For students of all ages, owning a reliable laptop can make the difference between a passing grade and missing the deadline on your final paper. 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 Pro(available at Apple). It's stylish, ultra-powerful, and its battery won't quit for 14 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:
Best Overall: Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1
Best Windows: HP Spectre 14t
Best Budget: HP Envy x360 15
Best Gaming Laptop for Students: Asus ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage
Apple MacBook Air M1
Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA
Dell XPS 13 9310
MSI Summit E13 Flip Evo
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
Asus Zenbook 14
Acer Aspire 5
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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 are 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, although the base model does come with slightly worse graphics performance. The extra money for the MacBook Pro 13 also gets you a Touch Bar, one more hour of battery life (the Air lasted 13 hours while the Pro lasted 14 hours), and a fan. The MacBook Air is an awesome laptop, but the Pro’s upgrades are well worth the money 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 or MacBook Air.
For a luxurious laptop experience, look no further than the HP Spectre 14t. Its class-leading design, excellent battery life, and exceptionally snappy speed make it the creme de la creme of premium 2-in-1 laptops on the market.
What sets the Spectre 14t 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 Pro 13 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.
Fast, beautiful, and affordable, the 15-inch HP Envy x360 is a dream for those in need of a larger laptop that won't break the bank. Inside its beautiful body, the 15-inch Envy packs an AMD Ryzen 5 processor that trades blows with laptops twice its price—perfect for photo editing, light gaming, and even a bit of video editing.
The HP Envy’s 15-inch display is nothing short of glorious. It’s huge, it’s bright, it’s vibrant, and it’s touch-enabled. While the laptop is a little bulky for tablet use in 2-in-1 mode, it’s nice to have the ability to tent your laptop.
What's even more impressive is that it can hit all the marks while still delivering almost seven hours of battery life. While it doesn't outdo the MacBook Air, it stands on par with other 15-inch laptops, like the HP Spectre 15 or the Dell XPS 15. It's undoubtedly one of the best 15-inch laptops in its price range, and we doubt we'll see a worthy contender for its crown anytime soon.
The Asus ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage Edition is a unicorn among gaming laptops. With an amazing combination of hardware components, design, features, and battery life for its price point, it’d be hard to find another laptop that has this much value. It’s also one of the best laptops Asus has put out with an AMD processor and an AMD graphics card. Those two components in this form factor are truly a sight to behold.
The Ryzen 9 5900HX keeps programs running at tip-top speeds so every task feels snappy. Running 50 Chrome tabs at once, rendering 3D images, transcoding 4K video, working in Excel—it all flows seamlessly.
The Radeon RX 6800M GPU keeps your games running at high frame rates. At 1080p resolution, graphically demanding games like Control run at 96 fps on the highest graphical settings. Esports games like Overwatch reach up to 159 fps at the same settings, although to take advantage of the Strix G15’s 300Hz display, the graphics will need to be turned down.
Perhaps the most impressive (and surprising) aspect of this stellar gaming laptop is the battery life. It lasts for nine hours! In a world where gaming laptops generally last around four to five, the ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage Edition is a powerhouse. Gaming on battery power will drain it fast. However, for your everyday computing needs, this laptop will last longer than an entire workday. It might get some inquisitive looks in the lecture hall due to its size and color scheme, but if this is your only laptop it’ll serve all your needs.
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 Reviewed
Apple MacBook Air (2020)
With shockingly good battery life of almost 13 hours, a record-breaking M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 has been a hit among users and reviewers alike. Unless you need Windows 10 for your classes, the MacBook Air is a fabulous laptop for pulling all-nighters, writing essays, and streaming high-resolution video.
Apple’s new M1 chip delivers on its promises, 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. 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.
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.
If you’re a student on a tight budget, 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).
With its aluminum finish and chrome trim, the C434T looks and feels like a premium product despite its modest price. It’s one of the most elegant-looking Chromebooks we’ve seen in a while. As a 2-in-1, the C434T delivers a reasonably comfortable tablet experience enhanced by ChromeOS’s touch-friendly design.
When we tested it, however, we weren’t fans of 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. Otherwise, it’s a great laptop for those who want to stay on a budget and do most of their work online.
Best-in-class keyboard? Check. 4K OLED touch screen? Check. High-end performance? Check. The Dell XPS 13 9310 is once again a standout laptop for busy students on the go.
It is one of the more expensive ultraportable laptops, but its attention to detail justifies it. The brilliant screen and Intel Core i7 processor make the Dell XPS 13 a great pick for serious research, while its sleek aluminum body is easy to slip into your backpack and use in a lecture hall. Its 16:10 body ratio give a surprising amount of room for the keyboard and trackpad so your fingers can keep going.
Sadly, its small body limits its port selection. With only two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a microSD card reader, and a headphone jack, you will need to carry a couple dongles if you need a USB-A or Ethernet port. The eight-hour battery life might get you through the day, but you may want to use it on a desk as the Dell XPS 13 tends to run hot. It’s expensive compared to its rivals, like the HP Spectre 14t and the Apple MacBook Pro 13, but its overall performance and function make the Dell XPS 13 it worth the extra cash.
The MSI Summit Flip 13 Evo is a stellar 2-in-1 that's greater than the sum of its parts. With excellent performance, a responsive and vibrant touchscreen, hardy aluminum construction, and an eight-hour battery life, this laptop makes a great companion for students and professionals always on the move.
It can come with up to 32GB of RAM, which is unusual in the 2-in-1 space, and its Intel Core i7 processor with Intel Iris Xe graphics is ideal for heavy multitasking, film editing, and graphic design and illustration work. Artists and notetakers, in particular, will enjoy the MSI Pen, a Surface pen-like pressure-sensitive stylus that's included with the Summit Flip 13.
Just about our only qualm with this laptop is its keyboard, which lacks tactile feedback and makes it hard to tell if you've pressed a key if you're a light typist. Its touchpad, on the other hand, is glossy smooth and recognizes finger gestures without a problem. The Summit Flip 13’s display is bright and vibrant, able to adapt to bright coffee shops and dark bedrooms with ease. All of the Summit Flip 13’s standout features, from its excellent touchscreen to its premium construction, help it stand tall among the fierce competition.
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 and makes it perfect for student gamers: 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 has 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. Meanwhile, its processors don’t hold back—the Ryzen 9 processor and Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card can run the latest big-budget games without a sweat. This may well be the ideal solution for someone who really wants to game anytime, anywhere.
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.
Its keyboard is deep and easy 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.
To be frank, 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. If you’re looking for a laptop that’ll get you through the day for well under a grand, the Zenbook 14 is an awesome choice.
The Acer Aspire 5 is a legend in the cheap laptop arena. For years, getting an Acer Aspire meant getting 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 is more than fast enough for basic tasks, though the battery lasted less than seven hours in our browsing test. As for the screen, we’d say it’s fine at best. This is a great machine for the money, but you can get a lot more power, battery, and portability from other laptops on this list.
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.
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