Laptops are very useful in the school environment for a wide range of special educational need scenarios but most commonly to provide a medium for pupils who struggle with handwriting.
The following gives a rough guide to the sorts of laptops that I might recommend to my clients in these sorts of situations. The specific laptop models mentioned may no longer be available at the time you read this but they should give you some idea of your options and suitability of the different types. You may find links to more up-to-date models and suppliers in the advertisements on this page.
Choosing the right laptop computer is a greater challenge than choosing the right desktop computer. It is also much more important that you get it right first time.
When people choose a desktop computer they traditionally look at the 'specification'. This loosely tells us how fast the CPU is, how much memory it has and how big the screen is. With laptops these preferences should come second to choosing a laptop that has good build quality and efficiency of heat dissipation.
Laptops with a super-fast processor but a poorly designed heating system aren't going to serve you very well for very long. Likewise laptops need to be fairly robust in order to be able to cope with the harsh environment of British schools.
It's also very important to find a supplier or manufacturer with a good after sales service. Although school technicians can pop open desktop computers to fix problems this is rarely possible for laptops.
Special considerations are required if you are purchasing a laptop for a pupil with a degree of visual impairment.
If your pupil is partially sighted then that brings up the question of using a either a big screen (see the Sony VAIO GRX), a little screen combined with magnification software, or somewhere inbetween. This argument is discussed in my Word document* that looks into some the issues surrounding visual impairment IT assessments for both desktops and laptops.
* Sorry, not currently available
The reason I've put JVC here in top position is because of one of their laptops is particularly suitable for users who don't need a big screen:
For: Very small, light (1 Kg), and easily portable. Built-in CD/DVD drive.
Against: Very small screen (8.9"), and less powerful than some larger laptops of similar price.
Although available from mainstream shops as a portable laptop, this device is also sold by Sensory Software as a text / verbal communication aid. In addition to providing appropriate software such as The Grid, this specialist company can add an amplifier for clear speech output and provide support tailored for communication aid users.
Dell is a popular manufacturer and supplier and is well-known to have decent after-sales support. Although company is built on solid foundations in recent months there has been talk that the quality of products and support has dwindled.
When I think about buying a new piece of mainstream technology such as a PC or printer I will usually have a look on the manufacturer's support website to see how much effort they put into this area. Dell not only has a great after-sales website, but also offer 3 years on-site repairs included in the price of their professional laptops.
For: Very small (20mm thin), light (1.3 Kg), easily portable, well-built, and well supported.
Against: Small screen (12.1"), smallish keys, poor battery life (2:20 hours standard but can be increased to 5:50 with optional extended battery). As with most ultra-portables it is less powerful than larger laptops of equal price. No internal floppy or CD drives (comes with external drives).
Sony make laptops of good quality known as VAIOs. If you want the biggest screen on your laptop that you can get then Sony offer a VAIO series with massive 16.1" screens. Unfortunately I find that Sony's after-sales support lets it down. Their laptops come with a basic return-to-base warranty which can leave you stranded without a laptop for several weeks.
The IBM ThinkPad has long been the choice for professionals who care about reliability and comfort over stylish looks or cheap deals. Now known as Lenovo ThinkPads, these laptops have many features, including the Active Protection System, that make them robust and resilient against drops and heavy handed use.
If you compare specification directly with other laptop manufacturers you will probably find a cheaper laptop elsewhere. But don't forget what I mentioned above about the need to consider reliability and build quality above chip speed or memory.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.