For high school, college and university students, owning a reliable laptop can make the difference between a passing grade and being doomed to repeat a course or, worse, an entire year of their studies. The dizzying array of laptop brands, designs, capabilities, and perhaps most importantly, price, can make it difficult to choose the right computer to complement a course of study. To take some of the stress out of your buying decisions, we've tested a wide range of Chromebooks, 2-in-1 convertible laptops, and more traditional models to find the very best laptops for students from each category.
Our top pick for most people is the Apple M1 MacBook Air(available at Apple). It's stylish, ultra-powerful, and its battery won't quit for 13 straight hours of frantic research and Netflix breaks. Should our main pick not suit your needs, our guide includes a number of other laptops that work great in all sorts of settings inside the classroom and out.
These are the best laptops for students we tested, ranked in order:
Apple M1 MacBook Air (Apple M1 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB, Late 2020)
HP Envy x360 (AMD Ryzen 5-4500U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
With almost thirteen hours of battery life, a record-breaking M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 shoved our previous top laptop out of its spot. Unless you need Windows 10 for your classes, the MacBook Air is the perfect laptop to pull all-nighters writing essays and streaming high-resolution video.
Compared to the mid-2020 MacBook Air, the M1 version is almost identical on the outside. The only changes are the switch from Intel to the Apple-made M1 processors, and the total lack of fans. Apple claimed this new M1 chip would be so amazing that we’d want to ditch our old Intel Macs. They delivered, with the M1 processor showing over a 60% performance increase over the top-line Intel Core i7 in our mid-2020 MacBook Pro 13 (fun fact: the M1 in our new MacBook Air scored 0.001% higher than our M1 MacBook Pro 13 in Geekbench, one of our benchmark apps). The only laptops that came close to the M1 MacBooks' performance were super pricey laptops with flagship Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen 9 processors—and even then it was a close call. This $1,000 laptop performs better than most laptops twice its price, making it an excellent choice for those who need a powerhouse of a machine.
But it’s not all about performance. The most astonishing feature of the MacBook Air is its battery life. Our battery test always pulls less hours from the laptops than they claim to give, so we expected the claimed 15-hour battery life to turn into 9 hours—instead, we got over almost thirteen hours. In short, it shattered the record for longest battery life we’ve seen from a laptop running Chrome...until we tested the M1 MacBook Pro 13, which survived for about fourteen hours. Even without that extra hour, we went days without charging the MacBook Air despite using it during work hours. This laptop can stay awake for almost as long as you can.
The MacBook Air M1 comes with the same aluminum chassis and Retina screen we loved in the earlier 2020 Intel MacBook Air. Because you can't upgrade the M1 MacBooks after purchase, we recommend splurging on a model with at least 512GB of storage. This is one of the most surprising releases we’ve seen in years, and we can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with the M1 MacBook Air.
There's a lot to love about the Flex 5. It’s snappy, it feels luxurious, it looks classy, it has a nice screen, it’s affordable, and it has a flawless keyboard and trackpad. What doesn’t it have?
This is an excellent midrange Chromebook that succeeds as both a clamshell laptop and as a 2-in-1. It stands sturdy when you use it as a laptop, and the hinges snap nicely to make a seamless tablet configuration. If you want a machine for your everyday load, where you just want something that will be a pleasure to write, watch, read, and play on, the Flex 5 shines. It has a large, smooth trackpad with excellent tracking, a keyboard that we could easily type on for hours, and a touch screen that’s always sensitive to my fingertips.
The screen provides a picture that's great for YouTube and Netflix binging. It doesn’t have enough brightness to, say, read in a park on a sunny day, but it’s more than enough for use in a well-lit room. Because the Flex 5 runs ChromeOS, its 4GB of RAM and Intel Core i3 processor felt snappy no matter what we threw at it. However, while the Flex 5 outperformed quite a few higher-end processors in single core benchmarks, it did not manage to match Intel’s Core i5 or AMD’s Ryzen 5 processors in multi-core benchmarks. That means it’s underpowered for the most intensive of tasks, such as video editing and 3D modelling, but it can handle lighter 3D games like Fortnite and bloated web browsers just fine.
If you want to take your Chromebook with you wherever you go, it will serve you for an afternoon or shorter plane ride, but you’ll want to have a USB-C charger on hand; in our tests its battery lasted just 6 hours.. This is by far this Chromebook’s biggest flaw, especially because Chromebooks are designed for exceptional battery life.
Despite its mediocre battery life, it’s still a great buy. Its construction feels solid and looks better than many other Chromebooks in this price range, and it packs enough power that we wouldn’t miss Windows and MacOS. We’d absolutely recommend this to the average home user, especially with a budget around $500 or less.
The Razer Blade 15 Advanced's performance is about as powerful as you can get from a gaming laptop. Inside the sleek aluminum exterior, there's an Intel Core i7-10875H, an Nvidia RTX 2080 SUPER, 16GB RAM and an entire terabyte of SSD storage. It’s a phenomenal machine with more than enough computing power to edit videos, run simulations, or play games.
While it may be marketed as a gaming laptop, its body is suave enough to blend into any classroom, and its vivid screen and springy keyboard will let you breeze through your assignments. Just about the only thing we don’t love about the Blade 15 Advanced is its high price tag, but we think it's worth it if you'll be working with 4K footage all day.
Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. To industry-standard mix of industry standard and custom-made tests as well as specialized lab equipment in our Cambridge, MA testing facility. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more.
For battery testing, we set them up to continuously cycle through various websites at right around 60% brightness (200 nits) until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.
What You Should Know About Laptops For Students
Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel as you work.
Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since they’re your primary form of interaction with the machine. A poor trackpad or finicky keyboard can really kill the experience.
Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1s have gained in popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost money to include. Similarly, cramming all those powerful components into a small, easy-to-carry package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.
In addition, consider which operating system you need. Windows is still the dominant OS these days, and if you’re going to play games, edit photos and videos, or need certain software for work, you should probably stick with Microsoft’s offering.
If you spend all your time on the web, though, a Chromebook may serve you better than you’d think—between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser, and many of those web apps even work offline for those rare occasions you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks have the advantage of being cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus-free (since they run Linux under the hood).
13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15 inches: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17 inches: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.
There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.
You’ll also want to consider how many USB ports the laptop has, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use—this can vary quite a bit from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.
Under the Hood
Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts—the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips like Intel’s i3 and i5 are more than adequate. 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, though even web browsing can eat up RAM these days, so 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, and want a laptop that’ll last you well into the future—we wouldn’t generally advise 4GB for most Windows users these days.
If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook).
No matter who you are, we recommend erring on the side of more storage rather than less—people often underestimate how much space they’ll fill up with all their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though, so if you can’t afford a 256GB solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage. Keep in mind internal upgradeability, too—many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, meaning you can’t swap in more RAM or a bigger storage drive down the line. So either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple years—not just what you need right now.
Other Laptops For Students We Tested
HP Spectre x360 14t (2020)
For a luxurious laptop experience, look no further than the HP Spectre 14t. Its class-leading design, excellent battery life, and exceptionally snappy speed rise it to the creme de la creme of premium 2-in-1s on the market. What sets it apart from its competitors is its bezel-free 3:2 screen, which gives you plenty of screen real estate for web pages, documents, spreadsheets, and more without the added weight and dead space around the screen. If you find yourself stuck studying late at the student center or the library, you won't have to worry about plugging in for 9 hours before the battery's drained.
While its performance isn't as breath-taking as that of the new Apple M1 Macs, it's still among the fastest laptops we've tested. For light video editing, office work, and casual games, the Spectre 14t will sing. There are some formidable competitors, like the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13, but the Spectre is the laptop to choose if you're after stunning aesthetics with solid power for a reasonable price.
If you need a school day’s worth of battery, a powerful processor, and a laptop that can handle occasional gaming, you may think you need to spend top dollar. Not so thanks to the HP Envy x360, which has an 8-hour battery life and a quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 processor for well under a grand.
It absolutely crushes the much pricier Intel-based Macbook Air in performance, looks just as beautiful, and packs a keyboard perfect for late-night essays and homework projects. If you need to take a break from typing, you can also take advantage of the Envy x360's 2-in-1 form factor and use it as a tablet.
To get the best bang for your buck, we recommend getting an Envy x360 configured with an AMD Ryzen 5, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD storage. You can always upgrade storage later with a new drive or a microSD card if you need to.
With its minimalistic aesthetic and lightweight form factor, this laptop will turn heads. But don't be fooled: not only is the Dell XPS 13 7390 stylish, but it's also a great performer.
The Intel Core i7-10710U processor inside our review unit is based on the Comet Lake generation. Its six cores can handle anything from video editing and rendering to big data processing. If you need CPU power you can haul across campus, this is it. However, if it's graphics power you're after, this XPS 13 is no gaming station, as it does not have a discrete graphics card like some of the other XPS laptops do.
Its dazzling 4K touch display makes this an especially good choice for film students. When I watched a dizzying action scene from the movie Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn’s colorful outfit was incredibly vivid. The bezels are ultra skinny too, so you’re getting a lot of screen for such a small device. However, at max brightness, the display hurt my eyes. That said, a screen that’s too bright is a good problem to have.
For every other class on your roster, you'll be happy to know you can type and click away in comfort with its phenomenal trackpad and keyboard. The XPS lineup has had some of the best built-in keyboards and trackpads for years now, and this XPS 13 continues that tradition. If you’re looking for a stylish ultrabook that delivers an insane amount of processing power, look no further than the Dell XPS 13.
If you’re a young professional, you should definitely check out the Asus Chromebook Flip. Its performance is good enough for everyday tasks like surfing the web and checking email, and its bezels are practically nonexistent (this means you’re getting a ton of screen). But what I like best is the sophisticated design. With its aluminum finish and chrome trim, the C434T looks and feels like a premium product (minus the premium price tag). It’s one of the most elegant-looking Chromebooks we’ve seen in a while.
The only thing that tripped me up was the trackpad. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and it took us some time to adjust to it. It's not a deal-breaker, per se, it’s just something to be aware of.
We liked the mid-2020 MacBook Pro 13 well enough, but the M1-based late-2020 model just annihilated it. On the outside, they are the same MacBook, but don’t be fooled. Apple’s new M1 processor is way more powerful than even the high-end Intel processor, the Core i7, from the mid-2020 MacBook. When we tested them side by side, the M1 MacBook Pro 13 scored over 60% higher than the Intel Core i7-based MacBook Pro 13 we tested earlier in 2020. Wow.
But of course, power means nothing if the battery life and user experience are lackluster. Worry not, for the M1 MacBook Pro 13 shattered our battery life record—during our Chrome-based battery test, it kept going, and going, and going, and going until finally dying just about 14 hours later. The longest-lasting Windows competitor, the HP Spectre 14t, lasted 9 hours before giving up.
If you’re interested in getting a new MacBook, there’s only two reasons to turn away from the M1 MacBook Pro 13. Either you need an Intel-based Mac or discrete GPU (i.e. a MacBook Pro 16), or you’re considering the M1 MacBook Air 13. The MacBook Air 13 offers almost exactly the same features for a more modest price tag, so it’s especially difficult to recommend the Pro over the Air. For a difference of $300, the Pro essentially offers a Touch Bar, a bigger battery (the Air lasted one hour less than the Pro in our battery test), and a fan. For most students, the Air will be the better value pick, but it’s worth splurging on the Pro if you can afford it.
If you’re debating between an M1 MacBook and a premium Windows laptop, the M1 MacBooks win. They’re more powerful, have a significantly better battery life, and have a wonderful aesthetic and user experience. Unless you’re using Windows-only apps and features, we recommend the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air.
HP’s Spectre line merges performance with a premium design, featuring an all-aluminum build, a convertible touch screen, and great performance in an incredibly small package. Like the Dell XPS 13, the Spectre x360’s bezels are super thin, so you pack a 13-inch screen into a much smaller chassis. But despite that, the keyboard is big, backlit, and surprisingly deep for the laptop’s size. Two USB-C ports and one USB-A port make for a versatile port selection, battery life hits a clean seven hours and forty-five minutes, and you can log in quickly with facial recognition or a fingerprint scanner.
Unfortunately, the Spectre had one big downside compared to its competitors: its trackpad is awfully small, making it hard to use comfortably. It’s a super sleek laptop, and it checks most of the right boxes, but its usability suffered enough that it doesn’t quite stack up to the other great models we tested.
The Zephyrus G14 exudes class. The first thing you notice is the color scheme—white, silver, and a hint of black—which calls to mind a two-tone paint job on a sports car. This sets it apart from the rainbow-colored lighting typical of out-of-the-box gaming laptops; you wouldn’t think twice about taking this to a quiet coffee shop to get a little work done. There is an all-black option available, though we can’t imagine choosing that version.
The keyboard feels especially durable, the touchpad’s sensitive and precise, and it’s got a stunning display. With its 14-inch high-def screen, games look great even on lower graphics settings. Text documents and web pages are smooth and crisp in a way you typically only see on Macbooks and tablets. And you’ll be amazed by how lightweight this thing is despite its formidable power; the G14 achieves a shocking balance between convenience and performance.
Most impressive of all is the battery life, which exceeded four hours running in Turbo mode without any power-saving measures active. This may well be the ideal solution for someone who really wants to game anytime, anywhere.
The Acer Spin 3 was this close to being our favorite budget laptop. Though not as sleek or fast as the HP Envy x360 13t, it has some really compelling points in its favor, including a built-in rechargeable stylus, a beautiful 14-inch display, Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a full-size HDMI port in addition to both USB and USB-C ports.
In our tests, the Spin 3 was fast thanks to its 10th-gen Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. It was a hair slower than our top pick in some tests, a hair faster in others, and it offers the same 8+ hour battery life.
The best part of the Spin 3 is its built-in stylus, which slots conveniently right into the chassis where it can charge. If you prefer to take hand-written notes—especially if you need to diagram things out—a stylus is great, but you’re always at risk of losing it. With this, you’ll always have it with you, and that’s rare on any laptop, let alone one well under a grand.
The main reason we opted for the HP Envy as our top pick is the design is much nicer, the Envy can better handle a wider variety of graphics tasks (including light gaming), and the keyboard feels better to type on. But if the HP is sold out (which it frequently is), you want a stylus, or the Spin 3 drops on sale, it’s an excellent bargain.
The Acer Aspire 5 is a legend in the cheap laptop arena. For years, you could get an Acer Aspire and get an extremely fast laptop, with a ton of memory and storage, for around $550—with an upgraded model around $700. It was plastic, the screen was bad, and it was bulky (including a CD burner), but it was great for the price.
The updated Aspire 5 has an all-new design that sheds some of the thickness—and the CD burner, RIP—for a design that feels like a more conventional, affordable machine. It has chiclet style keys, a mostly plastic body, and a raft of ports including a full-size HDMI, USB-C, three USB ports, and an honest-to-goodness Ethernet port. It also sports some updated design cues that lend it an air of class that the previous Aspire sorely lacked.
In our tests, the updated Aspire proved it’s still a great machine if you need a lot of power and ports on a budget. The machine was more than fast enough for basic tasks, though the battery lasted less than seven hours in our browsing test and the screen was fine, at best.
Unfortunately, the magic isn’t quite there. This is a great machine for the money, but there are a lot of laptops in this price range that are sleeker, faster, and offer better battery life. It’s good if you never, ever want to carry a dongle, but for everyone else our top pick is a better, cheaper bet.
While most people should go for the new M1 MacBooks, the Intel-based MacBook Pro has some advantages. Although it's unlikely you'll run into MacOS apps that won't run on the M1 processors, it does happen occasionally (especially if you find yourself trying to run drivers for peripherals). For those times, an Intel-based laptop comes in handy—if you anticipate needing specific equipment or software, you should verify that they can run on the M1 processor either natively or an emulator. The MacBook Pro may not be the most powerful laptop on this list, but it's still plenty capable in its own right.
If you don't need to run MacOS-only software that refuses to run on M1 Macs, there is little reason to consider the Intel-based MacBook Pro 13. M1 Macs aside, there are much more affordable and well-equipped Windows laptops for your needs. If you need a great laptop for content creation or engineering, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced and ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 on this list will be great options for you. If you want a laptop with a long battery life and a solid amount of power, then the M1 MacBooks, the HP Spectre 14t, and the Dell XPS 13 will all suit your needs.
Compared to last generation’s Zenbook 13, the Zenbook 14 trades in an aluminum chassis and a gorgeous display for markedly better performance and battery life—all while maintaining the Zenbook line’s admirable portability. We're a little disappointed to see the premium build quality go, but we would still say this is a good midrange buy with some of the best battery life and weight in its class.
While the chassis is not as glorious as we were expecting this generation, the silver plastic does a decent job of emulating the look of aluminum. The reason it’s such a sad swap is that this Zenbook has worse heat retention than the old one, and it is not as resistant to drops and dents. Even so, it is by no means a fragile butterfly.
Meanwhile, we have nothing but good things to say about its keyboard. It’s deeper and easier to type on, and it’s not as cramped as the Zenbook 13’s keyboard. The extra inch makes a difference. This model’s trackpad isn’t the glassy glider from, say, a Macbook, but it’s nonetheless comfortable to use thanks to its width and its excellent fingertip detection.
We were not impressed with the Zenbook 14’s screen. This matte 1080p panel's black level gets darker than last gen’s glossy screen, but it’s also 70 nits dimmer at max brightness. Its colors are also a bit more washed out than those of the Zenbook 13’s display.
One aspect where the Zenbook 14 far surpasses its predecessor is in performance, arguably the aspect that most affects your experience with a laptop. Its new Ryzen 5 4500U processor is blazing fast, crushing the old Intel Core i5-8500U in benchmarks, and its lower power consumption means the Zenbook 14 has a battery life of almost eight and a half hours.
Considering the Zenbook 14 is a solid, well-priced laptop that I do recommend, why have we spent so much time comparing it to the older Zenbook 13, you ask? Well, we like both of these laptops a lot. So, here’s our recommendation: if you want a faster laptop with a better keyboard, get the Zenbook 14; if you want a laptop that just refuses to break no matter how many commutes it takes, get the Zenbook 13. They’re both so light and long-lasting that you’d be happy with either of them as a travelling companion.
If you want a Chromebook that feels like a Macbook, this is it. Google’s Pixelbook Go is a sleek sheet of matte black aluminum that oozes with premium build quality. While you can get more powerful Chromebooks for the same exorbitant price, you’ll have a tougher time finding something that feels this durable.
There’s quite a bit to like about the user experience. The display is a gorgeous glossy touch screen that is incredibly bright, vivid, and full of contrast. Screens that look this good are rarely seen in this price range on ChromeOS or on Windows. Its large trackpad feels just as good, with a smooth glass finish and flawless gesture recognition.
We have mixed feelings about its ultra-quiet keyboard. It does manage to make virtually no noise, but it sacrifices feedback and subsequently makes it difficult for my fingertips to feel when the keys register.
With 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core M5-8500Y, the Pixelbook Go packs more power than most people would ever need of their Chromebooks. If you’re looking to play fast, intense games on it, then you’ll have no trouble running anything at high frame rates from the Google Play Store.
Where this Chromebook lags a bit behind its ChromeOS competitors is in its battery life. In our web-based battery test, the Pixelbook Go cycled through pages for 7 hours and 45 minutes before saying good night. Many cheaper Chromebooks could go for anywhere between eight and ten hours, but the Pixelbook Go falls right in line with midrange and premium Windows laptops.
We did, however, find better battery life in some Ryzen-based Windows laptops in the same price range (the Asus Zenbook 14 and the HP Envy x360 13t both made it past the 8 hour 15 minutes mark). For $850, the Core M5 Pixelbook Go is a tough sell for anyone that isn’t looking for a top-line Chromebook and would settle for slightly worse build quality or a different OS for a fraction of the cost.
If you want a big, beautiful Chromebook then the Acer Chromebook CB715 isn’t a bad choice. The machine has a large, 15.6-inch screen housed in a sleek, aluminum body. It feels like a premium machine, even though it starts at just $500.
The CB715 did well in our tests, powering through benchmarks despite the older 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor. The display was also pleasant to use, with a matte coating cutting down on reflections—even if it was a little dim overall. I also really liked typing on the keyboard, though the lack of a backlight was a constant struggle.
The CB715 has all the makings of a really compelling laptop, but only if you can get the model we tested (4GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 128GB Storage) for under $500. The more expensive configs aren’t worth it, and the cheaper options with Intel Pentium processors won’t be fast enough.
This $400 laptop is just average for its price. While its Ryzen 5-3500U is from last generation of processors, it’s still plenty powerful and a good find in the category. Similarly, its 8GB of RAM and 256GB solid state storage drive will allow you to get reasonable performance out of this machine if you plan to use it for web browsing, entertainment, and light productivity.
However, that’s about all there is to say of its accomplishments. When we tested the Ideapad 3’s battery life in our labs, the laptop only lasted four hours. Meanwhile, its screen is disappointingly dim, its plastic chassis is bulky and flimsy, and the laptop comes loaded with bloatware out of the box.
If you don’t mind switching from Windows to ChromeOS, the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook is a great laptop that addresses a lot of the Ideapad 3’s shortcomings. It’s an awesome 2-in-1 with amazing build quality for the price and solid performance that won’t leave you waiting for pages to load.
The Reviewed staff is based in the heart of Cambridge, MA. Backed by our knowledgeable writers and rigorous test labs, we're working hard to make sure you can make the right decisions about what to buy.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.