For college and university students, owning a reliable laptop is just as important as paying tuition and turning in assignments, on time. However, with the wide range of prices, designs, and capabilities offered by modern portable computers, it can be difficult to know what will best suit a student's needs. Not sure whether to purchase a Chromebook or a 2-n-1 convertible laptop? We're here to help you sort that out with reviews of some of the best laptops on the market.
If you just need a basic laptop for writing papers and watching Netflix, the Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA-DSM4T(available at Amazon for $545.60) is our top pick, as it's 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.
These are the best laptops for students we tested ranked, in order:
Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA-DSM4T
HP Omen 15 (NVidia GTX 1070, Intel i7-8750H, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2TB HDD)
With its zippy performance, vibrant display, and chic aesthetic, the Asus Chromebook Flip can really walk the walk. Its performance is good enough for everyday tasks like surfing the web and checking email, and its bezels are practically nonexistent (meaning you’re getting a ton of screen space). But what we 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 us up was the trackpad. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and it took us some time to adjust to it. I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker, per se, it’s just something to be aware of.
Hi, I’m Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo, the former laptop reviewer here at Reviewed and an editor of our Best Right Now buying guides. Though Reviewed has been testing laptops for a couple of years now, I seized control of this beat (cue evil laughter) in 2017. It was the perfect category for me because I’ve been playing around with laptops ever since I was a kid. I understand the value of protecting your laptop because of my experience with the delicate internal components.
We first attempt to push each machine's processor to its brink. These tests help us determine the responsiveness of the laptop and whether it'll be able to handle streaming or running Google Chrome in the background with simultaneous gameplay. We then run a series of tests on the graphics card to figure out how fast graphics and images rendered on a particular machine, and whether your gameplay will run smoothly.
Once that's established, we run a battery test overnight. We unplug the laptop and set the display brightness to 200 nits and then we cycle through popular websites like Discord and Twitch until the battery dies. This is how we figure out how much action we can get on a single charge. The idea is to emulate everyday tasks.
Lastly, we consider the overall build quality like how sturdy the hinges feel and if there’s any flex to the display. We also take into account how light the machine is—under five pounds is ideal—and how many ports it offers.
What You Should Know About Laptops For Students
What Type of Laptop Should I Get?
There’s the traditional clamshell, which can only be opened 180-degrees. These laptops have been around for ages and are popular among college students. Then there’s the 2-in-1 convertible, which can be folded or flipped. You can flip the screen around and use it as a tablet or prop it up like a painter’s easel. This kind of laptop is great for the regular traveler, as they’re really versatile and lightweight.
Does Display Size Matter?
A laptop with an 11-inch display is going to be much lighter than one with a 15- or 17-inch screen. So, if you need something that’s light and portable, a larger display isn’t going to cut it. That said, bigger displays have higher resolutions and that means a sharper picture. If you’re a photo or video editor, you’ll probably want a bigger screen so you can see all those minute details. If you just need a lightweight machine for research or writing papers on, an 11-inch display should do you just fine, especially if you’re taking it from class-to-class.
Other Laptops For Students We Tested
HP Omen 15 (NVidia GTX 1070, Intel i7-8750H, 16GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD)
The best thing about the HP Omen is its display. With its vibrant colors and thin bezels, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. In fact, I'd say it's one of the best displays I've ever seen on a mid-range gaming laptop. When I watched the trailer for Detective Pikachu (don't judge me), Pikachu's yellow fur really popped against the dark backgrounds.
The edgy design is cool, too. With its jet black shell and crimson red accents, you've got just the right amount of flair. I wouldn't say it's a full-on departure from the traditional gaming aesthetic, but it's definitely got a more subtle design. As far as gaming laptops go, this design is clean and sophisticated and not as flashy.
As with most gaming laptops, the Omen is heavy and not very portable. You can bring it to a friend's dorm, sure, but lugging it from class-to-class might be a problem. It's the kind of laptop that'll probably stay parked on your desk. Another drawback is the placement of the speakers, which are underneath the machine. It's not a deal-breaker, per se, but the audio is a little muffled.
Note: We reviewed the high-end model. The base configuration costs a little over a grand and is available on Amazon.
Just because you're buying a gaming laptop on a strict budget doesn't mean you have to skimp on the features. The Acer Nitro 7 is an excellent example of how to save money and equip yourself with the kind of hardware that will play your favorite games and help you get things done.
The Nitro 7 has the latest Intel Core i7-9750H processor along with an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card and 16GB of RAM. Like its pricier competition, it also offers a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate, which means games run pretty smooth. It even managed to maintain high frame rates in visually-demanding games like Metro 2033 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. It boasts impeccable battery life, too, with up to four hours of continuous use before it requires a charge.
Perhaps the only caveat of the Nitro 7 is the same issue that plagues other gaming laptops. The lack of physical buttons on the trackpad makes it hard to play some games without an additional mouse.
College kids and entry-level gamers alike might find the Dell G5 with a Core i5-9300H and Nvidia GTX 1650 suits their needs for both work and play. The Dell G5 is a nice machine for resting on your desk or joining you in class. It's comfortable to type on, can manage a little over five hours of battery life for productivity tasks, and offers a whopping 1TB of hard drive space for your data and games, in addition to a 256GB SSD for keeping Windows 10 operating smoothly.
If you’re looking for speedy performance, look no further than the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook. Even with 22 tabs open in Google Chrome (I’m an agent of chaos), I experienced zero lag. It’s a good machine for multitasking or watching live Twitch streams. The 4K display is fantastic, too. When I watched the trailer for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, the orange sand dunes of Jakku really popped off of the screen.
Unfortunately, when we ran our primary battery test, which cycles through popular websites on a continuous loop (the idea is to simulate everyday use), the Yoga died in about six hours. That’s a little less than your average workday. Though it’s not the worst result we’ve ever seen, it’s unimpressive for a Chromebook. The mediocre battery life may have something to do with the Yoga’s 4K display, as I imagine it’s a huge power-suck.
The Chromebook Spin 13 is a great option for the college student, as it’s budget-friendly and has a wide selection of ports (which eliminates the need for an adapter). We also like that the stylus is included and that you can store it inside a little compartment in the laptop’s shell. What surprised us most about this laptop was its tall display, as I expected it to be awkward to handle. Fortunately, the hinges are tight and strong so the screen didn’t wobble at all.
Though we adore this laptop, there are some trade-offs. When we put the Spin through our battery test, which cycles through websites like Twitch and Amazon, it died in about five hours. Additionally, the laptop itself feels pretty bulky. Weighing a little over three pounds. That said, it’s definitely durable. There’s hardly any flex to the display and the keyboard didn’t creak when I pushed down on it with both hands.
Google Pixel Slate (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB)
If you’re always-on-the-go, the Pixel Slate is a good option. Weighing a little over a pound, the Slate is super lightweight. Its gorgeous display is great for Netflix binges, while its powerful internals makes it easy to work on multiple projects at once. You can also use it as a tablet or prop it up like an easel with the Pixelbook Keyboard.
The only downside is its high price tag. Its least expensive configuration cost about a grand, so it might not be a good fit for someone on a tight budget. In addition to its costly starting price, you have to pay extra for the Pixelbook Keyboard and Pixelbook Pen, as they’re considered standalone accessories.
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.
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 and of course, it comes sporting a USB C port. 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.
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.
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.
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 comes with 8GB RAM, an Intel Core i5-7300HQ quad-core processor, and 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 still a pretty good deal if you want a gaming-capable machine.
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.
Florence Ion is a freelance journalist and prolific podcaster. She's written for Ars Technica, PC World, Android Central, The Verge, and Engadget. Her reviews and how-tos can usually be found on Lifehacker, Tom's Guide, and Reviewed. She can also be heard weekly on All About Android on the TWiT network and Material on Relay FM.
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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.