What to look for in a kid's laptop for back to school

Don’t break the bank on more computer than necessary

Back-to-school supply lists tend to be straightforward. Kids from kindergarten to Grade 12 are told they need so many of a certain kind of pencil, a particular brand of looseleaf, which colours of highlighters, and so on, usually in exacting detail.

For technology, however, those details tend to be less specific. To help, we turned to Christian Johnson (Computer Network Administrator ’14, Finance ’16). Johnson runs Tech-to-Go, a computer service that handles everything from consultations to repairs to building machines from scratch.

Here are his back-to-school recommendations for those looking to give kids exactly the technology they need.

Stick to laptops

boy attending school onlineJohnson prefers Windows laptops to Chromebooks, seeing them as more versatile yet still capable of supporting tools such as Google Classroom, which is widely used in schools.

Four or five hundred dollars should do it, he adds, for a machine made by Asus or Lenovo. “Those are the top brands that I generally recommend to clients,” says Johnson.

He likes their longevity and durability, Lenovo in particular. “If you drop it you don't really have to worry about the thing falling apart.”

Don’t sweat the features

child looking at a laptop while doing school work

At that price point, Johnson feels you'll get a machine with features such as an acceptable camera and a processor that can support a video meeting.

“Even if you're spending a boatload of money, laptops generally don't come with very good [built-in] webcams anyway,” he says.

A tablet will do

girl attending school on an ipadWhile Johnson still leans toward laptops, he’s good with making use of what’s handy. If parents already have an iPad in the house, “[kids] could totally get away with doing word processing, video calls and web browsing on an iPad. No problem.”

Skip the warranty

man taking 20 dollar bills from wallet

When shopping in a store, don’t get upsold by the cashier, says Johnson. For an inexpensive machine, buying an extended warranty package probably won’t pay off.

“Personally, I don't even go for them with expensive products.” Sure, he can fix things himself, but he's still convinced that any repairs would cost less than that warranty up front.

Don’t forget the fun

three pixelated video game hearts

Keep in mind that kids are going to need a little downtime. In moderation, lower-end machines can handle that, too.

“They shouldn't have much problem playing their Minecraft. [That’s] a pretty low-demand game in terms of the hardware [needed] to play.”

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