The last week of January marks the first week that kids have of school, and that means it’s time to start thinking of computers to buy for the kids.

In this quick round-up, we’re looking at tablets and computers, as well as tackling that software angle, because you’re going to need some of that to go with it.

That said, before buying we recommend checking with your school on what sort of applications and software the kids will need to install, because you wouldn’t want to buy something inappropriate and end up spending more than you’d have to in the first place.

Tiny tablets

Tablets are getting very cheap, and due to the low cost and size, provide an option for people without a big backpack (or the muscles to carry one) a way of bringing a computer with them.

Amicroe, Laser, Pendo, Polaroid cheap tablets

Price: $49-99

If the kids just need something — anything really — to get them through the day for typing, you’ll find Android tablets in this whole $50-100 space from pretty much every retailer. We haven’t played with them for very long, but don’t expect these to be amazing, falling in the “you get what you pay for” category of the market, all with versions of Android that may or may not be totally up to date.

They’ll work, yes, but we’re not sure for how long, or how reliably, but if all you have is $50 to spend, well, you’ll find something.

Pendo Pad 8

Price: $199

Easily one of the most budget friendly tablets out there, we’ve seen this one for less than its recommended price, putting a full Windows 8 tablet in reach of, well, anyone.

That said, Pendo’s 8 inch Windows tablet is a little bit of you get what you pay for, with some occasional performance hiccups and very little storage, but it does come with microUSB charging (like phones), a decent screen, and a copy of Office 365.

Read our review…

HP Stream 8

Price: $229

HP’s take on the 8 inch Windows tablet space offers a little more space than the Pendo Pad, and a lot more performance with a slightly better screen. If the kids need Windows and only want a tablet, this is worth a look.

Read our review…

Apple iPad Mini 7.9

Price: $299

It’s hard to believe you can pick up an iPad for under $300, but here we are with the iPad Mini, a 7.9 inch version of the iPad that is small, stylish, and still made with a combination of metal and glass.

We’d check with a school on if an iPad is sufficient, but if there are no special Windows- or Mac-only apps that you need to install, this is a good option for people who like taking their work with them in a lightweight and good looking machine.

Read more about the iPad Mini…

 

Next up are laptops, because if you need to work, you’re going to need a half decent keyboard, and that’s something a laptop will surely deliver.

Light laptops

Tablets are great, but what if you need something with a larger screen and a keyboard for typing?

For that, you need to turn to a laptop, and these are much smaller, lighter, and less expensive than they ever have been.

HP Stream 11

Price: $299

One of the more unique looking computers this year, the HP Stream 11 offers a matte screen, a decent build managing 1.28 kilograms, and a style that makes the computer look less like another beige or black box and more like something your kids will want to hold. An excellent keyboard helps this computer, making it one of those machines the kids will find comfortable to type on.

Read our review…

Asus X205TA

Price: $329

The Asus equivalent to the Stream 11 offers similar technology and a glossy screen, but manages to cut the weight down in ways few laptops can. Yes, this is one laptop that actually hits under one kilogram, fetching 980 grams and making it an easy option for the little ones who need a keyboard and don’t care that they won’t be touching the screen.

Read our review…

Acer C720 Chromebook

Price: $399

We’re not sure how many schools won’t have any required software for the kids to install, but if the kids don’t need much to work with — much more than a web browser, anyway — Acer’s Chromebook will offer a stable web browser that can’t really get viruses and includes a free office application that is always backing itself up.

Read our review…

Dell Inspiron 11 3000

Price: $599

Take the specs from most of the machines here and add a touchscreen, because that’s pretty much what Dell is offering in the Inspiron 11 3000, an 11 inch computer that packs in a 500GB hard drive and Windows 8, with a hinge that can turn the Dell into a tablet, albeit one that weights 1.39 kilograms.

A little more oomph

Kids aren’t the only ones that’ll need a computer this year, and if it’s time to get an upgrade for the high school intending to tackle the world’s problems in computing, game development, graphic arts, fashion, or anything else that requires more than just a word processor, this computers will help.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Price: from $979

Microsoft’s take on the tablet has always grabbed attention, and with the Surface 3, we think Microsoft has practically nailed the way things should be when it comes to a full blown content creation and content consumption computer. Paired with the keyboard cover, the Surface 3 is a solid option for students who need to get school work done with a Windows computer, and yet don’t want a massive machine to take with them.

Read our review…

Apple MacBook Pro 13 with Retina

Price: from $1599

Thin and light, Apple’s 13 inch MacBook Pro is due for an upgrade this year, but it’s still powering on with 128GB solid-state storage, up to nine hours of battery life, and enough grunt to let you run not just Mac, but also Windows too if you need to.

Read our review (based on the 15 inch model)…

HP Omen 15

Price: from $2199

Made for gaming and applications that need a massive amount of grunt, HP’s 15 inch Omen packs in the specs to a 15 inch computer that won’t push the backs of people, coming in at just 2.28 kilograms, which is light when you’re talking about 15 inch gaming computers.

Read our review…

Once you’ve picked your computer, you’ll need some software. Some schools might cater for that, but not all, so what do you do? Read on to find out.

Software solutions

Software is one of those things you won’t be able to live without, or your kids won’t anyway, and so to determine what you need, we’d approach your school and find out from them.

Get your kids to ask their teachers what they’ll need, or contact the school yourself as an interested parent. In some schools, you may even find the bodies that run the schools already have licenses for various applications, with some schools providing free licenses to major software packages to their students.

Some of these can even be found online with web services able to tell you if a state school body is included in various discounted online software systems, such as with “OnTheHub”, a service used by several state education departments, including the NSW education system, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania.

 

The Microsoft software on offer from OnTheHub in NSW.

Even if your school doesn’t provide a free license or heavily discounted software, you should be able to find it from various software companies.

For instance, while some computers arrive with a free one-year license of Microsoft’s Office 365 — such as the aforementioned HP Stream 11, Asus X205TA, and the Pendo Pad 8 computers — students of all sorts can find a four year license of Office 365 available for $99 from Microsoft’s online store, as part of Office 365 University edition, with this version working on both Mac and Windows PCs.

Microsoft’s Office isn’t even technically a requirement, as you can find a free office productivity application in the form of OpenOffice, as well as with Google’s online Drive which provides free and online versions of a document writing application, spreadsheet editing, and even slide presentations. As these are different from Microsoft’s Office program, there may be some formatting differences, though these are often minimal.

Microsoft also provides a system for young programmers and developers called “DreamSpark” which offers up free installations of its Visual Studio development environments for creating applications and games, meaning this stuff gets reduced from its often thousand dollar price to something a little easier and closer to, well, free.

Adobe’s suite of applications will likely be another necessity, but if you don’t qualify for the discount apps found via the OnTheHub system and your school hasn’t signed up to anything, you may be a little concerned over the cost of admission.

Previously, Adobe’s applications could be found with discounted academic or educational pricing since it was originally selling software in boxes with discs. These days, though, that is mostly no longer the case, with most of Adobe’s software pushed out through its online network, the Creative Cloud.

Fortunately, it does cut prices for students who need applications like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Premiere, After Effects, and Audition, with access to the Creative Cloud discounted for students.

As such, in Australia, Adobe makes its entire Creative Cloud available for $15 per month or $180 for the year if you’re at a primary or secondary school, as well as at university, with a photographic plan with Photoshop and Lightroom available for either $10 per month or $120 per year.

Parallels Access is another possibility that could help out, as it provides a way of letting anyone — students included — access their home computers using only their phones and tablets.

At home, the computer is left on with a Parallels client installed, with a phone or tablet logging on remotely and able to access all the files and applications on that computer from afar, making it a possibility if the home computer is a desktop and the kids can only bring a phone or tablet with them.

In Australia, Parallels Access costs $20 per year.

The one final piece of software you definitely need is internet security, because no computer should be going online without it.

It’s not just a matter of antivirus versus internet security, or even Mac or Windows; if you own a computer or a tablet (and it’s not based on Google Chrome), you need security, full stop.

So what do you get?

While there are loads of choices out there, and we’re gradually going through all of them, our best bets for families with a few students are solutions that cater to multiple devices, meaning you can have one account that installs to several devices. It’s worth noting that all of these are subscription based, meaning you’ll have to pay yearly, so just be aware of that.

Symantec Norton 360 Multi-device

Price: $100 for 1 year and 3 devices; $130 for 1 year and 5 devices;

It’s hard to go past Norton as one of the best security solutions out there, and its multi-device solution of Norton 360 includes antivirus, internet security, parental controls, and insights into the possibilities of scams when you’re on Facebook or web searching, plus it can be installed on Android phones, too.

McAfee LiveSafe

Price: $130 for 1 year and unlimited devices;

McAfee’s idea of a multi-device security program counts as many devices as you have, catering for both computers, tablets, and smartphones, while bringing a password manager, some web safety technology, and a dose of cloud storage to the table.

Kaspersky Internet Security Multi-Device

Price: $90 for 1 year and 3 devices; $130 for 1 year and 5 devices; $300 for 1 year and 10 devices;

Kaspersky’s security application has always been one of the strongest ones in our arsenal, and we’ve found it speedy in the past, so we’re keen to see some of the new inclusions, such as improvements to parental controls, anti-phishing technologies, and now security notifications based on WiFi networks, which could be very handy if computers suddenly jump on free wireless when they see it.

If for some reason you don’t end up purchasing a security solution, you do need something, so make sure to install something like AVG Free, which is available on both Mac and Windows. While this isn’t going to help with internet security, it will at least prevent some of the major security issues that viruses can bring to the table.