Simple tips for the best back-to-school laptops 2022 – BYOD (guide)

Parents’ biggest mistake with back-to-school laptops 2022 is buying the cheaper consumer variety that won’t last. Consumer laptops are not student-proof.

‘Education standard’ is a mix of portability, durability, battery life, fast Wi-Fi, practicality and warranty. From the school’s perspective, it is its curriculum software compatibility and management tools that monitor and set limits for in-school use.

Education computers are not about the bling – good looks, fancy keys, cool colours and desirability. They need to be kid-proof to last the distance.

BYOD guidelines (based on NSW)

  • Windows 10 or macOS 10 or later (the school will tell you its preference)
  • Laptop (clamshell or x360 hinge). The Microsoft Surface Pro or Go Tablet with the detachable keyboard qualifies. iPad with the magic keyboard does not
  • Wi-Fi 5Ghz (usually dual-band Wi-Fi 5 AC or Wi-Fi 6)
  • Minimum 10″ 1080p screen (larger 13.3 to 15.6″ strongly recommended)
  • Minimum 4GB RAM (8 to 16GB recommended for heavy use)
  • At least 128GB of storage (you can back up to a low-cost external drive)
  • At least 4 hours of ‘screen-on’ use (8 hours is better)
  • Webcam/microphone/speakers and a suitable combo headset
  • USB-A 3.0 or USB-C 3.1/2 or later port

Practically the device should weigh under 1.5kg (14″) and 2kg (15″) plus any charger.  We suggest a touch screen with active stylus support as creative kids can use it for drawing and art.

The education institution usually supplies Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), including Outlook for email and Windows anti-virus software.

Many schools have commercial arrangements in place to supply a particular brand or model of laptop – call the school first because you may get a better deal.

Best back-to-school laptops 2022 – Years 5-7

Durability is the key here as kids don’t necessarily understand the need to look after things. For example, look for MIL-STD 810 or 810H devices with rubber bumper edges. But don’t overspend – $600 or so will get what you need (Dynabook E10). A year 5-7 notebook will unlikely be suitable for grades 8-12.

Best back-to-school laptops 2022 – Years 8-12

This is hard as you want a notebook that will last four years of reliable and changing use. These must endure millions of keystrokes (make sure the letters are injection moulded through the keycap – not stick-on lettering decals); daily recharging (more than 800 battery charge cycles when most batteries only have 500 charge cycles); the screen is large enough for creative use (a.k.a. Adobe Creative Suite), and you may need extended screen-on battery time for all-day use.

In 2021 the laptop closest to perfect was the Intel Evo-based 14″ Dynabook Tecra A40-J  or the 15.6″ Dynabook Tecra A50-J with a three-year warranty. Depending on specifications (Intel i5 or i7, standard or touch screen, 8 or 16GB RAM, 256 or 512GB), you can spend between $1500 and $2400.

Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer, and ASUS have business-class commercial models in similar price brackets.

A note on Microsoft Surface Laptop, Pro and Go

The Surface Go 3 (Microsoft Surface Go 3 – a little Windows tablet (mini-review) is a 10″ tablet with an optional detachable keyboard. It is perfect for Years 5-7 and has a touch screen. It can charge via USB-C (see ‘At home’ below). Microsoft offers student discounts, and they start at $628 (4/64GB), but I advise you to get the 8/128GB version at $846. The keyboard is $149.95.

Surface Pro Microsoft Surface Pro 8 – a whole new device with Thunderbolt 4 (review) is a commercial-grade Intel Evo tablet with a detachable keyboard. It has a 13″ touch screen, it is ultra-light and portable, yet it is commercial grade and can drive dual 4K@60Hz monitors and more via its Thunderbolt 4 ports (dock or dongle required). The price for the i5/8/128GB is $1649, and the i7/16/256GB is $2399. The keyboard is $259.95, and there is an optional Slim Pen Stylus. This is pretty well the perfect Grade 8-12 hybrid.

The 12.5″ Surface Laptop Go (starting at $879) and the 13.5″ (starting at $1499) and 15″ Surface Laptop 4 (starting at $2049) are clamshell laptops (comparison here).

Apple option

Apple tends to be the province of private schools. Know that schools cannot force you to buy one operating system over another. The Apple range starts with the lowest cost 13″ MacBook Air at about $1500, and a 13″ MacBook Pro is $1900 (both 2020 models). A 14″ MacBook Pro 2021 starts at around $3000.

At home

The computer’s life does not finish at school, and kids will invariably use them for many more hours at home for both work and play.

First, you need internet access.

Typical NBN plans start from $69 (25/10Mbps) unlimited data, but if you have multiple users, you may need to step up to 50/20 ($79) or 100/20 ($99).

A monitor

Make sure you have a decent 27″ or larger 1920 x 1080, 16:9 monitor (HDMI connection) – Prices start from under $300.

There is a lot to a good keyboard and mouse

A proper typist’s mechanical keyboard with injection moulded letters and keys with a decent throw – (not laptop membrane chiclet-style). Why mechanical? These have a 5mm or more throw, haptic feedback, making it easier and faster for students to type long assignments. GTEK has a 104 key Replicator mechanical keyboard for <$100, and Logitech has a G512 Carbon for $129. Just make sure you buy mechanical, and you don’t need bling flashing lights.

A classic two-button mouse starts from under $10 (cabled and optical), and wireless (USB-A dongle) are not much more. Bluetooth mice begin around $50. Don’t buy sculptured or odd-shaped mice.

Don’t forget the desk, chair, lighting

The desk needs at least 1200 (wide) x 600mm (deep) and 800mm (high), and it is nice if it has an L-shaped return or a three-draw filing cabinet for more desk space for that all-important printer.

A proper ergonomic typist’s chair with good back support starts at $200 – don’t get ones with armrests. Do not buy a cheap dining chair – your child’s posture and back are at stake.

Task lighting (over the desk) is better than glary room lighting. BenQ has a perfect ScreenBar   ($159). If you want to spoil them, the Dyson LightCycle ($799) is superb. If you don’t have the cash to splash, Mercator has some good LED Task Lamps at <$100.

Yes, you need a printer

A printer is now more the on-and-off-ramp to the internet, so it should have an auto-document feed (not a flatbed) scanner (called an MFP or Multi-function printer). These days, students don’t print many pages (most work uses email), so the argument for spending more to get a more economical ink-tank printer is pretty irrelevant. You can get an MFP, all-in-one, single cartridge tricolour from about $80 but beware; the ink costs are horrific – between 20-40 cents per colour page. Economical refillable ink tank printers start around $450 from Brother (InkVestment), Canon (MagaTank), Epson (EcoTank), and HP (Smart Tank) can reduce print costs to <1 cent mono and <10 cents colour.

Now one other trick. The Dynabook E10/Tecra 40/50 and Microsoft Surface Pro 9/Go 3 have USB-C ports that support upstream charging – not just a heavy ‘charging brick’. Get a lightweight 65W (or more) USB-C GaN fast charger to go in the backpack and leave the brock at home.

Hardship – conquer the digital divide

If your child requires a laptop for school and you can’t afford one, most schools have hardship assistance via rentals or even providing low-cost or free used laptops. Some organisations offer no or low-interest loans under the NILS scheme

Cybershack view – The best back-to-school laptops 2022 is one you can afford

If you can’t spend $600+ on a year 5-7 laptop or $1000-2000 for years 8-12, look for low-cost Windows laptops running older Intel Celeron or Pentium or AMD 3-series and Ryzen 5 processors starting from $500 to $1000. Look for the best keyboard (definitely no decal letters), 4/128GB, and a 1920×1080 screen. But it is always best to buy business-grade as these should last the distance.

Of course, the computer is just the start as you have seen, and you can easily spend twice that to set things up properly. We hope you found our Simple tips for the best back-to-school laptops 2022 comprehensive and informative.