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So your kid needs a laptop — here’s what you should know

So your kid needs a laptop — here’s what you should know

As laptops become more ingrained in school curriculums, kids are gaining the computer skills that many adults didn’t have until high school or college. Despite the initial shock of a third grader having their own laptop, they’re a great way to get kids motivated to take notes, work with other students, and check grades. Here’s how to compare the most important specs for kids of all ages.

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The learning experience is fundamentally different for kids now than it was even for today’s 20-somethings — especially for elementary and middle schools. A lot of that change can be attributed to laptops.

The Covid-induced school closures that spanned 2020 cemented the cruciality 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.

Sheer convenience isn’t the only reason for kids to have a laptop. The importance of access to email and virtual learning platforms like Blackboard while a kid’s not at school can’t be understated (and for a lot of kids, it’s far less intimidating than talking to a teacher IRL.) Digital accessibility to school materials and other resources can cultivate a sense of autonomy and responsibility in students: The Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning found that high schoolers who were assigned a laptop were more likely to take notes in class, do internet research, create documents to share, collaborate with their peers on projects, check their grades, and get reminders about due dates or tests. 

Are first graders going to be taking notes or keeping track of their own test scores? Probably not. But as children move from elementary to middle to high school, computers are made a more integral part of the curriculum and assignments. Young kids can stay ahead of the curve by practicing those skills at home — it’s like practicing reading with your preschooler or letting your 15-year-old practice driving in a parking lot. Easing them into the responsibility of keeping a device charged can work as preparation for a cell phone as well.

How to monitor your kid’s computer activity without smothering them

Handing a laptop to your kid (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 behavior development is pretty meager. But if you’re worried that too much freedom will result in kids landing on an inappropriate site or going into technology zombie mode, parental control software 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 kids’ laptops, 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 (like playing on ABCmouse or typing on Google Docs).

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.” 

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.

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 lugged in a backpack 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 the kid 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 4 GB to run a few apps for school or a fancy screen to play Overcooked! 2. Faster RAM and increased screen resolution will be important for high school or college 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.

Here are the best laptops for kids in 2021:


Comes with a Surface Pen • 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 repalcement

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:
    1.2 pounds
  • 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 included Surface Pen is also clutch for jotting things down, doodling, sketching, and tracing.


Boots up in 10 seconds or less • Super affordable • Extremely lightweight • Small keyboard for small hands • Comes with a free one-year trial of Google One

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:
    2.03 pounds altogether (0.99 pounds without keyboard)
  • 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. (Many laptop-tablet hybrids don’t come with their own keyboards, adding a sneaky extra cost.) 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 alone is a ton of storage for a Chromebook.) That’ll get you an additional 100GB of cloud storage for assignments, essays, study guides, and notes. 

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:
    3.02 pounds
  • 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, tech 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 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:
    2.33 pounds
  • Display:
    1920 x 1280
  • RAM:
    8GB, 16GB
  • Storage:
    64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Google’s Chromebooks are a clutch option for people who want a high-performance laptop without giving up the security of ChromeOS. The latest iteration, the 2019 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 colors scream maturity, which high 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.


M1 chip provides snappy multitasking performance • Touch ID is convenient and secure • Gorgeous Retina display • Customizable, 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 grads 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:
    2.8 pounds
  • Display:
    2560 x 1600
  • RAM:
    8GB
  • Storage:
    256GB, 512GB, configurable up to 2TB

Apple’s MacBooks are *the* choice for high school grads heading off to college 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.


Frequently on sale for $349.99 • Selfie camera • Built-in battery-free stylus • Two USB ports and microSD slot • New Intel chip boosts speed

Too expensive when it’s not on sale • Keyboard isn’t backlit • No HDMI

A compact design and stylus that never needs to charge make for a great to-go device.

Samsung Chromebook Plus V2

The garaged battery-free pen will be a game changer for both learning and creativity.

  • Battery life:
    9.5 hours
  • Weight:
    2.98 pounds
  • Display:
    1920 x 1200
  • RAM:
    4GB
  • Storage:
    32GB eMMC
Foldable Chromebooks with stylus support are solid outlets for creativity. There’s just something fun about paperless writing or drawing, whether that’s designing in Adobe or highlighting a virtual textbook. Not only does Samsung’s Chromebook Plus V2 support styluses — it comes with one that never needs to be charged.

The second generation of Samsung’s budget 2-in-1 Chromebook ain’t no Galaxy Chromebook, but it’s a hell of a value for its price range. A new Intel processor gives it an edge over the original, but it keeps the same aluminum clamshell design and sturdy 360-degree hinges.


Spill-resistant keyboard • Sturdy build with rubber bumpers • 2-in-1 touchscreen adds fun flare • Safe and easy to throw in a backpack • Headphone jack

Dinky touchpad • Display isn’t FHD

A flippable touchscreen puts a fun, modern touch on Dell’s durable little Chromebook.

Dell Chromebook 11 3100

Clumsy kids are in good hands with this spill resistant 2-in-1 that stores everything in the cloud.

  • Battery life:
    10 hours
  • Weight:
    2.85 pounds
  • Display:
    1366 x 768
  • RAM:
    4GB
  • Storage:
    32GB
Handing a device to a kid is like watching a drop or spill flash before your eyes. Designed to withstand the rigors of daily life in the classroom, at home, and in between, this 2-in-1 Dell Chromebook nails the kid-ready trifecta: rugged, affordable, and ready for streaming. Its lack of curb appeal is supplemented with 360-degree hinges to switch to tent mode or table mode — automatically more fun.

At just over 11 inches wide and less than three pounds, the 3100 can be carried safely in little arms or little backpacks. The sturdy chassis is supported by rubber bumpers for absorbing shock and a spill-resistant keyboard that can handle 12 ounces of liquid.

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