We are in the process of testing new laptops to add to this guide.
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-n-1 convertible laptops, and more traditional models to find the very best laptops for students from each category.
Out top, affordable and capable pick for most people is the Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA-DSM4T(available at Amazon for $509.99). It's ideal for conducting online research, writing term papers and, at the end of the day, watching Netflix or engaging in some light gaming. Should our main pick not suit your needs, you'll find that this guide includes a number of other laptops that just might be what you're looking for.
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)
Acer Nitro 7 (AN715-51-752B)
Google Pixel Slate (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB)
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
With its zippy performance, vibrant display, and chic aesthetic, the Asus Chromebook Flip is a great laptop all around. 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.
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’ll 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—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
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.
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.
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.