The best student laptops 2021: all the best options for school

best laptops for students

The best laptops for students put value over having the top-of-the-line processors and graphics cards.
(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best laptops for college students can feel like an overwhelming task. With so many great options out there, narrowing down your choices can be tough, especially because there are a few other things to consider other than price. Of course, price is a major factor since college students already have massive expenses like tuition, housing, and textbooks. Something affordable like a laptop under $500, therefore, may make sense. But not always.

Students also have demands that need to be met, and the best laptops for students should have enough power and features to see them through research and school projects. And, since lugging heavy textbooks around campus all day is already tough enough, the best laptops for college students must also be light and svelte, with a long battery life to last a whole school day so you won’t have to carry a charger as well.

Is it worth spending a little extra to get certain features or a laptop with a bit more power? Absolutely. Though not always, a higher-quality machine might be worth spending a little more on considering the better value you’ll get down the road. From the best Chromebooks and student Chromebooks to the more robust ultrabooks, these are the best laptops for college students. 

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

1. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Best laptop for students with a flexible budget

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU

Graphics: Integrated 7-core – 8-core GPU

RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory

Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display

Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Reasons to buy

macOS Big Sur is fast and responsive Battery life is great Silent in use

Reasons to avoid

Fanless design could impact performance

Apple topped the previous year off with a bang, rolling out their much-talked about M1 silicon chip that’s so far been a real game-changer. And, the first laptop to receive it is the company’s thinnest and lightest, putting it on the list of the most exciting Apple laptops of recent years. With this new chip, the MacBook Air is better than ever, touting excellent performance alongside its brilliant battery life – without raising the price to keep it (fairly) affordable still. It’s not going to be the cheapest option for students, but for those who have a slightly bigger budget, this is the best student laptop to get.

Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go has earned our coveted “Editor’s Choice” award in the Chromebook category. (Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixelbook Go

Google’s best Chromebook for budget consumers

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core m3 – i7

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615 (300MHz)

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: Full HD Display – 4K Ultra HD Molecular Display

Storage: 64GB – 256GB

Reasons to buy

Incredible battery life Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard

Reasons to avoid

No biometric login

Have you been waiting for the day you can finally afford the premium price of Google Pixelbook? Well, with Google releasing Pixelbook Go, your wait is finally over. Granted, it isn’t quite the actual luxury device you’ve been dreaming of. However, rest assured, you will love this Chromebook, just as we have during our time with it. We love it so much, in fact, that it earned our coveted “Editor’s Choice” award in the Chromebook category. It boasts incredible battery life, an even more impressive keyboard and a 1080p webcam, which you don’t see often in the more budget-friendly laptops even in 2021. And, that’s just to start.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook Go

HP Chromebook 14

(Image credit: HP)

3. HP Chromebook 14

A well-balanced Chromebook

Specifications

CPU: AMD A4 – A6, Intel Celeron N3350 – N3450

Graphics: AMD Radeon R4 – R5, Intel HD Graphics 500

RAM: 4GB – 8GB

Screen: 14-inch diagonal HD (1366×768) SVA anti-glare – FHD (1920×1080) IPS BrightView

Storage: 16GB – 64GB eMMC

Reasons to buy

Excellent keyboard and trackpad Chrome OS is responsive Crisp, vivid screen

Reasons to avoid

Average battery life

The HP Chromebook 14 may not be as powerful as other Chromebooks, but this tiny laptop has a few aces up its sleeves, helping it secure a well-deserved top spot on our best laptops for students list. Those aces include striking a good balance between ample screen space and portability, as well as a surprisingly excellent keyboard and a decent trackpad. That’s without mentioning how vivid the display and how low its price tag is.

Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14

Microsoft Surface Go 2

(Image credit: Microsoft)

4. Microsoft Surface Go 2

Premium design, more affordable price

Specifications

CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core m3 – Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4425Y

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615

RAM: 4GB – 8GB

Screen: 10.5” 1920 x 1280 (220 PPI) PixelSense Display

Storage: 64GB eMMC – 128GB SSD

Connectivity: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.0, Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE Modem

Reasons to buy

Premium design Affordable Can run full Windows 10

Reasons to avoid

No Touch Cover or stylus includedBase model’s specs are weak

Microsoft’s devices are known for their higher price tags, which is why the Surface Go line proves popular with the more budget-conscious crowd. It’s Microsoft’s best affordable premium tablet, and the follow up, Surface Go 2, continues that tradition with its reasonable price and premium design. It even runs the full Windows 10 operating system, so it’s even more capable than other tablets out there as far as what applications it can run. Unfortunately, as with the original, it suffers from the same curse of being underpowered, especially at the base configuration. However, it does offer a slight bump in performance over its predecessor. If you’re looking for the best student laptops, this one’s certainly a great contender.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Dell XPS 15

(Image credit: Dell)

5. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

All-powerful laptop for creative students

Specifications

CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 – i7

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti

RAM: 8GB – 64GB

Screen: 15.6″ FHD (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 15.6″ UHD (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit Display

Storage : 256GB – 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe

Reasons to buy

Amazing speakers Beautiful display Comfy keyboard

Reasons to avoid

GTX 1650 Ti is a little weak

The Dell XPS 15 might be a bit pricey for regular students, but it’s easily one of the best laptops for students in the creative field. Combining staggering power in a stylish thin and light chassis, this laptop doesn’t hold back when it comes to internals and features that improve your computing experience overall, whether you’re a film student or a graphic design one. Among those amazing features are a gorgeous bright display with 500 nits of brightness, an extremely comfortable keyboard, impressive speakers, and a terrific trackpad. We’re not saying that this laptop is perfect, but our coveted 5 out of 5 rating should speak for itself.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15

Acer Spin 5 (2020)

(Image credit: Acer)

6. Acer Spin 5 (2020)

A fantastic 2-in-1 laptop

Specifications

CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7

Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.5″ (2256 x 1504) 3:2 touchscreen display

Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD

Reasons to buy

Fantastic battery life 3:2 display perfect for note-taking Feature rich stylus included

Reasons to avoid

3:2 display not ideal for 16:9 videoBloatware includes desktop pop-up ads

A great feature set definitely adds a lot of value, and if you’re looking for the best laptops for students, that’s one thing to keep an eye out for. It’s that combined with its affordability that makes the Acer Spin 5 (2020) a terrific candidate. This 2-in-1 laptop isn’t just versatile due to its form factors and fantastic battery life. It also comes with a 3:2 display and a feature-rich stylus that together give it that extra advantage for students over its rivals: an easy and seamless note-taking experience. If you’re one of those folks who have a contempt for typing up notes in class, this old-school approach might just seal the deal.

Read the full review: Acer Spin 5 (2020)

Asus Chromebook Flip C436F

(Image credit: Asus)

7. Asus Chromebook Flip C436

A whole lotta hits

Specifications

CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i3 – i5

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 14-inch LED-backlit Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 display

Storage: 512GB / 256GB / 128GB SSD

Reasons to buy

Superb performance Premium build and features Impressive keyboard

Reasons to avoid

Subpar speakersErratic touchpad

Offering more robust processing and graphical prowess than its cheaper siblings, as well as higher quality construction, the Asus Chromebook Flip C436 gives the premium Chromebook market a slightly more affordable option. And, for that price, you’re also getting that impressively lightweight chassis, a stunning 1080p touchscreen, and a keyboard that could practically rival those on the Dell XPS and MacBooks, as well as a couple of extra features like a fingerprint sensor and Wi-Fi 6 support. This is definitely one of the best laptops for students looking into getting a Chromebook.

Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip C436

Acer Swift 3 2020

(Image credit: Acer)

8. Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Punches above its ultralight-weight

Specifications

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3500 – 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G4

GPU: AMD Radeon shared memory – Intel Iris Plus Graphics

RAM: 8GB

Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD

Display: 14″ Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 – 13.5″ (2256 x 1504) 3:2, IPS

Reasons to buy

Highly portable Excellent multitasker Very affordable for an Ultrabook

Reasons to avoid

Speakers are “meh”Not great for gaming

The most popular Ultrabooks out there can cost a fortune – you have to pay for that thin and light form factor, after all. Not with the Acer Swift 3 (2020). This is the Ultrabook for the masses, thanks to its low asking price for that lightweight design, decent battery life and brand new specs that deliver when it comes to multitasking. It’s definitely got all the makings of the best student laptop – including that smart design one could mistake for a MacBook Pro.

Read the full review: Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1

(Image credit: Dell )

9. Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1

A step up for Inspiron

Specifications

CPU: 10th Generation Intel Core i5 – i7

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics

RAM: 8GB – 16GB

Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) – 15.6-inch UHD (3840 x 2160) Truelife Touch Narrow Border WVA Display with Active Pen support

Storage: Intel Optane Memory H10 32 GB with 512 GB Solid-State Storage – 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD

Reasons to buy

Competent performance Highly versatile Premium design

Reasons to avoid

Quirky display4K battery drainBunk speakers

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 is a versatile 2-in-1 with a lot going for it under the hood.  This premium laptop is more than just about its premium design; it also has high-end internals to compete with the likes of the more powerful Dell XPS 13.  Rounding that out is a 4K display, and a clever stylus slot that makes us wonder whether they actually beat Microsoft to the idea. Granted, the display is a bit of a battery drain, and the speakers impressive, but this is still among the best laptops for students out there.

Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

10. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU

Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU

RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory

Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display

Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm

Reasons to buy

Huge battery life Great performance Can run iOS apps

Reasons to avoid

Still lacks ports

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) may not have gotten a massive design overhaul, but what it lacks in that department, it makes up for big time in performance and battery life. Thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip, the new MacBook Pro 13-inch delivers excellent performance and exceptional battery life. Its performance is so impressive, in fact, that it can easily handle 4K – and even 8K – videos, which is great news for film students. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that keeps things small and lightweight, this is the best student laptop money can buy.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Bill Thomas and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article.

January 20, 2021
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