Back to School Tablets: iPad vs. Laptop


By: , CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company.

As parents everywhere prepare to send sons and daughters back to school, they want to arm them with the best possible resources. For many families, computers or tech gadgets are alongside clothes, pens and paper on the list of purchases to budget for. As tablets grow in popularity, you may be wondering if your student would benefit from having an iPad or inexpensive back to school tablets like a Kindle Fire, Google Nexus or Barnes and Noble Nook in their book bag.

As I’ve explored in previous articles, tablets can play a role in our children’s education. Studies have shown that playing certain educational games can improve test scores. Access to the internet (when in range of a wireless signal) can give your student instant answers to any of her queries, or make quick work of finding ideas for a science project. Office-style programs, while limited, can even provide the ability to write reports or create presentations and email them to her teacher.

However, the overall value of a low-end tablet to pre-college level students is limited and handing your child unfettered access to the internet is a dangerous proposition. The portability of tablets makes it all too easy for Jr. to head off to his room to research that paper, only to end up somewhere you’d rather he didn’t explore on the internet. A common area computer allows you to more easily monitor his activity or better yet, install parental control software to set some limits. Parental controls on tablets are minimal, typically restricting access to certain apps, but not limiting exposure online.

looking for a back-to-school tablet or need to get an old one fixed?

It’s difficult to use a tablet for the kind of school work your pre-college age child will be focused on. Most teachers won’t allow the tablet to be used in-class, and even if they are permitted your child won’t likely have access to WiFi. While the starting price is low (beginning at around $200 for the Fire, Nexus or Nook), you’ll have to add on a Bluetooth keyboard for typing papers and a sturdy case to minimize the risk of damage from bumps and drops. Printing is a challenge and while the programs available to integrate with Word, Excel and Powerpoint give you basic document and presentation production capability, many are limited in their function, particularly when you aren’t in range of a WiFi network. For a tablet running Android, you’ll be best served by investing $20 in Quickoffice HD Pro while iPad users can install Pages, Numbers or Keynote depending on the functionality needed (iTunes app store, $9.99 each).

When it comes to your college-age student on the other hand, there may be some definite advantages to adding a tablet to their arsenal. Using a stylus with certain note taking applications converts handwritten notes to searchable text, while drawings become images that can be inserted into future reports and projects. Their ultra-portability makes them the ideal addition to a backpack and professors typically don’t limit their use in the classroom.

Spring for a pricier iPad and your co-ed can utilize iTunes U, the “world’s largest online catalog of free education content from leading institutions”. Even if their specific lessons aren’t posted through the app, they can access virtual lectures, videos and books from the leading minds in education at Stanford, Yale, MIT and many more.

Finally, many college-level courses expect work to be submitted electronically which is far easier for a tablet user to accommodate than the printouts and tangible paperwork expected of younger students. The “WiFi everywhere” atmosphere at most college campuses also leads tablet users to be more productive than when they’re unable to access the internet. While it would take some getting used to and some working around its limitations, a college student with a Bluetooth keyboard, office-style productivity suite and cloud-based backup and syncing service could definitely benefit from having a tablet at their fingertips. Some may even be able to get by without a laptop or PC.

Still debating the merits of back to school tablets for your student? Get in touch with us at Nerd Chick Adventures.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company for consumers and businesses. Andrea is the writer of two weekly columns; Computer Nerds On Call, a nationally syndicated column for Scripps-Howard News Service, and Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She regularly appears on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW, and CNN on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, Good Morning Arizona, and Good Day Portland, offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle, and gadgets. Andrea recently has begun working with Demand Media to produce content for eHow.com and has written a book for them Smartphone 101: Integrating Your iPhone Into a Windows World. Andrea is available for Q & A’s, expert tech quotes and will appear on your show, call today! See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea.

Photo used by permission: bm.iphone

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