Whether you’re taking classes on campus or learning from home, a laptop is a must-have for college.
Laptops are essential for a range of college tasks, from taking notes to writing reports to binging on Netflix between classes. Thankfully, buying a laptop needn’t add much to the cost of your tuition. In fact, most big retailers offer laptop student deals just before the start of the new school year.
The main things to consider when choosing a laptop are:
As a college student, other important factors include battery life, size, and weight. After all, you don’t want your laptop to die on you in the middle of class and you do need it to fit comfortably in your backpack.
College students are a diverse group, so we considered all tastes and preferences in compiling our list of the best laptops for students in 2020. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here: from the best inexpensive laptop to the best lightweight laptop to the best 2-in-1 laptop. We’ve even named our best laptops for students in creative faculties such as architecture and animation.
Here’s our list of the best laptop for college students in 2021.
Who said you had to pay a fortune for a decent laptop? The latest version of the Acer Swift 3 does basically everything you’d need at college, making it one of the best budget laptops for students. The secret sauce in this laptop is the AMD Ryzen 7 4700U, a processor that gives thin and light laptops the power to match higher-priced alternatives.
The Acer Swift 3 is extremely lightweight, making it perfect for hauling around campus. With a proven battery life of 11-12 hours, you can be sure it will last through a whole day of classes. It’s also great for multitasking. As one customer review notes, “Productivity use such as coding, taking notes in class, running other professional programs like the Microsoft suite or Zoom are handled easily and perfectly.”
There’s cheap, and then there’s really cheap, like the ASUS Chromebook. You won’t find the best laptop in the world for this price, but if you’re searching for something that’s functional and affordable then look no farther. The Chromebook runs on Google’s Chrome OS, which is known for offering strong anti-virus protection, booting up in seconds, and having a long shelf life.
The ASUS Chromebook display has a durable 180-degree hinge that can be laid flat to share content with your peers. Its two reversible USB Type-C ports make it simple to charge or connect with another device. As an added bonus, it gives you full access to all the apps on the Google Play store as well as 1-year free Google 100 GB cloud storage. It might lack the features of higher-priced alternatives, but if you stick to using it for studying and streaming then it works perfectly well.
There are laptops. There are tablets. And then there are 2-in-1 devices which offer the best of both worlds. The Microsoft Surface Pro is our pick for best 2-in-1 laptop device for college students, thanks to its affordability and ease of use. It can be used as a laptop for things like taking notes in class, and can be easily turned into a tablet for watching videos and movies during free time.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is suitable for all sorts of student budgets. The basic product comes with 4GB memory and 128GB storage space, but you can pay more for additional memory and storage. The Microsoft Store offers plenty of optional paid add-ons, including a keyboard (great if you’re planning to use this mostly as a laptop) and Surface pen (for using as a tablet).
It’s not the lightest laptop on the market but it is the best ‘ultrabook’ (a classification of high-end laptops that weigh below-average without compromising battery life). With a 13.3” screen, frameless four-sided NanoEdge design, and ultra-compact display, ASUS rightly claims to have made a laptop smaller than an A4-sheet of paper.
The ASUS ZenBook provides the greatest possible screen size for the least amount of physical space, making it perfect for the student that is forever on the go. It offers the latest Intel Core processors and a clear high-resolution display, making it suitable for working on all sorts of documents or taking a break to do some gaming or streaming.
A few laptops are in the running for the title of longest-lasting battery, but the ExpertBook is the only one that appears on all the expert lists. This lightweight computer lasts at least 16 hours in normal circumstances, and up to 24 hours when conserving battery. This makes it the perfect computer for pulling an all-night study session with friends when you’ve forgotten your charger back in your room.
The ASUS ExpertBook isn’t a one-trick laptop, either. It’s incredibly thin (4mm bezel) and light (from 2.2 lbs), yet is able to withstand six harsh shocks in each direction. It has superb audio based on four omnidirectional far-field mics, smart amplifier technology, and Harman Kardon-certified speakers. And it has strong security features, including a fingerprint sensor.
It ain’t cheap, but the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best all-round laptops for school. Critics have rated the XPS 13 one of the best laptops on the market for years, and Dell has kept it near the top by applying small improvements to each new release. The newest version is the most powerful yet and is based on 10thGen Intel Core processors.
The Dell XPS 13 strikes a great balance between design (Platinum Silver with Black carbon fiber palmrest), power (a choice of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors), and potability (2.65 lbs for non-touch, 2.8 lbs for touch screen). For those who can afford it, the Dell XPS 13 is a contender for best computer for college.
If it’s a relatively affordable MacBook you’re looking for, then it’s hard to go past the MacBook Air. Apple is running its usual back-to-school student laptop deals in 2021, including $100 off the MacBook Air ($999 reduced to $899), plus discounts on AirPods and AppleCare+.
The 2020 version of the MacBook Air starts at the same price as the old versions, but with the added benefit of Apple’s new Magic Keyboard. It also comes with the same powerful Intel processors (i3 or i5) and Force Touch trackpad that have long been a feature of the MacBook Air, as well as the Retina Display with True Tone that was added in 2019.
Chromebooks are popular with college students, and the best chromebooks for students are the ones made by ASUS. The ASUS Chromebook Flip C434 was released in January 2020, replacing the ASUS Flip C302. Like the previous version, the C434 fast became an Amazon bestseller in the Chromebook, 2-in-1, and budget laptop categories.
The ASUS Chromebook Flip C434 is another slim, lightweight, and affordable laptop that’s perfect for college students. It comes at a number of different price levels, but even the cheapest C434 offers double the RAM and storage as the C302. Just 0.6” thick, the C434 can easily slide in among the textbooks in your backpack. Better yet, the battery can easily last a full day of classes, so you can leave your charger back in the room.
Not every student can get by with a budget laptop. Some students, like those in creative majors such as architecture and film/animation, need a laptop that can help with complex tasks like 3D modelling and video editing. There are several laptops in this category, with Dell XPS 15 being the easiest to configure to your individual needs.
The entry-level Dell XPS 15 comes with a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a massive 15.6” display. It can be upgraded to up to 32 GB of RAM, 2TB of drive storage and 4K Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) screen, making it suitable for even the most technologically demanding college assignments.
Billed ‘the world’s smallest gaming laptop’, the Razer Blade 15 RTX is the perfect computer for the gamer who also happens to do a bit of studying from time to time. If you’re a gamer then you probably know all about Razer. The RTX line of products is particularly slim and light, making it perfect for hauling around campus.
The Razer Blade 15 RTX line comes with an OLED 4K, 3840 x 2160 display option, which is good news for creative students that also happen to love gaming. Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition laptops actually turn your laptop into a portable digital studio, with performance boosts in video editing, 3D animation, and other content-creation tasks.