Bring your own device: how to choose a laptop or tablet for school
Our advice on buying a BYOD computer for your child – whether they’re at primary, intermediate or high school.
Devices in the classroom help kids learn better, including developing digital skills to unlock more career options. But they’re not cheap, so parents need to buy smart.
What is a BYOD?
BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Device. In schools, that means parents and guardians provide a digital device for their child to take to class. With BYOD policies now stretching further back to reach primary-age kids, more parents than ever are being encouraged to buy laptops and tablets.
While schools aren’t allowed to force parents to buy devices, it’ll usually make the child’s life a lot easier. If a digital device is required for learning, then the school must provide devices. But if you can afford to buy your child a BYOD device, it’s a good idea, as they not only help in class, but can also make homework and self-directed study in the home more accessible.
The four pillars of BYOD
We’ve identified four key qualities to consider in a BYOD device. It’s near-impossible to tick all four boxes, so pick which are most important for your child depending on their age, the work they’ll be doing, and how clumsy they are.
Generally, the younger the child, the more you need to think about how resilient their device is. Even if your child is an angel, young classmates are more likely to get rough. Knocks are inevitable. A sturdy device is made of quality materials, has a bit of weight to it, and for bonus points will be splash resistant. For a laptop, check that the hinge looks like it’ll survive repeated opening and closing.
If your kid needs to carry their device a lot, whether it’s to or from school or between classrooms, something small and light is a plus. A 2kg laptop is a real burden to add to a backpack. Of course, a small device means a small display. For example, a tablet with an 8-inch diagonal screen risks being too tiny for some educational apps.
Not to be underestimated, the biggest worry on a parent’s mind is usually cost. The older a child, the more you should consider spending. For primary school, your upper limit should be around $600, while a 16-year-old would make better use of a $1500 laptop, for example.
At a minimum, any device needs to be able to browse the internet and use basic apps. Older teens might have more resource-intensive computing needs. They can start to struggle if their devices are old, cheap and lightweight. Unless you spend big bucks, increased processing power tends to come with shorter battery life, so make sure you buy one that can last a six-hour day (it’s a hassle to have to plug your laptop in at school).
What devices should you buy your child?
Most schools will provide a list of guidelines or compatible BYOD models along with other school requirements such as uniform and stationery. Every school’s requirements will be different.
Tablets $-$$ – these are a good beginner device and help kickstart electronic learning, but they can be limited in performance. You can add a physical keyboard to them as part of a case.
Chromebooks $$-$$$ – these laptops run the light Chrome OS (operating system) and have a physical keyboard that makes typing assignments easy. They’re inexpensive, but they need to be operated online due to limited storage (hard drive).
Windows laptops $$$-$$$$ – these are jack-of-all-trades devices with good versatility, processing power and plenty of software options. They are great for both online and offline learning.
Apple MacBooks $$$$+ – good for everyday learning and optimised for more graphical work such as art, graphic design and video editing, but they are expensive!
Primary-aged children are rarely required to bring devices to class, but it is an optional extra for some schools. The school will have devices on hand – for students that forget their laptops at home, but also for those that don’t have one.
Kids this age don’t need anything powerful – instead, durability is key.
Often, tablets are preferred to laptops at this age bracket, because they’re smaller, lighter, and generally easier to use. Don’t be tempted to splash out for a new iPad Air – a second-hand iPad will be fine, or you could find a cheap $200 tablet from the likes of Samsung or Lenovo. For tablets, if a keyboard is needed, then an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard could be an option.
If your school asks you to bring a laptop, a ChromeBook or laptop running Microsoft’s new Windows 11 SE will do the job. Look to spend under $600. It might be slow at times, but your kid has nothing but time.
If your kid is about to start Year 7 or 8 (intermediate), you might be looking to buy a device for the first time.
Students this age are in a period of change – durability is still important because the schoolbag is a dangerous place, but portability becomes important too (especially if your child finds their own way home after school). They need a device that can be used for writing assignments, so it needs a physical keyboard (preferably attached) and decent memory (RAM). A Chromebook or Windows laptop are usually a good option. But you still don’t want to spend too much, so aim for around $1000.
As high school students get more responsible (in theory, at least) and some subjects like Music and Design & Visual Communication start to demand more processing power, a higher-powered laptop is your best option from around Year 11 – especially if there are younger siblings to pass the first device on to. Try to avoid the cheaper models with less storage space (RAM and hard drive) and battery life.
Chromebooks may struggle to keep up with demands at this age. If your kids are interested in graphic design or art, then consider a MacBook. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fans would be better served with a Windows laptop. Just watch out for your kids shirking their studies in favour of the new games their upgraded laptop can run.
Similar principles apply if you’re preparing for your first year of uni – or your uni-bound child is lucky enough to have you buying them a laptop – but your options open right up. Check out our laptops buying guide and full test results to get an idea of what to look for.
10” screen or larger. The older your child gets, the bigger screen they will need.
For Windows laptops and MacBooks, look for a minimum built-in storage of 64GB.
Pay attention if there’s a required operating system (OS). If the school relies on particular software and your child has the wrong OS, the software won’t work.
Invest in device security software to protect it from viruses and vulnerabilities (schools often require you buy this), you can see our reviews here.
One device won’t last your child through all of their school years. Try to buy a device that will suit them for the next 2-4 years of school.
The flexibility of convertible laptops (that can be used as a tablet or laptop) can be tempting, but they’re often more expensive and touchscreens are easy to break.
Look for a model that was released in the last 5 years. The older a model is, the more software and firmware issues it’s likely to have.
Chromebooks are great devices, but they need a reliable internet connection (usually WiFi) as they have very limited storage space. If you don’t have a great internet connection at home, then consider another device.
You don’t have to buy a “new” device. Ex-lease, refurbished or display models mean you can buy a good device and keep the price down. And remember, if you buy through a store (online or brick and mortar), you’re still covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) if anything goes wrong.
Say no to that warranty. The CGA usually provides more coverage than a warranty and doesn’t cost you a cent.
Try to avoid buying second hand from individuals as you aren’t covered by the CGA if something does go wrong, and because digital devices are a commonly stolen item you don’t know if you’re buying stolen goods.
You will likely need a pair of headphones to go with the digital device, but keep in mind that Bluetooth models may not be the best option in a crowded classroom, and wired headphones are harder to lose. See our review of headphones here.
Where to buy a BYOD device
Many schools will work with retailers or suppliers on a purchase deal, sometimes at a discount. Check your school’s website for a link to the supplier or retailer. While a list makes your decision easier, don’t feel you need to follow it too strictly – we don’t think it’s reasonable for a school to insist you buy a new laptop just because your current one isn’t on the list.
Some retailers, such as PB Tech, even provide a tool on their website for you to see compatible models based on which school your child attends. But a caveat is that not all schools have approved the device lists. If in doubt, check your school’s website or contact them and ask.
We suggest comparing prices for the same device at other retailers to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Keep an eye on price monitoring websites such as priceme.co.nz and pricespy.co.nz to see what your chosen device costs elsewhere. You can use their price history graphs to see if a product has been on sale recently (and therefore might be again soon), and what’s a reasonable price to pay.
Tips to protect your device
Buy a screen protector, especially for touchscreen devices
get a case and/or carry bag for it (look for shock absorbing ones)
install device security
have a talk with your child about caring for devices, and how to avoid dropping and knocking them about
check if your child’s school has secure storage for BYOD devices in the classroom
take photos of the device, record the serial number and label it with your child’s name, in case it’s stolen.
Your rights and responsibilities with BYOD devices
While you are purchasing a device for use at school, you own the device, not the school. Schools likely won’t take responsibility for lost or damaged BYOD devices, so check if your home contents insurance covers it instead — if not, consider a separate policy.
While using the school’s ICT systems (WiFi, internet, etc) your child needs to follow their guidelines, such as what they can and can’t access on the internet while at school. Some schools may provide ICT support (Information and Communication Technologies) but be prepared to troubleshoot issues like updates yourself.
BYOD funding support and charities
If you can’t afford a new BYOD device for the start of the school year, don’t panic! There are likely to be payment plan or lease to own options available through the school. There are also charities like DIGITAUTUA that are aiming to bridge the digital divide and help provide BYOD devices.
Beware of taking out loans to buy BYOD devices, and especially avoid using short term or “pay day” lenders. Interest rates mean you could end up paying for a device your child has outgrown the use of.