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11 killer computers

Boot up the holidays with one of these kid-friendly laptops and desktops.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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Fisher Price iXL

Fisher Price iXL

Now the younger set (pre-K through third grade) has a PDA of its own — and can learn plenty of readin' and writin' in the process. The iXL ($80) from Fisher Price teaches kids to form and recognize letters, lets them have fun editing photos, and plays music on a sturdy unit capable of withstanding not-so-gentle use.

Easy-to-play video games encourage kids to learn counting (by 1s, 2s, and 10s) and phonics (and, for new readers, there’s an interactive storybook). There are also art and music games to help them expand their creative side. Or transfer your own photos to the device, and let your child add the finishing touches. Another plus? The big mute button if it all gets too loud.

Bottom line: A digital entertainment system for young kids that boasts a touchscreen and many of the same features as Mom’s PDA.

Christina Tynan-Wood has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, PC World, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and many others. She currently writes the "Family Tech" column in Family Circle and blogs at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/26/2010:
"In the past I have used PC's exclusively. I am now a MAC convert. Why? It's a much better computer in every way. What finally sold me is the closed code. As a programmer once said to me ' I hate Mac's cause I can't mess with the code'. aka virus creation. Don't knock it till you've tried it and the last comment has obviously has not tried a MAC."
08/23/2010:
"There is so much Mac fanboy/girl-ism on here, it's not even funny. First off, Macs are more expensive due to the fact that they're mainly geared towards people that work in the design/film field. PCs are more for the serious type. Secondly, stop saying that Macs never get malware. That's just an urban myth. ***Most*** malware programmers tend to target the Windows demographic more because MORE PEOPLE USE WINDOWS THAN MACS! They want their programs to affect a lot of people, so why bother with those who don't use Windows? Also, why spend money on expensive anti-virus programs? There are quite a few FREE alternatives out there that actually work--some even better than those that cost money. Oh and to the last poster that said the following: 'If you don't like a Mac then it is because you have not used one.' Have you used Windows at all? How about Linux? In all seriousness though, I've used a Mac before. Many times for many classes. I do not like them due to the fact that I personally found them to be a pain to use. Therefore your logic is flawed, oh educated person. Oh and: 'If you pay the extra money to buy a MacBook it saves you in buying virus software every year, or repair costs for removing virus's and trojans, ad ware, spware. It all add's up.' I really hope you have some kind of anti-virus program installed on your computer even though you think Macs are all-powerful machines. If not, I highly recommend getting one ASAP before it's too late. Seriously. Don't be stupid. Then again, it wouldn't surprise me if you had quite a few keyloggers or hidden trojan horses due to your stubborness in thinking Macs are the best there is. Although I don't use it (but have used it in school), the best operating system in terms of security would be Linux though. Then maybe Mac. Then Windows. "
08/16/2010:
"I can't believe the people who talk so negative about the Mac? I am an educated person and 13 1/2 years ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis which makes tasks and just about everything else difficult. I have a 13 year old daughter who is Special Needs it started when she was 5. I bought a MacBook because they never contract viruses and they have so many unique programs that teach are like no other computer. The operating system is so nice and the MacBook is so fast and I bought the extended warranty just in case. In the even anything happens to your MacBook you call the number up and they mail you a box to put your Mac in to send it off for whatever it may need they would pay for postage both ways. It is repaired and returned to you within 5 days or less. If you don't like a Mac then it is because you have not used one. You get what you pay for! I saved up for a Mac because I know they are the best and with a special needs child, now teen they could not mess up this awesome piece of machinery. My oldest daughter is at Stanford University she has a MacBook, all the students there have a MacBook because that's the best! Look on tv icarly and other tv shows and schools and major universities are using MacBooks. Every person I have shown my MacBook to is definintly impressed and wants one. I own my MacBook and would have nothinng but that, if you have a different view then that is fine no need to say negative things about anyone or any computer. If you pay the extra money to buy a MacBook it saves you in buying virus software every year, or repair costs for removing virus's and trojans, ad ware, spware. It all add's up."
07/28/2010:
"Before you send well-meaning parents scrambling for the money to splurge on a computer to help boost their child's studies, it's worth noting that a recent study strongly indicated that a home computer was actually associated with lower scholastic performance."
07/28/2010:
"I can't believe there is no mention of a MAC. Kids love these computers-easy, user friendly. What happened? May be a bit more on the expensive side but sooo worth it! Get with it Christina Tynan -Wood."
07/27/2010:
"I bought Acer laptop it's was great. The mac is expense and kids donot need all the extra. You do not need name brand like the mac, hp, dell and etc. They need the basic computer. It's not good time for many family."
07/26/2010:
"Dragon Dictate is not mentioned at all. Why type when you can talk? Our district schools all use MACs. The IT department uses UNIX/LINUX and Macs. Computer classes only have one Windows option. The rest are UNIX/Linux and software writing. Your cute little writer missed the point! "
07/22/2010:
"No Macs, seriously There's a reason Macs are rated #1 in customer satisfaction, why Apple support is rated #1. Why deal with all the viruses and problems windows poses, Macs are better made, have fewer problems and last longer"
07/22/2010:
"After seeing no MAC computers in this article and knowing them very well, also owning them in our house for over 20 year. I am concerned that this writer is limit in knowledge about this subject. We our talking Children and education and ease of use, quality etc, their is no easier system than a MAC hands down the most computer friendly computer in the world. I have two children with learning Disabilities, age 12 and 15 both own personal MAC laptop and use them in schools all day long it has proven to meet all their needs as they continue to grow in educational demands, We rate them 5 stars. One goes to a renowned Charter school for dyslexic , Chartwell, the school is fill with MAC wouldn't have it any other way that school is cutting edge on any system out there, they need computer that meet many educational need for their student, their student all our on Mac in every class. MAC are the KING, the cost for what you get is worth every penny hand down and the customer sup! port is superior SERVICE is what they are about..."
07/22/2010:
"The article researcher must have relied on company literature. I just purchased two Brand Name laptops for my kids that have more power, bells, and whistles than the ones listed in this article and for far less money. "
07/22/2010:
"I think they are talking about affordable options. Even the cheapest mac is more money than any of these recommended computers."
07/22/2010:
"Why are all you people saying everyone needs a mac they are a waste. I have been an IT administrator for the past 22 years and all I have learned from them are they are overpriced linux machines. This laptop blows any of the macbook pros out of the water in both price and performance."
07/22/2010:
"No Macs? Really? As an educator that's the only machine I'll buy. Virtually indestructible and super kid friendly."
07/22/2010:
"HP? Dell? Gateway? Acer? Seriously? It seems this author is just slightly biased. Macs may be more expensive to begin with (although many are around the prices of the PCs in this article) but their quality and durability alone make them well worth the money. In addition, they have FREE tech support, a much better OS, and a lot of unique features that no one else could ever even come close to recreating. Also, they're also MUCH more intuitive, fun, and are a lot more simple and easier to use. I'm sorry, but I will never use this site again now that I've read this article."
07/22/2010:
"hello - where are the mac's?????? lopsided reporting."
07/22/2010:
"The world is PC based. Not apple. Even school districts across the nation have adopted PC's for the world is based on a PC. Software for Apple computers is not as abundant and as cost effective. There are few dealers or repair locations for Apple computers. There hardware is proprietary and costly to replace. You can find someone to help you with a PC but you won't find that to be true with an Apple. Teachers generally have little knowledge of computers and if they do have any, it will be on a PC. Business do not want to hire people if they aren't familiar with a PC and have no use for Apple users. I thought we were trying to educate our children for a future here folks. Get with the program. Great Schools is right in recommending PC's. "
07/22/2010:
"I also really think your article missed the boat by not recommending at least one Macintosh in your list of ten best back to school PCs. I am not saying your list is bad, it's not. But many of the innovations represented by PCs in the list were pioneered and perfected by Apple. A lot of people, especially people with kids, find the Mac OS and the associated iSuite of applications to be a better overall value than a Dell or HP loaded with a bunch of demo versions of programs that you can upgrade. Macs come with Address Book, iCal, iChat, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, etc are all solid applications for what they do, which is a lot of what most people with kids want to do with a computer. You typically don't need any virus protection, although I do run it to avoid accidentally passing along documents that would cause my PC friends trouble. In most cases, the programs that home users want to use are also available in a Mac version. If not, you can always install and run Windows ! if you need to. Also, Macs are fast. In fact, Mac hardware running Windows usually performs better than a lot of equally or less expensive PCs, and can easily be integrated with the Mac OS to provide a seamless user experience. Sure it' can be a bit more expensive than similarly configured non-Apple hardware, but for a reason - it's better in so many ways."
07/21/2010:
"The new generation should be learning to use the ultimate computer system-Apple! "
07/21/2010:
"I have a seven and an eleven year old and the computers screens on the notebook and the desktops are always covered with fingerprints. And they are NOT touchscreens. I can only imagine how this thing would look after a couple days in my house. No thanks!"
07/21/2010:
"Half the computers in the worlds of education and science are made by Apple, yet not one of your nine recommendations is a Mac? Are you kidding?"
07/21/2010:
"Bless you with you safe schools. As far as I know public schools in Long Beach and rest of LA county do not allow children to bring laptops to school because of theft. Are there any safe schools in greater LA that let kids bring laptops ?"
07/21/2010:
"This site should reflect an unbiased position in all areas inclusive of computer recommendations. Why is there no Linux or other unix variant operating system offered? Apple has great computers and tablets in these prices ranges. Come on folks, let's maintain a level of fairness here, otherwise Greatschools taints it's credibility by publishing such one sided stories."
07/21/2010:
"I am really surprised that with some of the options shown, not one was a Macbook or Mac-mini, which come with loads of features that parents do not have to spring extra for, a long battery life, materials that are cool to the touch and a good investment. The Macbook is also extremely lightweight. My kids all have Macs in their computer labs, libraries and mobile carts, so if it good enough for educators, why not at home? Very disappointed this was so one sided."
07/21/2010:
"Your report would be more balanced if you included both reliability and customer satisfaction ratings from Consumer Reports. Both Dell and Gateway have fallen considerably in these areas. With family budgets so tight these days, spending $1,000 on a computer that will result in hours of frustration or hundreds in fee-based tech support calls makes for a very high long-term cost of ownership. You also fail to include offerings from Apple, which while also far from perfect, have better ratings and a lower cost of ownership over time."
07/21/2010:
"Why do they all have to be bad computers? For the price of the first one, you could get a computer with nearly 3x as much hardware in it."
07/21/2010:
"Sorry, but it's only going to be a Mac for my kids."
07/21/2010:
"Yes, I know Macs are not considered PC's. But considering 'PC' stands for 'personal computer,' technically a Mac IS a PC. So I would be interested in seeing where, or if, an Apple product would fit into this list. Macs may be more expensive, but the security of a Mac when it comes to viruses alone makes up for that, in my opinion. To make an informed decision, a consumer must consider as much information as possible. This particular article, though well-written and informative, lacks the broader scope needed to be truly helpful when deciding the most appropriate option, unless you happen to be a die-hard PC person."
07/21/2010:
"Every child deserves a Mac. Every former child deserves one too."
07/21/2010:
"No Macs on the entire list? Yes, they're more expensive but that's what you get with the world's most user-friendly computer. Each of my kids (ages 13 & 9) own one."
07/21/2010:
"What? No Macs? Seems a little slanted. "
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