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Everything you need to know about buying a laptop for your kid

Everything you need to know about buying a laptop for your kid

Finding the right laptop for your kid can be complicated, so we’ve lined up a selection of impressive options from top brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Lenovo.

All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

Kids are capable of mastering computer skills at a very young age, and not just to watch videos on YouTube. In fact, they probably know more than you.

As desktops, laptops, and tablets continue to play a larger role in our everyday lives, children are learning about the internet, word processing, coding, and other everyday computer skills, and applying those skills in various aspects of their education and recreation. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to equip your child with a device to help them learn. 

When buying a computer for your child, we recommend buying a laptop in lieu of a desktop. Kids will definitely benefit from the portable nature of laptops, especially when it comes to schoolwork. And you will benefit from the lower price point of a laptop compared to a desktop model.  

The Covid-induced school closures also cemented the importance of a kid having easy access to a laptop at home. Both teachers and parents were forced to make online learning work — and now that the groove has been found, a hybrid model may just be the future for some classrooms even after pandemic protections are a thing of the past. 

How can you monitor your kid’s computer activity without smothering them?

Handing a laptop to your child (and subsequently setting them loose on the internet) naturally comes with safety concerns. The already-huge screen time debate was forced into the spotlight when the coronavirus required schools to close, forcing caregivers to find a way to keep kids entertained and engaged all day, every day. Parents were told to not freak out about their kids staring at a screen while stuck at home, as the evidence connecting screen time and cognitive or behaviour development

If you’re worried that too much freedom will result in kids landing on an inappropriate site or going into technology zombie mode, steps in to strike a healthy balance.

What’s the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop?

A Chromebook is a laptop that operates almost solely on the internet. These laptops aren’t inherently laptops for kids, but their low price point, cute and compact designs, and security features do make them a good option for iffy parents and kids who will be doing most of their work on a web browser.

Being locked into Chrome OS isn’t as limiting as it sounds. Actually, it provides some freedoms that regular laptops can’t. Because everything is automatically stored on Google Drive, your kid won’t lose all of their work if they forget to save a document or if the Chromebook itself crashes. This also means that kids can access their slideshow or essay on any computer where they can log into their Google account.

Kids perusing the internet might sound like a virus waiting to happen. Every web page or Chrome app runs its own sandbox, essentially ensuring that other parts of the computer won’t be compromised even if that page gets hacked or infected with a virus. 

However, malware has nothing on Chrome. Most hackers are aiming at Windows or Mac and ignore Google’s OS (for now), making it highly unlikely for a Chromebook to get a virus. If something sketchy were to happen, the threat can be wiped out by closing the page or reverting to factory settings. Parents and teachers can get some peace of mind without constantly looking over their child’s shoulder, and children can surf the web without feeling like they’re being watched.

What are the differences between laptops for younger kids versus older kids?

Some criteria makes sense for all ages. Young kids need something sturdy that can handle drops or bumps, and older kids need something that can handle being carried around in a bag alongside heavy books. Long battery life makes everyone’s life easier, too.

Processing power and storage will likely be your main deciding factors, and it all depends on what your child will be doing on the laptop. Younger kids may do some light schoolwork, play games, or watch a movie, but there’s no reason to pay for RAM over 4GB to run a few apps for school or a fancy screen to game. Faster RAM and increased screen resolution will be important for secondary school or university students who need a device that can multitask with power-sucking apps like PhotoShop or software for a statistics course. Ample storage space is a must to house things like school work and downloaded textbooks.

The key features to focus on when shopping for younger kids are security controls, size, and ease of use. Younger kids aren’t going to be editing videos or using complex applications, so save the extra features for the older siblings, who may need a faster machine with additional storage space for their school work and gaming hobbies.  

What is the best laptop for your kid?

Finding the right laptop for your kid can be complicated, so we’ve tried to make the decision process a little easier. We’ve selected the models that we believe are the most kid-friendly based on a variety of needs. Remember to keep in mind what your child will ultimately be using the laptop for, and that should guide you to what best fulfils those needs at your price point.  

We’ve lined up a selection of impressive options from top brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Lenovo. There is something for every child and budget in this list. You just need to pick a favourite.

These are the best laptops for kids in 2021.


Built-in parental controls • New camera app for scanning documents and white boards • Easy-to-use Windows Hello security • Easy to carry in multiple ways

Type Cover can be finicky • Screen brightness doesn’t wow • Not powerful enough to be full laptop replacement

The flexibility that kids crave, now with more juice under the hood for heavy school and creative apps.

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft’s 2-in-1 laptop is a slick studying sidekick that comes with a stylus and an app for scanning whiteboards.

  • Battery life:
    10 hours
  • Weight:
    540 grams
  • Display:
    1920 x 1280
  • RAM:
    4GB, 8GB
  • Storage:
    64GB, 128GB
Older kids will dig the freedom of going from a laptop to a tablet and back without switching devices. Microsoft’s second gen Surface Go surpasses the sluggish 2-in-1s meant mostly for streaming with heftier computing skills. That performance boost is essential for schoolwork involving special statistics or creative software, ideally preventing any system restarts due to overheating (and resulting file loss). 
Its lightweight design and dual high-def webcams are checkmarks for any student, but Microsoft went above and beyond to make the Surface Go 2 a true learning sidekick. Kids can use a special camera app (built into the rear-facing camera) to scan documents and whiteboards for quicker note-taking or studying. 
The Surface Pen is also great for jotting things down, doodling, sketching, and tracing. 

Boots up in 10 seconds or less • Extremely lightweight • Small keyboard for small hands

No headphone jack • Only one port (USB-C)

A surprisingly capable Chromebook for the price that’s safe to carry around.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Lenovo’s true detachable Chromebook has impressive specs for its price, and you don’t need to buy a separate keyboard.

  • Battery life:
    10 hours
  • Weight:
    920 grams
  • Display:
    1920 x 1200
  • RAM:
    4GB
  • Storage:
    128GB
If it feels like someone’s always hogging the family desktop, it wouldn’t hurt to grab a laptop specifically for homework time. Enter: the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, a remarkably lightweight 2-in-1 laptop with a solid general-purpose processor, a built-in kickstand, and a compact, detachable keyboard that’s perfect for small hands. 
Its 10.1-inch touchscreen display is also compatible with Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) pens for drawing and doodling, but you’ll have to buy one of those separately. 
The really great thing about the Chromebook Duet is that it comes with a free one-year trial of Google One on top of 128GB of internal memory. That’ll get you an additional 100GB of cloud storage for assignments, essays, study guides, and notes.  

M1 chip provides snappy multitasking performance • Touch ID is convenient and secure • Gorgeous Retina display • Customisable, near-infinite SSD • Backlit Magic Keyboard • Lightweight and compact

Some antivirus or parental control softwares don’t play nicely with Mac • Fan kicks in immediately • Big learning curve for kids used to Windows

Apple hit the sweet spot without skimping on features that graduates need for school or work.

Apple MacBook Air

The 2020 Air is a real Pro competitor with a Retina display and beefy M1 processing chip.

  • Battery life:
    18 hours
  • Weight:
    1,270 grams
  • Display:
    2560 x 1600
  • RAM:
    8GB
  • Storage:
    256GB, 512GB, configurable up to 2TB
Apple’s MacBooks are the preferred choice for secondary school graduates heading off to university or into the workforce. If you’re struggling to decide between the Air or Pro, here’s a good rule of thumb: Unless the device’s primary user will be editing 4K videos in Adobe or can’t live without a Touch Bar, buying a Pro at full price is unnecessary.
Five years ago, this probably wasn’t the case. But with a razor-sharp Retina display, a Touch ID sensor, and the Pro’s wicked M1 chip on board, the latest Air is a productivity juggernaut in its own right. It packs the power into less than three pounds and keeps the efficiency sailing for up to 18 hours. 

Acer VertiView display is super sharp • SSD over eMMC storage • 3:2 aspect ratio looks stunning

No stylus included, but is compatible with some separate pens • Not super lightweight

Snag impressive specs for a Chromebook including an ultra-sharp display and beefier storage.

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Visual learners and streaming fans will be psyched on the glorious hi-res screen of this souped-up Chromebook.

  • Battery life:
    12 hours
  • Weight:
    1,360 grams
  • Display:
    2256 x 1504
  • RAM:
    8GB
  • Storage:
    128GB
Of the million 2-in-1 iterations with near-indistinguishable differences the Chromebook market has to offer, publishers have been able to agree that one beats the rest: Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713
This particular Spin model sets itself apart with a rare 3:2 aspect ratio (a small layout change known as a productivity boost) and crisp VertiView display, which makes colors pop and tiny words legible. A laptop over three pounds might be a struggle for some youngsters, but it’s an expected weight jump for 13.5-inch screen.
The lack of an included stylus is annoying for a price point like this. But it hasn’t been enough to squash the internet’s love for this Chromebook, especially because it is technically compatible with a few USI pens. 

Thin, lightweight, and perfect for backpacks • Plenty of storage space • Quiet, comfortable keyboard

Trackpad is weird • Touchscreen without a 360-degree hinge is odd

Google’s star offers that secure experience minus the clunkiness of your average Chromebook.

Google Pixelbook Go

The newest Pixelbook is a cool lightweight powerhouse that averts the “clunky Chromebook” rep.

  • Battery life:
    12 hours
  • Weight:
    1,050 grams
  • Display:
    1920 x 1280
  • RAM:
    8GB, 16GB
  • Storage:
    64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Google’s Chromebooks are a strong option for people who want a high-performance laptop without giving up the security of ChromeOS. The latest iteration, the Pixelbook Go, welcomes upgrades like an 8th-Gen Intel Core processor, a larger touchscreen display, and a longer battery life.
Google opted out of the 360-degree hinge for this one, but tech bloggers agree that the traditional notebook design feels sturdier and more professional. The rounded corners and muted colours scream maturity, which secondary schoolers will appreciate. 
The lack of a 4K screen like the Galaxy Chromebook isn’t cause for concern, either — older kids (and most adults who aren’t editing videos or designing) simply don’t need to pay for that. The Pixelbook Go is undoubtedly beastly enough for school projects, streaming, and running multiple apps simultaneously for 12 hours on one charge. 

Apple quality and ease of use • Intuitive technology

If you can afford it, your kid will have the coolest laptop.

Apple MacBook Pro

Probably the coolest of the bunch, but it’ll cost you.

  • Battery life:
    20 hours
  • Weight:
    1,400 grams
  • Display:
    2560 x 1600
  • RAM:
    8GB
  • Storage:
    56GB, 512GB, configurable up to 2TB
If you trust your kid to take care of their laptop, and have the pocket change to spring for an expensive model, the Apple MacBook Pro is the way to go. Apple products are known for their quality and ease of use, but that is just part of the reason why.
For starters, the MacBook Pro will never slow you down due to high-performance memory and storage. Everything you view on a MacBook Pro will pop with sophisticated retina technology and LED backlighting. 
If you opt for the more expensive model you can also benefit from the Touch Bar feature, which eliminates the need for function keys. Using intuitive technology, the Touch Bar resides at the top of the keyboard and lets you control the system based on what you are doing – volume controls when watching shows, emojis and predictive text when you are talking to friends, and more. A fingerprint sensor can also help you prevent any unapproved purchases. 
Most schools use Chromebooks or Windows-based computers for students, so the Mac operating system might take a little getting used to. But like all Apple products, it is designed to be intuitive, and it will be beneficial to be familiar with Apple technology as higher education and business continue to be more Mac-friendly.  

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