With back-to-school season in full swing, parents are looking for the best laptop deals for the students in their lives. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to parse out the good from the bad. Fret not, parental units! No matter whether you’re looking for a Chromebook for browsing the web or a powerful gaming laptop, from pricing tools to our top picks, we'll help you every step of the way.
When is the best time to buy a laptop?
The best deals for Windows-based laptops tend to pop up in August and September (aka back-to-school season). These deals often coincide with sales on school supplies. For some models, you may find better deals on Black Friday. We've also seen prices dip in April and, often, on the last generation of a laptop whenever the latest iteration of its line is released.
If you're a Mac user, you probably know how hard it is to score a good deal. Apple doesn't follow a consistent release schedule and their products are typically pricier than the competition. You best bet for finding deals on Macs is to check out the MacRumors Buying Guide. This site tracks information on Apple products such as release dates and update history.
How do I know if I'm getting a good deal?
When it comes to scouting out laptop deals, there are no hard and fast rules. However, a pricing tool can really help. If you're a regular shopper on Amazon, we'd recommend checking out Camel Camel Camel. It's a free pricing tool that monitors millions of Amazon products. It's what we use here at Reviewed to find the best deals.
We'd also recommend downloading Fakespot, which is a free tool that identifies phony Amazon reviews. It filters out unreliable reviews by using an algorithm that detects specific patterns. This is the tool we use when we're researching products for our buying guides.
Our top picks
If you're not sure where to start, don't worry, we've got you covered. Out of all the laptops we tested, these are our top back to school picks.
For those on a tight budget
The HP Chromebook 11-v031nr is adequate in the best sense of the word: it has what you need, and nothing else. It’s light and very portable at about 2.5lbs, and the 11.6-inch,1368 by 768-pixel display is clear and fairly bright with decent color. The keyboard is large and comfortable to type on, although it does feel a bit like typing on wet cardboard if you are used to more expensive keyboards on laptops like the Thinkpad X1. The touchpad is large and responsive, recognizing left (one finger) and right (two-finger) mouse clicks without issues. Its battery life is also pretty good: we found that it lasted an impressive 9 hours and 34 minutes on our browsing battery test.
The main issue with the Chromebook 11 is its internal storage: the 16GB of storage on the device leaves only about 8GB free, and that will quickly get filled when you start saving photos, music, and videos. You can add more storage space by plugging in a micro SD card. A 64GB one will cost you around $12.
For everyday tasks
If you’re a young professional, you should definitely check out the latest version of 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 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 with this laptop up was its trackpad. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and takes a little getting used to.
For those who crave luxury
If you're looking for a swanky machine that'll turn heads, the Dell XPS will do just that. With its unique color scheme, a comfortable keyboard and that it's built using stain-resistant material gives its users a lot to love
However, it's not without its flaws. There are no USB-A ports on this machine, which means you'll need to tote an adapter along with you. additionally, the XPS's internal fan can get pretty loud when the XPS is wrestling with a heavy load.
Despite these minor annoyances, we're still confident that the Dell XPS is one of the best ultraportables around, specifically the base and mid-tier models.
For the graphic designer
If you need tons of graphics power, the XPS 15 will deliver. It may not look like a gaming laptop, but it definitely performs like one. I was able to run Witcher 3 on ultra settings, and it played smoothly, without freezing or juddering.
The cool thing about this machine is its 360-degree hinge. You can prop it up like an easel or swing the screen around and use it as a tablet. Whether you want to curl up on the couch and watch Netflix or share information in the classroom, the XPS 15 can accommodate you.
It's a very expensive machine, though, so it may not be the best option for the budget-conscious buyer. If you don't care about playing games, we'd recommend opting for the refreshed model (sans 360-degree hinge) which offers similar performance at a more affordable price.
For the gamer
For the title of the best all-around gaming laptop, we considered benchmark results and overall gaming performance, in addition to how long the machine lasts out in the wild on a single charge. We found the Alienware M15 to fit all the criteria.
As tested, the Alienware M15 has an Nvidia GTX 2070 graphics card, coupled with last year's Intel Core i7-8750H processor and 16GB of RAM. weighing in at just under five pounds, the M15 can be used on the road or docked at your desk. It offers a ton of ports, including an HDMI port, a mini-display port, a Thunderbolt port for external hard drives, and what Alienware refers to as a Graphics Amplifier Port. The latter is part of the new trend in gaming laptops that enables you to tether an external enclosure with additional graphics hardware. We did not test that particular feature, but its mere existence helps future-proof the package a bit.
The M15's 15.6-inch full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate and an anti-glare screen is truly a delight. It's enjoyable for both long bouts of travel in your favorite RPG or for binge-watching the content that's collecting dust in your streaming queue. The M15's keyboard is also the most comfortable of the bunch, though it doesn't offer any fancy backlighting. The relative ease of tapping around the keyboard makes it feel like less of a machine meant for gaming and more like a laptop meant for getting things done. The battery life for this laptop is also impeccable—compared to the status quo—and managed up to four hours of continuous web browsing and playtime.
The Alienware M15 isn't priced too high, either. It starts at $2000 for the configuration mentioned here. Or, you can spend $500 more to grab the version with the latest Intel Core i7-9750H processor, which will help future-proof the laptop even further down the line.