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Buying a computer for your child? Think about an iPad!

Perhaps it is time…

by: - Last updated on: November 5th, 2020

I have to get my child a computer for her classes, as now all classes are going online. Which one should I go for? We want a decent notebook that will work well for a while…but do not want to spend too much right now.

That is a query that we have been getting quite often as schools slowly start reopening – most of them virtually. A year or so ago, we would have been recommending conventional notebooks to most folks, and maybe even trying to nudge them towards Chromebooks (we still think Google is missing a trick there). Fast forward to the current day, and we are answering their query with one of our own:

Have you considered an iPad?

ipad students
Image: govtech

Going beyond a “third screen”

And we mean an iPad. Not an iPad Pro. The base iPad that starts at less than Rs 30,000. It still sounds odd, we know. For the simple reason that when the iPad started out, it was not supposed to be a notebook replacement – it was the computing equivalent of Starbucks. Just as Starbucks was supposed to be your “third place” between work and home, the iPad was supposed to be your “third screen”, the one between your computer and your mobile phone. Yes, the Pro variant of the iPad did have some pretensions to be a computer but the base variant, the “basic iPad”, was supposed to be pretty much for watching and viewing on rather than working on. Or as they say, “for content consumption, rather than content creation.”

That has been pretty much turned on its head in the last year or so.

We personally think the iPad got into the “use at school” zone with support for the Apple Pencil, for the simple reason that it became a great device to write and draw on. But with the arrival of the iPad OS and support for mouse and keyboards, the basic iPad, frankly, is in our opinions, a proper contender to be your child’s first computer.

Delivering a fair bit…

And one of the biggest reasons for our recommending the iPad as a first computer is the fact that it perhaps does the basics better than any notebook you would get at its price. The iPad today starts at Rs 29,900 (you can get an older generation iPad for about Rs 26,900, which honestly is not too bad again). Add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to it (we do not think you need to go with Apple’s really expensive keyboard cover), and the total expenditure goes up to around Rs 35,000. That is the kind of price you will shell out for a basic Core i3 notebook running Windows.

That’s not all. You have the option of adding an Apple Pencil stylus to it at a later stage if you wish (not the case with most notebooks). And if you are willing to invest in some adapters, you also get the option to connect other devices to it, although frankly, in the age of cloud storage and faster connectivity, that is no longer the sort of disadvantage it once was. You could of course assemble a computer for much lesser but then you would be giving up on portability, and having a computer your child can carry anywhere is a huge plus.

…and being very easy to use

Apple New iPad

There’s no doubt that a notebook comes with its own plus points – the number of ports and the massive storage being the two biggest ones. On the flip side, however, the iPad is much more portable (and you need not always carry the keyboard along with it). And – this is the killer for us – much easier to use, thanks to its totally touch interface. We can have endless debates with Windows fans, but the stark fact is that for simple pick-up-and-use ability, the iPad easily beats most notebooks and we include Apple’s own MacBook Air and Pro range in that number.

In fact, the iPad is so easy to use that we have even seen people typing on it rather than investing in a keyboard. What works in its favor is the fact that it in many ways is similar to a phone’s UI, and is, therefore, more familiar to most people. Even Android users will find it easier to use an iPad than using a Windows machine. It is just the way the interface has been designed. In fact, your child could end up editing videos a lot faster on an iPad than they could on a PC or a Mac. We have seen a lot of professionals who prefer editing on an iPad simply because the touch interface is so much easier to use.

Doing the basics solidly and having that app-y edge

The basics are very strong with the iPad too. You get a high-quality Retina display and battery life (comfortably ten hours) that most notebooks will be unable to match at that price. There is also some very good security (touch ID), so good that you actually do not need any sort of anti-virus, and also an easy to use parental controls system to make sure things do not get too crazy. Of course, this is an iPad so there is no end of apps for just about everything from the virtual museum and country tours to even virtual frog dissections. And its sheer portability means you can use it anywhere and at any time. Even the sound quality is very good for a single person and thankfully, the iPad still has an audio jack onboard!

The big stumbling point for iPads as compared to Windows used to be the fact that many apps that ran on Windows were not available for the iPad. Well, MS Office now works just fine with the iPad, and so does Chrome, the browser of choice of most of the world, and something like Zoom, which is used for most conference calls and for online teaching sessions, actually works better on the iPad than even on a notebook. No, we are not going to say that EVERY app available for Windows is available on the iPad, but alternatives exist – and those alternatives are very good ones. Finally, the chances that the iPad will work smoothly for a longer period than a notebook of the same price are very high, thanks to Apple’s amazing update record (and Microsoft’s slightly more erratic one).

It’s not perfect, but then, are notebooks?

This is not to say that an iPad totally outguns a notebook. No, notebooks have their own benefits, with a number of ports and lots of storage being the biggest. We also have generally seen performance issues arise far from frequently in entry and even lower-mid level notebooks as compared to iPads. Also, while Windows has improved considerably in terms of ease of use, driver update issues and bugs still persist to an alarming extent, especially as you get closer to the entry-level. And of course, when it comes to having a computer for a child, a touchscreen always gives you a little bit more versatility – and there are not too many good notebooks with touchscreens in the iPad’s price range, and well, Windows and touch do not keep in touch very well.

It might sound odd to some, but the iPad is now much closer to being a computer than it ever was. And unless there is a very specific Windows or even Android app that is absolutely made necessary by your child’s school (and in Delhi, we have not come across any – most schools are content with MS Office, Zoom, and Chrome), we do not see a valid reason for excluding an iPad from the “which notebook to buy” discussions.

Thinking of buying a computer for your child? Do consider the iPad.

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