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

A MacBook against a pink background with the words student laptops on it
(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

There are a few factors that go into choosing the best student laptops. While most matriculating minds and their parents will gravitate towards the lowest priced portables out there, a college laptop meant for students has to meet a few more requirements. Otherwise, that cheap portable will end up getting replaced sooner than later and you’ll have to pay for a second machine.

Considering all the expenses that college students have to deal with like tuition, housing, books, it’s no wonder that they wouldn’t want to worry about another large purchase. That means that price is an important factor. Yet, a laptop for college students needs to also have enough performance to handle any schoolwork demands, a battery life that can get through a day on a single charge, and easy portability since it will probably be carried across campus multiple times a day. Balancing all those considerations along with durability is crucial for finding the right student notebook.

Figuring out what computers balance all those factors can be tough. But, we’re here to help. We’ve tested a large number of laptops, so whether you’re in the market for a Chromebook or a laptop for engineering, you’ll find something that will fit your needs. And, to help find the best student laptop deals out there, make sure to take advantage of our included price comparison tool.

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

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)

Google Pixelbook Go at an angle against a white background

(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

HP Chromebook 14 at an angle against a white background

(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 (1366x768) SVA anti-glare – FHD (1920x1080) 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

Microsoft Surface Go 2 at an angle against a white background

(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 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

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 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

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 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

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
-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

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+Fantastic price
Reasons to avoid
-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

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic 16:10 display+Outstanding performance with excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-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

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)

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.