For better or worse, there’s no concrete system to determine which are the best laptops for college students. If you’re headed back to school this fall and in the market for a laptop, deciding which one to buy might feel like a near-impossible task, especially since you’ll be spending even more time on it this semester due to the pandemic-induced shift toward online learning.
With so many software options, processors, and other features to consider, weighing the pros and cons of each is definitely worth your while, as painstaking as it can be. There’s no avoiding the fact that laptops are the most expensive kind of school supplies, and it’s absolutely worth your while to do a bit of digging before investing in one.
We’re here to make your search as easy as possible. Ahead, check out Teen Vogue’s picks for the best college laptops for the upcoming semester, complete with accessible explanations and pros and cons for each.
There’s no one-size-fits-all “best laptop,” so keep your specific needs in mind (big screen for Netflix? Fast processing for all your open tabs?) as you browse.
$219.00, Best Buy
The HP Chromebook is the budget-friendly laptop to buy for fall. Beyond its rave reviews, it features 4GB of random access memory, or storage directly within the device, along with 32GB of storage in its drive. Equipped with user-friendly Google Chrome OS and Intel Celeron N3350 processor, its 11.6-inch width may seem small, but it doesn’t sacrifice the screen’s quality HD resolution. Not to mention the fact that its size makes it one of the most portable laptops you can buy.
Pros: Affordable, compact, free security software
Cons: Small screen, low memory
Acer Chromebook 314
This laptop sells out all the time, and it’s no wonder why: the Acer Chromebook 314 gives you access to a state-of-the-art computer for just under $300. That’s a steal for a laptop with a 14-inch HD screen, Intel Celeron N4000 processor, built-in virus protection, and automatic update system. It comes with 4GB of device memory, which may not seem like much, but since it’s a Chromebook, you’ll also receive an additional 100GB of Google Drive space to store and back up as many files as you want. Some Amazon reviewers have mentioned that it’s prone to physical damage, but as long as you take care of it, you shouldn’t have any real issues.
Pros: Affordable, Google Drive storage, automatic updates, student discount
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Microsoft’s Surface laptops start at $750 for a model with an efficient Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of drive memory. At 12.3 inches wide, the Surface Pro can function as both a laptop and tablet, but you’ll have to purchase the keyboard attachment separately. If the total price of all that sounds steep, you’ll be happy to learn that the device qualifies for a 10 percent student discount when purchased from Microsoft’s site. With a high-resolution screen, Dolby Audio system, HD cameras, and a battery that lasts all day, it’s the ultimate back-to-school companion for a largely digital semester.
Pros: Touch screen, student discount, doubles as a tablet, Dolby Audio
Cons: Keyboard sold separately
Lenovo Yoga Chromebook
You can use Lenovo’s Yoga Chromebook as a traditional laptop, a compact tablet, or propped up using the keyboard as a stand or tent. It comes with a top-of-the-line Intel Core i5 processor and an audio system so clear that it’ll make a Zoom meeting feel IRL. It also comes with two USB-C ports, a micro-SD card slot, and a USB 3.1 port. Since it’s a Chromebook, it’s equipped with Google Chrome OS that’s universally easy to understand. Receive 5% off your entire purchase through Lenovo’s student discount program with ID.Me. A note: Some reviewers say that the Yoga Chromebook doesn’t function all that well as a tablet, though it’s marketed as a 2-in-1 device.
Pros: Touch screen, student discount, large screen, several ports
Cons: May not function well as tablet
Apple MacBook Air
The MacBook Air is easily one of the most sought-after laptops for college students all over the country. Available for $100 off as part of Apple’s Back to School discount initiative, it includes most of the features found in the coveted MacBook Pro for a fraction of the price. It’s equipped with everything from Touch ID to a customizable Intel Core processor that comes with Turbo Boost to ensure the most efficient user experience at every level. The Air might be one of the thinnest laptops out there, but it’s still as durable as you'd expect a device to be at its fairly steep price point. Extra aesthetic points for the gorgeous rose gold color option.
Pros: Compatible with Apple devices, fingerprint reader, Turbo Boost processor, student discount
Cons: Expensive, minimal ports
Dell XPS 13 Touch Laptop
One of Dell’s most innovative rollouts for 2019, the XPS 13 Touch Laptop has a 10th Generation Intel Core i5 processor, along with 8GB of internal memory and 128GB of drive storage. Though the laptop includes an SD card reader, a headphones jack, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports, some reviewers expressed frustration over the fact that it only features one USB port, which is a USB-C. Be sure to check out Dell University, which offers a price match guarantee and exclusive discounts for students.
Pros: Touch screen, fingerprint reader, student discount
Cons: Expensive, limited USB port access
Lenovo Yoga C740 Laptop
One of the best values from the Lenovo Yoga line of laptops, the C740 includes Intel Core i5 processor, a Windows 10 operating system, and a 8GB of RAM storage. It’s also a two-in-one device that can be flipped and folded into a tablet, allowing you to make the most of its touch screen. The laptop-tablet hybrid offers 15 hours of use from a single charge.
Pros: Touch screen, 12GB RAM, doubles as a tablet, long battery life, student discount
Cons: No SD card reader
Apple MacBook Pro, 13-Inch
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is by far the most expensive laptop on this list, but Apple’s student discount program makes it available for a full $100 less. Every MacBook comes with the obvious perk of connecting to all of your other Apple devices, but beyond that, the Pro can be customized to suit your unique needs. Looking for the most efficient processing possible? Tack on the Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost capabilities. Thinking you’ll need more than the default 8GB of storage? Upgrade to a full 16GB of RAM. No matter what features you choose to tack on, it’s guaranteed to come with built-in Thunderbolt 3 ports, keyboard touch bar, and Touch ID fingerprint reader.
Pros: Compatible with Apple devices, Turbo Boost processor, fingerprint reader, student discount
Cons: Expensive, minimal ports
Dell XPS 15 Laptop
Some standout components of the Dell XPS 15 include a speedy 9th Generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and and a 256GB SSD for lots of storage. Its screen is huge, taking up nearly the entire 15.6-inch width of the device. Perhaps its most pandemic-friendly feature is the webcam, which is both smaller and higher quality than those on previous XPS laptop models. Its lens was created to deliver sharp video in all areas of the frame, and when coupled with its noise reduction software, it significantly improves video quality, making it perfect for a schedule of video-enabled online classes. Dell price matches every product on its website, so you know you’re getting the best deal possible when you shop the XPS 15 there.
Pros: Lots of drive storage, advanced webcam, compact design
Cons: Expensive, no student discount
Don't let the bargain price point fool you—this is one of the best chromebooks for students, especially if you're looking for an affordable pick that's ultraportable (hello, 2.6 pounds). It has a 14" screen and a respectable 8-hour battery life. "We got three of these for our kids since the school district is using the Chromebooks and they work perfectly for classes, Google meets and homework," reports one happy reviewer on Amazon.
Pros: Lightweight, inexpensive, better CPU speed than most budget laptops at this price point
Cons: Screen resolution is just okay
This big-screen convertible laptop delivers a full-HD display. The Envy features a Ryzen 5 5500U chip with 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. You can upgrade to higher end models to get a Ryzen 7 5700U chip, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD, and a IPS touch display full HD resolution (thanks to AMD Radeon integrated graphics). Even if you don't upgrade to a higher model, though, the entry level Envy is a great laptop for students.
Pros: Fast, effective, and bright, colorful screen
Cons: Slightly bulky design, stylus not included
Google Pixelbook Go
This high-end laptop has all the bells and whistles: a full HD display with 1920x1080 pixels, a 128GB solid state drive (SSD), a backlit keyboard, hush keys, and a touch screen. Speaking of screens, this one is 13.3 inches. You can get lost in homework (or Pinterest) for hours and hours (up to 12 hours, in fact) on a single charge. Notably, you can get two hours of battery life on just 20 minutes of charging. Storage starts at 64GB. Notably, the Google Pixelbook Go meets sustainablity standards and has been certified as climate pledge friendly. Go Google!
Pros: Excellent speakers, impressive battery life, bright screen
Cons: On the expensive side (but it's worth it)
Acer Swift 3
The Acer Swift is a solid, reliable laptop. It's actually “Amazon's Choice” among all the Acer laptops, thanks to its consistently positive reviews and fair price point. It's got an ultra thin profile and weighs in at a scant 2.65 pounds. It's got dual band Wi-Fi, which ultimately results in higher internet speeds—which we are all about. We love that it has a backlit keyboard (perfect for those late night study sessions when you're cramming in bed with the lights off). The screen itself is a vivid wonder with .21" narrow bezels and a competitive 82.73% screen-to-body ratio (meaning your screen has more screen and less border). Choose this laptop and you can also say goodbye to a laptop password because this high-tech pick has a fingerprint reader.
Pros: Fast, snappy processor that gives you lightning fast performance; impressive 512GB SSD
Cons: Computer fans can get noisy and computer can run hot
Acer Chromebook Spin 13
Rounding out our list of the best laptops for college students is the Acer Chromebook Spin 13. This Chromebook features an 8th Gen Intel Core processing system, which allows users to have several tabs and apps open at once without major lag. An Intel UHD 620 display ensures a full HD experience that makes this laptop as useful for Netflix time as it is for coursework. You don’t even have to worry about it falling off your bed; the Spin 13 is made of 100 percent aluminum that’s lightweight and extremely unlikely to bend or dent. If you’re still not sold, consider the laptop’s writing feature, which can be used with the included stylus for a seamless note-taking or digital drawing experience minus the clutter of paper.
Pros: Touch screen, stylus writing feature, lightweight
Cons: Minimal RAM
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue