The cheap laptop, the lightest and brightest PC, or an iPad? Here’s how to choose the right back-to-school device.
The cheap laptop, the lightest and brightest PC, or an iPad? Here’s how to choose the right back-to-school device.

How to tackle back-to-school technology troubles

Parents and students across Australia are right now tackling book lists and school bags, hunting lunch box lids, unearthing food scraps, and printing all manner of labels.

But the modern back-to-school scramble often involves procuring tablet and laptops computers too; making sure they meet requirements, finding the best ways to protect them, and considering insurance plans.

Even some primary school students will be required to show up with gear as recharged as they are this year, and experts say the new requirements giving some families anxiety.

But there are tips and tricks to finding the best machines for each student, they attest, and an Aussie educational influencer says adding technology to a school bag can unlock new, more effective ways to learn.

Students from primary school to university are being asked to take technology to class this year.
Students from primary school to university are being asked to take technology to class this year.

Georgie Smith, from Sydney, said the eldest child in her family of five needed a laptop for his high-school debut this year, and it was giving her and her husband plenty of homework of their own.

"It can be quite confusing because there's lots of information out there," she said. "The school has given suggestions but they can't be too prescriptive because there are lots of different budgets.

"We're looking for something with good storage, battery life, and something that isn't too heavy but is durable."

Another big concern, she said, was making sure they made the right choice this year so 11-year-old Angus could use the same machine for years to come.

Cyber safety educator Leonie Smith said choosing the right computer for kids to take to school had become a widespread concern in Australia as more students from primary to tertiary education completed their work on screens.

The biggest traps for parents and guardians, she warned, were failing to understand the requirements, not realising when software would be provided by a school, and buying the cheapest computer or tablet they could find.

"Always check with the school," she said. "Some schools will only want Apple devices, some schools will only want Google.

Tablets and laptops are on book lists for some students this year.
Tablets and laptops are on book lists for some students this year.

"Find out whether the school provides any educational software and don't buy any extra software - like Adobe Creative Suite - until you can find out."

Ms Smith also recommended opting for a computer or tablet with generous storage to give the computer the longest life possible, and to make sure they chose a hardy device and covered it in a clip-on case, like those from Speck, and a padded laptop bag.

"There's no point buying a cheap laptop that's not very durable because it won't last," she said. "As much as kids will like the idea of a lightweight computer, unless the school asks for it, it's very risky."

But Aussie YouTube education influencer Samuel Suresh, who boasts more than 230,000 subscribers and recently featured on Apple's education page, said students and parents should not automatically dismiss the benefits of using a tablet too.

Mr Suresh, who is studying science and business at Western Sydney University, said iPads would not replace a laptop for many students but could be an invaluable study tool for creative minds and those tackling highly visual subjects, such as science and medicine, that involved graphs and diagrams.

"The iPad is just a tool and to the student who is curious creative who feels limited by traditional technology, it allows their mind to feel free and to express their creativity," he said.

"Learning is a process of two parts - it's about breaking down what you're learning and building it back up."

YouTube educational influencer Samuel Suresh creates videos about how he uses his iPad to study.
YouTube educational influencer Samuel Suresh creates videos about how he uses his iPad to study.

Ms Smith also recommends clearly labelling tablet and laptops, their cases, adding a student's name to the home screen to make it recognisable, and investing in additional protection programs, such AppleCare.

It's also worth noting that some brands and retailers offer educational discounts.

Harvey Norman currently has a deal offering 10 per cent off some Microsoft devices, for example, while JB Hi-Fi has discounts on Google Chromebooks, and Bing Lee is hosting a sale on some laptops, monitors, and Samsung tablets.

Lenovo also offers discounts to students on its website, and Apple recently launched an offer for free AirPods with a Mac or iPad purchase, as well as 20 per cent off AppleCare+ for students and educators.

 

 

SOME OF THE BEST BACK-TO-SCHOOL DEVICES

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

From $999, microsoft.com

Microsoft's lightest laptop clocks in at just over one kilogram and with a body that is just 1.5cm thin but it promises plenty of grunt. Its features include a battery life of up to 13 hours, a 12.4-inch touchscreen, a high-definition camera in case learning goes remote again, and both full-size and USB-C ports to connect peripherals without searching for an adaptor.

 

Apple MacBook Air (M1)

From $1599, apple.com/au

Students in 2021 can take advantage of a serious power and battery boost inside Apple's slimmest computer, thanks to its newly added M1 chip. The new 13-inch models don't have a fan, making them extra quiet, but even more handy is a battery boost delivering up to 15 hours of web use, and an eight-core chip that Apple says boosts processing by 3.5 times that of its predecessor.

 

Lenovo ThinkPad L390

$999, lenovo.com/au

Recommended for schoolbag durability, this Lenovo ThinkPad computer is also heavily discounted during the back-to-school rush. The 13.3-inch laptop promises a 14-hour battery life, Windows 10 operating system, an Intel Core i5 chip, and a 256GB hard drive. It can be customised, however, adding a touchscreen and fingerprint scanner if required.

 

HP Envy 13-inch

From $1599, hp.com.au

On sale with a $400 discount until just after school starts, this 13.3-inch HP laptop features Windows 10 software, a touch-sensitive screen, a generously sized keyboard for typing out big assignments, and a weight of just 1.3kg. It also comes with a full-sized USB port, an Intel Core i7 chip, and up to 512GB storage.

 

Apple iPad

From $499, apple.com/au

A favourite of many schools due to its built-in software controls, the eighth generation Apple iPad is the cheapest model in the current range and has been built with students in mind. This tablet features a 10.2-inch touchscreen, a fingerprint scanner, it's compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil and the company's Smart Keyboard, and there are plenty of third-party case options to keep it safe.

 

Originally published as How to tackle back-to-school tech troubles


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