No matter what your stance is on Microsoft’s recently unveiled Surface Laptop and its cost of entry, the message is clear: students want a notebook that’s powerful, long-lasting, affordable, and stylish. That may not seem like a high bar for laptop makers to meet, but in many cases, compromises are made in some of those areas.
The best laptop fuses 7th-generation Intel Core processors with a battery life set to last all day and looks that you’ll gawk over without putting you over budget. That’s a string of tough requirements to meet, but why settle for anything less than a laptop that balances specs with value all while remaining reliable over at least the next four years?
Not everyone can afford the most expensive laptop with the persistently looming threat of student loans, books and housing in the back of their minds. For that reason, we’ve put together a list of the top laptops for college students even when money is tight. Below you’ll find our choices of all the best laptops for college students across various price ranges and categories.
- Dell XPS 13
- Asus Chromebook Flip
- Asus ZenBook UX305
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4
- Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
- Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
- Asus ZenBook Flip UX360
- HP Chromebook 14
- Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
- 13-inch MacBook Air
Packing a high-resolution screen and serious processing power, there’s more to the Dell XPS 13 than its status as a tightly kept Ultrabook. Now featuring new processors and better integrated graphics, clearly there’s an advantage to the Dell XPS 13 besides the fact that it comes in Rose Gold.
The 13-inch display, crammed into an 11-inch body, a worthy rival to a certain other aluminum laptop line. What’s more, the Dell XPS 13’s utility is extensive, spanning everything from writing to video editing to everything in between.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 review
While we can admit that Google’s Chromebook Pixel and the HP Chromebook 13 were handsome and built to last, their high price tags weren’t well justified. That’s why Asus has taken it upon itself to craft a full-fledged premium 2-in-1 Chromebook that retails for a fraction of the price.
The Asus Chromebook Flip’s pair of USB Type-C ports, dazzling screen and stunning MacBook-esque looks render it an essential inclusion on our best laptops for students list, especially when you consider its pristine value. And with a battery life of 10 hours and 46 minutes, the Asus Chromebook Flip ought to last you an entire work day, even if the speakers aren’t great.
Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip
It’s not a MacBook Air knockoff if it’s better, right? Considering the price, the Asus ZenBook UX305 kicks Apple’s thin-and-light in the tail. Featuring a full HD screen, a whole 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of SSD storage, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is a steal.
Like the Dell XPS 13 listed above, the UX305 is further proof that you can find a truly primo, general use laptop for less than a thousand bucks. The ZenBook UX305 is an attractive, honest-to-goodness laptop that serves as a testament to the demand for well-rounded Ultrabooks.
Read the full review: Zenbook UX305
A higher resolution screen, a thinner design and full-fledged 6th-generation Intel Skylake processors all work together to make the Surface Pro 4 truly a hybrid that’s just as effective at your desk as it is in your bed.
As Microsoft’s marketing declares, the Surface Pro 4 is the tablet that can replace your laptop (and your desktop too, depending on your needs). With Windows 10, it serves as a great companion device, too. Sadly, the Type Cover keyboard is still an optional necessity.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
For less than a grand, you could get a MacBook Air, complete with a sub-1080p screen and a Broadwell processor… or you could buy a Samsung Notebook 7 Spin. A 2-in-1 laptop with an HDR, full HD touchscreen, the Spin is home to both a discrete Nvidia graphics chip and a 6th-generation Intel Core “i” CPU.
Considering the sheer horsepower you can exert from this thing and – we can’t stress this enough – an HDR screen, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is as suited for the classroom as it is in your dorm. Though the spinning hard drive and 480p webcam aren’t ideal, they keep the price of the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin modest and its reputation positive.
Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
While a gaming laptop might sound ideal for homework by day and taking out waves of enemies by night, it’s normally a steep investment with little room for upgrades. Ditching the Alienware moniker for once, the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming doesn’t cost much and exhibits unparalleled performance for the price.
For the price, you wouldn’t even be able to afford a MacBook Air, and this is a laptop that can handle practically every game you throw at it, albeit not at the highest settings. And, if you were worried about the battery life, the Inspiron 15 Gaming lasted a whole 5 hours and 51 minutes in our tests, longer than some Ultrabooks priced significantly higher.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
It’s not much in terms of specs, but with this kind of versatility, the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360 doesn’t need to be. For the price, it’s one of the better 2-in-1 laptops money can afford. It’s thin and light, packing in an all-day battery life and yet maintains all your favorite ports intact.
PC purists and newcomers alike will be delighted to find a pair of USB 3.0 ports joined by USB-C and even the long-endangered SD card reader, though merely an antiquated micro HDMI input. Regardless, this laptop more than makes up for shortcomings, thanks to a spacious trackpad and keyboard as well as a processor that zips through everyday life.
Read the full review: Asus ZenBook Flip UX360
The HP Chromebook 14 isn’t a performance hog by any means, but Chrome OS brings forth the sheen of even the most rudimentary internal components. Likewise, the keyboard and trackpad are par for the course, which is to say that they’re pretty damn comfy. The screen ain’t half bad either.
Because of its low cost and ease of use, the HP Chromebook 14 is ideal for high school or liberal arts college students while simultaneously providing access to nearly every major service an undergrad would need to survive. It’s nothing fancy in terms of specs, but it is at the very least a sight for sore eyes.
Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14
For students impressed by the sleek-and-alluring 12-inch MacBook, but unsatisfied by the lack of power and ports, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the obvious resolution at long last. With battery life exceeding seven hours and a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro is replete with everything you need to get through the coming semesters.
The 13-inch, late 2016 MacBook Pro weighs only 3.02 pounds (1.37kg), making it lighter than ever before as the result of a slimmed-down, “butterfly” mechanism-powered keyboard and stealthy cooling system. The MacBook Pro even manages a larger trackpad despite the laptop itself being thinner. And, like all macOS-outfitted devices, it ships with Pages, iMovie and Garageband pre-installed at no extra cost.
Read the full review: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
Though it has yet to adopt Apple’s Retina display standard (and may never at this rate), you can take solace in that, with the 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple promises a 12-hour battery life paired with a dual-core Broadwell processor and now starts with a competent 8GB of RAM.
So if you’re skeptical of the 12-inch MacBook’s low-travel butterfly keys, the MacBook Air uses a more traditional, chiclet-style keyboard. And hey, a MacBook Air is the most affordable (and pretty much the only) ways to get that backlit Apple logo on the back of your laptop.
Read the full review: MacBook Air 13-inch
- Now check out the best 2-in-1 laptops
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
By Joe Osborne
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