• HP Envy x360 (13z-ay000 touch)

  • How We Tested

  • What You Should Know About Laptops For Students

  • Other Laptops For Students We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Best Overall
HP Envy x360 (13z-ay000 touch)

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 $1,000.

It absolutely crushes the much pricier 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.

Pros

  • Great battery life

  • Impressive performance

  • Powerful processor

Cons

  • Nothing we could find

How We Tested

The Tester

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.

The Tests

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.

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What You Should Know About Laptops For Students

The Basics

  • 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.

Operating System

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).

Display Size

  • 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—I 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, I 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

Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA-DSM4T

With its zippy performance, vibrant display, and chic aesthetic, the Asus Chromebook Flip is a great laptop all around. Because it runs Chrome OS, everything feels snappy and responsive. 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. It’s not a deal-breaker, it’s just something to be aware of.

Pros

  • Excellent battery life

  • A beautiful display and keyboard

  • Affordable price point

Cons

  • More expensive than most Chromebooks

  • Doesn't run full Windows or Mac apps

Acer Aspire 5 (A515-54-51DJ)

The Acer Aspire 5 was the most powerful budget Windows laptop we tested thanks to its 10th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. That’s enough to handle most everyday workloads—opening lots of browser tabs, dealing with large documents, and running multiple apps at once. For a laptop at this price point, its speed is impressive.

The external hardware is surprisingly high quality, too. The aluminum top cover is more durable and premium-feeling than previous plastic generations, and the 1080p IPS display ensures you get a colorful, sharp display that won’t look “off” at an angle. It even has a fingerprint scanner for quick logins—again, not always a given on affordable laptops—plus a springy keyboard and precise trackpad.

In the sub-$600 space, it often feels like you have to make a compromise somewhere. Maybe you can get a laptop with top-tier performance, but the build quality suffers. Or maybe you have a luxurious-feeling machine, but it’s a little hindered by its low-end processor. Even as a power user, though, we felt like the Acer Aspire 5 gave us the most important stuff we needed to get work done. Its larger 15-inch body may not appeal to everybody, though, since it’s not as portable as smaller models—if you’re lugging this around in your backpack, it’s going to feel a bit bulky. Its battery life was also good-not-great, coming in around seven hours. For most people, though, the Aspire 5 is the budget laptop to buy. Just don’t expect too many fancy bells and whistles.

Pros

  • High quality hardware

  • Powerful enough for everyday workloads

Cons

  • Not very portable

Apple MacBook Air (8 GB RAM, 256 GB, 2020)

After a few years of laptops plagued by keyboard and display issues, Apple has finally started to turn it around, bringing back the more reliable scissor-switch keyboard to its latest MacBook Air. If you prefer macOS to Windows, the MacBook Air is one of Apple’s most affordable laptops, though its internal specs don’t quite match up with comparable Windows machines. With the base model, you only get a Core i3 processor, which should be fine for basic tasks like writing documents and light browsing, but is slower than every other laptop we tested for this guide.

Apple’s laptops aren’t just expensive for no reason, though. What you lose in processing power, you make up for with one of the best trackpads on the market and an absolutely gorgeous high-resolution Retina display. You also get 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, though, which hits our recommended specs in that arena, and battery life was a respectable seven and a half hours. The keyboard is still shallower than I’d like, though, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you do a whole lot of writing, but at least they’ve addressed the issues with previous models. Time will tell whether the new MacBook Air is more reliable than its predecessors in other areas, like the display, but it does seem like Apple’s starting to take longevity seriously again, which gives us a bit more confidence.

Pros

  • The keyboard is not terrible

  • Superb design

  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Upgrades are expensive

  • Keyboard is still a bit shallow

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (GA401IV-BR9N6)

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 I 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.

Pros

  • Durable keyboard

  • Sophisticated design

  • Good battery life

Cons

  • No webcam

  • Dim screen

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 we've ever seen on a mid-range gaming laptop. When watching 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. While it's not a full-on departure from the traditional gaming aesthetic, 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 huge issue, 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.

Pros

  • Gorgeous display

  • Elegant exterior

Cons

  • Heavy and bulky

  • Middling audio

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 costs 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.

Pros

  • Super lightweight

  • Gorgeous display

Cons

  • Expensive

Meet the testers

Whitson Gordon

Whitson Gordon

Freelance Writer

Whitson Gordon is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

See all of Whitson Gordon's reviews
Florence Ion

Florence Ion

Contributing Writer

@Ohthatflo

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.

See all of Florence Ion's reviews
TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

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.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo

Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo

Editor

@awitchdidit

Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

See all of Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo's reviews

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