year 12, i don't know whether 10-inch screen policy is set in stone but 10 inch is completely impractical to do any meaningful work in school, 12 inch should be the minimum screen size. As for the Mac Policy, my school had the same but i got around it by having a Dual Boot (Boot Camp) Macbook Air 13-inch which would let me use OS X the majority of the time but when required i could switch to Windows 8.1. The Mac also has a 12 hour battery life, and depending on the subjects chosen it has some advantages, i did mostly Design subjects like Product Design and Technology, Photography, Systems Engineering and i had a large advantage over others when doing photo editing and CAD. All in all, although the Macbook Air may cost more it is a great investment that is one of the most versatile Ultrabooks.

    Last edited 31/10/14 2:56 pm

    I'm a teacher and my students have laptops. My advice would be to go for battery life. Get a spare one if you can. Kids forget to charge their battery all the time and I can't allow all the students to have their laptops charging in the classroom. OHS and all that.

    I would also go for cheap.
    You don't need any high end graphics as most schools just use laptops for YouTube, Chrome and Office. Even the cheap laptops can handle pretty big tasks for school. I run a graphics programming class on the side and the students with on-board graphics cards have no problems.

    Finally remember to teach your kid about how to use the laptop. Don't throw it around. I had to stop a kid today punching his laptop screen because it went to sleep mode. Get a good case and insurance for when they drop it.

    For year 8, hopefully the HP Stream 13 will be available in time. I'm sure there will be others out at that spec and price range, but at the moment that is what I would be looking at getting.

    I teach year 8s and I have to agree with all the comments above that say that battery should be your first priority. It absolutely should be. You should also factor Office into your budget (if your school doesn't have a licensing arrangement) because as good as the free suites are, students who use them may have issues with formatting on PowerPoints and templates and (AFAIK) comments.
    If your kids are only using the laptops for school, then they shouldn't need a large HD. Most of their work will be office documents.
    Definitely add their laptops to your home insurance. Buy from a retailer who will do local warranty repairs if possible. Get an extra charger. Don't expect that their laptops will last them through to year 12. I would spend as little as possible so that I could afford to replace them in a couple of years. If your kids are picky, set a maximum limit that YOU will spend and then let them use their own money if they want something speccier.
    I would also invest in NAS and set up auto-backups for both machines- losing school work is a pain for parents, kids and teachers and kids just forget to back their work up.
    Also, although battery life is the most important thing, don't get something with a tiny screen or keyboard. Kids with small screened (anything below 11-13") hunch over their machines even before they go through their early teen growth spurt and once they do, boys especially start having issues with tiny trackpads and undersized keyboards.
    Also, if you're getting a laptop, a touch screen should be WAY down on your list of priorities.

    After having completed year 12 this year I can confidently say that getting a Surface would be the best way to go. I used to take my laptop into school and it was just really a pain carrying it around. I bought myself a Surface Pro hoping that it would be a bit more practical for school and it definitely was! Easy to carry around (with books!) and running full Windows meant that I could continue using all my programs!
    The fact that the Surface can run Office and OneDrive/Dropbox is pretty big (and useful) in itself! I can write documents on the tablet, save them to OneDrive and continue writing the documents on my laptop when I got home. Likewise when I get back to school I can bring up the same document back on my Surface without using anything except OneDrive. For basic note writing I prefer to use the Evernote app on the surface and the desktop version on my laptop.
    If you're going to get a Surface Pro, don't get the Pro 1 like I did. The battery life only lasts a couple of hours (I can get it up to 6 with a few powerplan tweaks) whereas I hear the Pro 2 is much better with battery life.

    Pfft windows 8.1 my ass, win10 = much more better and i'd go for 8Gb RAM

    We bought an ASUS Transformer Book T100 for our son 2-3 years ago when his school introduced BYOD and it has been brilliant. We have had to replace the screen (boys school so they can be rough on their belongings) and just recently replaced the (2) batteries. Son borrowed sisters Surface in the interim and was not impressed. He was very pleased to have his Transformer Book back. I agree with comments on screen size however. I am thinking for daughter next year, an ASUS with a slightly bigger screen.

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