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The most crucial gadget for any student — K12, college, or beyond — is a solid laptop.
It’s how you’ll get work done, and communicate with professors, friends, and classmates. A laptop is even more crucial if you’re distance learning because you won’t have access to resources like the computer lab. We’ve done some research to find the best laptops for students that are still available, making sure to pick Windows PCs, a Mac, and a Chromebook.
All of our recommendations are powerful enough to handle basic tasks like writing, creating slideshows, working with spreadsheets. The more powerful picks also allow you to edit high resolution photos or HD videos, and play games. Whichever you choose, the laptops below will get you through several years of school, and likely last a lot longer.
What Are the Best Laptops For Students?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best laptops for students; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Operating System: We’ve chosen laptops for this guide that run Windows, MacOS, and ChromeOS. Each operating system is capable of running a specific set of apps, but all of them work with popular software like Microsoft Office.
Screen Size: The computers in this guide have screens between 13.3 and 15.6 inches wide. Larger screens are better if you intend to watch a lot of media, but smaller ones are easier to take with you.
Screen Resolution: A laptop’s screen resolution will determine how sharp text, photos, and videos look. Our minimum requirement for this guide was a 1080P (Full HD) display, but some of our picks edge closer to 4K.
Processor: All of our recommendations have a modern Intel processor inside, and are capable of running many power-hungry apps without slowing down significantly.
RAM: The laptop we’re recommending have between 4GB (gigabytes) and 16GB of RAM (memory). Having more RAM can help apps run more smoothly, and allow you to use more apps simultaneously.
Storage: We’re recommending laptops with between 64GB and 512GB of storage. Having less storage is fine if you steam your media, and prefer to keep most of your files in the cloud. If you have a large local media library, or will be working with large files on a regular basis, you should opt for a laptop with extra space.
Webcam: Every computer in this guide has a bulit-in webcam, so you don’t need to plug an external one in to use apps like Skype or Zoom.
Inputs: A computer’s inputs (known more commonly as ports), are what allow you to connect accessories to your machine. Each of our picks has a different assortment of ports, which you should strongly consider depending on how you intend to use your machine. All of them support WiFi and Bluetooth, though, so you have a range of wireless connectivity options, too.
Battery Life: The laptops below all get between 10 and 12 hours of battery life on a single charge, which is more than enough to get you through a standard day of use.
Weight: We know you’ll be carrying your college laptop around a lot, so we chose computers that weigh between 2.8 and 5.0 pounds.
1. BEST OVERALL: Surface Laptop 3
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is our top pick because it’s a light, powerful laptop with an impressive array of extra features.
The computer runs Windows 10, the most recent version of Microsoft’s operating system. It has a 13.5-inch touch screen with a resolution of 2256 X 1504, which is better than HD. The model we’re recommending has a quad-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. This is more than enough power to handle all but the most resource intensive tasks, like 4K video editing.
The Surface Laptop 3 has a 720P HD webcam for video conferencing. The camera can also be used with the “Windows Hello” feature in Windows 10, which allows you to unlock the machine by scanning your face. One of the laptop’s standout features is support for Wi-Fi 6, the latest version of the wireless standard that can substantially improve its web browsing and download speeds if you have a modern router.
This laptop has one USB-C port, one USB-A port, a Surface Connector, and a headphone jack. This array of ports will allow you to connect the computer to almost any accessory without using an adapter. You will need a dongle to connect it to a TV, and we recommend Plugable’s USB-C Multiport Adapter for that task. It has one USB port, an HDMI port, and a USB-C port. Speaking of accessories, if you’re an artist and intend to use the laptop’s touch screen as a drawing tablet, you should get the Surface Pen, a stylus Microsoft specifically developed for its tech.
Microsoft says you can get up to 11.5 hours of use out of the Surface Laptop 3 on a single charge. How much you actually get will depend on the apps you use, your screen brightness, and your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings. This level of battery life is pretty impressive for a computer that’s .75 inches thick and weighs 2.8 pounds.
If you like Windows, and want a thin, powerful laptop that can double as a tablet, the Surface Laptop 3 is the best choice.
2. BEST MAC: MacBook Air
Apple’s current-generation MacBook Air has an impressive mix of tech specs and build quality that makes it an excellent laptop for college students.
The laptop runs MacOS Catalina, the latest version of Apple’s computer operating system. Apple says the laptop will be able to run MacOS Big Sur, the version of the operating system that is slated to be released this fall. The Mac’s operating system matter more than Windows because it’s designed to work seamlessly with iOS, which runs on iPhones and iPads, WatchOS, which runs on the Apple Watch, and tvOS, which runs on the Apple TV. If you have Apple’s other tech, your information — messages, calendars, notes — will automatically sync between devices.
On the hardware side, the MacBook Air performs very well. It has a 13.3-inch display with a resolution of 2560 X 1600, which makes it the sharpest screen out of any laptop we’re recommending. It has a dual-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a 720P HD webcam for video conferencing. Under the hood you’ll find Apple’s T2 chip, which enables security features like automatic data encryption, and Touch ID — the fingerprint reader once MacBook Air’s keyboard that lets you unlock it with your finger.
In terms of inputs the MacBook Air is a little lacking. It has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which means you’ll need an adapter to connect the computer to many older accessories, or video sources like a TV or projector. If these are tasks you need to do often, we recommend getting Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 hub, which features two USB ports, two HDMI ports, and an Ethernet jack.
As its name suggests, the MacBook Air is a small computer. It weighs 2.8 pounds, and has a wedge shape that goes from .68 to .16 inches thick. If you don’t have a lot of space in your backpack, you’ll really appreciate the MacBook Air’s size.
If you’re a fan of Apple tech, and need a laptop to get you through school, the MacBook Air is an excellent choice.
3. BEST CHROMEBOOK: Samsung Chromebook 4+
Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ is a great college laptop if the work you do doesn’t require a tremendous amount of power.
The laptop runs ChromeOS, an operating Google developed by building on its Chrome browser. ChromeOS is limited compared to MacOS and Windows, but you can still run apps to accomplish common tasks. If most of your work takes place in Microsoft Office or the Google Suite, you’ll be fine. An upside to ChromeOS is that it’s so simple that there aren’t very many viruses written for it.
The Chromebook 4 has a 15.4-inch display with a resolution of 1080P (1920 X 1080), so the content on your screen will look clear on its big screen. It has an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. Again, these specs are more than enough for basic tasks, but aren’t up to snuff if you want to edit video or play games. It has a 720P HD webcam for video conferencing, and supports Google Assistant, so you can ask the computer questions like “will it rain” and get a quick response.
This machine has two USB-C ports and a USB-A port, so you’ll be able to connect it to most accessories without an adapter. If you’d like to plug it into a TV, or want additional inputs, Plugable’s USB-C Multiport Adapter continues to be our recommendation.
Samsung says the Chromebook 4+ can get up to 10 hours of use on a single charge, and supports fast charging so you don’t have to wait long to get back up and running if its battery runs out. This laptop weighs in at 5 pounds, which makes it the heaviest one we recommend. That said, it has the largest screen, and is only .65-inches thick.
If your workload isn’t too intense, and you want a machine with a larger screen, Samsung’s Chromebook 4+ should be your pick.
4. BEST GAMING LAPTOP: Razer Blade Stealth 13
If you’re a student who wants a laptop for schoolwork and gaming, your best bet is Razer’s Blade Stealth 13.
The Windows PC was designed to pack a lot of power into an impressively small package. It has a 13.3-inch display with a resolution of 1080P, and can display 100% of the sRGB color spectrum, so pictures, videos, and games will look more accurate. The computer has a quad-core Intel i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage.
These are impressive specs on their own, but the Blade Stealth 13 also has an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics card with 4GB of video memory. That makes it the best laptop in this guide in terms of raw power, but you’ll need this level of performance to play games. That said, these specs also make the machine a good option if you want to edit photos or videos. This laptop has a 720P HD webcam with support for Windows Hello, so you can unlock the computer by looking at the camera.
In terms of connectivity, the Razer outfitted the Blade Stealth 13 very well: It has two Thunderbolt three ports, two USB-A ports, and a headphone jack. You’ll still need to connect a hub to the machine if you’d like to connect it to a TV, but the four ports you’re given can get you pretty far.
The Razer Blade Stealth 13 is a great student laptop if your major requires you to use apps that require a lot of power. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also well-suited for playing games on the go.