WHAT REALLY MATTERS WHEN YOU‘RE CHOOSING A DEVICE?
Finding the ideal tablet or laptop can be time-consuming. There‘s a lot to consider, but we’re here to help simplify the process for you. Here are our suggestions on what to look for in a great school device.
School apps may sometimes be pretty demanding, especially as you move from one year to the next. Performance usually matches price, so look for devices with great ‘bang for buck.’ Intel® Atom™, Celeron® and Pentium® processors are terrific for primary students. If you have the more demanding needs of high school (such as running apps like Adobe Photoshop), you should consider devices running the Intel® Core™ family of processors: the Core™ i3, Core™ i5 and Core™ i7.
(Not sure what a processor does? See ‘Tech Terms Explained’, below.)
Battery Life2>X Close
Look for a device that can run for at least six hours before you have to recharge it. If battery life is really vital for your child, consider the very latest models fitted with Intel‘s energy-efficient 4th Generation Core™ processors, which can help stretch battery life even further. Choosing a device with long battery life means your child may get through a full day of lessons without needing the laptop‘s battery charger or a power point.
Those book-laden backpacks are heavy enough, so look for a laptop weighing less than two kilos. The featherweight champ of the laptop world is a special device called an Ultrabook™. These are light and slim designs, while their long battery life2 means your kids rarely need to carry a laptop charger around.
We don‘t need to tell you how rough kids can sometimes be with their stuff! To protect your investment in a BYO device, look for one which uses a solid state drive rather than a conventional hard disk drive. With no moving parts, modern SSD storage is generally more resilient when bumped, knocked or dropped. And don‘t forget to add a good quality carry case to your shopping list.
Wireless networking>X Close
Most tablets and laptops sold today have built-in wireless networking (also called ‘Wi-Fi’). This lets them ‘plug in’ to the school’s own internet connection. The latest Wi-Fi technology for connecting to wireless networks is called 5GHz and can often give you a better connection with less interference or drop-outs – even in crowded classrooms. Some schools may require 5GHz wireless, so check your school’s requirements before you buy any BYO device. (5GHz Wi-Fi might also be available in your local café, too.)
Documents, photos, video clips, multimedia, apps … they’ll all be fighting for space on your device, especially in high school years. We suggest you look for at least 128GB of storage in any laptop or Ultrabook™, and 32GB in a tablet.
Warranty and Insurance>X Close
Most tablets and laptops sold in Australia come with a minimum 12-month warranty. However, some schools may require a warranty up to three years with ‘on-site’ service. You may be able to buy an extended warranty package from the device’s manufacturer or retailer. Some schools might also suggest that parents take out an insurance policy as well as an extended warranty, so that the device is covered against accidental damage, loss and theft.
Work vs Play>X Close
Even for the hardest-working student, it can’t be all about school. For general internet browsing and simple after-school apps, a tablet is usually more than enough. But if your kids like playing more sophisticated games (after their homework, of course!) you’ll probably need to look for a more powerful device.
WHICH TYPE OF DEVICE IS WHICH?
Tablets, laptops, notebooks, Ultrabooks™, Chromebooks*, 2 in 1 devices – we get that it’s confusing trying to work out why you’d choose one over the other. Here’s the skinny from a school perspective.
Laptops and notebooksLaptops and notebooks mean pretty much the same thing, although some people consider laptops to be the larger models with screens of 15 to 17 inches, while notebooks are smaller siblings with screens sizes of 11 to 14 inches.
Tablet-style devicesTablets are devices with only a screen and no physical keyboard. They’re best for viewing content, although they can handle some modest tasks. This means tablets may be a good choice for your kids’ primary school years.
Keyboards vs touchscreensPut simply, touchscreens are for viewing, keyboards are for doing. Any device with a full-sized keyboard is probably geared more towards actual work, like creating Word documents and graphics in Photoshop. Many laptops now include a touchscreen display, especially the sleek Ultrabook™ designs, so they’re great for both the viewing and the doing.
Ultrabooks™Ultrabooks™ are a category of laptop designed to have a slim profile, be light to carry and boast long battery life2. However, like most ‘thin and light’ designs, Ultrabooks™ don’t include a DVD drive. And because they’re meant to be easy to carry, most Ultrabook™ screens hover around the 11-14 inch mark.
2 in 1s2 in 1 devices benefit from a ‘best of both worlds’ approach: they work as a tablet and a laptop. As a more flexible BYO device, they’re great for high school as well as children in their last years of primary school.
Chromebooks*These lower-cost devices run Google’s own software and rely on the internet to do pretty much everything, including storing files and running basic Google apps.* Check with your school whether they are suitable, because they may not be able to run non-Google applications.
TECH TERMS EXPLAINED
When you’re browsing a catalogue or website for devices, you’ll start to see some familiar terms crop up. To help you tell devices apart, here’s what some of the most important ones mean.
This tiny chip is the ‘brain’ of every computer, laptop and tablet. It is a key component that determines how fast the device will run and what type of apps it can handle. Intel’s range of 4th Generation Core processors includes the nimble Core i3, more powerful Core i5 and top-of-the-line Core i7 models.
What’s the difference? The Core i3 is designed for a balance of performance and affordability: it’s great for email, web browsing and social media. The Core i5 packs the power you need for everyday work and play: choose this for mainstream productivity apps, watching HD videos and playing games. And the top-of-the-line Core i7 processor makes lighter work of heavy-duty tasks like 3D design, video editing and immersive 3G gaming.
Shorthand for ‘Random Access Memory’. RAM helps run apps faster, and generally speaking the more you have the quicker the device can switch between different files. Which can help your kids get more done faster, at school and at home.
When looking for RAM on a device, you may see a lot of acronyms, like DDR, DDR2 and even DDR3! But don’t be frightened off – what you really want to know is the number. When looking at a laptop for school, we think it’s worth considering at least 4GB of RAM, with 8GB for secondary students. (Depending on usage models.) Tablet RAM is usually around 1GB.
Solid-State Drive>X Close
Most desktops and older laptops rely on mechanical hard disk drives to store apps, documents, photos, music, videos and so on. Solid-state drive (SSD) technology replaces those spinning disks with digital memory chips.
These chips tend to run faster than a mechanical hard drive, as well as being generally more resilient and less prone to damage if the laptop is dropped. (Because there are fewer moving parts to damage.) That’s a good feature to have in a school environment when students are constantly bolting between classes and heading off to sports and other activities.
WINDOWS AND MAC: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Some schools let students choose between a laptop or tablet running either Microsoft Windows* or Apple* operating system software. Other schools require one or the other, and will tell you which type you need to buy.
But what’s the difference between them? In the school environment, not much. Many of the same types of apps are available for both Windows and Mac* these days, and in fact Apple laptops may be set up to run Windows.
Most makers of Windows-based laptops offer slim and lightweight Ultrabooks™. Apple also has a slim and lightweight laptop called the MacBook Air*.
Because dozens of companies make Windows-based devices, there’s a wider choice of Windows tablets and laptops. With more choices on offer, you’ll often be able to find less expensive Windows-based devices at a variety of prices.
ANDROID AND iOS: HOW DO THEY FIT IN?
In addition to the Windows and Mac systems used by most laptops and desktops, a number of devices use Apple’s iOS* and Google’s Android* software.
Those devices are typically smartphones and tablets, although you can also find some lower-cost notebooks called Chromebooks*, which run another type of software called Chrome* (have a look at the ‘Which type of device is which?’ section, above, for more on Chromebooks).
Tablets that use Android and iOS may be better suited for primary school students, who’ll be carrying out simpler, less demanding tasks than secondary students.