Best laptops for college students in 2021


Best laptops for college students

(Image credit: Unsplash – Emmanuel Ikwuegbu)

The best laptops for college students have enough portability and power to get you through a full day of classes while also being powerful enough to handle all of your school projects. Whether you’re returning to school in person or online, having the right laptop is essential.

They not only have good to excellent battery life, which is important when you’re running between classes on campus all day, but they also provide excellent value for money, with several models under $1,000 — as well as some higher-priced laptops that are excellent investments. Our top college laptop picks all have a few things in common.

If you’re concerned about spending more than $1,000, rest assured that our recommendations are made with that in mind.

yourwith the future in mind The MacBook Pro, for example, isn’t cheap, but mine has lasted me 8 years, which is plenty of time for undergrad and graduate school (or job applications).

Continue reading for our recommendations for the best college laptops available right now.

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

1. Acer Swift 3 (AMD)

The best college laptop under $700

Specifications

Display:

14 inches; 1920×1080
CPU:
AMD Ryzen 7 4700U
GPU:
AMD Radeon graphics
RAM:
8GB
Storage:
512GB SSD
Weight:
2.7 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Amazing battery life


+Powerful performance


+Affordable

Reasons to avoid

Display is a little dim


Speakers aren’t great

It has a snappy AMD Ryzen 7 4700U CPU and excellent battery life (11:09) — all in a lightweight design. The Acer Swift 3 can teach college students how to stretch their dollars further. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get great results. What was the lesson? Plus, thanks to its USB Type-C, HDMI, and USB-A ports, you can do more with fewer adapters or dongles.

Its slightly dim display isn’t ideal for Netflix, but the combination of performance and price is so compelling that you’ll be able to overlook it. Just don’t expect it to take the place of your Bluetooth speaker: its audio could use a little more punch. Furthermore, its keyboard is ideal for writing term papers, with quiet, clicky keys that won’t annoy your roommate.

Read our full

Acer Swift 3 (AMD) review

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(Image credit: Future)

2. Asus Zenbook 13 OLED

The best cheap college laptop with OLED

Specifications
Display:
13.3-inch 1080p OLED
CPU:
AMD Ryzen 7 5700U
GPU:
Integrated Radeon graphics
RAM:
8 GB
Storage:
512 GB
Weight:
2.5 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Stellar battery life


+Beautiful 1080p OLED display


+Great performance

Reasons to avoid

Middling sound quality


Inconsistent webcam


No headphone jack

If you’re looking for a laptop between $500 and $1,000, the AMD-powered Asus Zenbook 13 OLED is a great option, with a stunning 1080p OLED display and long battery life in a slim, light package for less than a grand.

Sure, the speakers aren’t great, the webcam isn’t great, and there’s no headphone jack (though an adapter is included), but these are minor flaws that can be worked around. At this price, the OLED-equipped Asus Zenbook 13 is the best option for a zippy little ultraportable with a great screen that will last you a full day of classes and then some.

Read our full

Asus Zenbook 13 OLED review

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(Image credit: Future)

3. Dell XPS 13

The best Windows laptop for students

Specifications
Display:
13.4 inches; 1920×1080, 3840×2160, or 3.5K OLED; 1920×1080, 3840×2160, or 3.5K OLED
CPU:
11th-Generation Intel Core i3-i7
GPU:
Intel UHD to Intel Iris Xe
RAM:
8GB-16GB
Storage:
256GB-2TBGB SSD
Weight:
2.64 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Beautiful, immersive display, especially if you choose the 3.5K OLED version.


+Comfortable keyboard


+Great overall performance


+Slim, attractive chassis

Reasons to avoid

Battery life could be better


Slim port selection


Grainy 720p webcam

The Dell XPS 13 is a great choice if you have a reasonable budget and want a compact, powerful Windows laptop that will last you a few years at school. While the battery life isn’t as good as some other laptops in this price range, it’s usually more than enough to get you through a day of classes without having to run to the nearest outlet. Because of its excellent performance, beautiful display, and slim design, it’s one of our favorite laptops.

If you can afford it (usually a couple hundred dollars more than the non-OLED 4K screen configuration), the upgrade is well worth it, as the OLED’s deep, inky blacks, vibrant colors, and high contrast ratios really shine when mounted in the XPS 13’s thin-bezelled InfinityEdge design. It’s so good that it took home the best laptop display and best laptop overall awards in our competition. Dell also began offering the XPS 13 with a 3.5K OLED touchscreen option in 2021. Tom’s Guide Awards 2021.

Read our full

Dell XPS 13 OLED review

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Not interested in OLED? Don’t miss our

Dell XPS 13 (2020, 11th Gen) review

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

4. Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020)

The best college laptop for iPhone users

Specifications
Display:
13.3 inches; 2,560 x 1,600
CPU:
Apple M1
GPU:
Integrated 8-core GPU
RAM:
8GB-16GB
Storage:
256GB-2TB SSD
Weight:
2.8 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Remarkably fast performance


+Strong legacy app support


+Amazingly long battery life

Reasons to avoid

Still has thick bezels


Light on ports

Its performance is also significantly improved: the M1 chip transforms the MacBook Air into an incredibly capable system in a variety of ways. It not only smoothly ran Rise of the Tomb Raider, but it was also a Rosetta 2 conversion of that Intel app. Throughout multiple classes, breaks, and all-nighters, the new MacBook Air will maintain its charge. We say that because it lasted 14 hours and 41 minutes in the Tom’s Guide battery test, making it the longest-lasting MacBook Air ever.

Signal processing in the M1 makes the MacBook Air webcam better than ever, so you’ll look clearer and more accurate than ever. Furthermore, because the MacBook Air’s M1 processor is similar to the A-series iPhone and iPad processors, you can run iOS and iPadOS apps on it. Its Magic Keyboard is also fantastic for typing for long periods of time. Are you a student who prefers to learn from a distance?

Read our full

Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review

(Image credit: Future)

5. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Best laptop for productivity-minded students

Specifications
Display:
13.5-inch 2256 x 1504 touchscreen
CPU:
Intel Core i5/i7 11th Gen | Ryzen 5/7 4000-series
GPU:
Integrated Intel Iris Xe or Radeon graphics
RAM:
8GB to 32GB
Storage:
256GB to 1TB SSD
Weight:
2.79 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Light, slim design


+Very comfy keyboard


+Great speakers


+Good battery life

Reasons to avoid

Needs more ports


Thick bezels are an eyesore


Needs a better webcam

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is the company’s closest thing to a flagship Windows laptop. This 2021 addition to the Surface Laptop line packs premium components into a slim chassis, and it comes with a clean, bloatware-free Windows 10 install.

It has a nice Alcantara deck option that gives your wrists a little more comfort than a typical all-metal laptop, as well as a comfortable keyboard with well-sized, satisfying keys. When you add in the notebook’s respectable 10+ hour battery life and the tall 3:2 display ratio, which can help you read and edit documents more comfortably, you have a great notebook for students on the go. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is the way to go if you’re looking for a premium Windows laptop to carry around all day between classes or coffee shops.

Read our full

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review

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Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

6. Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2

The best premium Chromebook for college students

Specifications
CPU:
Intel Celeron | Core i3 processors
RAM:
4GB, 8GB
Storage:
64GB, 128GB
Display:
13.3-inch QLED (1080p)
Dimensions:
12 x 8 x 0.6 inches
Weight:
2.7 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Beautiful design


+Gorgeous QLED display


+Improved battery life

Reasons to avoid

Key travel could be better


Touchscreen input can be inconsistent

The biggest benefit of the original Samsung Galaxy Chromebook was that it created its own Achilles heel. Yes, the 4K OLED display was impressive, but switching to a 1080p QLED panel was a brilliant move that should ensure this Chromebook’s success. Of course, this isn’t nearly as good as the other laptops on this list, which all lasted between 10 and 16 hours on a single charge. It’s now significantly less expensive and has a longer battery life (7:50 vs. 5:55 on the previous model).

We weren’t crazy about the keyboard’s vertical travel, which creates a typing experience you’ll have to get used to unless you’re coming from a MacBook from 2016 to 2019. A Chromebook that looks like a laptop, on the other hand, will be very useful to college students. Plus, for such a small laptop, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 has a lot of volume. this Plus, at $549 for the Celeron or $699 for the Core i3, you’re getting a lot for a reasonable price. good — the Fiesta Red color option will pop in your lecture halls — and it works.

Read our full

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 review

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

7. Microsoft Surface Go 2

For college students, the best 2-in-1 laptop is

Specifications
CPU:
Pentium Gold, 8th Gen Intel Core m3
Camera Resolution:
8MP (rear), 5MP (front)
Display:
10.5 inches, 1920 x 1280 pixels
Storage:
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Memory:
4GB, 8GB
Ports:
Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, headphone jack, USB-C, microSD, Surface Connect port
Dimensions:
The dimensions are 9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches.
Weight:
1.22 lbs. (1.75 lbs. with type cover)
Wi-Fi:
IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax a/b/g/n/ac/ax a/b/g/n/ac

Reasons to buy

+Lengthy battery life


+Bright, vivid screen


+Great webcam

Reasons to avoid

Unimpressive performance


Type Cover requires adjustments

The Surface Go 2 is a good option for college students looking for a portable 2-in-1 that can last a long time. The Surface Go 2 would have gotten a higher ranking, but its 10.5-inch screen and keyboard may be too small for some college students. Yes, the original Surface Go was a flop, but this model corrects nearly every flaw in the first. Its thinner bezels provide more screen space for your assignments (as well as a more modern appearance).

And, more importantly, its battery life is excellent: in our battery test, it lasted 11 hours and 39 minutes, which is more than 5 hours longer than the original Surface Go. Students in college will love You also get Windows Hello biometric login to unlock the Surface Go 2 when you sit down to it, and if you get the 8th Gen Intel Core i3 version, you’ll get the moderate multitasking capability you need to catch up on your coursework (while listening to Spotify). The Zoom-ready webcam on the Surface Go 2 is a 5-megapixel 1080p front camera that is ideal for this era of online learning.

Read our full


Microsoft Surface Go 2 review


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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

8. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, late 2020)

Best college laptop for photo editing

Specifications
Display:
13 inches; 2560×1600
CPU:
Apple M1 (8-core)
GPU:
8-core integrated
RAM:
8GB to 16GB
Storage:
256GB to 2TB SSD
Weight:
3 pounds

Reasons to buy

+Superb performance


+Crazy long battery life


+Bright and colorful display

Reasons to avoid

Dated design


Just two Thunderbolt ports

If you’re going to college to learn how to make movies or master other visual media, the new M1-powered MacBook Pro is the way to go. It has a better display than the Air, and its battery lasts longer as well; in our battery test, it lasted 16 hours and 25 minutes, which is incredible. And once your favorite apps are updated to support Apple hardware, you’ll wonder why Apple waited so long to abandon Intel.

If your budget allows, this combination of endurance and performance, combined with a display that’s great for seeing your creations come to life, makes for one of the best college laptops for Apple users. The MacBook Pro, like the new Air, comes with Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, which replaces the shallow and unreliable Butterfly keyboards.

Read our full

MacBook Pro with M1 review

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(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

9. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

The best ultraportable laptop for students

Specifications
Display:
13 inches; 2K
CPU:
Intel Core i5-1130G7 | Intel Core i7-1160G7
GPU:
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM:
8GB – 16GB
Storage:
256 – 1TB SSD
Weight:
2 pounds

Reasons to buy


+Great battery life


+Lightweight


+2K, anti-glare display

Reasons to avoid

Limited ports


Dull sound

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is a great choice if you absolutely, positively need the lightest laptop possible for going back to school. This lightweight 2-pound laptop is easy to transport and should last you a full day at school; it lasted 12 hours on our battery test, putting it up against some of the best laptops on the market. When you consider that the 2.9-pound XPS 13 is almost a full pound heavier, that’s quite impressive.

However, you may need to bring a USB-C hub because there aren’t many ports. Lenovo didn’t skimp on either performance or usability. The Nano’s Intel 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors provide the speed you need to finish your schoolwork, and its ThinkPad-branded keyboard provides a snappy and comfortable typing experience.

Read our full

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review

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How do you pick the best laptop for college?

Fortunately, we put every laptop we review through our Tom’s Guide battery test, which involves surfing the web continuously over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness set to 150 nits. When looking for a laptop that’s good for school, portability and battery life are often more important than performance, screen quality, or any other feature.

Get the Aspire 5 if you value performance. The Flip C434 is the laptop for you. It’s easy to choose between these three. Based on those findings, we recommend the Acer Aspire 5, Asus Chromebook Flip C434, and Microsoft Surface Go 2, all of which cost less than $600 — and that’s without the Type Cover Keyboard for the Surface Go 2 (sold separately). Do you require a Chromebook? Do you want a tablet? Go get a Surface Go 2. 

The Swift 3 is quick for its price, but the screen isn’t particularly bright. The Acer Swift 3 and the Google Pixelbook Go are in the next price tier, both under $700, which makes for an interesting choice. If you can complete all of your schoolwork using Chrome and Android, the Pixelbook Go’s premium design and excellent screen are a great match.

The Dell XPS 13 has modern 11th Gen CPUs and Thunderbolt 4 ports (great for connecting an external monitor), but poor sound, whereas Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 has great sound and a powerful 11th Gen Intel CPU, but no Thunderbolt 4 ports — only two USB ports, one USB-C and one USB-A. The remaining students, who believe that the best college laptop must be a PC, will make their decision based on performance and audio quality. Finally, we come to those with a budget of $1,000 or more. If their majors don’t require demanding programs, iPhone-using college students can get the MacBook Air, or spend the extra $300 for the incredibly long-lasting MacBook Pro if they’ll be living in Adobe’s applications.

How we test the best college laptops

That’s why we put laptops through our web-surfing-based battery test, which involves turning up the brightness on each laptop’s display to 150 nits and seeing how long it can last while loading an endless stream of web pages. College students, regardless of the season (or year), live in a highly mobile environment, and they’ll need a laptop that can last a long time on a single charge.

In addition, we put each laptop through its paces with a combination of real-world testing (opening a slew of web browser tabs, streaming YouTube, and moving) and performance-testing benchmarks like Geekbench for the CPU and our own storage speed tests to see how quickly they can clone large blocks of data.

We use our light gun, one of two pieces of hardware (the other being our colorimeter) to measure how bright a screen can get and how much of the sRGB color spectrum it can produce, to measure each laptop’s display.

Check out all of our guides to help you get ready for the new school year:

Best office chairs | Best desk lamps | Best pens | Best computer speakers | Best laptop bags | Best webcams | Best all-in-one printers | How to force quit in Windows

He is currently a senior editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covers everything from laptops and desktop computers to keyboards and mice. Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast who has covered both for publications such as Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine for over a decade.

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