Home > Articles

Tech Tips for Moms and Dads, Part 1: What Kind of Computer Should I Buy My Child?

  • Print
  • + Share This
In this series, tech expert and dad Tim Warner answers perplexing questions about how to handle modern technology that affects your kids. Part 1 focuses on the computer types and operating systems that provide the best options for school-aged children.
Like this article? We recommend

Buying your child a computer, regardless of whether that child is 5 or 15, can lead to a number of complicated questions:

  • What can I do to keep my child safe when he or she is online?
  • How can I monitor what my child does on the computer?
  • When–not if—my child breaks the computer, how can I get it fixed as cost-effectively as possible?

No need for panic. Allow me to take you by the figurative hand and teach you the main points to keep in mind to maximize (a) your child's satisfaction with the computer, (b) the device's budgetary impact, and (c) everybody's learning curve. Let's begin!

Desktop or Laptop?

Based on my experience as an IT professional and a parent, I suggest that you buy your child a laptop computer rather than a stationary desktop model. It's a mistaken assumption to think that you need a big ol' clunky desktop computer to give your child a fitting educational workstation.

Your goal is to strike a balance between the "everything but the kitchen sink" features of a desktop-replacement laptop, and the barebones functionality of an ultraportable. Figure 1 shows the difference visually.

Figure 1 Desktop replacement laptop (top) and ultraportable computer (bottom). Image credit: Shutterstock.

No matter what you do, don't buy a Chromebook. Several friends of mine thought they'd save a few dollars by buying their kids this budget model, but Chromebooks aren't really laptops in the conventional sense; they rely on the Internet for just about everything, including the operating system. If you choose a Chromebook, you'll definitely run into compatibility problems with much of the popular educational and recreational software (Minecraft, for example).

Don't get me wrong—Chromebooks are great for certain (adult) populations who need a highly specialized device. Likewise, some parents may consider a so-called "rugged" laptop in order to minimize spill and drop damage. Don't let advertisements and marketing fluff fool you—you'll pay a lot more for a rugged laptop, with limited functionality to boot. Rugged laptops (one of which is shown in Figure 2) are intended for construction workers, police, and so forth—not smiling, happy kids.

Figure 2 Rugged laptop. Waterproof and practically indestructible, but not particularly user-friendly. Image credit: Shutterstock.

So what kind of laptop should you buy? Here are a few models (in alphabetical order) that are highly rated as well as known to be child-friendly:

In my research, the price range for new, child-friendly laptops ranged from $300 to $900.

Finally, laptops are cool because you can purchase services like LoJack for Laptops (shown in Figure 3) that geolocate the device. Given how tightly most kids cleave to their computers, rest assured that if you can locate the laptop on a map, your child is probably standing or sitting right next to the device.

Figure 3 Laptop geolocation services like LoJack help you find a lost laptop (and possibly see where your child is) at any moment.

The Importance of Touch

Most technology nowadays relies on touch gestures. My five-year-old daughter, for instance, can touch-navigate her way around her iPad like an absolute pro.

To give your kids machines that use touch gestures, I suggest that choosing a laptop with a touch-capable display. Get, this, though: Buy a USB external mouse as well! I feel strongly that kids should learn to "touch type" as well as developing manual dexterity with the mouse. A touchscreen is awesome, but for maximum educational impact it should work alongside a physical pointing device.

Windows or OS X?

You may have noticed that most of the laptops I've recommended so far were based on Microsoft Windows. I suggested avoiding Chromebooks (and the Chrome OS) because they're much too limited for most kids' needs.

Likewise, please avoid Android-based devices because (a) they tend to be underpowered, with super-small displays; and (b) Android isn't the most user-friendly or compatible operating system for a kid, in my opinion.

That leaves Windows and OS X. Sigh...this is a tough one. In my home, we have computers based on both Windows and OS X, and we're very happy. If I had to go one way or the other, though, I'd recommend Windows over OS X for the following reasons:

  • Because Apple makes its own hardware, you have limited choice: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro—that's it. By contrast, Windows-based laptops offer practically unlimited flexibility.
  • Although Apple has a decent market share in K-12 education, you should be able to find a Windows version of any educational software your child needs.
  • In almost all cases, the hardware and accessories for Windows laptops are much less expensive than for OS X laptops.

One great trend in software nowadays is for vendors to host their applications in the cloud (see Figure 4), giving customers access via web browser. This change means that we see fewer "Windows-only" or "OS X-only" software problems.

Figure 4 Thanks to cloud services like Google Apps, you may not have to pay for a lot of locally installed software.

I think the preponderance of cloud-based apps explains why Google Chromebooks are rapidly gaining a foothold in the K-12 educational market. Don't be fooled, though: Just because a Chromebook can handle Google Apps, that doesn't mean it can display multimedia educational content or play Minecraft.

New or Used?

Although you'll almost undoubtedly pay more for a new laptop as opposed to a used one, the chief advantage can be summed up in two words: manufacturer's warranty.

For example, for $249 above the purchase price, you can add the AppleCare Protection Plan to your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. If your child drops his or her MacBook and breaks the screen, simply take the computer to your nearest Apple Store, and they'll replace the entire unit for you, free of charge. You can't beat that!

If you decide to go with a used computer, perform due diligence in your research to find out whether the unit is still under warranty; and, if so, whether the warranty can be transferred to you.

What About Specs?

Readers who already possess some tech savvy may think, "Tim, all this advice is well and good. But specifically, how much RAM should I look for in a child-friendly laptop? How much hard disk storage?"

In my professional and personal experience, many kids nowadays do most of their schoolwork online by using cloud-based productivity software such as Google Apps or Microsoft Office 365. Cloud-based apps require a decent Internet connection, but in general this use case is not resource-intensive at all in terms of processor, RAM, and disk storage.

If your child will use the computer to play games, system specifications become a bit more important. Graphical games (and some educational software, for that matter) require at least a mid-range graphics card to ensure good performance.

If your child's laptop meets at least the following system requirements, you're good to go for most use cases:

  • Intel Core ix processor
  • 4GB RAM (bare minimum; 8GB is better)
  • 500GB or greater hard drive (solid state preferred due to its ability to withstand being dropped)
  • Wired and wireless network connections
  • Upgraded graphics card (look for laptops with Intel HD Graphics 4000 or 5500 series)

If you're really concerned about the laptop having sufficient graphics capabilities, add the keywords gaming laptop to your Internet research.

Unless your child needs super high-fidelity audio, most laptop integrated sound cards work fine. I'm a musician, and I can rarely tell the difference between integrated laptop audio and the fancy built-in audio processors.

Final Thoughts

Your child's teachers may have specific guidelines on what kind of computer the child needs; in this case, the decision is largely out of your hands. Likewise, some schools actually distribute laptops to all students and take care of the device configuration and maintenance. This is a big relief for parents whose child "accidentally" drops the laptop and shatters the screen!

I'll discuss parental control/monitoring software much more in a future installment of this series, but I'll leave you with some popular references to investigate in the meantime:

Happy computing to you and yours!

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020