Buyers Guide – Affordable Chromebook Substitutes

There are affordable Chromebook substitutes for schoolkids

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a shortage of Chromebooks for kids. PAT PILCHER suggests some great alternatives for worried parents.

There are affordable Chromebook substitutes for schoolkids

The rise of Covid-19, working from home and e-learning has driven a spike in demand for laptops. This increase in demand might cover laptops at every price point, but the shortages appear to be most acute with affordable models, such as Chromebooks which are often used by students.

It’s not just that we’re all refreshing our laptops (although that is happening too), but that global supply and manufacturing capabilities have all taken a hit with the pandemic. The supply chain has been struggling to keep up with a surge in online shopping/shipping, and factories are struggling as a shortage of components continues to bite.

Even though we know what’s causing the shortage and where the problems lie, it’s cold comfort to parents wanting to buy affordable notebook computers for their kids ahead of the looming 2021 school year.

So, what can a frustrated parent do?

Feeling your pain, we at Witchdoctor put in the hard yards to find usable and affordable notebook PC and Chromebook alternatives to save you the effort. Before shopping for a school laptop for your kids, check in with their school for what operating system and laptop specifications they require.


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Cheap as chips and great for schools but there’s a shortage of Chromebooks


If you’re after a Windows PC, the news is good. Virtually all manufacturers offer affordable sub-$600 models. While their specifications won’t be anything stellar (you’re typically looking at a low power CPU, 2-4GB of RAM and 32-64GB of storage), they’re affordable, and depending on your kid’s school requirements, will probably run most educational and productivity applications just fine. Most PC makers offer budget notebooks in their line ups, so our recommendation is to shop around using sites such as to see what’s available. At the time of writing, here’s what we were able to find for under $600.

Acer TravelMate

A great example of this is the Acer TravelMate B118 Laptop. At the time of writing, it was available from Harvey Norman for a mere $497. Powered by a Celeron CPU with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, it mightn’t be a computing powerhouse but is more than ample as a classroom machine.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 

Lenovo has long been a popular choice among corporates thanks to their durability and value for money. Depending on where you shop, the IdeaPad 3 can be had for $548. It uses an AMD CPU and comes with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

Asus E410MA                  

Asus has long had a reputation for building innovative gear that offers excellent value for money. The E410MA is available for a wallet-pleasing $399. It packs a Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage along with a brilliant trackpad that has numeric keys built-in.


Refurbished laptops are great substitutes but with a few caveats


Another affordable option comes in the form of ex-lease laptops. They’re from corporates who trade them in when they upgrade to newer hardware. The upside is that they’ll give you a lot more bang for your budget buck (e.g. faster CPU, more RAM and storage) but caveats do apply.

Laptop PCs can be subject to much more punishment than their desktop counterparts. While most refurbishment outfits thoroughly check laptops before selling them, there is no definitive way of knowing what sort of shape they’re in. Because of this, we recommend you buy from a reputable supplier that offers repair or replacement guarantees. Here are our picks:

PC Traders Offering a 12-month guarantee, Auckland based PC traders offer a broad range of ex-lease computers and peripherals, all of which are searchable via their website.

Thunderstore There are some great deals to be had with ex-lease PCs/Macs and peripherals. Thunderstore also offers a 30-day return to base warranty.

NZ PC Clearance Auckland based PC Clearance also have some hot deals with laptops available for under $300. Warrantees vary depending on the product.


Chromebooks can be emulated on other brands


Another advantage of Windows PCs is the wide range of emulators available for them. If your child’s school, for instance, requires your kids use a Chromebook, and they’re still proving impossible to obtain, here’s a guide to installing a Chrome OS emulator on a Windows PC. It’s a little techie sounding, but with a little perseverance, you’ll soon be able to run Chromebook apps on a Windows-powered laptop.


Our Chromebook substitutes will save you dollars


Tablets are another option as a PC replacement. Improved battery life and more energy-efficient CPUs means that most tablets have enough power to get through a school day. Most come with CPUs that are more than up to productivity chores (and gaming!), and a tablet is also light enough for most kids to carry between school and home. There’s also a growing number of third-party keyboard covers that attach to provide PC like functionality, allowing kids to create and edit documents, etc. That said, most tablet/keyboard options command a price premium compared to Chromebooks and budget Windows PCs. Here are our tablet picks:

Microsoft Surface Go 

Okay, so it’s a Windows PC, but with the optional Surface cover removed, it’s also a Windows tablet. Priced at just $650 without a Surface cover keyboard and stylus, the Surface Go is a reliable budget option for school use.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

The Wi-Fi-only version of Samsung’s ($588) Galaxy Tab S6 comes into its own with an optional third-party keyboard cover attached. Add in Microsoft’s Office productivity apps (which are free), and a massive selection of Android apps, and you’ve got the makings of a reliable classroom workhorse.

Apple iPad Mini

While an iPad costs a little more ($679 plus an Apple Type Cover) it’s easily the best option if you live in an Apple household and your child’s school requires Apple gear. The iPad Mini is compact enough to sling into a school bag and can be a productivity powerhouse when combined with the optional Apple Type Cover and Apple Pen.

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Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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