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8 best laptops for kids

Whether it's to boost homework productivity or to watch their favourite films on, here’s our top pick

Operating system, screen size, and applications are all things to consider ( iStock )

When you're buying a laptop for a child, you need to know what it'll be used for. This is important when choosing for adult use, too, of course, but becomes critical for kids. Is it an educational tool only? Are you happy for them to use it for gaming or watching movies?

Laptops come with different operating systems: Windows, Chrome OS and macOS. Windows is the most common, working with the most applications, Chrome laptops are usually the cheapest but have an operating system with fewer applications – and work best when connected to the internet. A Chromebook uses Google's own laptop operating system which uses programs like Google Docs but with some Android apps as well.

Windows is sometimes available “in S Mode” which means it is limited to apps available in the Microsoft Store, though you can change out of this if you wish for no charge. Note, though, that once out, where every Windows application is available, you can't go back. Finally, Apple's macOS is arguably the most intuitive to use, but Apple's hardware is not cheap (and lacks the touchscreen found on many laptops here).

It's important to check with your child's school to make sure there's no requirement for particular programs or operating systems. Screen size is the most immediate way to interact with a laptop, and if your child is planning on watching movies as well as doing homework, then a bigger screen is better.

There is usually a triangle of trade-offs: weight, power and price. One that's super-light will rarely be cheap, one that's cheap probably won't be powerful or light. There's a balance to be found: a slow computer can be frustrating to use, while a heavy laptop can be annoying to lug around.

None the less, there are bargains to be had, especially if a Chromebook is an option. Note that some of the companies here, like Apple and Microsoft for instance, offer lower prices to educational organisations, students or parents.

Microsoft Surface Go: £379, Microsoft

Screen size: 10.6in
Storage: 64GB​
Operating system: Windows 10 in S Mode

Microsoft's Surface series of 2-in-1 convertibles (that work as hybrids of laptops and tablets) are extremely well made and powerful. This latest machine is pricier than some here but is extremely good value and very adaptable. That's because it works brilliantly as a tablet. It even has a kickstand that folds out to hold the tablet in different angles for typing or watching video, for instance.

It's lightweight and powerful, has very good battery life and more storage than most here. Note that you'll want to buy the Type Cover which protects the screen and includes a decent keyboard inside (£124.99). There are other useful extras available, such as a mouse and stylus.

Buy now

Dell Inspiron 15 3000: £349, Dell

Screen size: 15.6in
Storage: 1TB​
Operating system: Windows 10

If a big screen is a priority, this laptop is impressive, especially for the low price. What's more, it has a huge amount of storage (1TB) so it's hard to run out of space in a hurry. The storage is a hard drive rather than the flash memory found on other laptops here, which does make it a bit heavier to carry (as does the bigger screen).

The Inspiron is suited to watching movies thanks to the screen's size, vibrant colours and decent audio capabilities. Dell allows customers to configure its laptops in great detail so, for instance, you can add a DVD drive to this laptop for a little extra.

Buy now

Apple MacBook Air: From £1,199, Apple

Screen size: 13in​
Storage: 128GB​
Operating system: Apple macOS

Apple's MacBook Air broke the mould when it was first launched because it was super-light, impossibly thin and very capable. Apple has just launched a new-design model with a much better display and fingerprint sensor. If you want your kids to use Apple's elegant operating system, this is the most affordable Apple laptop available.

Although the new model starts at £1,199, the old-style MacBook Air is still available, too, see below. That's still way more than other laptops here but the quality of the all-aluminium build, advanced processor, 128GB storage, large amount of active memory and comfortable keyboard means it is actually good value.

Buy now

Lenovo IdeaPad 120S: £219.95, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 14in
Storage: 32GB​
Operating system: Windows 10

If looks matter, this laptop is stylish and attractive, not least thanks to its neat blue finish. It is arguably better looking than the price would suggest. Although the screen resolution is not high enough to make it outstanding, it's made up for by the fact that it's a very good performer with full-day battery life.

The trackpad is big, something which younger hands will enjoy as they are getting used to how computers work. Most pricier computers are moving from USB-A to the smaller USB-C connectivity. This laptop has one of those, too, which adds to its versatility.

Buy now

Dell Chromebook 11 3180: £199, Amazon

Screen size: 11.6in
Storage: 32GB​
Operating system: Chrome OS

This laptop's display is only 11.6 inches but for homework that should be fine. A spill-proof keyboard is a real bonus and gives greater peace of mind, as does the reasonably rugged build and rubberised bumper that runs along the edges and base to help it survive a fall. A narrow white bar at the top of the laptop's lid is a three-colour light which can be used in a classroom for a child to let the teacher know they need help – like a digital version of raising a hand.

The screen can open to 180 degrees so it can fold flat, to make it easy to share content with more than one person. The screen, by the way is made of Corning Gorilla Glass to make it more resilient, with extra scratch protection.

Buy now

Apple MacBook Air (2017): £788, John Lewis & Partners

Screen size: 13.3in
Storage: 128GB​
Operating system: Apple macOS

If you want your child to have the best computer available, it's probably a Mac laptop. But if the new MacBook Air above is just too pricey, last year's model is still available at a frankly outstanding price. It's still much more than other laptops here but it has enormous storage at 128GB, great if you want to hold lots of movies on board.

It's very fast, has a backlit display which is very useful in darker rooms and battery life beats pretty much every other laptop – a full 12 hours. It lacks the superbly high-resolution screen of the new MacBook Air, and there's no Touch ID fingerprint sensor, but this is a light, powerful laptop that's solidly built and a joy to use.

Buy now

HP Stream 11-y050sa: £139.97, Currys PC World

Screen size: 11.6in
Storage: 32GB​
Operating system: Windows 10

This is an exceptionally keenly priced Windows laptop, especially since the price includes a year's subscription to Office 365. It has a smallish screen that is not high-resolution, nor as bright as some on test here, which may not suit everybody, especially if watching movies is a priority.

Still, it's light and reasonably thin. It also has very good battery life, easily eight hours. The design is stylish: blue inside and out (apart from the white keyboard).

Buy now

Acer Spin 1: £229, Amazon

Screen size: 11.6in
Storage: 32GB​
Operating system: Windows 10

The Spin 1 is very flexible. Literally: the 360-degree hinge means you can use it in four different configurations, regular laptop, tablet, tent (where it stands like an inverted V) and display (screen angled back, keyboard tucked away behind). The 11.6in touch-sensitive screen is attractive and bright.

Both the keyboard and trackpad are responsive and comfortable to use. Battery life is decent enough and this is good value for a convertible PC.

Buy now

The Verdict: Laptops for kids

Screen size is important. If 11.6in is enough, the Dell Chromebook 11 3180 is a solid buy. The best laptops here, by far, are the Apple MacBook Air models, but they are also the priciest. A good balance between value, size, weight and battery life is found in the best buy, the Microsoft Surface Go.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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