The Best Laptops for College in 2021

The Best Laptops for College in 2021

August 20, 2021

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Tackling college courses without a laptop is unimaginable for most students. Especially when considering the needs of online learners, a functional computer is essential. Whether communicating with professors, completing online coursework, or taking notes in class, students rely on their devices to perform many basic functions of college life.

Depending on their field, degree-seekers may want superior functionality for graphic design or just basic word processing. Whatever your needs, the best laptops for college cover a broad spectrum of performance, design, and cost.

We compared dozens of top laptop rankings to compile a list of the 11 best laptops for college students. Our methodology considers factors such as price, portability, and technical features that can affect a student's life.

The 11 Best Laptops for College Students

Best Overall Laptops for Students | Best Premium Laptops for Students
Best Budget-Friendly Laptops for Students

Price Legend

$ = Under $500 (Budget-Friendly) | $$ = $500-$1000 (Value/Overall) | $$$ = Over $1,000 (Premium)

Best Overall Laptops for Students

Best MacBook for Students
Apple MacBook Air M1

Pros

Lightweight and slim design State-of-the-art M1 processor Exceptional battery life

Cons

High price point No touchscreen interface Limited number of ports
Specs
  • Type: Traditional laptop
  • Display: 13.3-inch retina display (2560 x 1600)
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Processor: Apple M1
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • GPU: Apple 8-core
  • Battery Life: Up to 18 hours
  • Storage: 256 GB / 512 GB
  • Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3, audio

Our Takeaway

Apple produces some of the best laptops for college students interested in photo editing and graphic design. The company's intuitive software also makes multitasking a cinch. With far better performance than previous models, the latest version of the MacBook Air — with its durable aluminum unibody — closely rivals its powerful counterpart, the MacBook Pro.

$$ on Amazon

Best Traditional Windows Laptop for Students
Acer Swift 3

Pros

Great for photo editing and multitasking Relatively inexpensive ultrabook experience Lightweight design makes it highly portable

Cons

Not ideal for extended gaming use Speakers could use some improvement Does not include SD or microSD ports
Specs
  • Type: Traditional laptop
  • Display: 14 inches (1920 x 1080)
  • Weight: 2.65 pounds
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 Octa-Core
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB
  • GPU: AMD Radeon Graphics
  • Battery Life: Up to 11.5 hours
  • Storage: 256 GB / 512 GB
  • Ports: USB-C, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, HDMI, audio

Our Takeaway

The Acer Swift 3 is one of the best laptops for students looking for a highly portable laptop with a powerful processor. While the newly released Acer Swift 5 model has a few worthy features, the price jump makes it hard to recommend to students on a college budget. The Acer Swift 3 may appeal to students who need a portable laptop with a minimal design and a powerful mix of hardware and software components.

$$ on Amazon

Best 2-in-1 Laptop for Students
Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Pros

Many hardware upgrade options Excellent battery life for a 2-in-1 laptop Kickstand allows for different viewing angles

Cons

Must buy keyboard separately Some software not compatible with the included stylus No Thunderbolt 3 support
Specs
  • Type: 2-in-1 laptop
  • Display: 12.3-inch touchscreen (2736 x 1824)
  • Weight: Starts at 1.7 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Core i3 / Intel Core i5 / Intel Core i7
  • RAM: 4 GB / 8 GB / 16 GB
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics (i3), Intel Iris Plus (i5, i7)
  • Battery Life: Up to 10.5 hours
  • Storage: 128 GB / 256 GB / 512 GB / 1 TB
  • Ports: USB-C, USB-A, microSDXC, Surface Connect, audio

Our Takeaway

The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 features numerous hardware upgrades and boasts a longer battery life than the Microsoft Surface Go. Users also report a much sharper screen and a better viewing angle than other, less expensive Microsoft products. College students should consider getting a Microsoft Surface Pro 7 if they prefer to take notes with a stylus and desire a powerful 2-in-1 laptop with sizable RAM.

$$ on Amazon

Best Chromebook for Students
Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Pros

Sharp 3:2 display Quality performance Wide variety of ports

Cons

Heavier than other options No stylus included Reduced battery life from previous model
Specs
  • Type: 2-in-1 laptop
  • Display: 13.5-inch touchscreen (2256 x 1504)
  • Weight: 4 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Core i5
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Ports: 2x USB-C, USB 3.0, microSD, HDMI, audio

Our Takeaway

This relatively affordable, premium Chromebook boasts a sturdy design and stand-out performance. This 2-in-1 option is the first Chromebook to receive Evo verification — the laptop meets rigorous standards for battery life, performance, and responsiveness.

The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 also benefits from serious durability due to its Corning Gorilla Glass touchscreen and sturdy aluminum body. These features protect the laptop from short falls, more extreme temperatures, and humidity.

$$ on Amazon

Best Premium Laptops for Students

Best Premium MacBook for Students
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

Pros

Compatible with iOS apps and Apple products Spacious keyboard and highly responsive trackpad Excellent battery life

Cons

May be too expensive for some college students Unable to upgrade the internal RAM or hard drive Very few ports considering the high price point
Specs
  • Type: Traditional laptop
  • Display: 13.3-inch (2560 x 1600)
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Processor: Apple M1
  • RAM: 8 GB
  • GPU: Apple 8-core
  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
  • Storage: 256 GB / 512 GB
  • Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3, audio

Our Takeaway

Students who prefer Apple products and can afford to spend more than $1,000 on a laptop should consider getting an Apple MacBook Pro. The laptop includes a Touch Bar, which is a slim OLED touchscreen that changes functionality depending on the application. This unique feature makes it easy for students to multitask between assignments and use smart keys to boost productivity.

As one of the most powerful laptops on the market, the MacBook Pro can handle an array of activities, including note-taking, entertainment, and light gaming.

$$$ on Amazon

Best Premium Traditional Windows Laptop for Students
Dell XPS 13

Pros

Sleek design Improved graphics Excellent battery life

Cons

Runs hot Lacks premium webcam No legacy ports
Specs
  • Type: Traditional laptop
  • Display: 13.4-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1200)
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Core i7
  • RAM: 16 GB / 32 GB
  • GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
  • Battery Life: Up to 14 hours
  • Storage: 512 GB / 2 TB
  • Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3, microSD, audio, USB-C to USB-A adapter included

Our Takeaway

An upgrade from Dell's successful 2019 XPS 13, the 2020 update features a large display and comfortable touchpad and keyboard. This laptop provides up to 14 hours of battery life while boasting the performance of Intel's 11th Gen Core i7 processor. While this laptop comes with a relatively steep price tag, students who require exceptional performance in a sleek package should consider this computer alongside other options.

$$$ on Amazon

Best Premium 2-in-1 Laptop for Students
HP Envy x360

Pros

Colorful display Speedy performance Additional keyboard functions

Cons

Heavy when used in tablet mode Stylus not included Subpar audio quality
Specs
  • Type: 2-in-1 laptop
  • Display: 15.6-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1080)
  • Weight: 4.1 pounds
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 Octa-Core
  • RAM: 32 GB
  • GPU: AMD Radeon Graphics
  • Battery Life: Average of 10 hours
  • Storage: 512 GB / 1 TB
  • Ports: USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, SD, audio

Our Takeaway

One of the best laptops for college, the HP Envy x360 is a versatile 2-in-1 device with impressive graphics and top-notch performance. Its large screen and keyboard make typing easy, and the webcam killswitch and fingerprint reader provide extra security.

The Envy is a bit uncomfortable to use as a tablet due to its size, and the price point may be out of reach for many students. However, for learners who want a powerful laptop/tablet combo, HP's 2-in-1 is tough to beat.

$$$ on Amazon

Best Premium Chromebook for Students
Google Pixelbook Go

Pros

Keyboard is comfortable and quiet to type on Thin, lightweight design makes it highly portable Excellent battery life

Cons

Relatively steep prices for high-end models Lacks ports that other high-end laptops usually include Base model features an underpowered processor
Specs
  • Type: Chromebook
  • Display: 13.3-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1080)
  • Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Core m3 / Intel Core i5 / Intel Core i7
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 615
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
  • Storage: 64 GB / 128 GB / 256 GB
  • Ports: 2x USB-C, audio

Our Takeaway

One of the best laptops for college, this premium option comes in different models. The Google Pixelbook Go ranges from $650-$1,400 depending on the version you choose, making this a great option for most budgets. The laptop stands out due to its long battery life, sleek design, and 1080p webcam. This Chromebook also shines due to its colorful display and solid performance.

While this laptop does not have the best speakers and lacks some port options, this top performer is a great option for students looking for a reliable, lightweight computer.

$$ on Amazon

Best Budget-Friendly Laptops for Students

Best Traditional Windows Laptop for Students on a Budget
Dell Inspiron 3000 (2021)

Pros

Relatively affordable at just over $500 Quality battery life Impressive variety of ports

Cons

Lower-quality screen No USB-C ports Lacks the power necessary for high-level gaming or streaming
Specs
  • Type: Traditional
  • Display: 15.6-inch (1366 x 768)
  • Weight: 3.91 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Pentium Silver
  • RAM: 16 GB
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics
  • Battery Life: Up to 11 hours
  • Storage: 256 GB
  • Ports: USB 2.0, USB 3.1, SD, HDMI, ethernet, audio

Our Takeaway

For students looking for a practical, inexpensive laptop designed to handle day-to-day academic requirements, Dell's Inspiron 3000 may be a great option. Starting at around $500, this budget-friendly laptop offers a comfortable keyboard, decent speakers, and a fairly long battery life.

While this laptop lacks a high-quality HD screen and isn't as powerful as other options, the Inspiron 3000 does allow for various customizable configurations. Students requiring high performance for graphic design or music production may want to look elsewhere.

$$ on Amazon

Best 2-in-1 Laptop for Students on a Budget
Microsoft Surface Go 2

Pros

Affordable 2-in-1 Windows 10 laptop Lightweight design makes it highly portable Excellent battery life for a small machine

Cons

Interface changes in tablet mode Smaller screen may lead to eye strain Far less powerful than the Surface Pro
Specs
  • Type: 2-in-1 laptop
  • Display: 10.5-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1280)
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Processor: Intel Pentium Gold
  • RAM: 4 GB / 8 GB
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics 615
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Storage: 64 GB / 128 GB
  • Ports: USB-C, microSDXC, audio, Surface Connect adapter included

Our Takeaway

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is one of the best laptops for college students thanks to its compact and lightweight design. The fully detachable Surface Pro Type Cover allows students to shed excess weight if they plan to take notes using the included stylus rather than the keyboard. Those looking for a reliable device to use mainly for light productivity work, web surfing, and multimedia streaming should consider getting a Surface Go 2.

$ on Amazon

Best Chromebook for Students on a Budget
Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Pros

Features Android phone integration Decent camera Impressive battery life for its size

Cons

Sluggish performance Just one port Very small keyboard
Specs
  • Type: 2-in-1 Chromebook
  • Display: 10.1-inch touchscreen (1920 x 1200)
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Processor: MediaTek Helio P60T
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • Graphics: Integrated ARM G72 MP3 Graphics
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Storage: 64 GB Flash
  • Ports: USB-C

Our Takeaway

For budget-conscious students who don't need a high-performing computer, Lenovo's Chromebook Duet is an affordable option. This 2-in-1 Chromebook offers quality battery life in a slim package, and it comes with a detachable keyboard and cover. While users may notice the Chromebook's cramped keyboard and lack of ports, the low price and functional performance make this an incredibly accessible choice for students.

$ on Amazon

Feature Image: stockfour / Shutterstock

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