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I have taught my class through my laptop every day for the past 10 weeks of distance learning. I have also supported students and parents with the various different kinds of devices that they use. I’ve learned a lot about what kids need in a device for distance learning with iPads and Chromebooks being popular choices. I decided to take an in-depth look at which device is best for kids doing distance learning and what the pros and cons are for kids using an iPad and using a Chromebook to learn remotely.
A Chromebook can be a versatile and affordable device that can suit online learners of all ages, especially if a big screen and a keyboard are important for a child’s learning. Make sure to go for a touchscreen for younger learners and consider having more storage capacity for older kids when choosing which Chromebook is for your child. If your child needs something more compact but still with brilliant capabilities that suit online learning, an iPad is another very well priced option. Larger storage capacity is available for older distance learners and accessories, although expensive, can extend the functionality of the iPad depending on your child’s needs.
What is a Chromebook?
This is something I didn’t know either. ‘Chromebook’ is the name of a new type of device rather than a range of devices from specific companies as I had thought. A Chromebook is a type of laptop that runs the Google Operating System and is mainly used for accessing the internet through the Google Chrome browser. Their design is the same as how a normal laptop looks although some have a 2-in-1 or ‘convertible’ design which means the screen can be pushed all the way back so that only the screen is used, like a tablet.
What to look for in a laptop for school?
If you’re thinking of buying your child a new device for the purpose of doing distance learning, you might be wondering what factors are most important to consider in your choice. There are so many options out there these days and many are very child-friendly, especially as companies pick up on the increased need for children’s and student’s devices. Durability and robustness are going to be important especially for younger children as we know that electronics are delicate things which can easily be damaged by accident in the hands of our little ones, especially if they’re going to be used on a regular basis for schooling.
For most students or home learners internet access, video conferencing and distance learning platform access are going to be important. Having completed 10 weeks of distance learning now I definitely recommend a device with a touch screen and, even better, one that is compatible with or comes with a stylus pen too. Several times I have set activities that have been amazing for kids with touch screens but a little awkward and not that enjoyable for kids who are having to just use a computer trackpad or mouse.
A device for a child should be compact and light but the screen size should not be too small. Younger children are still developing their fine motor skills which means that the smaller, more precise movements that a small screen requires are still a little difficult for them. Price-wise, children’s devices don’t need to break the bank. They don’t need fancy features or massive amounts of memory, they just need to work well, and there are so many options out there regardless of whether you decide on a laptop, Chromebook, tablet, or some kind of hybrid device for your child.
For the purposes of this post, I’ll be referring to the specifications of the Lenovo Chromebook C340, whose predecessor the C330 was rated the best overall Chromebook for kids over at watchdogreviews.com, and the Apple iPad 2019 which laptopmag.com points to as the best iPad for kids.
Is a Chromebook cheaper than a tablet?
Generally, iPads are slightly more expensive than Chromebooks although the Lenovo C340 is at the lower end of the price spectrum for Chromebooks and there are many other models that cost much more than the iPad. A Chromebook could definitely be a more cost-effective option for a home learning device.
It's always best to check what the current prices are which you can do using these links: iPad vs
Size & Weight
Chromebook 0.7” x 11.4” x 8.2” vs. iPad 9.8” x 6.8” x 0.29”
Chromebook 1.2 kg/2.64 pounds vs. iPad 483g/just over 1 pound
Being a tablet, the iPad is obviously the thinner option (less than half the thickness) compared with the Chromebook and is far smaller overall, weighing less than half of what Lenovo does. A Chromebook is definitely bulkier than the iPad but it has a keyboard whereas the iPad doesn’t.
Another thing to remember is that this is one of the smallest Chromebooks out there with some other options being much bigger. So if a Chromebooks big screen and built-in keyboard aren’t important for your child’s distance learning needs then you’ll just be getting unnecessary bulk and something lighter and slimmer would serve your child much better.
Chromebook 11.6" vs iPad 10.2”
The displays on these two devices don’t differ massively - both devices have IPS LCD screens and the iPads is only slightly smaller compared with the Chromebooks. The Lenovo’s 11.6” screen is the smallest you generally find in the Chromebook category, so if you feel like an iPad screen isn’t big enough for your child you’ll find much bigger options in the Chromebook category. Bigger isn’t always better though and I would say that the smaller screen certainly makes the device easier to handle and more child-friendly.
Is a touchscreen Chromebook worth it?
The school laptop that I currently have is a touchscreen and I remember when I first got it I wondered why I or anyone would ever need a laptop to be a touchscreen. Surely if you wanted to use a touchscreen you’d just use a tablet or a phone? Ten weeks of distance learning later I have had several opportunities to use the touchscreen in teaching and learning. I most often use the touch screen to model writing with my finger for my students to see. If this wasn’t possible I’d either have to awkwardly draw the letters using the touchpad (which doesn’t make it easy to write neatly) or just type on the keyboard. I’ve noticed that students who have touchscreens get more digital writing opportunities that have benefited their reading and writing skills during distance learning.
How many GB does a child need?
Storage capacity: Chromebook 32GB vs iPad 32GB
The devices themselves may be equal in terms of storage capacity but the Chromebook comes with 100GB extra cloud storage whereas Apple provides just 5GB iCloud storage for free. If your child is simply using their device to access the internet and their distance learning platform but isn’t storing much in terms of files, then 32GB + cloud storage should be plenty.
Older children who might be working with photos and videos may need more storage space for their work. Storing these kinds of files on the device itself for editing will probably require something with a bit more capacity. The iPad 2019 comes only in a 32GB and 128GB version so if you’re looking for a tablet with a storage capacity in between these then another brand might be best for you. The good thing about Chromebooks is that there is a range of storage capacities available and since this is a big factor for pricing, you are able to buy one with just as much storage as you think you’ll need without spending more than necessary.
Both the iPad and this Lenovo Chromebook feature an aluminium finish which makes it easier to clean and both come in pink. I’m sure I don’t need to point out why that’s a bonus for some parents out there!
Mic, Webcam, Speakers
Both the iPad and Chromebooks at least have inbuilt speakers, a microphone, and a webcam although the iPad also features a rear-facing camera which could be handy for children who use video calls or want to use their device to take photos or videos.
I know lots of my children take photos of work they have done at home to send to me which would be awkward to do using only a front-facing camera and so I’d definitely suggest going for something with both front and rear-facing cameras.
Long Battery Life
Chromebook 10 hours vs iPad 10 hours
It’s a tie when it comes to the battery life of these two devices. We know that kids don’t like to sit still they’re not going to want to be attached to the wall any longer than necessary. Of course, it would be easy to get a charging routine going to make sure your child’s device never dies mid-lesson or interrupts their flow but at the same time if you’d like something with those extra few hours of life then there are Chromebooks available whose battery lives last way beyond the iPad’s 10 hours. (According to pcmag.com the Google Pixelbook Go lasts up to nineteen hours!)
Chromebook USB-C vs iPad Lightning connector
Something cool that I like about this Chromebook is the USB-C charging. If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry I didn’t either.
USB-C ports are becoming more and more common and because they are so universal they are easy to replace if your child happens to lose theirs. That’s if you don’t already have one at home for another device!
The same also applies to the iPad though because many of us already have Apple devices at home and even if it’s your household's first Apple device, your child’s lost lightning cable is really easily replaced.
Headphones and microphone for school
If you’re part of a busy household with many family members and visitors around all the time then your children may find that distance learning is sometimes easier with a pair of headphones and a microphone.
Both the iPad as well as this Chromebook have headphone jacks and a mic can be connected to the Chromebook via USB however it gets a bit complicated if you want to plug an external microphone into your iPad. Saying that, if you’re aware of this and an iPad still suits your child best then many headphones with microphones attached are available. There are even really cute ones specially for kids like the cat ones below:
iPad or Chromebook for education?
When deciding which is best for you you’ll need to think about which distance learning platform(s) your child will need to access.
Microsoft Teams can be used in a browser on their device but also has an app available in the Google Play Store and on Apple’s App Store.
The Zoom app can also be easily installed on an iPad as well as on a Chromebook.
Google Classroom and the apps needed for using its features (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Meet, etc.) are available on the Google Play store and the App store too.
If your child is using any of the main three online learning platforms above then there isn’t too much to worry about with either the iPad or a Chromebook. If your child’s school uses something else for their distance learning then it’s worth checking first whether there is an app for it on the app store or whether it works through a web browser so that you know they’ll be able to access learning easily on their new device.
I made a page which lists online learning platforms and ways to access them from various devices.
To sum up, I've put together a table of pros and cons for the iPad and for the Chromebook as a remote learning device for kids:
Pros and Cons of iPad for students
Pros and Cons of Chromebooks for students
Ready to buy?
I hope that this post helped you to decide which device will suit your kids needs best and so here are links you can use to go and make your purchase:
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