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5 Affordable Laptops and Tablets for Back to School

posted by Andrea Smith on August 11, 2020

Going back to school looks different this year, with many schools offering remote-only or a hybrid of remote and in-classroom learning. Either way, kids will need a laptop or tablet to engage in classroom activities. Fortunately, outfitting your child with a device need not cost a fortune. We found five affordable options to fit each learner’s needs.

A versatile Chromebook: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

A versatile Chromebook: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

If your child’s school uses Google Classroom and other online apps, we recommend a Chromebook. They are easy to use, maintain, and keep secure, thanks to the streamlined Chrome OS.

Our favorite Chromebook is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. It’s a 10.1-inch, 2-in-1 device with plenty of processing power for classroom activities, cameras for Zoom classes, and a price tag of under $300. At under a pound as a tablet and about two pounds when you attach the keyboard, the Chromebook Duet can go from room to room, and easily transitions between a laptop and a tablet. Battery life is around 10 hours, so no need to stay tethered to a spot near an outlet. And, if your student needs a larger screen for multitasking, you can attach it to an external monitor.

Type: 2-in-1 tablet/laptop
Operating system: Chrome OS
Weight: 0.99 pounds tablet only, 2.03 pounds with keyboard
Display: 10.1" FHD (1920 x 1200) IPS touchscreen, 400 nits
Camera: 2 MP fixed-focus with LED indicator front camera, 8MP with auto-focus rear camera
Processor: 2.0 GHz MediaTek Helio P60T Processor (8 Cores, 8 Threads)
Storage: 128GB
Ports: USB-C (comes with USB-C to headphone adapter)
Battery life: up to 10 hours
Pen input: yes, not included
Price: $299.99 on Best Buy

A sub-$500 laptop with plenty of power: Asus VivoBook 15

A sub-$500 laptop with plenty of power: Asus VivoBook 15

If your student needs to use applications that can’t be accessed online or needs the processing power to edit photos and videos, they’ll need a Windows 10 laptop. For under $500, we like the 15.6-inch Asus VivoBook 15.

Despite its large display, the VivoBook 15 has a small footprint, thanks to an ultra-slim 5.7mm bezel, and weighs 3.53 pounds. There’s an HD camera on the top of the screen for video calls and Zoom classes, and the backlit chicklet keyboard is useful for studying late at night. There’s also a fingerprint sensor for added security.

The VivoBook is running on an AMD Ryzen 3 processor that provides plenty of power and speed, even with multiple programs open. It has an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor or TV as well as USB ports for adding accessories. At under $500 this is a well-equipped, affordable back to school laptop.

Type: Laptop
Operating system: Windows 10
Weight: 3.53 pounds
Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920x1080)
Camera: HD
Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
Storage: 128GB
Ports: 1 USB 3.1, 1 USB-C, 2 USB-USB 2.0, 1HDMI
Battery life: 37 Watt-hour battery, rated at all-day life
Pen input: No
Price: $479.99, check price on Amazon

A sub-$1,000 powerful gaming laptop: Lenovo Legion 5

A sub-$1,000 powerful gaming laptop: Lenovo Legion 5

Got a student who loves gaming? Lenovo delivers the best of both worlds in the affordable 15.6-inch Legion 5 Gaming Laptop. For schoolwork, it’s a powerful machine with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card that will make short work of editing photos and videos for presentations and running processing-intensive programs that may be required for high school or college courses. The built-in webcam has a privacy shutter for when online classwork is over, and the back-lit full-size keyboard makes it easy to use at night. At about five pounds, the Legion 5 is easy to move around the house

In addition to gaming-worthy processing power, the Legion 5 comes with a Full HD IPS display with a 120Hz refresh rate for fast-action games. Gamers will love the dedicated media keys and larger arrow keys on the backlit keyboard. Because of the thermal design of the laptop, the fans are very quiet while keeping the system cool, and once you plug in Dolby Atmos headphones, all you’ll hear is the three-dimensional sound of gameplay.

Type: Laptop
Operating system: Windows 10
Weight: 5.07 pounds
Display: 15.6-inch Full HD IPS 120Hz
Camera: HD camera
Processor: AMD Ryzen 7-4800H Octa-core, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
Storage: 512GB
Ports: 2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI,
Battery life: 4 Cell Li-Polymer 60Wh, expect 5-7 hours
Pen input: No
Price: $989 on Lenovo, check price on Amazon

A tablet for taking handwritten notes: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite

A tablet for taking handwritten notes: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 Lite is an affordable tablet for students who prefer using a pen to take notes or edit papers. The S Pen, which is included, makes it easy to edit and create right on the 10.4-inch screen. When you’re done with the S Pen, it attaches magnetically to the tablet, so you can set it down without worrying about leaving it behind.

At just about a pound, the tablet is lightweight and portable, great for moving around the house. The Exynos 9610 Octa Core processor has plenty of power for completing schoolwork in Microsoft Office or Google Classroom. It comes with either 64GB or 128GB of internal memory, which can be expanded up to 1TB with a separate microSD card. There’s a front-facing 5MP camera for video chatting and online classes and the tablet boasts up to 13 hours of battery life.

When schoolwork is over, the dual speakers with Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound transform the Tab S6 lite into a portable entertainment device for playing games and watching videos.

We recommend getting the Cover Keyboard (usually $99.99, but Samsung is bundling for just $50) to turn the tablet into a laptop and to keep the tablet from getting accidentally scratched or damaged. If you don’t need the keyboard, we like the Ztotop tri-fold folio cover with a built-in slot for the S pen and a magnetic closure to keep it all safe ($17.99, check price on Amazon).

Type: Tablet
Operating system: Android 10.0
Weight: 1.02 pounds
Display: 10.4-inch WUXGA+ (2,000 x 1,200)
Camera: 5MP f/2.0 front camera, 8MP f1.9 with autofocus rear camera
Processor: Exynos 9610 Octa Core
Storage: 64GB, can expand with microSD Card
Ports: USB-C
Battery life: 7,040mAh Li-ion, up to 13 hours
Pen input: Yes, S-Pen is included
Price: From $349.99, on sale on Samsung from $254.99, check price on Amazon

Amazon Fire HD 8

A sub-$100 tablet that’s loaded with content

If your district is incorporating remote learning, each of your kids is going to need a device of their own. Great entry-level devices are the Amazon Fire HD 8 and Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition. Starting at $89 (currently on sale on Amazon for $59.99), the Amazon Fire HD 8 is the perfect combination of features and affordability, making it hard to beat when you need an extra tablet in the house.

The Fire HD 8 has an 8-inch high def (1280 x 800) display and 32GB of internal storage with support for up to 1TB of expandable storage via a microSD card. It has 12 hours of battery life and fast USB-C charging. And, it supports Alexa Hands-Free, so kids can get simple homework help – everything a student needs to get through a day of school. And, if 8 inches is too small, the 10-inch Fire HD 10 is on sale for $99.99 (usually $149.99).

One big caveat: While many popular Android apps, like Zoom, Spotify and Instagram, are available for Fire HD tablets through the Amazon Appstore, not all Android apps will run on Fire HD tablets. Be sure to check with your school for a list of required apps and check for them in the Amazon Appstore.  

A sub-$100 tablet that’s loaded with content: Amazon FireHD 8 Kids Edition

For younger kids, there’s the FireHD 8 Kids Edition tablet, which is on sale for $89.99 (usually $139.99). The Kids Edition comes with a rugged “kid-proof” case and has Amazon FreeTime pre-installed, which locks kids into a kid-friendly set of apps, books, games, videos and music. You also get a year-long subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, which gives kids access to more than 20,000 books, apps, games and videos. Parents can filter the content according to each child’s age and set time limits or rewards based on activities. For instance, you could set it up so reading for a certain amount of time would unlock access to games or videos. Parents can also add content, including apps required for school, like Zoom.

The Kids Edition tablets are available in blue, pink and purple and come with Amazon’s two-year worry-free guarantee program – Amazon will replace the device if anything happens to it.

Type: Tablet
Operating system: fireOS (a proprietary version of Android)
Weight: 0.78 pounds
Display: HD (1280 x 800)
Camera: 2MP front camera, 2MP rear camera
Processor: Quad-core 2.0 GHz
Storage: 32GB, can expand with microSD card
Ports: USB-C 2.0
Battery life: up to 12 hours
Pen input: No
Price: From $89, on sale on Amazon from $59.99; Kids Edition: From $139, on sale on Amazon from $89.99

[Image credit: girl doing school work via BigStockPhoto, Amazon, Asus, Lenovo, Techlicious]

Andrea Smith is an award-winning technology broadcast journalist, reporter, and producer. Andrea was the Technology Producer and an on-air Technology contributor at ABC News for over two decades before becoming the Lifestyle Channel Editor at Mashable, where she explored the ways in which real people, not just geeks, began using technology in their everyday lives.


Guides & Reviews, Computers and Software, Computers & Accessories, Laptops, Tablets & eReaders, Back to School

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