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Netbooks are great starter computers for kids, because they are small and light, reasonably cheap, and have good battery life. Much of the netbook design thinking came from Intel's Classmate project, and Asus launched its first netbook into the UK education market in October 2007, as I reported at the time. Later, Intel's much more robust Classmate 2 added a touchscreen for pen operation, with the screen folded back over the keyboard. A UK example is ZooStorm's Fizzbook Spin netbook, with the latest version costing around £400.However, parents and schools tend to buy cheaper off-the-shelf netbooks. The Samsung NC-10 was hugely popular, and the Toshiba NB200 was an attractive alternative. The current equivalents include the Samsung NC-110 and Toshiba NB550D, but these are relatively expensive. You don't mention a budget, but the Asus 1008HA (£189.99) and Asus 1011PX (£199.99) are better value at prices. You should also add £10-£12 for a 2GB memory upgrade.If you are willing to spend a bit more on a netbook, then look at the AMD-powered Lenovo IdeaPad S205 instead. For a netbook-type price of £274.99, you get a bigger 11.6in screen, faster graphics (Radeon HD 6310M) and the full Windows 7 Home Premium instead of Windows Starter.

The next step up from the S205 would be a Lenovo Z370 (£449) notebook with a 13.3in screen, Intel Core i3-2330M processor, 500GB hard drive and DVD-RW. It has RapidBoot so it starts Windows 7 in 20 seconds, and an SSD (Solid State Drive) is optional. However, that type of laptop is more suitable for secondary school and older users.There's no shortage of educational programs and games for Windows-based netbooks and laptops, and Windows 7 includes parental controls. You could also install Scratch, an educational programming language, and Pivot Stickfigure Animator, along with IE9 and all the usual utilities from All My Apps. (Sadly, this site doesn't have a section for education software, but it does have 5,581 free utilities and 1,266 free games.) You will already know from your son's use of your netbook what kinds of apps might be worth trying, and can introduce him to some of the videos on the Kahn Academy website.Netbooks are good value but they have not improved very much over the past couple of years, and you already have one. I can't really see the point of buying another if he can use yours. It might be better to upgrade your Samsung with 2GB of memory and a £38.49 student copy of Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 32-bit Upgrade Edition, unless you have already upgraded it.Assuming your budget is £200 or so, upgrading your Samsung would leave £150 to buy your son either a Nintendo DS (eg, the DSi XL, which has bigger screens and a built-in browser) or an 8GB Apple iPod Touch.

These are more games-oriented and may have less educational value than a laptop, but they wouldn't require as much parental help or supervision, and might be less breakable.A couple of weeks ago, I asked readers what they'd recommend for young children, and the Nintendo DS and iPod Touch were the most popular recommendations. Steve Turley says the DS is an excellent choice for four- and five-year-olds and older children because of the robust nature of the units and the wide availability of used units and games. While there are plenty of Apple iOS-compatible apps for primary school children, he reckons the iPod Touch and iPhone aren't built to survive the rigors of small child usage without a fair degree of adult supervision.David Jeffery says: If you're considering a gift for a child at the older end of the spectrum, I reckon the 3DS is a decent bet. It can access the internet, plays videos, takes 3D photos, can store and play music, has a growing library of (actually very good) games, and has recently received a massive price cut. The main drawbacks are that it doesn't play Flash games, is not an email client, and doesn't look like daddy's iPad either.But John Rogan, who has boys aged eight and 11, would go for a fourth-generation iPod Touch. Not only are the games substantially cheaper than for the DS, he says, you have the added attraction of Facetime, setting up their emails, and internet access, which is becoming more and more necessary for homework.Some of your son's friends will probably have one or both of these handhelds, so he will know which he'd prefer.

Finally, while netbooks haven't changed much in the past couple of years, the market has. Today, Apple's iPad 2 is the answer to most tech questions, and there are also some cheaper multi-touch tablets running Google Android. According to Nielsen research, the iPad 2 tops the electronic wishlists of kids aged six to 12, and 44% would like one for Christmas.I think an iPad 2 is too expensive and probably too fragile to give to a child, but you could buy one for family use and your son could use it when supervised. The main attractions are the accessibility of the touch interface and the vast number of apps, including many educational titles. There are a couple of child-friendly alternatives, which you can see in an ABC News video review, Don't Break My iPad: Tablets Designed for Kids.David Jeffery, quoted above, says that for younger kids, there is more value in something like a LeapPad reading system, [which] can be thrown against a wall and still work. Our youngest lad still loves his LeapPad and he's five. Leapfrog recommends the LeapPad Explorer for children aged five to nine, so your son might outgrow it too quickly. Still, it looks good value at's price of £139.49, and even better value at the US price, $99.I work from home and also travel frequently on business. I have been imagining my ideal setup computer-wise, and think it would be just a tablet (one with a case that doubles as a keyboard), which I could carry around easily when necessary and then connect to a larger monitor, keyboard and mouse, and external storage when I am working at home. I could then live without a laptop or desktop.From a work perspective, I fear the possible restrictions and compatibility problems that could arise if I go for anything other than Windows.

I have an Android smartphone and would like to use Evernote etc on the tablet too, but I assume that the major app developers will be making versions of the most popular apps that also work in Windows.This is the sort of scenario for which Microsoft designed Windows 8 and made its own PC, the Microsoft Surface Pro. Indeed, it was also the idea behind tablets running Windows XP Tablet PC edition, launched with a fanfare at Comdex in 2001.The XP-based Tablet wasn't a success partly because there were no tablet apps: you just ran normal Windows programs, but controlled them with a pen (stylus) instead of your fingers. With Windows 8, Microsoft has added a touch-first tablet interface, along with a new applications programming interface (WinRT) and a new app distribution system, the Windows Store.The main advantage of the dual approach is that you can run all your old business programs, including Microsoft Office, under Windows 8, then instantly switch to running tablet apps with access to the same data. You don't need to sync anything or find some other way of transferring files between devices, though of course, you can still sync files to the cloud. Windows 8 is integrated with Microsoft's SkyDrive, which provides 7GB of free cloud storage, though you can use other services as well.

There are, obviously, some compromises. Detachables — PCs where the tablet screen detaches from the keyboard/dock in the way pioneered by Asus's Android-based Transformer range — typically have 10in to 12in widescreens. This is on the small side for a laptop but on the large side for a tablet.There are similar compromises with weight and battery life. The Microsoft Surface Pro feels very small and light for a powerful PC with 4GB of memory and an Intel Core i5 processor, but it's big and heavy compared to an Asus Nexus 7, which runs Android on a 7in screen.Some people may prefer to have two separate devices, typically a larger laptop with a 13.3in or 15.6in screen and a smaller tablet with a 7in screen. That's what I have at the moment. However, having used a Surface Pro on loan for a couple of weeks, I think the compromise has more benefits than drawbacks.Patrick Moorhead, an analyst, shares my view: see his recent post at Forbes: Why I Prefer PC Convertibles Over Traditional Notebooks. Moorhead has tried systems over five different scenarios including desk, couch, bed, and in-flight use. In each scenario, he has performed 12 tasks (playing a game and a movie, reading and writing email, presentation and spreadsheet work etc) and rated each of them out of five between Poor and Great. Your 60 ratings may vary — as do mine — but his table (PDF)
will give you a good idea of how it works.Often the problem is that traditional Windows apps just weren't written for fat fingers. In such cases, I've found that the digitising pen that comes bundled with the Surface Pro can be a great substitute.
It's as accurate as a mouse, and you can see its on-screen pointer without touching the pen to the screen. Unlike a mouse, it doesn't need any flat space. Also, you can write and draw with it, and it provides a much better experience than trying to write on an Apple iPad screen.Whether Microsoft's Surface Pro is your best choice is another matter.

Surface Pro is a tablet, and its Touch and Type keyboards double as screen covers. The Asus Transformer, by contrast, is a laptop with a detachable screen, where the detached screen becomes the tablet. This gives manufacturers the chance to provide a better keyboard (basically the same as a laptop) and to include two batteries: one inside the tablet and one inside the keyboard/dock. The resulting hybrid is a bit bigger and heavier than a tablet, but you can get much more battery life. You also tend to get more ports.There are two basic classes of PC in this market, and they are roughly equivalent to Ultrabooks and netbooks. The Ultrabook-style devices have Intel Core iX processors, 4GB or more memory, and 64-bit Windows 8. Some models also have HD screen resolutions: perhaps 1920 x 1080 pixels instead of the common 1366 x 768. UK prices are relatively high, often over £1,000. The netbook-style devices have Intel Atom Z2760 and similar processors, 2GB or more memory, and 32-bit Windows 8. They provide much better battery life, and they're around half the price.The Atom-based models are, in my experience, surprisingly nippy, and they are quite capable of running Microsoft Office. They're a huge improvement on traditional netbooks.

However, if you need to run heftier Windows programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Creative Suite, edit videos or play PC games, then you should go for a machine with a Core i3 or faster processor.I haven't seen enough of the different Windows 8 hybrids for long enough to have any strong recommendations, and better models are on the way. However, the Acer Iconia W510 looks like a decent Atom-based detachable. It has a 10.1in screen, a claimed battery life of up to 18 hours, and only weighs 1.2kg. The price is just under £600, but shop around.The HP Envy x2 11-g030ea (D0W48EA) is similar but has an 11.6in screen --which also enables a slighter larger keyboard — and a sturdy aluminium body. However, the battery life is worse and it costs a bit more at £699.99. (The HP Envy x2 11-g000ea started at £1,099.)For a high-end machine, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro Elite 700T is worth a look. It has an 11.6in screen and, like the Surface Pro, an Intel Core i5- 3317U processor, a Wacom digitising pen, and a 1920 x 1080 Full HD screen display. The inclusion of a 128GB SSD, instead of a 64GB drive, pushes the price up to £1,099.99.You should look at the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 as well. This is a 13.3in Ultrabook rather than a tablet, so you get a 1.9GHz Core i7-3517U with 4GB of memory, a 128GB SSD and a good keyboard for £999.99. Its party trick is that it has a double-joined hinge so you can fold the screen back to turn it into a tablet.Although the IdeaPad Yoga 13 is more of a work machine, the claimed battery life is good (8 hours), and it's not unduly heavy at 1.5kg.


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