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School closures mean 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 talk you through you what you should consider before buying, whether you need a basic, ultra-cheap laptop for a younger child, or something for older children with specific computing needs.
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Basic laptops for a young child
If your child only needs a laptop to do their homework, you can spend as little as £150 on a new budget laptop that should meet their needs. That’s not to say you should completely ignore our reviews, as few budget laptops excel in our tests, but it does mean you can be a little more flexible.
That said, you should aim to buy a laptop that’s not too old. Cheap laptops from a few years ago were slow when they launched and may feel even slower today, as programs and the web have become more demanding for older computers.
What to look for in a cheap laptop
Here are the minimum specs to look for if you’re looking to buy for a younger child and have 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 (it’s just not enough)
- 16GB storage (this will get full up very fast)
- Big and heavy laptops that a child will struggle to carry
If you opt for Windows 10 S, your computer will only be able to install apps from the Microsoft Store. This means there’s 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’re allowed to do with the laptop.
Chromebooks are also worth a look. In fact, your child may already use one at school, as these are popular among educational institutions. Read our guide to Chromebooks for more.
We’d also recommend sticking to models from well-known brands, sold by trusted retailers, as you can more easily guarantee that they’re new and have a valid warranty. You’ll also have access to 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.
Two ultra-cheap laptops to consider
Here’s a pair of laptops to whet your appetite. Click through to the reviews for more information. Keep in mind that availability and pricing may be particularly volatile at the moment, because of increased demand.
Asus E203, £179.99
The E203 has been around for ages but is still enduringly popular and, more importantly, still in stock in major high street retailers.
Read our full review of the Asus E203.
Asus C223, £199.99
Another Asus, but this one comes running ChromeOS. If your child uses Chromebooks at school, they may be more familiar with this than a Windows laptop. Like the Asus E203, it won’t be a speed demon, but more than adequate for basic school work.
Got a slightly bigger budget? Take a look at our guide on the best cheap laptops for under £500, which also highlights great models for less than £250 and less than £300.
More powerful laptops for older children
If you have a child who’s going to spend 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 a machine 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.
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.
Two affordable, more powerful laptops to consider
Acer Aspire 5 A514-52, £449
This laptop has a Core i3 processor and enough Ram and storage to serve most needs. It will also definitely play Minecraft, which might be more important than its ability to do homework – as far as your child is concerned, at least.
Acer Swift 1 SF114-32, £499
This thin and light laptop should be ideal for homework and the occasional game. It’s also reasonably good looking and won’t take up too much space.
Where to buy a good, cheap laptop
Some retailers may be 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. While non-essential shops are currently closed for browsing and in-store purchases, shops are permitted to offer collection-only services for purchases made online.
You could 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. When shopping on Amazon, also check whether the item you’re buying is used or new, so you know what you’re dealing with.
Find out more about how to get a great deal on a laptop whatever your budget, plus some of the best discounts we’ve seen on decent devices, in our guide to the best laptop deals.
Free laptops for children
If your child’s face-to-face education has been disrupted as a result of COVID-19 then, depending on your circumstances, you may qualify for a free tablet, laptop and broadband connection.
The gov.uk website has more information on this, but the main thing to know is that you will need to discuss your options with your school, academy trust or local authority. Read more information on the government website.
For more help and advice, read our guide on how to buy the best laptop.