Even though Canadian families are enjoying the midst of summer, we parents can’t help but think about what’s just around the corner – back to school and the numerous tasks that go with it. New clothes or school uniforms, sports equipment, a new backpack or something far more technological, like a laptop – the long list of items needed to prepare our kids for their return to school starts running through our minds. While parents often know what to buy when it comes to traditional school items, it can be difficult to know which laptop is suitable for your child and their school.
That’s why I’ve put together my top tips to make buying a laptop or tablet simpler.
First, check your child’s school policy on whether they allow them to bring their own devices and which devices they’re allowed to bring. There should also be specifications on the model and type that need to be met. Let me use my own son’s school as an example. If it’s a Windows-based laptop, then his school requires an Intel i5 processor or newer be installed. The school also requires 4GB of memory and a minimum of 500GB of storage. We will come back to what all this tech jargon means, but the point here is the school may have standard so find out what they are before embarking on the journey to purchase anything.
Second, check out the physical features. Everyone has a different “wish list” when selecting a laptop – whether it’s size, weight, screen resolution, colour, or many other features – I would start with what I feel is the most important, battery life. Battery life is at the top of my list because I know the machine will need to live in my son’s possession for a whole day on a single charge. Then case quality. I’m sure you have an idea of how stressful it is for anything placed inside a kid’s backpack being thrown around all day! Now imagine how much of a beating it could take outside the backpack – rigorous handling and numerous drops and bumps. Your homework for testing out case quality is in the actual store and not online. It’s the only place where you’ll be able to feel how sturdy and hefty it is. Also, check out the keyboard in the store. Touch and feel the keys for how it types. Many keyboards may feel sturdy and look okay but may not feel as positive once you start typing. Definitely give them a test drive.
Third, consider if you’re happy for your child to play games on the device. If you are, then the screen needs to be large and clear. If the laptop is running Windows 8 then you should expect it to have a touch screen. Some game experiences are vastly improved when using a touch screen.
After you’ve narrowed the search by battery life, case and keyboard quality, screen resolution and touch, you should be down to about two or three machines. This is when you start looking at technology features. Don’t be put off by the technical details; it’s actually quite straight forward.
Think of this as a car’s engine, as it’s about the same size comparison with valves and torque. Intel processors have different numbers (i7, i5 and i3 being the common ones). Think of an i7 as a V8 car engine – something with grunt and power, an i5 as a V6 and an i3 as a V4. The number preceding the processor number is another string of digits, the first ID is the most important, as this tells you which generation the processor is. For example, so a 4 is 4th generation and a 3 is 3rd generation. Basic principal is the higher the number the better.
This one is simple in that all you need to know is the more memory or RAM, the better. Most laptops come with 4 or 8GB of RAM. Think of this as the 0-60 speed test. The more memory in a machine, the faster it will go. My machine that I use for testing software has 16GB (that is a whole lot); while my son’s laptop has 8GB, which is just the right amount to keep the machine running fast.
Again, using the car analogy, a parent may think of this as how many seats does the car have and how many shopping bags can I fit in the trunk? Most storage offerings today are for 500GB and upwards. Unless your child does a lot of video creation and editing, this is going to be enough. The most common size seems to be about 750GB.
At the Register
Now that you’ve selected a machine that’s awesome and are about to check out, expect the sales associate to try to add on features (don’t blame them on these upsells, as they may earn a commission). They will ask two main questions: 1) Do you need an insurance plan? and 2) What antivirus software are you going to use?
Normally I would say no to insurance, except AVG’s IT support professional, Tim Cummings, says he recommends buying the insurance if it’s for a child. He used to work in a school and pointed out that around two out of every five laptops break thanks to rough handling . I took his advice and broke my rule of never accepting the insurance offer, sure enough five months later we needed a replacement due to a failure.
As far as antivirus, we do need to keep our kids safe online. The machine will already have something loaded but the sales person will try to sell you something additional. My recommendation for any laptop for a child is to remove the pre-loaded antivirus before the free 90-day trial is up. Once that free trial is up, you will get asked to pay for it. We easily loaded AVG on my son’s laptop, I recommend AVG Internet Security. This gives the perfect amount of security to keep your kids protected from malware. Remember to uninstall any antivirus products before loading new ones. It’s a bit like having a 2-seater car and trying to fit 20 passengers – the car will not perform well under the strain. This is the same for your laptop if you have too many different security products running at the same time.
I hope this blog helps eliminate some of the hassle of back-to-school shopping – at least when it comes to choosing a computer that does the job for not too much money. Chances are, if your child is like my son, you’ll need a replacement within six months!