Back-to-school shopping is the second biggest spending spree of the year, according to the National Retail Federation. And these days, students need a lot more than pencils and paper. If a new computer is on your must-have list, Consumer Reports has suggestions for kids of all ages.
A good choice for first through fifth graders is a low-cost Chromebook. They are lightweight laptops that run Google's Chrome operating system. For younger kids, parents can set up supervised user accounts that restrict content on the web. One Chromebook to look for is the Acer C720-2848. It costs just $200 and it lasts more than 10 hours on a charge.
Serious homework demands a serious computer. For high school and middle school students, Consumer Reports says the $600 Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch is a good choice. It's a lot of laptop for the money. It's got a powerful processor, a decent-sized hard drive, and it was a very good performer in our lab tests. Another plus is at about four pounds, it won't weigh down a backpack.
College-bound students have loads of gear! But for taking notes, is a laptop or a tablet a better choice? Consumer Reports says Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 offers the best of both. It costs $1,000, plus $130 more for the keyboard accessory. It's technically a tablet, but it's got a full Windows operating system. It allows you to switch back and forth between a touchscreen-friendly mode, and one that's more like a conventional mouse and keyboard. And for creative thinkers, the Surface Pro 3 comes with a pen that lets you write directly on the screen.
For college students majoring in the visual arts, Consumer Reports has another recommendation, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. At $1,300 it's pricey, but it has a stunning display and a long-lasting battery and Apple is now offering a discount for students. You may also be able to get student discounts from other manufacturers and online retailers.