Whether it’s for homework, video chats, web browsing or Roblox, many of us are now choosing to buy a laptop for the kids to call their own – if just to claim ours back before the school term starts again.
When looking at the best laptops for kids, durability is one of the top factors to consider – kids are, after all, prone to dropping or mistreating tech. Price is another factor, particularly for younger children who will only be using basic apps and features. Essentials like battery life and portability also come into play if your child will need to take their new laptop to school.
Many machines have upgrade options so you can pay to add more memory or a better graphics card, if your child will use the laptop for anything more than light gaming, for example. For older children we’d also recommend finding out what software they’ll need to use for school before making any decisions and deciding on which operating system will work best.
How we tested
For this round-up, we’ve looked for entry-level models with out-of-the-box specifications, to find laptops that can cope with everyday tasks and essential schoolwork. Our testers used them for basic tasks like watching YouTube videos, making video calls, using school apps like Scratch and GoNoodle, taking notes, browsing the Internet and – of course – playing Roblox with friends. We’ve also considered some more premium models that are better suited to older students with more complex requirements.
We let the kids navigate the laptops independently once we’d set them up, to see how easy they were to use. And we tested each laptop both at home and out and about for the day without the charger. That way we could assess portability and battery life, to see how they’d manage a day at school.
Microsoft surface go 2
Billed as Microsoft’s smallest, lightest laptop, the surface go 2 is the teeniest model in our shortlist with a compact 10.5in touchscreen. But don’t be fooled by its diminutive stature and light weight. This little bit of kit can run full Windows 10 at a push, so it’s an affordable option if your kids need to use relatively complex applications for school.
The basic model comes with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, which is sufficient for everyday use but will need upgrading if your children are liable to install millions of apps or want to use this for gaming. Fortunately there are lots of configuration options, so this is easily done if you’re willing to up your budget.
On the subject of budget, it’s worth knowing that the type cover (£124.99, Microsoft.com) – which turns this from a tablet into a laptop with a keyboard and trackpad – isn’t included, so you’ll need to buy this separately. Likewise, the surface pen (£99.99, Microsoft.com), which lets you draw, sketch and colour on the screen, is an add-on. Those two alone add at least a couple of hundred pounds onto the price, although it’s well worth the investment. This is a brilliant little machine that our testers voted their overall favourite.
Samsung Galaxy book go laptop
If you want Windows at a low price, the Samsung Galaxy book go is worth adding to your shortlist. It’s the cheapest ARM-powered Windows 10 laptop available, and with a qualcomm snapdragon 7C processor and 4GB RAM it proved speedy enough for our tester’s everyday browsing and homework needs.
Looks-wise it’s an attractively sleek, slim machine that looks a bit like a Macbook pro or air, albeit with a less premium feel and a slightly squarer edge when you’re up close. Our tester liked the “grown up” laptop design, 14in screen and the fact it has a 180-degree hinge that allows it to lie totally flat on the table – good when you’re sharing the screen with siblings. It feels more delicate than some of the more robust, kid-friendly models we tested, so we’d recommend this for older children.
The laptop has plenty of ports including USB-C and microSD, and the biggest benefit we noticed was the extra-long battery life. Ours easily got through a couple of days’ use before the battery ran low, which is handy for kids who never remember to put devices on charge, or forget to take the power cable out with them. Our only complaint was the screen display, which was dimmer than the other laptops we tested. That said, it was only the grown-ups – not the kids – who noticed this.
Lenovo 500e Chromebook 2nd gen
This versatile Chromebook has a 360-degree hinge, so you can fold it “inside out” and use it like a tablet. This is the position our tester most often defaulted to, using the digital pen (housed inside the laptop, as we eventually discovered) to draw sketches and doodle with. It also stands up in tent mode for presentations, in stand mode for online lessons – or YouTube videos – as well as good old-fashioned laptop mode.
It’s been designed for the classroom, and military tested to boot. We’re talking rubber bumpers that can absorb a drop, reinforced ports and hinges, and mechanically anchored keys that give it a chunky, if slightly heavy feel. Coupled with the compact size, spill-resistant keyboard and heavily reinforced screen, it can be carted around in their school bag if need be, or perched precariously on the side of the sofa without any drama.
Other things we liked were the front-facing camera for video calls with friends, plus a world-facing one to record videos. It’s a Chromebook, so there’s no Windows, but our testers used it for apps like Scratch and ClassDojo from Google Play and got on really well with it.
Apple MacBook air 2020
Apple’s thinnest, lightest and cheapest notebook is a good option for older children who already have an iPhone or iPad. We found it easy to sync our iPhone using an Apple ID, and it was a vast improvement on our trusty Macbook pro (£1,187, Currys.co.uk) in terms of everything from speed to appearance.
With this updated model Apple have removed the fan, so it’s noticeably quieter than older versions. The screen is gorgeously crisp and colourful, although the webcam picture quality isn’t always great on video calls.
We liked the addition of touch ID – Apple’s fingerprint identity sensor – which means siblings can easily switch between profiles once they’ve saved their fingerprints. Overall this is a great option for older children and teens who are already familiar with the Apple environment, and the high level of quality and intuitive design makes it well worth the slightly higher spend than more budget laptops.
Acer Chromebook 311 C733
This compact Chromebook is built like a tank, so it’s understandably popular in schools. It’s reinforced with a rubber surround that means it can withstand bumps and knocks, and the keyboard – which is a great size for proper typing – is spill-proof.
Admittedly, this machine doesn’t try too hard when it comes to fancy design and appearance. It’s very much a simple, no-frills affair at a no-frills price. It’s also not going to be the best option if your kids are serious about streaming movies or music, as we found the screen and speakers quite basic.
That said, it more than delivers when it comes to casual browsing, basic tasks and schoolwork for younger children, and we were particularly impressed with the all-day battery life. If you’re looking for something a bit more fancy, we’d recommend having a look at the Acer Chromebook spin 515 (£349.99, Johnlewis.com), which our testers also enjoyed using. But for all the basics on a tight budget, this is fab.
Dell latitude 7320 detachable
This Windows tablet props up with an integrated kickstand at the back, which powers the machine on when you flip it out. By snapping the detachable keyboard into place via a magnetic hinge you can use it like a conventional laptop, and the wireless pen clips neatly into a charging slot.
In reality, we found we used it much more as a standalone tablet, and it functions very well. The 13in display is bright and crisp, and the webcam and audio are set up for business-level video calling. The spec is fully customisable on the Dell website, so you can tweak everything from the processor to the graphics card depending on the age and stage of your kids.
Our only gripe is the price, which is significantly higher than similar offerings. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that the keyboard and wireless pen are included, so there are no unexpected add-ons.