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

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

Choosing the best laptops for college can be tricky. Students have more important metrics to consider than most people, and that tends to limit their options. Even some of the best laptops of 2021 won’t be able to tick everything off the list with things like affordability and long battery life on the table. This unfortunately means that narrowing your options can be a little tough.

Don’t just focus on price when looking for the best laptops for college. Many laptops under $500 can be excellent candidates, but as will mid-range ones with a bit more power. While most college students can be strapped for cash, it’s also not worth sacrificing performance just to get something cheap. 

A higher-quality machine might be worth spending a little more on considering the better value you’ll get down the road. Laptops for engineering students, for example, need to have a bit more graphical power, which means they’ll cost a little more. 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. 

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

(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

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

HP Chromebook 14

(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

(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

(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)

(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

(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

Acer Swift 3 2020

(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)

LG Gram 16 (2021)

(Image credit: LG)

9. LG Gram 17 (2021)

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+Very light
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-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) 

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(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)

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.