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Laptop Buying Guide

Despite the growing popularity of tablets, actual computers—specifically, laptops—still have a place in many classrooms. Whether you need more computing power, own software that only works on a PC or simply want a device with a traditional keyboard, laptops may be the right choice for your school.

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

A laptop is a portable, folding computer that can run on battery power. A tablet is more of a handheld device where the keyboard, if there is one, is not permanently attached. In many cases, the line between tablet and laptop is starting to blur—especially with the availability of tablets that use the same Microsoft Windows 8 operating system as traditional PCs.

Who makes laptops?

There are three key types of laptops: those running some version of Microsoft’s Windows, ones running Apple’s iOS, and a newer group running Google’s Chrome operating system. google chromebookWindows laptops are by far the most prominent, and they are generally used with Microsoft’s popular office suite, including everything from word processing to presentation creation.

Apple’s laptops, which have been popular in schools, are often used for different functions including graphic design and video editing. Laptops running Chrome are more limited, as they run only Google’s Web-based programs, but these laptops may meet a school’s needs.

Why Windows?

Windows dominated the PC market, and chances are good that your school already owns software for this platform. In addition, though compatibility issues are mostly irrelevant these days, students are likely to have Windows machines at home. Though cost can vary greatly, serviceable Windows laptops run about $350-400. Software, such as Microsoft Office, costs more.

Why Apple?

Apple’s iPads have gained traction in schools, and adding Apple laptops in a school already using iPads make sense. Apple laptops are also generally considered to be better for video editing and graphic design, though that’s more nostalgia than fact these days.

Apple’s laptops are by far the most expensive, with basic models (which are powerful and not basic at all) starting at around $1,000. Apple’s laptops do come bundled with its answer to Office—which is useful, though not nearly as widely used.

Why Chrome?

Chromebooks are limited in functionality, but they do perform most functions likely to be needed in a classroom. These laptops are durable and pretty sleek, but they are dependent on having an Internet connection, something not always present in every classroom.

Chromebooks start at around $250 and come bundled with Google’s online suite of Office knockoff products, which are decent, but not as polished as the original.

The bottom line

Before buying laptops, schools should consider the functions they need and the other technology they already own. In general, Windows machines are the safe choice. Apple’s make sense for schools that already have Apple-based setups, and Chromebooks are the cheaper alternative.

Article by Daniel B. Kline, EducationWorld Contributing Editor
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