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

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Student laptop on a blue background
The best laptops for students put value over having the top-of-the-line processors and graphics cards. (Image credit: Future)

It’s not easy picking out the best student laptops in 2021. That’s particularly true for matriculating members since there’s only so much a college student can afford and the requirements for a great college laptop are a little different than typical portables. Of course, some might be able to splurge and get one of the best laptops available. But, after paying for tuition, housing, books, and more, springing for a flagship laptop is just not in the cards for most students.

So, these notebooks for students need to come with a reasonable price tag. That’s why a Chromebook might be a good alternative – although the minimalist-minded might find more value in a versatile 2-in-1. But, they also need to have enough battery life to last a school day, be durable enough to get knocked around, but slim and light enough to be carried around in a backpack easily. On top of that, they need to have the kind of performance to take care of schoolwork, though some students will need more power than others depending on the kind of coursework they’re facing.

To help find the perfect student laptop for you, we considered a number of factors such as price, power, battery life, portability, and durability. So, consider our top choices, especially as students go back to school, for you or your kid’s next notebook.

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020)'s screen on a white background

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is a cheaper entry into the MacBook line. (Image credit: Apple)
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 long thanks to the M1 chip

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 on a white background

The Google Pixelbook Go has earned our coveted “Editor's Choice” award in the Chromebook category. (Image credit: Google)
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

The HP Chromebook 14 on the white background

The HP Chromebook 14 strikes a good balance between ample screen space and portability. (Image credit: HP)
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 (1366x768) SVA anti-glare – FHD (1920x1080) IPS BrightView
Storage: 16GB – 64GB eMMC

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent keyboard and trackpad
+
Screen is crisp and vivid

Reasons to avoid

-
Average battery life, especially for a Chromebook

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

The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 in laptop and stand form on a white background

(Image credit: Acer)
A student laptop that ticks all the boxes

Specifications

CPU: 11th Gen Intel Core i5
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 13.5" (2256 x 1504) 3:2 Touchscreen
Storage: 256GB Flash Memory

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent performance thanks to powerful mid-range specs
+
Gorgeous touchscreen display

Reasons to avoid

-
No physical privacy shutter for webcam

The Acer Chromebooks Spin isn’t only a fantastic student laptop, but a Chromebook that meets the high standards of Evo-certification. That means the included 11th gen i5 CPU, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and 8GB of RAM can handle most any schoolwork you can throw at it. It also comes with a beautiful display that’s higher resolution than most typical laptops. Unfortunately, the Spin 713 is a bit pedestrian looking, not to mention missing some expected features like a privacy shutter for the webcam. But, considering how good everything else on it is, these missteps are easy to overlook.

Read the full review: Acer Chromebook Spin 713 

The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 from the front on a white background

The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 boasts impressive levels of versatility. (Image credit: Acer)
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
+
Excellent touch screen and flip mechanism

Reasons to avoid

-
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 

The Acer Spin 5 (2020) in its different modes on a white background

The Acer Spin 5 (2020) is versatile and affordable, and has a fantastic battery life. (Image credit: Acer)
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

+
3:2 display perfect for note-taking
+
Feature rich stylus included

Reasons to avoid

-
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)

The Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook in tent mode on a white background

The Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook is one of the most powerful Chromebooks right now. (Image credit: Lenovo)
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

-
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

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 on a white background

The HP EliteBook x360 1040 is powerful yet elegant. (Image credit: HP)
Powerful performance if not the most comfortable

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Best-in-class performance
+
Exceptional battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Tablet mode a bit unwieldy

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)

The 16-inch LG Gram 16 (2021) on a white background

The LG Gram 17 (2021) inherits some of the best things about its 17-inch predecessor. (Image credit: LG)
A productivity powerhouse

Specifications

CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4X
Screen: 17-inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS LCD
Storage: up to 2TB NVMe SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent battery life
+
Large, high-quality display

Reasons to avoid

-
Subject to screen glare

Laptops for work are rejoining the 17-inch fray and leading them is the much-lauded LG Gram 17, whose amazingly thin and light form factor has won awards and makes it among the best Ultrabooks on the market. It’s back in 2021 and better than ever, with more powerful internals like the 11th-generation Intel chips and the Iris Xe graphics as well as two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports. The long battery life and stunner of a screen are back, though as is its steep price tag. It’s worth it though if you want the power and portability of Ultrabooks yet also need a bigger screen.

Read the full review: LG Gram 17 (2021) 

Display of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) on a white background

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) boasts Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip. (Image credit: Apple)
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 improvement in battery life
+
M1 and Big Sur 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)

With the best student laptops, you'll often be taking them out and about, so it's always a good idea to get them insured. If you're in the UK, then you can shop around and compare contents insurance to keep your gadgets, including laptops, protected.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.