The Ultimate Parents Step-by-Step Guide to Buying a Laptop for Your Child

Gone are the days when a child’s back-to-school kit consisted merely of a few exercise books, textbooks and a well-filled pencil case. Today, a laptop is a back-to-school essential. The thing is, when it comes to buying a laptop it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re in that position, start by reading this comprehensive guide to buying a school laptop from Comet…

 

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Step 1: choose your operating system

Chrome OS is Google’s own version of an operating system and is typically found on what are known as ‘Chromebooks’. These are laptops that are specifically designed to run Chrome OS. 

 

Chrome OS is what is known as a cloud-based operating system, meaning that it predominantly saves files within the ‘cloud’. As you’ll see later, the advantage of this is that the laptop doesn’t require a huge amount of storage, as files are saved mainly online. 

 

The disadvantage of this is that Chrome OS requires an internet connection to work at its best; although, having said this, given that the internet is pretty much available everywhere these days, this isn’t really a disadvantage.

 

Chrome OS typically features its own productivity apps such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides. These are basically Google’s version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively. 

 

Whilst it is possible to work on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on a Chrome OS laptop, the experience isn’t always the smoothest or easiest. 

 

Having said that, because of the minimal tech requirements of Chrome OS, Chromebooks tend to be amongst the cheapest laptops you can buy. For many people, that overcomes any concerns about cross-compatibility between programs such as Docs and Word. 

  • Windows

  • Chrome OS

  • macOS

Windows

 

Windows is the most widely used operating system on laptops (around 69% of all PCs and laptops use Windows as their OS). 

 

Windows is compatible with other popular Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint - which are all programs that your child is likely to use at school. 

 

At the time of writing (August 2023), Windows 11 is the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, however you’ll also find plenty of amazing laptops running Windows 10, too. 

Chrome OS

Chrome OS is Google’s own version of an operating system and is typically found on what are known as ‘Chromebooks’. These are laptops that are specifically designed to run Chrome OS. 

 

Chrome OS is what is known as a cloud-based operating system, meaning that it predominantly saves files within the ‘cloud’. As you’ll see later, the advantage of this is that the laptop doesn’t require a huge amount of storage, as files are saved mainly online. 

 

The disadvantage of this is that Chrome OS requires an internet connection to work at its best; although, having said this, given that the internet is pretty much available everywhere these days, this isn’t really a disadvantage.

 

Chrome OS typically features its own productivity apps such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides. These are basically Google’s version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint respectively. 

 

Whilst it is possible to work on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents on a Chrome OS laptop, the experience isn’t always the smoothest or easiest. 

 

Having said that, because of the minimal tech requirements of Chrome OS, Chromebooks tend to be amongst the cheapest laptops you can buy. For many people, that overcomes any concerns about cross-compatibility between programs such as Docs and Word. 

macOS

 

Finally, we come to macOS. This is Apple’s own operating system. So, if you’re thinking about buying a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, you’ll find that it comes pre-installed with the latest version of macOS. 

 

macOS operates in a similar way to Windows, in that it is installed and runs directly from the laptop - rather than relying on the internet and the cloud for much of its functionality. 

 

For many people, macOS is the ultimate operating system as it can run both Microsoft programs (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and Google programs (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) alike. 

 

A key point of consideration for many parents, however, is that Apple laptops (and by extension macOS) tend to be more expensive than Windows or Chrome-based laptops. 

 

Tip - the best way to decide which operating system is right for your child is to think about what they use at home and school. For example, if they tend to use Windows - and have to submit assignments in Word format - then it makes sense to buy them a Windows-based laptop.

Step 2: form factor

Once you’ve decided which operating system will be best, the next step is to choose the form factor of the laptop. 

 

What do we mean by form factor? Well, these days laptops come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, the main form factors you’ll find on the market are: 

  • Standard laptops.
  • 2-in-1 laptops. 
  • Notebooks.

Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about each of these form factors.

  • Standard laptops

  • 2-in-1 laptop

  • Notebook

Standard laptops

 

Windows is the most widely used operating system on laptops (around 69% of all PCs and laptops use Windows as their OS). 

 

Windows is compatible with other popular Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint - which are all programs that your child is likely to use at school. 

 

At the time of writing (August 2023), Windows 11 is the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, however you’ll also find plenty of amazing laptops running Windows 10, too. 

2-in-1 laptop

In recent years a new form factor has burst onto the scene and become immediately popular. 

 

As the name suggests, a 2-in-1 laptop is a laptop which has two distinct sections; the screen and the keyboard.

 

2-in-1 laptops are available in two main variants: 

 

  • Hinged - where the screen and keyboard remain connected, but can be rotated through 360 degrees so that the laptop stands upright (see image below for example). 

 

 

  • Detachable - detachable 2-in-1 laptops allow you to completely detach the keyboard and screen from one another. This allows you to use the screen independently as a tablet. 

 

The benefit of 2-in-1 laptops is that they are very versatile devices, allowing your child to use them for both schoolwork (as a traditional clamshell laptop), or for leisure (as a tablet). They typically also allow you to use a stylus on the touchscreen, providing further functionality (e.g. for drawing and art).

 

However, 2-in-1 laptops are typically less powerful than traditional standard laptops, so if you’re expecting your child to use some processing-heavy programs such as photo or video editing software, a 2-in-1 may not be the best choice.

Notebook

Imagine taking a standard laptop and shrinking it; that’s a notebook. 

 

Notebooks have been around for decades now and have traditionally been the go-to choice for children. That’s thanks largely to their light weight, smaller dimensions, and long battery life.

 

However, like 2-in-1 laptops, notebooks tend to be less powerful than standard laptops due to the lack of space for high-performance components. 

 

In most cases, this is fine for school-use as pupils (especially those in younger years), tend to use undemanding programs such as Word and PowerPoint. 

 

Tip - to choose the correct form factor for your child, think about how they’ll be using the laptop, how often they’ll be carrying it, and the type of work they’ll be using it for. 

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  • Weight

  • Storage

  • Battery life

  • ports and connectivity

Standard laptops

In addition to thinking about a laptop’s form factor, you should also check how heavy it is. 

 

Whilst this isn’t a particular concern for the majority of adults, it could adversely impact your child. 

 

If their laptop is too heavy, they’ll likely find it burdensome to carry to and from school. Bear in mind that they’re probably already carrying numerous books in their backpack as it is. 

 

The best laptops for school are purposefully designed to be lightweight For example, the latest ASUS laptops can weigh as little as 1 kg. That’s about the same as a bag of sugar.

Storage

Does your child like to save hundreds of photos and videos on their laptop? Then you’re going to want a laptop that offers plenty of storage. 

 

These days, the majority of laptops use what is known as SSD (Solid State Drive) storage. This type of storage uses a form of solid-state flash storage to store the laptop’s operating system, programs and files. 

 

When it comes to how much storage you should look for in a laptop, there isn’t really a definitive answer. Our recommendation is that you’ll want a laptop with an SSD drive of at least 64 GB capacity. 

 

But, if you think your child is going to be saving a lot of games and other large files to their laptop, we’d advise you to buy a laptop with the largest amount of storage you can afford. 

 

Tip - buy a laptop with as much storage as you can afford. Alternatively, you can always expand the laptop’s storage in the future with an external storage drive.

Battery life

An often overlooked, but especially important part of buying a laptop, is checking its battery life. 

 

This is particularly important if your child is regularly going to be taking their laptop to school or their friends’ houses. It’s also important if they’re going to be using their laptops continuously for extended periods of time. 

 

In terms of battery life, you’ll find that the more basic laptops - such as Chromebooks - have battery durations as long as 12 hours! Laptops like this have the not inconsiderable benefit of allowing the charger to be left home; reducing the likelihood of having to replace a lost charger…

 

As you’d probably expect, higher performance laptops have shorter battery durations - which is a natural consequence of having more energy-hungry components such as graphics cards. 

 

Tip - conversely, cheaper more basic laptops tend to have longer battery durations than higher performance laptops. 

 

Tip - to choose the correct form factor for your child, think about how they’ll be using the laptop, how often they’ll be carrying it, and the type of work they’ll be using it for. 

ports and connectivity

An often overlooked, but especially important part of buying a laptop, is checking its battery life. 

 

This is particularly important if your child is regularly going to be taking their laptop to school or their friends’ houses. It’s also important if they’re going to be using their laptops continuously for extended periods of time. 

 

In terms of battery life, you’ll find that the more basic laptops - such as Chromebooks - have battery durations as long as 12 hours! Laptops like this have the not inconsiderable benefit of allowing the charger to be left home; reducing the likelihood of having to replace a lost charger…

 

As you’d probably expect, higher performance laptops have shorter battery durations - which is a natural consequence of having more energy-hungry components such as graphics cards. 

 

Tip - conversely, cheaper more basic laptops tend to have longer battery durations than higher performance laptops. 

 

A major part of buying the perfect laptop for your child is to check that the display meets their needs. 

 

Remember, your child could be spending hours at a time staring at their laptop’s display, so you want to ensure it is of the correct size and resolution and has features such as anti-glare. 

 

Here are the key things to look for in a school laptop display: 

 

  • Screen size: 11 to 12 inches is perfect for portability and is the ideal size for younger children. For teenagers, you may want to buy a laptop with a display of 13 to 14 inches. This provides more screen ‘real estate’ without sacrificing portability. 


     
  • Resolution: ideally you’ll want your child’s laptop to have a display with a resolution of at least 720p. However, if you have a slightly larger budget, then a laptop with a 1080p display will offer a great ‘full HD’ viewing experience for your child. 


     
  • Anti-glare: a laptop with anti-glare will help your child better see the display in various light conditions, especially when there is a bright light source in a room. 


     
  • Minimal bezel display: the bezel is the border between the edge of the display and the frame of the laptop. In other words, it’s the black band of plastic you see around the outside edge of a display. On a laptop with a micro-edge display, this bezel is reduced as much as possible, allowing the user to see much more of the screen.
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