Buyer's guide to school-ready laptops

17 Jun 2012
Buyer's guide to school-ready laptops

Laptops are the ideal vehicle for a more flexible approach to ICT. Simon Fisher guides you to making the right decision for your school

As far back as 2008, many analysts were stating that the age of the desktop PC was over, since sales of laptops had exceeded those of PCs for the first time. However, the effects of this shift have only more recently become apparent in the education sector, where laptops are now becoming the mainstay in schools. This accompanies a definite shift in how schools use ICT: away from it being something that only takes place in network suites towards a more flexible utilisation within regular classroom teaching.

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It’s an approach that should be welcomed – at last, schools are starting to make use of technology in the same way that it’s used socially and in a work environment. ICT shouldn’t just happen during a double lesson on Tuesday afternoon; the cross-curricular use of new technologies is often more exciting and forward thinking than the teaching of it as a discrete subject. If you want to adopt this method of teaching, laptops are the ideal vehicle. They make an appealing halfway house for schools interested in how tablets might be used, but which aren’t quite ready to make that leap; they allow a school to develop and use its wireless infrastructure and explore portable computing, while reserving the option to switch devices a little further down the line.

The old adage that “you get what you pay for” is perhaps never truer than when it comes to laptops. Although many schools may be tempted to opt for budget laptops in order to cut down on their spend or enable more units to be purchased, the compromises can hugely impact on the effectiveness of use. Although visually similar to mid-range counterparts, budget laptops might have insufficient processing power and potentially lower build quality. Mid-range laptops, although not designed to shine in any single area, provide a comfortable middle-ground. They’re versatile enough to handle most of the demands of a classroom, and it’s only when you look at complex video or graphics work that they falter – which most schools won’t have a need for.

Choose the right size

We usually think of laptops in terms of screen size. While larger screens enable higher resolutions to be used, providing valuable real-estate, this comes with an increase in the physical dimensions and weight of the machine. Larger screens bring with them increased demands on power, too, so battery life will deplete more rapidly. Laptops with 17in or larger screens – desktop replacements – pose further problems with regards to transport and storage. For most purposes, a 13in to 14in screen provides the ideal balance between ease of use and portability, while a 15.6in screen – the standard in mainstream laptops – gives you more scope to handle multiple windows or edit graphics.

In addition to size, schools must also consider whether to opt for glossy or matte screens. While glossy models have the edge for aesthetics and vibrancy of colours, their surface reflects light and this can be a problem when used outdoors or next to a window. For this reason, models with an anti-glare matte surface may be more desirable.

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