Elementary Student Tech

This Summer, I'm looking for computers for young hands.  My children, grades 2 and K, need something to do the school recommended online resources like Dreambox and others.  I'm also looking for classroom computers that Mrs. Stay can use for her students in her 4th grade classroom.   I'm looking for portable and light with battery life that can get through the school day.  These units need to be inexpensive too, after all they are being used by children and we all know that they can break or drop stuff.  I'm willing to trade performance to get the cost down, the children don't need a machine capable of video editing to run Raz-Kids.  So with that in mind, here are the items I am looking at for the children in no particular order and some comments on them.  I'll keep updating this post as things change.

Acer C720 Chromebook (Best Buy, Approx $200)  I purchased this about 2 years ago to see if Chromebooks are legit and I use it almost everyday.  Good machine, good battery life, light, should be able to handle the needs of an elementary school student with no problems.

Haier Chromebook (Amazon, $149) I bought one of these in June to see if these cheaper Chromebooks were as good as the Acer that I already owned.  So far the Haier seems comparable to the performance of the C720.

Asus Chromebook Flip (Newegg, $249) This machine has been announced and was just released.  I've ordered one and am looking forward to trying it out.  It's the lowest cost tablet/Chromebook Duo that has Touchscreen capability.  Supposed to have 9 hours of battery life, but the screen's an inch smaller than other Chromebooks and it is supposed to weigh just under 2 lbs.

Acer 11.6 White Chromebooks (Currently Sale price of $129 at Best Buy) Mrs. Stay's classroom is receiving at least 2 of these from a program at DonorsChoose.org.  The equipment is selected with DonorsChoose at the beginning of the project and once that selection is made, we really lose control over the equipment selection.  I do not yet have these units in hand but I see no reason why they shouldn't perform at least as well as my current Acer C720.

Toshiba Laptops (2-Online purchases, approx $500 6 years ago) One of these has been my everyday PC for the past 6 years.  It's served me well but the batteries are shot and will need to be plugged in constantly in the classroom.  With full-sized keyboards and larger screens, these are the heaviest of the bunch.  They will have Windows 10 by the time they get to the classroom and should be fine there even though they will have power cords attached all the time.  If you have an old laptop at home you might want to give it to your student, but know that they will be kind of heavy to cart around.

HP Steam 11 (Amazon $185)  I've ordered this and am looking forward to evaluating this budget Windows laptop.  Apparently CCPS is looking at them too.  A few thoughts before I even get the unit in my hands: From a hardware spec perspective, they seem very similar to the Chromebooks but maybe a half pound heavier.  This is a budget Windows laptop and you can run Windows apps on it and install a browser other than Chrome.  Chromebooks can only run Google Chrome based apps.  With purchase you get a year subscription to Office 365, which I think is a $99 value and a terrabyte of OneDrive storage, compared to 100GB for 2 years on a Chromebook.  This machine will be eligible for a Windows 10 upgrade in a few days.  So why even consider a similarly priced Chromebook which is locked into Google Chrome apps only?   Google has done much more with education than Microsoft has.  Google offers their entire suite of enterprise apps to schools free and they are constantly trying to innovate there.  A Google Apps for education instance will be available to all of Mrs. Stay's students.  Even if you are not in education you can use many of Google's services free.  Google should be rewarded for trying to get useful apps to people free.  One of the reasons the hardware specs are low on both the Stream and Chromebooks is because that's all that's needed to run the Google apps.  With the Stream, you can run more powerful software, but you will likely be frustrated if you try to install beefier image/video editing, games or financial apps on the Stream.  For elementary students at this price point, that's likely fine.  For adults, I would be quickly frustrated by "well it can do it but it's horribly slow."  Chromebooks are great from an administrative side.  You simply reboot them and they update, wiping them clean is quite easy too.  How Windows 10 will do updates on the Stream is not yet clear.  We'll see what the hands-on time brings soon.

Why not Apple? I do own an ipad2, but for Mrs. Stay's classroom and really anything serious beyond watching videos you need a keyboard.  I'm not aware of Apple doing a low-cost laptop device.

How about the adults? With my 6 year old laptops going into the classroom we are upgrading the adult computing power too.  I've just ordered a Microsoft Surface 3 for Mrs. Stay to use for home and work.  If that looks good I might order one for myself or maybe a Dell XPS13 which is getting lots of good reviews.  These machines are between $500 and $1,000 and I won't be trusting my children to cart them back and fourth to school.


Dan Stay is a dad, husband of a longtime classroom teacher and tech enthusiast.  He is not employed by Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) or any of the companies mentioned in this article.  He is the site administrator for Calvertlink.org, which is the Google Apps for Education instance for Calvert Elementary School.  Dan does not have an ownership stake in any of the firms mentioned here beyond what most people would have in normal retirement investment accounts.