The best student laptops 2021: all the best options for school
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The best laptops for students put value over having the top-of-the-line processors and graphics cards.
(Image credit: Future)

Picking the best laptop for college isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Despite the selection of amazing portables out there, students have more important metrics to consider than most people, and that tends to limit their options. Narrowing down the options, therefore, can be a little tough. 

Laptops under $500 can make terrific candidates, as do some of the best laptops out there despite their higher price tags. That’s because while most college students can be strapped for cash, a low price isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing the best laptop for college. It really depends on the need – laptops for engineering students, for example, need to have a bit more power than laptops for students with much less graphical demands. 

A higher-quality machine might be worth spending a little more on considering the better value you’ll get down the road. On the other hand, some students don’t really need that much power, and will be more than satisfied with budget machines. Of course, it’s also important to tick off the basics like having a lightweight design, boasting a long battery life, and being durable yet flexible. 

To help you with the decision-making, we found the best laptop for college 2021 has to offer, touting different price points and performance levels. From the best Chromebooks and student Chromebooks to the more robust Ultrabooks, here are our top picks. 

(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)

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

(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

(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

(Image credit: Acer)

5. Acer Chromebook Spin 311

Versatile little Chromebook for study and play

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+Great design and build+Lovely size+Excellent touch screen and flip mechanism

Reasons to avoid

Dim screenMassive 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 

(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)

(Image credit: Lenovo)

7. Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

A pricey, but nearly perfect Chromebook

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+Powerful AMD processor+Outstanding security features

Reasons to avoid

ExpensiveLess 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

(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)

(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

(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)

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