The Best Laptops for Students of 2018

By Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo and TJ Donegan

Heading off to college? You're going to need the essentials. No, we're not just talking about shower caddies and flip flops—we're talking about laptops. Nowadays, your computer is just as important as your student ID. Not sure whether to purchase a Chromebook, 2-n-1 convertible laptop or just get something inexpensive? Well, it really depends on your needs. But we've done the hard part, figuring out the best laptops for students, no matter your focus.

Are you a design student who needs a laptop you can draw on? Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 is a great fit. Want a gaming-ready machine for weekend frag fests? The Dell Inspiron 7000 Gaming edition is perfect. Just need something for writing papers and watching Netflix? The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is excellent for casual use.

College is expensive enough already, so it's important to shop smart. Whether you're working with a tight budget or you have a little expendable income, we've got something for everyone. From sleek ultraportables to traditional clamshell-style laptops, here are the best laptops for students.

— Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Updated December 10, 2018

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Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

  • Best of Year 2017

Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, with its 4GB RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, is a good productivity machine. It's fast enough to handle most tasks like watching Netflix or surfing the web. The Flip is surprisingly zippy for a Chromebook, which exclusively runs web-based applications.

It genuinely feels well-built, too. The aluminum body is slim and lightweight, but won't bow under pressure. The convertible hinge design also lets you rotate the lid all the way around so you can use it like a tablet, making it easier to share information in a classroom setting.

It's pricier than your average Chromebook, but if you're looking for a sophisticated-looking machine to do your schoolwork on, then you can't get much better than this. It looks and feels like a premium machine without the premium price tag; we liked it so much, we named it the best Chromebook of 2017

Acer Chromebook 11 N7

Acer Chromebook 11 N7

If you're happy with Chromebooks, the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is the budget alternative to the Flip. It's not the prettiest machine, but it's rugged and affordable. Designed for classroom environments, it should be able to withstand drops up to 48 inches. The keyboard and trackpad are also sealed against small spills, so if you were to spill a can of soda on it, the gutter system would drain that away.

It runs Android apps, too, but it'll only work in the beta channel. That might be something only advanced users want to deal with, as it's not stable yet. The Acer has a touchscreen, though, which gives you a little more control over the apps.

The 1366 x 768 display looks okay in low-light, but bright environments wash it out. The colors are accurate enough, at the very least. Even though the display is lacking, it's not a bad machine for the price. The Acer isn't as sleek-looking as the Flip, but it gets the job done.

Acer Aspire E 15 (2016, Intel Core i5, 256GB, 8GB RAM)

  • Best of Year 2016

Acer Aspire E 15 (2016, Intel Core i5, 256GB, 8GB RAM)

The Acer Aspire E 15 (2018) is one of the most fully featured laptops we've ever tested. With its snappy performance, long battery life, and robust port selection, you're getting a lot for your money. Plus, at just $599, it certainly won't burn a hole in your wallet. Did I mention it's upgradeable, too?

As for the trade-offs, the display is dimmer than we like and the chassis (though sturdy) is really bulky. The webcam takes some pretty crappy pictures as well. However, for those with basic computer needs, the Aspire is the right choice.

Google Pixelbook (2017, Intel Core i7)

  • Editors' Choice

Google Pixelbook (2017, Intel Core i7)

With its snappy processor, lightweight frame, and responsive touchscreen, the Google Pixelbook is about as futuristic as Chromebooks get. But while we love the clicky keyboard, long battery life, and convertible design, it's not a perfect product.

The pen isn't included, so you'll need to pay extra in addition to the cost of the laptop. Did I mention it's really expensive for a Chromebook, too? The base configuration alone is about $999. The lid is also a smudge magnet. Drawbacks aside, if you want the best of the best, you can't get much better than this.

Dell Inspiron 13 5000

Dell Inspiron 13 5000

If you want the power and portability of a high-end laptop but want to keep the cost down, the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 is the way to go. Reasonably equipped models start right around $529, with fast processors and just enough storage and memory for handling schoolwork.

We recommend upgrading to a model with at least 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which will set you back around $700. Though the plasticky body won’t turn heads, it’s lightweight, portable, and the 2-in-1 screen is perfect for watching Netflix.

Best of all, it’s easy and fast to get your laptop fixed if it breaks (we’re big fans of Dell’s service and support). And if you’re the techy type, Dell offers a service manual that shows you how to personally replace nearly every component on the laptop—ensuring it’ll work great for years to come.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

  • Editors' Choice

Where To Buy

$849.99 Dell Buy

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

If you want serious graphics power for a low price, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is the best budget gaming laptop around. The base model, which comes with 8GB RAM and an Intel Core i5-7300HQ quad-core processor, has a starting price of $749. That's enough juice to handle mainstream titles like Overwatch on medium settings and older games on high or ultra settings.

The thing about this laptop is that it's ginormous, weighing almost six pounds. Unless you're teeming with superhuman strength, I doubt you'll want to lug this thing back and forth to class every day. It's probably the kind of laptop that lives on your dorm room desk rather than something you take all your notes on, but it's a pretty good deal if you want a gaming-capable machin; you're getting loads of power for a phenomenal price.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

  • Editors' Choice

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Most “2-in-1” laptops have an attached keyboard that can flip behind the screen, resulting in something that’s basically a big, bulky tablet. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the opposite of that: it’s a tablet first and foremost, with a detachable keyboard cover (sold separately) for when the included stylus and on-screen keyboard aren’t enough.

Though typing on the keyboard cover takes some getting used to, the SP4 is perfect if you plan to write a lot of your notes on the screen or need something you can draw on. Its stylus is widely considered to be the best in class and the built-in kickstand gives you plenty of angles to work with.

The Surface Pro 4 comes in a wide variety of configurations, with entry-level models that can handle basic schoolwork starting at $799—not counting Microsoft.com's 10% student discount. More powerful options exist, but the thin design means those power-hungry machines won’t last quite as long on a charge.

Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air

The MacBook Air, known for its all-aluminum body and ultra-thin design, hasn't changed much since its 2008 debut. The 2017 version might not have the freshest design, but performance is fast enough for basic tasks like web browsing, photo editing, and word processing. What I like best is the large multi-touch touchpad because it's easy to use and super responsive.

The 1440 x 900 display is behind the curve, though. You'll lose contrast if you tilt the screen downward and viewing angles are narrower than we like. It's fine for everyday tasks like writing e-mails or chatting in Slack, but most laptops offer 1080p displays or higher these days.

Razer Blade (2017)

  • Best of Year 2017

Razer Blade (2017)

If you're looking to replace your aging gaming computer with a high-end powerhouse, then maybe it's time to spring for the Razer Blade. This machine, with its high-performing specs and cool Chroma keyboard, ticked off a lot of boxes for us—it's actually the best-performing laptop we've ever tested. The Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics chip can handle everything from modern games to virtual reality, if that's your thing.

The only drawback is the underwhelming battery life. The Blade loses its charge just a few hours of moderate use. That's less than a full school day, so you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for an outlet between classes. It's also expensive, but for a true gaming experience you can bring on the go, the Blade is the way to go.

Huawei Matebook X Pro (Intel i7, 16GB RAM)

  • Editors' Choice

Huawei Matebook X Pro (Intel i7, 16GB RAM)

If you're looking for zippy performance, look no further. Not only does the MateBook X Pro deliver fast performance, it's durable and the top-tier model ($1,499.99) is aggressively priced. However, what we like best about it is the high-res display.

Between the vibrant colors and the barely-there bezels, the MateBook X Pro is awesome for photo editing or streaming video. The screen is also coated in Corning Gorilla Glass, which helps repel fingerprints. The only thing you have to watch out for is the glare.

But while we like the responsive touchpad and long battery life, we still had a few minor nitpicks. The underside gets pretty warm when running heavy processing tasks. The webcam placement is also weird and the shell attracts fingerprints.

That said, if you're looking for a cheaper alternative to the MacBook Pro, you can't get much better than this.

Lenovo X1 Carbon (Touchscreen, 6th Gen)

Lenovo X1 Carbon (Touchscreen, 6th Gen)

Known for their no-nonsense designs and amazing keyboards, the ThinkPad line is great for business students or anyone looking for a super reliable laptop.

This is going to sound bizarre but the X1 Carbon (2018) is one of the most huggable laptops around. The carbon fiber material just feels fantastic. Not only that, battery life is excellent and the keyboard is an absolute dream to type on. That said, there were still trade-offs.

The touch screen is finicky and the starting price is a bit high. If you're looking for a similarly powerful machine for less money, we'd opt for the Dell XPS 13 (2018). But if you're working with a flexible budget and want a well-built machine, the Carbon is the way to go.

Acer Chromebook 15 (CB515-1HT-P39B)

Acer Chromebook 15 (CB515-1HT-P39B)

For just $379, the Chromebook 15 is a great option for the student on a very tight budget. What's really surprising about it is its build quality. The aluminum and plastic build feels really strong and I didn't notice any flex in the screen or chassis. That said, it's heavier than I like.

Weighing just a little under five pounds, you may not want to lug this thing from class-to-class. But that's the price you pay for a 15-inch display. Larger screens need larger bodies/chassis. Hey, at least you're getting a 1080p screen.

It's also not the most powerful machine in the world, but it's fine for browsing the Internet or writing papers. You'll definitely want to avoid loading this baby up with too many games. That said, if you just need something for light tasks, this Acer is where it's at.

Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (CP311-1HN-C2DV)

Acer Chromebook Spin 11 (CP311-1HN-C2DV)

For the student who needs a versatile machine, the Chromebook Spin 11 is a good choice. Thanks to the 360-degree hinge, you can swing the screen around and use it like a tablet or prop it up like a tent. It's also remarkably lightweight.

But while we love the included stylus and klutz-proof design, the screen is really small. It's fine for writing or working in Excel, but not much else. Picture quality is acceptable, but it's not the best screen for watching Netflix on.

If the tiny display isn't a deal-breaker, the Chromebook Spin 11 makes for an excellent budget option.

How We Tested

Here at Reviewed, we test graphics, processing power, battery life, and screen brightness. In other words, we try to push every laptop beyond its limits. We use popular benchmarks to test internal components such as Geekbench, 3DMark, and Metro 2033. This is how we gauge how well the laptop multitasks, responds to input commands, runs games, and more. As for battery testing, we set them up to continuously cycle through various websites at 200 nits brightness until they run out of power. This tells us how much juice you’re getting on a single charge. We also take into account build quality, price, portability, and design.

The Tester

I’m Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo and I’m the primary laptop reviewer here at Reviewed. Though Reviewed has been testing laptops for a couple of years now, I seized control of this beat (cue evil laughter) in 2017. It’s the perfect category for me because I’ve been playing around with laptops ever since I was a kid. While I like playing games and browsing the web as much as the next person, the tinkerer in me loves getting a good look at the internal components, as it kind of looks like a miniature metropolis inside the shell. For me, a good laptop needs to be the perfect balance of design and function. If it doesn’t excite you in some way, then what’s the point? The more innovative it is, the better.

The Tests

The first thing we do is push the graphics card (a circuit board that controls what you see on the display) and the processor (the brains of the laptop) to its limits. That means we run cinematic movies and games to test the graphics card and a program that simulates workloads to test the processor. These tests gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs visually demanding games, responds to input commands, and so on. The next thing we do is record the screen brightness with a CS-200, a handheld device that measures luminance. The brighter the screen is, the better. The final test we do is the battery test, as it takes the longest to run. First, we unplug the laptop and set it to 200 nits brightness. We then set it up to continuously cycle through popular websites like Amazon and Twitter until the battery dies. What we’re trying to do here is simulate how an average person might use the laptop. This is how we figure out how much juice you’re getting on a single charge. We also check build quality (does the screen have any flex?), portability (under three pounds is ideal), and design (sometimes an eye-catching color scheme really makes a difference).


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