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

When hunting for one of the best laptops for college, you have to consider a few things. It’s easy for anyone heading off to school as well...

When hunting for one of the best laptops for college, you have to consider a few things. It’s easy for anyone heading off to school as well as their parents to just get one of the cheapest computers out there. But, a laptop meant for students has to also be capable. If not, you’ll end up having to spend more money replacing it with something that can get through all that school work.

It’s no surprise that matriculating minds would gravitate towards cheaper portables, since there are already a ton of expenses that accompany college, such as books, housing, and tuition. Price should be one of the most important factors when picking a laptop, of course. But, it also needs to have enough battery life to last a school day without having to charge, be portable enough to make it easily across campus multiple times a day, and have the power to meet the demands of a student’s course work. Checking all these boxes, along with being durable, is vital to getting a quality student laptop.

Finding a notebook that meets that criteria is not an easy task. So, to help you, we’ve gathered up our top picks of portables for college here, all of which we’ve fully tested. No matter if you want something to meet more demanding coursework like a laptop for engineering or something that can easily take care of day-to-day productivity like a Chromebook, there’s something to fit your needs. And, make sure to use our included price comparison tool to find the best student laptop deals out there.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020) from the front against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

1. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Best laptop for students with a flexible budget

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

macOS Big Sur is fast and responsive
Battery life is great
Silent in use
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 at an angle against a white background

(Image credit: Google)

2. Google Pixelbook Go

Google’s best Chromebook for budget consumers

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

Incredible battery life
Amazing ‘Hush’ keyboard
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 at an angle against a white background

(Image credit: HP)

3. HP Chromebook 14

A well-balanced Chromebook

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 (1366x768) SVA anti-glare – FHD (1920x1080) IPS BrightView | Storage: 16GB – 64GB eMMC

Excellent keyboard and trackpad
Chrome OS is responsive
Crisp, vivid screen
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 at an angle against a white background

(Image credit: Microsoft)

4. Microsoft Surface Go 2

Premium design, more affordable price

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

Premium design
Affordable
Can run full Windows 10
No Touch Cover or stylus included
Base 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

Acer Chromebook Spin 311 from the front against a white background

(Image credit: Acer)

5. Acer Chromebook Spin 311

Versatile little Chromebook for study and play

CPU: Intel Celeron N4000 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6" HD (1366 x 768) 16:9 IPS touchscreen | Storage : 64GB Flash Memory

Great design and build
Lovely size
Excellent touch screen and flip mechanism
Dim screen
Massive bezels drastically reduce actual screen size

If versatility is a top priority, then look no further than the Acer Chromebook Spin 311. This all-rounder has all the makings of a great student laptop, from its good battery life to its robust build and solid usability. However, the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 takes it further with its impressive levels of versatility, thanks to its abundance of ports considering its size, 2-in-1 design, portable size and excellent touchscreen display. It also boasts a keyboard and a touchpad that are not only reliable, but also satisfying to use. That’s a rare thing in a machine at this price point.

Read the full review: Acer Chromebook Spin 311 

Acer Spin 5 (2020) at an angle showcasing its different modes against a white background

(Image credit: Acer)

6. Acer Spin 5 (2020)

A fantastic 2-in-1 laptop

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

Fantastic battery life
3:2 display perfect for note-taking
Feature rich stylus included
3:2 display not ideal for 16:9 video
Bloatware 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)

Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook in tent mode at an angle against a white background

(Image credit: Lenovo)

7. Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

A pricey, but nearly perfect Chromebook

CPU: AMD Athlon Gold 3150C - AMD Ryzen 7 3700C | Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon | RAM: 4GB - 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LED | Storage: 32GB eMMC - 256GB SSD

Powerful AMD processor
Outstanding security features
Expensive
Less than 10-hour battery

The Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook lands straight in our best student laptops list due to the fact that it is one of the most powerful Chromebooks money can buy in 2021. While you're going to pay extra for this kind of horsepower, especially if you want some of the best features that come with the high-end models, it's well worth it if you're looking for a future proof Chromebook that's going to last you for years to come – four years of college at the very least. As a 2-in-1 device, it's got the flexibility that many other Chromebooks lack, and the screen on this thing is stunning. Best of all, it comes packing the new AMD 3000C-series processors - starting with an Athlon 3150C and scaling up to a Ryzen 7 3700C - and this means you'll get more processing power out of this Chromebook than many of it's competitors. 

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

HP EliteBook x360 1040 at an angle against a white background

(Image credit: HP)

8. HP Envy x360 15 (2021)

Powerful performance if not the most comfortable

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 – 7 / 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon / Intel Iris Xe Graphics | RAM: 8GB - 16GB | Screen: 15.6" diagonal 4K UHD, UWVA, BrightView, AMOLED – 15.6" diagonal FHD, IPS, micro-edge, WLED-backlit | Storage: up to 256 GB Intel SSD + 16 GB Intel Optane memory

Best-in-class performance
Exceptional battery life
Fantastic price
Tablet mode a bit unwieldy
No docked stylus

The HP Envy x360 15 (2021) is nearly in a class in its own right, a 2-in-1 laptop that combines impressive CPU and GPU power with an elegant yet robust design, a stunning display, and outstanding battery life – all for an incredible price. In fact, if you don’t want to spend a fortune, you'll be hard pressed to find a better value for a 2-in-1, making it among the best student laptops right now. Its huge collection of ports make it an even better value, especially if you have a few peripherals in your arsenal. It’s not the most comfortable to use as a tablet, but even the most premium contenders aren’ perfect, so it’s easy to forgive this laptop for that.

Read the full review: HP Envy x360 15 (2021)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 from the front against a white background

(Image credit: Lenovo)

9. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6

The perfect 2-in-1 laptop

CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Xe Plus | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 14-inch, 1920 x 1200p, IPS touchscreen, 400 nit | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD

Fantastic 16:10 display
Outstanding performance with excellent battery life
Rather plain design for an expensive laptop

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 provides a lot of benefits to any students willing to invest in its hefty price. Not only does it come with a fantastic 16:10 screen and a garaged stylus that you can use in its various form factors – it is a 2-in-1 hybrid notebook – but it comes with a number of security features to keep your work safe. It’s also a powerful laptop thanks to the latest generation Intel processors, Intel Xe graphics, and Evo certification. It also has the kind of battery life that will keep you going throughout the day without needing to charge. It might not be the most exciting looking laptop out there and that price tag might scare off some students, but the X1 is an otherwise stellar machine that will keep up with just about anyone.

Read the full review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) from the front against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

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

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

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

Huge battery life
Great performance
Can run iOS apps
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)

How we test student laptops

We know that buying a new laptop can be a huge investment. Even more so with laptops for college students. That’s why we take our jobs seriously, and test every laptop we recommend on this list extensively. 

That process involves using them in our day-to-day lives to see how long their battery lasts, how robust they are – college kids have hectic lives, after all, and how cool they stay under pressure. We also look at their design, including how stylish they are, if they are thin and light enough to carry around with, and how comfortable they are to work on. Because the webcam and microphone in a laptop is also incredibly important, especially these days, we take time to test those out as well.

When it comes to performance, we use a mix of real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks to see how powerful (or not) these laptops are. This means using Windows 10 (or Chrome OS on Chromebooks and macOS on MacBooks) and running various apps and seeing how fast they load, noting down any problems. 

Battery lives are also important, so we’ll keep track of how long we can use the laptop without needing to charge. To get specific numbers, we also run our own battery life benchmark that plays a looped 1080p movie until the battery dies and the PC Mark 10 battery life benchmark, which replicates real-world usage, such as web browsing and document creation. These tests give us an excellent idea of how long the batteries in these laptops last.

When all is said and done, we then take everything we’ve learned about the laptop and compare it to its price, to see if it offers the best value to students.



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