12 Best Student Laptops in 2021: Budget & Premium Recommendations

in Research   Posted on April 2, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Entering college is an exciting time because it means students are embarking on a new journey. It is also a time when students are busy shopping for new supplies. Pens? Notebooks? Easy. But laptops? Not so much because there are many factors to consider before purchasing one.

In this article, we look into 12 of the best laptops that have received the approval of tech pundits. There are also snippets that point out what they are be st for—such as best in versatility or portability. The key specifications are also outlined to help you get a clear overview of a laptop quickly.

best student laptops

12 Best Student Laptops 2021:

  1. Apple MacBook Air M1
  2. HP Pavilion 14
  3. Microsoft Surface Go 2
  4. Google Pixelbook Go
  5. Dell XPS 15
  6. MSI GL65 9SC
  7. Huawei Matebook X Pro
  8. Asus ZenBook Flip S
  9. Acer Swift 7
  10. Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)
  11. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
  12. Dell Latitude 9510

In 2020, back to college spending in the United States reached a total of $67.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (2020). Of that amount, $5.4 billion was spent on school supplies. A big percentage of that could have gone towards laptops, as these devices have become essential to college students in completing their homework and projects. This is absolutely true with the current educational preference for distance learning or elearning.

Indeed, 81% of students have laptops to help them through college. Of these, 72% choose a laptop based on price and spend $761.32 on average. Additionally, 8% of students are willing to go with laptops that cost more than $1,500, and 13% have a range of $1,200 to $1,500 when looking for a laptop computer. For laptops that are within the $900 to $1,200 price range, 22% of students were looking at those. Furthermore, 24%, 20%, and 138% look at laptops that are priced below $300, $300 to $600, and $600 to $900, respectively.

Source: Leary, 2019

Fortunately, there are laptops that come within range of the budget of average students. Below are a selection that hits the mark when it comes to price and performance, and some that go beyond the average amount spent on a laptop for college.

1. Apple MacBook Air M1 

For students on a higher budget looking for great performance

Apple MacBook Air M1

Display: 13.3 inches Retina display
Processor: M1
RAM: 8GB
Capacity: choice between 256GB and 512GB
Graphics: 8-core GPU
Battery Life: up to 10 hours
Ballpark Price: $999.99

Apple MacBook Air with the M1 chip is a high-performing device. The chip itself is designed to work with the company’s latest and most innovative operating system yet, the macOS Big Sur. It has impressed the tech pundits at The Verge, who say it is a “triumph” (Bohn, 2020). Students can appreciate its battery life that can go somewhere between 8 to 10 hours and is extremely handy when they are doing schoolday tasks. The laptop is also capable of running a dozen or so apps at one time. On top of that, it can give students who need to or love image and video editing the processing muscle that they require.

2. HP Pavilion 14

For students with regular computing needs

HP Pavilion 14

Display: 14 inches SVA Brightview WLED-backlit
Processor: 8th gen Intel Core i5-8250U
RAM: 8GB
Capacity: 256GB SSD
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics 620
Battery Life: Up to 11 hours
Ballpark Price: $633

The HP Pavilion 14 is the number one laptop for students according to Jones (2021) of T3. It is easy to see why. For a little over $600, students can enjoy one of the latest and most powerful CPUs in the market. It can run Windows 10 smoothly and has up to 11 hours of battery life. So, if you want to leave your charger behind at home or in the dorm, you can do so without worrying about your laptop dying on you.

3. Microsoft Surface Go 2

For students on a tight budget but do not want to compromise performance

Display: 10.5 inches PixelSense Display
Processor: 8th Gen Intel Core m3-8100Y or Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y
RAM: 4GB to 8GB
Capacity: 64GB to 128GB SSD
Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics 615
Battery Life: up to 10 hours
Ballpark Price: from $748

Microsoft Surface Go 2 is slightly larger than its predecessor, which is a good thing for students who like to study and do their tasks on bigger screens. This stylish laptop is highly portable and can fit inside a bag and won’t add much weight (Gibbs, 2020). As it has a touchscreen, students can look forward to a highly responsive machine. It can also stand on its own with the help of a kickstand. And if you are willing to shell out an additional $160 for the Signature Type Cover keyboard, then you can type away comfortably.

4. Google Pixelbook Go

For students who want to work on that familiar Android interface

Google Pixelbook Go

Display: 13.3 inches Full HD Display or 4K Ultra HD Molecular Display
Processor: Intel Core m3, i5, i7
RAM: 8GB to 16GB
Capacity: 64GB to 256GB
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics 615
Battery Life: up to 12 hours
Ballpark Price: $649 to $1,399

This lightweight Chromebook is best for students who do not want to lug around machines that are as heavy as the textbooks they carry. It is a budget version of the Google Pixelbook that has long battery life. It has a sleek design that houses a CPU and a GPU that can power a student’s everyday needs. And if you are willing to shell out more for this line of Chromebooks, then you can have enough processing capability to do some editing. Plus, you get a 4K Ultra HD Molecular Display for the most high-end of the bunch (Osborne, 2020). What’s more, users of Android will find comfort in the fact that the Chromebook also runs on the operating system.

5. Dell XPS 15

For students who want to unleash their creativity

Dell XPS 15

Display: 15.6 inches FHD+ InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit or 15.6 inches UHD+ InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit Display
Processor: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 to i7
RAM: 8GB to 64GB
Capacity: 256GB to 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
Battery Life: up to 6 hours
Ballpark Price: from $1,149.99

All that 15 inches of length, 0.71 inches of width, and around 4.5 lbs of weight do not make the Dells XPS 15 ideal for students who have a deep aversion to carrying heavy machines around in school. However, it can be a great companion for students who require an extremely powerful laptop. This is suitable for those who do heavy editing tasks on Photoshop, Premiere, and 3D design software (Thomas, 2020). This might be a bit more expensive than most students are willing to pay for, but it is a dream deal for creative students out there.

6. MSI GL65 9SC 

For students who like to study but also love games

MSI GL65 9SC

Display: 14.1 inches full HD
Processor: Intel Core i5-9300H
RAM: 8GB
Capacity: 515GB SSD
Graphics Card: 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650
Battery Life: up to 5 hours and 30 minutes
Ballpark Price: $699

This laptop is another heavy hitter and may not be the best fit for most students despite being entry-level. But for those who do a lot of gaming, then this is an exceptional choice (Jefferies, 2019). Of course, it can handle the daily tasks of a student and then some (it is capable of running the latest Adobe Photoshop smoothly). Indeed, it can handle a superb mix of productivity and entertainment.

7. Huawei Matebook X Pro

For students who work hard but also like long-lasting entertainment

Huawei Matebook X Pro

Display: 13.9 inches 3K touchscreen
Processor: 10th gen Core i5 to i7
RAM: 16GB
Capacity: 512GB to 1TB SSD
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics to Nvidia GeForce MX250
Battery Life: up to 15 hours
Ballpark Price: from $1,114.99

Huawei may not be the first or even among the brands that people think of when they are looking for a laptop. But the company has several laptops under its belt like the Matebook X Pro. It runs Windows 10 on a Core i5 processor. For students, this is a processing power they can appreciate if they like to run multiple applications at once. Apart from being a school companion, this notebook is also a wonder in entertainment. The battery time can last almost 15 hours (Preston, 2020)—perfect for students who intend to binge-watch series and movies over the weekend or the holidays and barely plug in.

8. Asus ZenBook Flip S

For students who prefer versatility

Asus ZenBook Flip S

Display: 13.3 inches full HD
Processor: Intel Core i7
RAM: 16GB
Capacity: 512GB to 1TB NVMe SSD
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics 620
Battery Life: up to 11 hours
Ballpark Price: $1,549

This 2-in-1 laptop can rotate its screen nearly 360 degrees. Because of that, it can turn into a tablet with ease. Casey (2020) for Tom’s Guide said it can carry out basic multitasking. That means you can have a dozen or more Chrome tabs open, with YouTube as well as Spotify, Calendar, and a plethora of apps running without the system lagging. This is a performance that is more than satisfactory for students who like to keep a gazillion tabs open while doing research. On top of that, you can easily turn it into a tablet when you feel like working with a touchscreen.

9. Acer Swift 7

For students who want the optimum portability

Acer Swift 7

Display: 13.3 inches
Processor: Intel Core i7
RAM: 8GB to 16GB
Capacity: 256GB to 512GB
Graphics Card: Intel HD Graphics 615
Battery Life: up to 6 hours
Ballpark Price: from $1,699.99

Yes, there are already several laptops on the list that are portable. However, Acer Swift 7 is a must for students who want to be as mobile as possible with a capable laptop. It is 1.96 lbs or 890 grams only and beats the iPad Pro with Apple Smart Keyboard at lightness. It also has a large display despite its size (Seifert, 2019), which students who open several windows at once can be grateful for. The screen also doubles as a touchscreen so you can tap on buttons on the screen at times rather than using your mouse.

10. Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)

For students who want an all-around companion

Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)

Display: 15.6 inches full HD
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB
Capacity: 512GB SSD
Graphics Card: 8GB Intel UHD Graphics
Battery Life: up to 8 hours
Ballpark Price: $700

This laptop has a regular precision touchpad, unlike its predecessor, the S532. But for a student, doing away with a gadgety feature like a touchscreen touchpad does not hamper daily productivity tasks. On top of that, it can save you $100. And if you like to work outdoors, the full-HD matte screen of the laptop can work to your advantage. What’s more, apart from word processing, spreadsheets, and browsers and web apps, Asus Vivobook S15 (S533) can do basic graphics editing (Goldman, 2020).

11. Microsoft Surface Pro 7

For students who travel frequently and want to do it in style

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Display: 12.3 inches PixelSense Display (with touchscreen)
Processor: 10th gen Intel Core i5 to i7
RAM: 8GB or 16GB
Capacity: 128GB to 1TB
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics to Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Battery Life: up to 8 hours
Ballpark Price: $749.99

For students who are always on the go, Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a worthy travel/work buddy. It can switch between laptop and tablet in a second. Unlike 2-in-1 laptops, all you need to do is remove the Surface Type Cover and you have a tablet. If you would rather keep it on, then you can just flip the cover to the back. Additionally, the device has a Studio Mode, which allows you to doodle on it comfortably. Since it runs on the 10th generation of Intel processors, you can look forward to the ultimate performance in a small machine. That means up to 8 hours of work time (Warren, 2019), which is beneficial when you’re traveling and no charging port is in sight.

12. Dell Latitude 9510

For students who want to leave the charger at home

Dell Latitude 9510

Display: 15 inches touchscreen
Processor: Core i7
RAM: 16Gb
Capacity: 256GB
Graphics Card: Intel UHD Graphics
Battery Life: up to 24 hours
Ballpark Price: from $2,827

Dell Latitude 9510 has up to 24 hours of battery life. That is hard to match or beat. This allows students to be productive as long as they want. This is possible because the machine promises to optimize applications that eat up a lot of resources. It can prioritize those accordingly and enhance their performance (Hachman, 2020). With this, students can also entertain themselves with some music that comes out crisply through the audio subsystem for long hours. The only downside? It may be beyond most students’ budget, as its price starts at $2,827.

Tips for Students in Choosing the Best Laptop

When choosing the best laptop for college, it can be tempting to go for the machine with the most bells and whistles. But sometimes, you may not even need those. That is why there are some things that you have to think about carefully when making your decision.

  1. Consider your needs. Surprise! Budget is not first on the list. That is because deciding with your budget as the primary decision-making factor can backfire on you. Instead, think about what you need in a laptop. If you are simply going to use it for everyday tasks like word processing, number crunching on spreadsheets, making and running presentations, and browsing the internet, then you can settle for a budget laptop that covers the essentials. However, if you are going to do some heavy tasks like image, video, and audio editing, you have to step it up a notch and go for a mid-range laptop or even for a premium one.
  2. Budget. Now, this is where your budgeting comes in. Entry-level, mid-range, and premium laptops can vary greatly in price. Once you have decided on the processing capability you need, then you can start setting a minimum and a maximum amount.
  3. Portability. Students always go around from one room, building, campus to another. As such, it is necessary to think of the weight you are willing to carry. There are lines of laptops that are ultra-portable but do not compromise on performance so you have to keep your eye on those.
  4. Upgrades. There are laptops that allow upgrades and there are those that do not. If you believe that you may have to upgrade your device in the future, then it is best to look at laptops whose storage, RAM, and graphics processor you can switch later on.

 

References:

  1. Bohn, D. (2020, November 17). Apple MacBook Air with M1 review: New chip, no problem. The Verge.
  2. Casey, H. T. (2020, September 30). Asus ZenBook Flip S review. Tom’s Guide.
  3. Gibbs, S. (2020, May 19). Surface Go 2 review: Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper Windows 10 tablet. The Guardian.
  4. Goldman, J. (2020, July 9). Don’t let Asus’ budget-friendly 15-inch laptop slip under your radar. CNET.
  5. Jefferies, C. (2019, December 5). The latest technology product reviews, news, tips, and deals. PC Magazine.
  6. Jones, R. (2021, January 4). Best student laptops 2021: The best laptops for students. T3.
  7. Osborne, J. (2020, December 11). Google Pixelbook go review. TechRadar.
  8. Preston, D. (2020, July 16). Huawei MateBook X Pro 2020 review: The same, but better. Tech Advisor. Seifert, D. (2019, August 2). Acer Swift 7 review: Thin at all costs. The Verge.
  9. Thomas, B. (2020, December 11). Dell XPS 15 (2020) review. TechRadar.
  10. Warren, T. (2019, October 21). Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review: I wish this looked like a Surface Pro X. The Verge.