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Product Reviews

Finding the best laptops for learning

Save money bymaking sure features match a student’s education level

Acer C720-2848 Chromebook

Consumer Reports

Acer C720-2848 Chromebook

Consumer Reports presents these five recommended devices to help prepare your favorite student for every stage of a modern, high-tech education.

Kindergarten: Samsung Galaxy Tab Kids, $200. Before they can use a keyboard and mouse, children easily master the touch-and-swipe logic of a tablet. This Android model comes with a protective bumper. Parents can approve the kidcentric content, such as interactive e-books and education-focused games, and set playtime limits.

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Elementary school: Acer C720-2848 Chromebook, $200. Many schools are embracing Google’s Chromebook platform, and some schools are using Chromebook laptops to deploy Common Core tests — which is a powerful argument for getting your kid started on the platform at home as well. This Acer scored highly in Consumer Reports’ lab tests. At 2.7 pounds, the 11.6-inch device is highly portable, and it delivers 10-plus hours of battery life. The Acer can be set up by parents to give children “Supervised User” accounts (a Chromebook feature) to restrict adult content on the Web.

Middle school to high school: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 14, $650. Serious homework demands a serious computer. Lenovo’s strangely flexible yet highly capable laptop has a hinge that rotates the screen 300 degrees to stand up the device like a pup tent and take better advantage of its 14-inch touchscreen. And it’s an awful lot of laptop for the money — it has a 500GB hard drive, and its fourth-generation Intel Core i5 delivers excellent performance. It also has lots of gee-whiz goodies such as facial recognition, as well as voice and gesture control. Plus, at 4.1 pounds, it’s lightweight for a laptop of this size.

College: For the graphic design major, MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display and 128GB, $1,300. Most college-bound kids can get by with the same machine they used through high school, but a higher education in the visual arts can require a bit more horsepower. With a stunning 2,560-by-1,600-pixel display, excellent processing performance, and more than 11 hours of battery life, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display is about as premium a laptop as you can get. Its price reflects that. Nevertheless, for art professionals (and soon-to-be-professionals) who run graphics-intense programs such as Adobe’s Creative Suite or Autodesk Maya, the MacBook Pro is the gold standard.

For the double major, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Core i5 processor and 128GB, $1,000. Students deciding on a new computer before departing for college are facing a dilemma: laptop or tablet? Microsoft conceived Surface as the bridge between the two types of devices. The Pro 3 is the most laptop-like Surface yet.

With a large 12-inch, 2160 x 1440-pixel touch-screen display and adjustable kickstand, it can live comfortably on a lap. The Surface Pro 3’s backlit Type Cover can magnetically prop up at an angle, which may make typing easier. Business students will appreciate that the Surface Pro 3 runs full Windows desktop productivity applications, and creative types will enjoy the pen interface that lets you draw or write directly on the screen.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at www.consumerreports.org.
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