When the Home Access Programme was first announced by Becta, in January 2010, there were six suppliers on the scheme, where parents could spend their grant cards. And Becta have recently announced an additional four suppliers. Which means that your parents have ten different suppliers they can turn to.

However, it’s unlikely that a parent who doesn’t have a computer is going to want to shop around ten different websites or call ten call centres, or visit ten shops, in order to decide which computer is best. Especially as many of the suppliers focus on gigabytes and gigahertz, rather than talking in language that first-time computer buyers will understand.

I’ve spent some time trawling through the different Home Access suppliers’ websites, and come up with my recommendation of the best Home Access Suppliers. Although there are ten suppliers, each offering between one and four base models, there are only seven different computers – although some offer a different software specification, or purchasable options.

What makes the Home Access Suppliers different?

Before I give you my recommendations, let me explain some of the reasons I’ve chosen them, which are important to parents choosing a first home computer for their children, to support their school work. I’ve given a great big green tick to specific suppliers for the following reasons:

  • See it in store, and take it away: Only Comet offer this, but I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. Walk into a store, look at your new computer, and then take it home straight away. Although some other suppliers have high-street partners where you can see one of their computers, you still have to order and wait for it to be delivered. So I’ve given Comet a bonus mark for having made the right decision. And I’ve also unilaterally given XMA half a bonus point, because you can see their devices in T-Mobile stores nationally, even if you can’t take it with you.
  • Windows: Although they all come with Windows, I’ve noticed that some suppliers are offering computers with Windows XP still. I don’t think that’s a good idea for a brand new computer, so I’ve put them lower down the list.
  • Microsoft Office: Of course I’m going to believe that it’s right to have a copy of Microsoft Office on the computer. It’s what students use in the classroom, and it’s what their parents will use in the workplace. And it is what they’ll need for homework.
    And more importantly, if it’s the same computer, at the same price, and one supplier includes a copy of Microsoft Office, and the other doesn’t – which one would you choose?
  • Home Learning Package: We’ve put together a suite of additional applications, and even programming tools, for students. Some suppliers are pre-installing it free. So that’s a good thing. Why wouldn’t your parents want more free software?
  • Microsoft Security Essentials: All of the Home Access computers include anti-virus protection. But if they’ve chosen the Security Essentials, then it means that the parents won’t ever have to fork out for an anti-virus subscription in the future. Whereas some of the others will cost money in 3 years time.

The Home Access computer choices

  • Laptops: Across ten suppliers, there are just 4 models of laptop – Acer Extensa 5235, Toshiba L450, Samsung R519 or Lenovo G530.
  • Netbooks: There’s only one netbook on offer, offered by nine of the ten suppliers, which is the Samsung N130. But four of the suppliers only supply it with Windows XP, whereas the rest supply it with Windows 7 – at the same price. So if you’re going to choose a netbook, make sure you get a Windows 7 one!
  • Desktops: There are just two desktops on offer currently – a Zoostorm tower, and an MSI AP1900 All-In-One. Personally, I think a laptop is a better choice, as families have more choice about where to put/use it, and students can also use it at school in the future.

So based on everything above, here’s my recommended Home Access suppliers list

  1. imageComet – because you can go into one of their 200 stores, take your computer away with you, and they’ve put all of the things above on it – Windows 7, Microsoft Office etc etc. They’re the only supplier offering the Acer laptop too (although that’s the only one they offer).

    • imageXMA – all of their models include Windows 7 and Office, Microsoft Security Essentials and the Home Learning Package. And you can go to a T-Mobile shop to see it in the high street (but unfortunately, have to then wait for delivery). The good news is that you’ve got a choice of 2 Samsungs and a Toshiba (and they do put Windows 7 on the Samsung netbook).
    • NS Optimum, Misco  and DA Computers – They have all the right software on their computers, including Windows 7, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Security Essentials and the Home Learning Package. And they all offer a desktop option too. Unfortunately NS Optimum & Misco are phone/web only, but DA do have a couple of stores in Leicester and Rugby.

      • Stone Computers – all of their models include Microsoft Office, and the bigger laptops include Windows 7 too. One small snag is that their Samsung N130 netbook has Windows XP, so I’m rating them a little lower Sad

      • Although it may seem unfair lumping everybody else together, these are the suppliers who have Windows XP on some computers, and don’t include Microsoft Office within the grant-value computer. Or all the other free software mentioned above. These are Centerprise, BLi, Micro-P and Positive IT.

      Note that this is done by trawling through suppliers’ Home Access websites - I’ll try and keep it up to date as I see/hear of changes. It’s probably not foolproof or completely error-free, but the only way to not make a mistake would be to not write this blog post!

      imageQuickly find all the other Home Access Programme posts on this blog