The best laptops to buy your teen this holiday season

(Image credit: Razer)

It makes complete sense that most parents buy their kids’ new laptops during the back-to-school season (at least chronologically). But in terms of actual savings on expensive hardware, the holiday season easily crushes any summer sale prices. So if your teen is clamoring for a new laptop under the Christmas tree this year, we’re here to help you decide which option best fits their needs and your budget.

The first thing to consider is that the best laptops geared towards “kids” probably won’t work for your teen’s needs. Portability, affordability and versatility are good perks for any laptop, but choosing something for durability, limited features or parental restrictions tells your teen you don’t trust them.

For high school, a powerful processor becomes a much higher priority. Your teen may need to edit photos and movies for special projects or use 3D modeling software for an elective, and ]some laptops can handle the workload better than others. Plus, from your teen’s perspective, a laptop with good creative apps and powerful specs will help them become 2020’s next Fortnite pro gamer, trending Tiktok star or social media influencer. 

At first glance, Chromebooks offer a great solution for young students. They’re lightweight, affordable and secure, with enough battery life to get through the school day. On the other hand, the restriction to Chrome OS or Android apps and a generally low processing power means they’ll sometimes have to rely on inferior software or streaming from another PC for more demanding apps.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, your teen may clamor for a gaming or premier laptop that provides enough power for homework and play. Yet even if you’re okay with a higher price tag, a thick, heavy brick with a battery that’ll barely last through a lunch break may not be practical. 

For striking a middle ground, it’s difficult to go wrong with a 2-in-1 laptop. These tablet-laptop hybrids work perfectly as a portable option to whip out in class or on lunch tables, while ensuring your teen won’t also beg for an iPad this Christmas. Plus, depending on your budget, these hybrids can punch well above their weight class in power.

We recommend talking with your teen about what they’d like most in a new laptop: what apps they use most and just how much power they need. Then, with that information in hand, turn this holiday season into back-to-school season 2.0, and use our holiday guide for the best options available on the market.

Razer Blade Stealth 13

(Image credit: Razer)

CPU: Quad-Core 8th Gen Intel Core i7 | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce MX150 (25W) 4GB GDDR5 | RAM: 16GB dual-channel | Screen: 13.3-inch 4K UHD | Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD

+   3 lb., 0.6-inch chassis
+   4K touch screen with 100% color gamut

-   Trade portability for a little bit less power
-   Sleek CNC-aluminum design is pricer than plastic competitors

Your teen may clamor for a gaming laptop, but a heavy, expensive, fan-blasting brick with a flashy logo won’t fit their needs. The Razer Blade Stealth 13 falls behind most of its competitors on this list in price, but it impresses with its 4K touch display, respectable 7 hours of battery life and capacity to handle handle heavy-duty programs beyond AAA games. With a “stealthy” design and subtle logo, it’s less likely to tick off a teacher than any other gaming-oriented laptop.

Read the full review: Razer Blade Stealth 13 review

Acer Chromebook 15

(Image credit: Acer)

CPU: Intel Pentium N4200 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 505 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 32GB eMMC

+   Incredibly affordable
+   17-hour battery life

-   Not a 2-in-1 laptop
-   Very low-powered

The best option for a teen that needs to buy their own laptop with allowance or minimum wage money, the Acer Chromebook 15 has so much going for it considering its sub-$200 asking price: a 15-inch touchscreen, 17 hours of battery life and a fanless design. Still, for that price you have to accept a FHD screen, no tablet mode, a 4+ pound chassis and slow processing speed for anything not handled by the cloud. It can’t support anything intensive, but it’s certainly a handy option for taking notes with no distractions.

Read the full review: Acer Chromebook 15 review

Asus Chromebook Flip

(Image credit: Asus)

CPU: Intel Pentium – Core m7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 510 – 515 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 12.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED backlit anti-glare display | Storage: 32GB – 128GB eMMC

+   Tablet mode
+   Tactile keyboard

-   Lightweight performance
-   Restricted to Chrome and Android apps

Weighing just 2.6 pounds, this laptop-tablet hybrid offers your young student double-digit battery life and (for a Chromebook) powerful performance, while weighing less than most textbooks. Your student will have access to all Chrome OS and Google Play apps, which makes this excellent for casual productivity but not necessarily built for more intensive programs (Photoshop Express, but not Photoshop). For an affordable price doubtless made even cheaper by holiday deals, though, you won’t find a better option.

Read the full review: ASUS Chromebook Flip review

Macbook Air

(Image credit: Future)

CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8210Y | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Retina True Tone display | Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD

+   High-resolution screen
+   Impressive battery

-   Expensive to upgrade
-   Underpowered

The Macbook Air features the perks of most Apple products: a reliable, intuitive OS, a beautiful retina screen, and a beautiful design. Add to that the 2.75-pound weight, 10-hour battery and most affordable price tag for any Mac, you can almost forgive that the “optional” upgrades to storage and memory bloat the price well away from affordable for a machine with only a dual-core CPU. But find a good deal on the Air, and your teen can easily run more intensive multimedia apps with it than with other PCs on this list.

Read the full review: Apple Macbook Air (2019) review

Huawei Matebook 13

(Image credit: Future)

CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 - i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620, Nvidia GeForce MX150 (optional) | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch 2K (2,560 x 1,440) with touch panel | Storage: 256GB - 512GB SSD

+   Powerful CPU
+   Lightweight, refined design

-   Expensive upgraded model
-   Discrete graphics can’t support games

Huawei’s flagship laptop offers everything a student needs for a fair price. Thinner but slightly heavier than a Macbook Air, the Matebook 13 sports a lesser 8-hour battery life but excels with a 1440p touchscreen with 100% sRGB color and (for the pricier model) an i7 quad-core that runs laps around the Air’s i5. Unfortunately, as with the Air, your teen won’t get much use from the MateBook for playing PC games that require any GPU juice.

Read the full review: Huawei MateBook 13 Review

Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13-inch)

(Image credit: Microsoft)

CPU: Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 – Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB GDDR5) | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.5” PixelSense display | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD

+   Powerful but silent
+   Seamless tablet mode

-   No surface pen included
-   Expensive

With the Surface Book 3 supposedly due to be announced soon, now is an excellent time to snatch a deal on the superlative Surface Book 2. In laptop mode, the quad-core and dedicated graphics offer more than enough power for any student project, and the idiot-proof OS warns your teen to save their work before detaching to low-powered tablet mode. If your teen expects to use their laptop for gaming, the Book 2’s low memory will thwart this, which parents might see as a positive.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Book 2 (13-inch) review

HP Spectre x360 15T

(Image credit: HP)

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch UHD (3,160 x 2,140) LCD touchscreen | Storage: 256GB SSD – 2TB SSD

+   4K touch display
+   Impeccable performance

-   Runs hot
-   Expensive

Now we’ve reached the devices where you pay top dollar for quality. Your teen will get an exceptional 2-in-1 device that will have no trouble running productivity and media editing apps like the Adobe Creative Suite—with the added perk of tweaking projects with touchscreen controls on a 4K screen. It can even handle recent AAA games at modest graphical settings, though the improved tech brings this model to nearly five pounds. Plus, the Gorilla Glass screen ensures that it will survive whatever rough treatment your teen puts it through.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 15T review