Laptops, Chromebooks or tablets – what’s your type?

When it comes to refreshing your school’s mobile devices (or even purchasing them for the first time), there is a wider range of device types to choose from than ever before, and it’s not always easy for schools to discern which ones will serve their staff and pupils best.

I wanted to share my views with you, on the pros and cons of using laptops, Chromebooks and tablets in the classroom, so that schools can make an informed choice rather than one that’s based on which supplier gives the best sales pitch!

My thoughts and advice can be grouped into five key areas:

1. Portability and battery life:
On average Chromebooks and tablets have a similarly impressive battery life. This will differ from device to device but just to give a typical example: The iPad 2 has an advertised battery life of 10 hours while the HP Chromebook 11 gives 9.5 hours on a single charge. Laptops lose out in this department with a typical education-friendly model coming in at around 8 hours.
In terms of portability, it’s no surprise that tablets win hands-down, so a school regularly moves devices between classrooms or if pupils are allowed to take devices home, then it becomes more compelling to take a closer look at tablets.

Portability and battery life score: Tablets: 1 | Chromebooks: 1 | Laptops: 0

2. Reliability:
Chromebooks are designed to work directly ‘in the cloud’ so they are slightly less prone to software and operating system errors in comparison to laptops and tablets. However, their learning apps and collaborative features are entirely dependent on the school’s internet connection – if that fails then you may experience an interruption to the flow of a lesson. It’s worth noting that with Chromebooks, a user would be able to continue working offline on certain apps like Google Docs.
On the other hand, working collaboratively with laptops is often only dependent on the school’s local network, which rarely fails. Schools should ask themselves: How reliable is our internet connection? Do we want the majority of our learning resources to be accessed just online or both online and through the school’s local network? The reliability of these devices very much depends on the unique circumstances of each school so there is no clear winner here.

Reliability score: Tablets: 1 | Chromebooks: 1 | Laptops: 1

3. Versatility and usability:
There is no beating a laptop when it comes to the variety of ways in which you can access and share learning resources. Pupils can work and collaborate in the cloud via Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps for Education, or they can work from the school’s local network or even from the laptop’s local hard drive if absolutely necessary. Furthermore, laptops can also accommodate processor-heavy applications (such as Photoshop or video editing software) while the other two devices are not designed to.
Lastly, laptops tend to have more port and connectivity options than tablets and their mouse-based Windows environment is familiar to most pupils and teachers. We think that laptops have the edge in this category.

Versatility and usability score: Tablets: 0 | Chromebooks: 0 | Laptops: 1

4. Ease of Management

Typically, the operating systems on all three types of device types are designed to be easily shared between users (i.e. there will be a customised experience for each user logging into the same device). But what about administrative tasks such setting policies and managing device licences? If a school’s network is Windows-based (like most schools are) then we feel that the devices most easily managed would be laptops and Chromebooks.
While managing Chromebooks may present a bit of a learning curve, like other Google products their management tools are designed for ease of use and simplicity. Administering some tablets that are connected to a Windows network, particularly iPads, often requires specialist knowledge and may require additional training for a school’s technicians or even the input of an expert consultant.

Ease of Management score: Tablets: 0 | Chromebooks: 1 | Laptops: 1

5. Price
Tighter purse strings make Chromebooks and tablets an attractive proposition for schools, with many models available at that ‘magic’ sub-£200 rate (unless you’re looking into iPads). On the other hand, schools do have the option of extending the lifespan of laptops by upgrading their processors and hard-drives and increasing their RAM. Still, we feel that Chromebook and tablets have the edge in this category.

Price score: Tablets: 1 | Chromebooks: 1 | Laptops: 0

The Final Score

Score: Tablets: 3 | Chromebooks: 4 | Laptops: 3

As you can see it’s very close! While Chromebooks have a slight overall advantage, the true answer lies in how well the solution integrates into each school’s unique requirements and how much importance is attached to each of the above areas. For example, some schools are already heavily invested in Microsoft Office 365 so may not want to take that leap into a ‘cloud only’ Chromebook environment.