Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

What laptop should you buy 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 may be less specific, which might be concerning at a time when a laptop could prove an essential educational tool. To help, we turned to Christian Johnson (Computer Network Administrator ’14, Finance ’16). In February, Johnson started his St. Albert-based company, 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 link kids to the virtual classroom or give them an edge on homework.

Stick to laptops. Johnson 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.”

boy attending school online

Don’t sweat the features. At that price point, you’ll get what you pay for, but Johnson feels that will be good enough, securing a machine with things like a processor sufficient for a video meeting and an acceptable camera. “Even if you're spending a boatload of money, laptops generally don't come with very good [built-in] webcams anyway,” he says. And younger users, Johnson adds, won’t need them.

At that price point, you’ll get what you pay for, but Johnson feels that will be good enough.

An iPad will do, too. While 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.”

girl attending school on an ipad

Skip the warranty. 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.” Yes, he acknowledges that he can fix things himself. Nevertheless, he says, repairs tend to cost less than a warranty up front.

Don’t forget the fun. 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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