As the school year starts up again, so does the unenviable task of choosing a decent laptop. Making the decision painstakingly difficult are various factors, capped off by the near-limitless options to choose from. At the more premium end of the scale, Apple’s MacBook Air, which now comes in 15 inches, presents as a lightweight and powerful machine. However, is it suitable for school students?
When choosing a school laptop, you need to weigh up many different things. Price is a major consideration, as is durability. What good is any device that can’t hold up to the rigours of the schoolyard? Plus, it needs to be powerful enough to handle different subjects, some of which need more computing grunt than others.
Before you commit to buying anything, first check with your child’s school. Some schools provide loan devices, while others adopt a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy. In the latter case, your school will provide a list of requirements that a laptop should meet so it works nicely with other school technology.
As for whether to choose a Windows laptop or a MacBook, there are no explicitly wrong choices. Generally speaking, Windows devices are more affordable. MacBooks, on the other hand, cost more but come with a range of other benefits.
Important criteria for school laptops
Contrary to many popular sayings, size does matter – when it comes to laptops. Your child needs to carry it to and from school and in between classes, so avoid anything too heavy. Some schools recommend you get a device that weighs less than 2kg. Complicating matters, you also want a decent-sized screen that’s easy to read. Anywhere between 13-15 inches is a good sweet spot to aim for.
Next, you want to find a laptop that’s powerful enough to handle day-to-day use. If your child only needs something capable of basic word processing, emails, and web browsing, you can get away with a lower-powered machine. Conversely, more processing power is needed for any subjects involving photo and video editing, digital art, music production and so on.
While a good CPU is not the be-all and end-all, it certainly helps. A recent Intel i3 or AMD equivalent CPU is fine for basic tasks but struggles under more complex loads. Since Apple moved to its M-series chips, starting with the M1, its laptops have combined impressive performance with class-leading battery life.
Many schools recommend 8GB of RAM or memory, which many laptops include as standard. If your budget stretches far enough, 16GB will help future-proof the device, lasting through high school and beyond as your child’s computing needs increase.
As for storage, a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) should be the bare minimum. Much of modern schooling and work relies on cloud storage, like Microsoft OneDrive, so drive space isn’t as important as it perhaps once was. But you’ll still want more storage space for local files, particularly for photo and video projects that take up more space. 256GB is a safer bet, while 512GB offers more breathing room. Worst case scenario, you can get an external storage drive if the laptop fills up.
Another important factor for any school laptop is connectivity. Check how many ports a device comes with, and what wireless technology it supports. Aim for at least Wi-Fi 5 support, which supports dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) technology. An HDMI port makes it easy to connect to external displays like TVs (although this can also be done wirelessly), while you’ll want multiple USB ports to connect other devices such as storage drives, headphones, etc.
Of course, this all falls in a heap without a battery capable of lasting the school day. Anything with six hours or more is good enough, but laptops with longer-lasting batteries will cause fewer frustrations in the long run.
Why consider a MacBook Air?
There are many good laptops suited to students, across all brands. For those who can afford it, Apple’s MacBook Air stands out for a few reasons: its premium build quality, a good balance between power and portability, and excellent battery life.
After using a 15-inch M2 MacBook Air as my main work laptop lately, it’s an easy device to recommend. While it’s not as powerful as a MacBook Pro, its versatility is impressive. My work involves a combination of word processing, countless browser tabs, and occasional photo editing – all of which the MacBook Air handles without trouble. Even when editing podcast audio and video, it gets the job done without fanfare.
Often, I don’t need to plug the laptop in for charging until well into the next day. Plus, it’s extremely light and fits easily into a backpack. My only complaint is that the Midnight finish is an absolute fingerprint magnet. I’m a sweaty guy, so the laptop is covered in smudges after not much use. It’s nothing a microfibre cloth can’t solve – you’ll just need to wipe it regularly. Notably, it doesn’t have an HDMI port, although two Thunderbolt 4 ports let you connect to a docking station instead.
One of my colleagues mentioned that an entry-level MacBook Air has lasted far longer for her kid than any laptop before it. Some cheaper laptops are made from flimsy materials, with the hinges giving out before the school year ends. Not so with the Air. Its aluminium chassis has withstood the kid’s school life with both the hinges and screen intact.
What about the price?
Look, any Apple device costs more than its competitors. That does put it out of reach of many families hamstrung by the plethora of other school expenses. Despite its up-front cost, a MacBook Air delivers on its investment.
Apple, like other companies, offers education pricing to students, teachers and staff to help make its hardware more affordable. For example, the 13-inch M1 MacBook Air starts at $1,349, while the M2 model begins at $1,649. With the education discount, the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air costs $1,999 for the base configuration instead of $2,199.
What you need to look out for, however, is that the cost quickly increases when choosing a more powerful configuration. The 15-inch M2 MacBook Air I tested costs a total of $2,799, including a memory upgrade of 8GB up to 16GB, and a 512GB SSD. With the education discount, it’s $2,569, which is still a fair bit of money for a school laptop.
In return, you do get longevity. It’s an excellent and durable device with one of the longest-lasting batteries I’ve encountered in a laptop. You can absolutely get a laptop for less than $1,000 or even under $500. While some devices may not last the distance, a MacBook Air is a long-term investment that will serve your child through school, university, and even into the workplace.
MacBook Air M2 15″ specifications
15.3-inch Liquid Retina display 2880 x 1864 resolution
Apple M2 8-core CPU 10-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine
16GB (up to 24GB)
512GB (up to 2TB)
$2,799 (with the above configuration) (from $1,999 with education discount)
Without a doubt, a MacBook Air is an excellent laptop for students, whether they’re at school or university. It’s even a great device for work. Best suited to those studying any form of media or creative industry, a MacBook Air is a versatile laptop for school and beyond.
Its base configuration, even with the older M1 model, is more than enough for everyday schoolwork. With more powerful internals, the MacBook Air does get a bit pricey, but its longevity increases accordingly.