Digital dilemma: Laptop or tablet for back to school?

New study says 50 percent of parents will buy computer students

By Allison McGinley - News Director, Matt Austin - Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - Assignments via email, Power Point projects required, and tweeting teachers: these days going back to school means going high-tech.

A new study shows 50 percent of back-to-school shoppers will be buying a laptop or a tablet in the next couple of weeks. 

But which one is right for your student?

Last year, Minneola High School became the first in the state to give every student an iPad. Many more local schools are stocking classrooms with netbooks. And by 2015, Florida leaders want toss textbooks all together and go digital.

For dad's like Steve Weinstein that means there's much more on the back-to-school list than pencil and paper.

"It truly is essential. Whether you need to Google or check things online, you definitely need a laptop," said Weinstein, "I feel it's a requirement."

Weinstein's 15-year-old daughter already has a laptop for school, but his 8-year-old son is hoping for something a bit more hip.

"He wants an iPad or tablet, but I'm going to get him a small laptop," said Weinstein.

Best Buy's Jon Rodriguez says dad might want to give the tablet a try.

"They're very close to what laptops can do. The main advantage of going for a tablet would be the portability," said Rodriguez.

Portability tops Rodriguez's list of what parents should consider before buying.

Is your child going to be working mostly at home or will they bring it on the bus and to school?

"Tablets are very efficient but they do rely heavily on Internet sources," said Rodriguez.

And that could increase the cost of your wireless plan.

Second item to consider: could your child benefit from extra homework help?

If so, the number of innovative education apps available on the tablet could boost a child's chance for success. Pik homework allows students upload homework assignments and get help from a live tutor.

Then there are the foreign language apps that talk to you and the number textbooks available as apps is growing. Best Buy has also launched the Innovator Fund, which is looking for more ideas in education and technology.

Most of the apps cost only a couple of dollars which is much less than traditional computer programs.

Finally, consider the age of your child and ease of use of the computer.

Touch screens make tablets enticing for younger students, but as kids get older, there are papers to be typed and work to be saved so if you choose a tablet you'll need the add on docking keyboard.

"To be able to slide in and make it into a netbook, it still gives the capability of the full mouse and being able to use the keyboard," said Rodriguez.

While the docking station does increase battery life, this model could add over $100s to the bottom line.

Either way a parent chooses to go, they're looking at spending about $300 to $400 on a tablet without a docking keyboard.

Rodriguez says the price is about the same as a mid-range laptop.

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