Choosing the best laptops for kids is rather like choosing the best cars for young drivers. “Best” can be a relative term. Do you mean the laptop that can handle the colorful streaming graphics of the latest web-based gaming application, or are you looking for a laptop that’s lightweight yet durable enough to transport to school and back for a year or two?
As you can see, there are several considerations for parents choosing the best laptops for their children. Before shopping for a laptop, there are several key questions to consider.
- How old is your child? Younger children have smaller hands and need a smaller laptop that’s scaled to their size. They can do with a smaller screen, for example, while an older child may feel constrained by a tiny 11-13 inch laptop screen. Younger children also place fewer demands on a laptop, probably using it for light schoolwork and research, simple games, and recreation. But they also need a lightweight yet durable laptop that can take a child’s typical abuse. Older children and teens can carry a slightly larger laptop, and will probably want to play more sophisticated games, run the more complex software, and do more in general with their laptop. Shop for a laptop based on both your child’s age and the uses to which he or she will put it.
- What will your child do with the laptop? Talk to your child and find out what he or she plans to do with their laptop. Do they want a computer just to keep in touch with their friends via email, chat and instant messaging, or do they want to do schoolwork and play games on their laptop? If they plan to run gaming software on their laptops, what kind of software – the stand-alone kind that they buy at the store and load onto the hard drive, or games they need to access over the internet?
- Does your child’s school or teacher recommend a particular type of laptop? Some schools provide general requirements for laptop computers to help parents choose one that’s compatible with educator demands. If your child uses a computer at school, it’s helpful to know what type of computer the school suggests they own. You can also purchase a more robust model, but you probably shouldn’t buy one that’s less capable than the one recommended by the school.
Shopping for laptops: What parents need to know
Unless you’re an IT expert or just love computers, shopping for a laptop can be confusing. These all-in-one units have come a long way from the hefty computers business people lugged to work each day. Today’s laptops are sleek, streamlined computers with as much computing power as the best desktops.
Two measurements parents need to keep in mind are the weight of the laptop and the size. Laptop size refers to the screen size, measured diagonally across the screen. Younger children need a lightweight laptop and can use one with a smaller screen size; typically, this measures 11 to 13 inches. Older children can handle slightly heavier laptops and larger screen sizes.
The processor on the laptop carries out the basic instructions of the programs running on it. Kids’ laptops can use a typical Core i3 processor or another recent processor. Most programs that your children run on their laptops won’t create big demands on the processor, so upgrading the processor isn’t a wise use of money. Unless your child wants to do heavy video editing or graphic design, the typical processor that comes with the laptop should be fine.
It’s amazing how much memory or storage space is packed into laptops these days. A typical laptop suitable for a child should come with 320 – 500 GB of storage, which is more than adequate for most kids. If additional storage is needed, you can purchase a portable hard drive at any office supply store to house data or files that are infrequently used. These devices don’t cost a lot and snap into the laptop on the USB port.
Durability of your child’s laptop
You know that your kids can be hard on their toys, bikes and clothes. Well, they can be hard on laptops, too, stuffing the into backpacks, dumping them out onto tables at the library, and generally treating them like tools instead of computers. Look for durable laptops that feel sturdy to the touch. The less expensive kids’ laptops aren’t as durable as ones intended for school use – those machines are built a bit tougher because manufacturers know multiple students will use them hard during the day. Since there’s no reliable way to test durability, use your best judgment by feel.
Most laptops for kids will cost between $199 and $600, with a few costing more. The lower ticket laptops may be less durable or constructed for simple, tightly defined uses. While you shouldn’t spend a fortune on your child’s laptop, you will get what you pay for, especially in the area of durability, so expect to spend in the middle of the range and look for sales or bargains to save some money on your purchase.
The top laptops for kids
The following laptops met the criteria for price, durability, monitor size, weight and overall fit for children and teens. Older teens may graduate to an adult-type laptop, especially if they are running sophisticated software such as graphic design software, video editing software or similar software that requires more memory and processor power than the average student computer. Kids and teens who are heavily into gaming may also need a more robust, power-packed processor, but there are some recommendations included here for kids who love to game.
The ASUS Transformer Book series offers parents an ideal hybrid laptop and tablet at an affordable price. With the computing power of a typical desktop unit, it’s a great computer for older children eager to use their computers for play and serious school work.
- Compatible with Windows 8.1 and beyond programs.
- Lightweight, very portable.
- Over 10 hours of battery life.
- Both keyboard and trackpad included.
- Comes with both Microsoft Home Office and Student Software
- Excellent value for the money (About $399 retail)
- The keyboard is smaller than average, but that might be fine for younger children with smaller hands.
- Takes a while to charge.
Slim, stylish, portable, functional and lightweight, the Dell Chromebook offers a great laptop for kids. Kids who spend a lot of time online, surfing the web, checking email or visiting social media sites will love the Chrome-type browser on this model. It’s easy to use and at a great price.
- Great connectivity to the internet
- Good for older children and serious students
- Sturdy construction
- Cannot run most games or Windows software so NOT for casual use!
The price has dropped recently on the Lenovo Idea Pad N581, which is great news for parents. The Idea Pad offers a workhorse type of laptop that’s suitable for most children and teens. The touch screen pad offers a simple way to get where you want to go on this computer, and it comes with a decent amount of memory and processor speed.
- Very sturdy, durable design
- Good memory, processor and ports
- Windows compatible
- Decent sound system for casual gaming
- Heavier than most laptops recommended for kids, weighing in at a little over 5 lbs.
- Slightly more expensive than most laptops for kids.
Similar to an old-fashioned netbook, the Convertible NL4 Classmate is a good choice for elementary and middle school students. It fits neatly in a backpack and offers a decent amount of computing power for a reasonable amount of money.
- Very sturdy design intended for younger users
- Compatible with many school systems and used by many schools
- Comes with many educational tools and software
- Poor battery life
- Keyboard can be sticky
Gateway is still around, although you don’t hear much about the cow-colored boxes anymore. This particular laptop is suitable for older kids and teens. It has a larger screen than other laptops typically recommended for kids, and at 17 inches, offers a big screen for teens looking for a good gaming experience or graphic design use. The Gateway NE72206u offers a lot of computer for the money.
- Large screen
- Good memory, processor and ports to add accessories
- Long battery life
- No touch screen, so not compatible with Windows 8 or newer.
Looking for a laptop that can double as a tablet? Look no further than the HP Pavilion 11. It’s a laptop when connected to the attached keyboard, or separate it and use the touch screen like a tablet. The 11-inch screen is adequate for most kids’ needs, and at a little over 3 pounds, it’s a lightweight computer that’s highly portable.
- Good memory for the price
- Convertible 2 in 1 appeals to many kids
- Low battery life, typically under 5 hours
- Not as sturdy as other recommended models for kids
Best laptops for kids who love gaming
Is your child happiest when he’s online gaming with his buddies or finding the latest game to buy at the store? If so, then you’ll want to buy a laptop that can do double duty as both a functional school and homework tool and as a gaming station for playtime.
Gaming laptops tend to be pricier than functional-school-only types. Games require more memory, and many gamers prefer more robust speakers and audio chips for the ultimate in realism, as well as better optical cards and screens to better enjoy the gaming experience. Look for laptops with better optical cards and an extremely strong processor. Both of these do cost more.
If you’re not as concerned with price as you are with finding a great laptop your older child or teen will love, then check out these laptops that are recommended for serious gaming.
Acer Aspire laptops are generally a good line of laptops for kids, and the Acer Aspire V3-571G is no different. It offers an Intel Core i5 processor, with a decent amount of RAM to run games. It can easily accommodate additional RAM for more gaming power.
- One of the most affordable laptops that can also handle games
- Decent graphics (though not great)
- Good for both play and school
- Poor battery life – lasts only about 5 hours
- Memory good for only a few games (but you can easily add more)
This particular Toshiba model was actually built to be an affordable gaming laptop, and it’s made from the inside out with gamers in mind. The AMD dual-core processor, memory and other features can run some good games. It also comes with an AMD Radeon HD graphics care and Windows 8, making it also suitable for school work.
- Bright screen with good clarity
- A lot of computing power packed into one laptop
- Pricier than other models
- Only runs Windows 8 and above, so older software you may have at home won’t be compatible
The Samsung Series 3 Gamer, like the Toshiba, was built for gaming. This one includes an Intel i7 Processor, making it a bit faster for gaming. It also comes with the AMD Radeon HD Graphics Card, another plus for gaming. It’s often recommended for online gaming such as World of Warcraft, and it can also handle other HD games. Other Samsung laptops are also good values.
- Good value for the money
- Nice Intel i7 Processor
- Good memory
- More expensive than most laptops for kids (over $600 in most stores)
- Average battery life
What to look for when shopping for kids’ laptops
Because durability is a big consideration when shopping for kids’ laptops, it’s a good idea to at least test them out in person at a retail store. Check the case, the hinges, and the keyboards; how do they feel?
CNET, a website dedicated to all things technology, recommends the “less is more” philosophy when purchasing a laptop. It’s sound advice, especially when buying laptops for kids. It’s tempting to go for the most computing power when shopping for a laptop, but technology changes so rapidly that investing in more than you need isn’t a good idea. Purchase just what your child needs for school, play or both, and expect to upgrade in a year or two when the newest advances in technology make the current laptop obsolete or incompatible with the latest innovations.
Design and weight
Design considerations are also paramount when choosing laptops for kids. Like durability, weight and overall ease of use are important. Pick up the laptop; have your child pick it up. Is it lightweight enough that kids can carry it easily to school, a friend’s house or the library to do homework? If it’s heavy, they won’t want to carry it or use it much.
Lastly, remember that cases may be sold separately for laptops. Look for durable cases that wipe clean of fingerprints and spills. Make sure that the laptop case you buy fits the laptop. Like laptops, cases are measured by the laptop’s screen size, so a case that’s marketed for a 17-inch laptop will fit one with a 17-inch screen, measured on the diagonal.
Most laptops come preloaded with at least the basic software. Some come with Microsoft Home or Student versions. Check before purchasing whether these are trial versions or fully licensed versions that come with the purchase price. If it’s a trial version, you’ll end up shelling out more money to unlock the full version when the trial expires.
Internet browsers usually come pre-installed, and other trial software may come with your computer. Remember that you don’t need to buy all of the software that’s offered on trial. You can always remove it later.
A good virus protection program may come with your laptop, but you may want to explore additional virus protection software, especially if your child surfs the net frequently. Make sure to remind your child to run their virus protection software or set up an automatic scan to protect your investment.
Once you’ve seen various laptop models in person, you can do cost-comparisons and shop online. Make sure you write down the exact name of the laptop, including all the letters and numbers after the brand and model. The letters and numbers refer to the exact version of the laptop, and there can be more than a little variation between two that are only off by a few digits or letters. Amazon and other online retail outlets offer good bargains, reasonable shipping, and generous return policies if you buy the wrong one.
Shopping for a kid’s laptop is a little different than shopping for one for an adult, but with a little preparation, time and patience, you can find an affordable model that your child will love.
More safety solutions for kids and families: