School closures means more children will need to keep up with schoolwork – or simply want entertainment – at home. Find out how to get them set up without breaking the bank.
If a home computer is suddenly unable to meet the demands of your family, you might have to consider buying a laptop for the kids a little earlier than you expected so they can stay up to speed with classwork from home. We run you through you what you should consider before making a purchase, from basic, ultra-cheap laptops for the younger child, to what you should consider for older children with specific computing needs.
You can keep up to date on our latest coverage over on our coronavirus advice hub.
Basic laptops for a young child
If your child only needs a laptop for filling in homework documents, you can pretty much spend as little as you’d like. That’s not to say you should completely ignore our reviews, but it does mean you can be a little more flexible. Few laptops at this price point excel in our tests, but it’s true that you can spend as little as £150 on a new budget laptop that should meet a child’s basic needs.
That said, you should aim to buy a laptop that’s not too old, because old cheap laptops were slow when they launched and may feel even slower today, as programs and the web have become more demanding for older computers.
Here are the minimum specs to look for if you’re looking to buy for a younger child with a budget of less than £200.
- Windows 10 S or ChromeOS
- Intel Celeron or Pentium
- 4GB Ram
- 64GB of storage (Windows) or 32GB of storage (ChromeOS)
- 11-inch screen (to make it easy and safe to carry around)
And here’s what to avoid
- Intel Atom, old Intel Celeron (look out for model number starting with N3, such as N3060, as these are old and slow)
- 2GB Ram
- 16GB storage
- Big and heavy laptops
Opting for Windows 10 S means your computer will be locked to only install apps from the Microsoft Store. This means there is much less chance of your child accidentally downloading an app that’s actually a virus or full of spam. You can also set up their Microsoft account to be a child account of your own, so you can limit what they are allowed to do with the laptop. Chromebooks are also worth a look, and in fact your child may already use one at school as these are popular among educational institutions. Read our guide to Chromebooks for more.
While opting for a big brand may seem like a cop-out, we’d recommend sticking to models sold by trusted high-street retailers as you can more easily guarantee that they’re new, have a valid warranty and have a dedicated customer support service via the manufacturer’s website. Buying a no-name brand from Amazon, for example, means you may get little or no support. Some brands don’t even have websites, making them impossible to contact.
Three ultra-cheap laptops to consider
Here are three laptops to whet your appetite. Click through to the reviews to find more information. Keep in mind that availability and pricing will be particularly volatile at the moment.
HP Stream 11, £150-200
There are various HP Streams available, but opt for one with any of the specifications above and you should be fairly safe. Read our review of the HP Stream 11-ak for more information.
Lenovo IdeaPad S130, £199
Another dinky laptop from a trusted brand. The S130 has an Intel Celeron N4000 processor so should be fast enough for the basics, although it only has 32GB of storage, which may not be enough. Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad S130 review for the details.
Acer Chromebook CB311, £180
This Chromebook From Acer won’t set the world alight but if it’s just very basic web browsing and document work you need, it should fit the bill. Read our full Acer Chromebook CB311 review.
Our guide on the best cheap laptops for under £500 also covers models for under £300, and £200.
More powerful laptops for older children
If you have a child that is going to spend more time browsing the web and perhaps even playing basic games such as Minecraft, it would pay to invest in something a little more powerful than the devices above. Spend around £300 and you’ll get yourself something that should be fast enough for light web browsing and working on documents. To play Minecraft, you need something with a relatively recent Intel Celeron processor – the specifications of this Hypa Minecraft laptop at Argos are a good place to start.
If your child is going to secondary school, consider spending up to £500 on a laptop with at least an Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processor and 4GB of Ram. This will give them enough to be able to have several programs open and lots of web browser tabs. It will also play very basic games, although if they’re into more serious gaming you might consider instead
Two cheap laptops to consider
Acer Aspire 5 A514-52, £380
This laptop packs a Core i3 processor and enough Ram and storage to serve most needs. It’ will also definitely play Minecraft, which might me more important than its ability to do homework. Read our full Acer Aspire 5 A514-52 review.
Acer Swift 1 SF114-32, £479
This thin and light laptop should be ideal for homework and the occasional game. Handily, it’s also reasonably good-looking and won’t take up too much space. Read our full Acer Swift 1 SF114-32 review.
Where to buy a good cheap laptop
Retailers are struggling to meet demands for laptops at the moment as so many people have suddenly found themselves home-bound with children who would normally be at school. As such, prices have risen and delivery times are getting longer.
Continue to check high street retailers such as Argos, John Lewis and Currys PC World, which may offer a click and collect service if you can’t get home delivery. But also consider the bigger online brands such as Ebuyer and Laptops Direct. You don’t necessarily have to avoid Amazon, either, but just be sure what you’re buying is from a legitimate seller and is made by a brand you trust.
For more help and advice, read our guide on how to buy the best laptop.