Getting the best laptop for college is hugely important for students, especially at the moment with many universities and colleges teaching exclusively through online streaming due to the pandemic. Students need something reliable with a long battery life, but that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (you’ll need those to pay off your other student debts).
So, what should you be looking for in the best laptop for college students? In our opinion, you might be better off with something lightweight as you’ll likely be carting it around between your lectures. It also needs a battery that can last the day without needing to recharge, as power outlets are often at a premium in lecture halls and libraries.
All work and no play makes for sad students though, so you also want something that can serve as your entertainment center too. You’ll need a good quality HD or 4K screen and decent speakers whether it's for watching shows on the best TV streaming services or listening to tunes on Spotify.
You also want something stylish - a laptop you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in public with. Apple MacBooks are a great choice in this regard, though they’re often more expensive so you need to balance what you can afford with what you need.
If you’re hanging on to your old laptop and thinking of taking it to college with you, we’ve got a compelling 10 reasons to upgrade your laptop that you should consider too. The best laptops are some of the fastest moving technologies out there, so even something a few years old quickly gets outdated.
1. Microsoft Surface Go 2: Best overall laptop for college
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a Windows 10 two-in-one laptop and tablet combo that offers plenty of power in a super portable shell. The 10.5-inch display at 1920 x 1280 is high-res and offers touchscreen for easy controls without reaching for a mouse or keyboard – ideal for in the lecture hall when making notes.
There's lots of power with 8th Gen Intel Core smarts backed by up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. While this has high-speed 802.11ax WiFi 6 connectivity you also have LTE meaning you can stay connected, at high-speed, wherever you go.
While this is an affordable option, the base configuration is a little underpowered for some users. As such, if you want a system that'll get you gaming as well as working then you may need to spend a bit more to go for a faster specification setup. And since the Touch Cover keyboard case and stylus aren't included you may need to set aside a few bucks more there.
2. HP Chromebook 14: Best affordable Chromebook
The HP Chromebook 14 is a very affordable Chromebook that gives you all the speed and minimalist ease of use that Chrome OS offers within a well-built design. That means you not only get an excellent keyboard and trackpad, ideal for high-speed lecture note taking, but also a top screen.
The display is a large 14-inch IPS panel with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and BrightView for clarity even if you're working out in daylight. Battery life is decidedly average and the lack of LTE connectivity means you need to find WiFi to get the most out of Chrome OS.
There are various processor level options with up to an AMD A6 or Intel Celeron N3450 with up to 8GB of RAM, 64GB storage and AMD Radeon R5 or Intel HD Graphics 500 onboard. All that remains super portable in a well built frame that should withstand the always-moving college lifestyle with ease.
3. Google Pixelbook Go: Best powerful Chromebook
The Google Pixelbook Go is a great Chromebook that offers lots of power and rather uniquely packs in a 1080p webcam, ideal for remote learning and video calling home when away at college. The battery life is stunning with near 12 hours of power playing a video, meaning this will go a full day of college without the need to carry a charger.
The keyboard is worth a mention as it's a special "Hush" design which, as the name suggests, offers a near silent keyboard which is perfect for in class note taking. The magnesium-alloy frame gives this a premium feel and offers a sturdiness that's reassuring.
This is backed by lots of power including a 13.3-inch Full HD display, Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB storage, Intel UHD Graphics 615, WiFi 5, 1080p webcam and dual USB-C 3.1 ports.
4. Dell XPS 15: Best powerhouse Windows laptop
The Dell XPS 15 is a monster of a laptop in terms of power. This is an expensive setup, yes, but you get every dime's worth of your money in specs on this machine. There is a mighty 15.6-inch 4K display which is powered by Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics, making this a worthy partner even for those studying graphic and video design.
This comes with Intel Core i7 processing, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD storage and a 1080 IR webcam. This has the latest WiFi 6 connectivity plus lots of ports including two USB-C 3.1, Thunderbolt, and an SD card reader.
The build is solid and the keyboard is excellent, built to withstand work but also button-bashing levels of gaming. If you can stretch to the price this is the do it all Windows 10 laptop that will last you through college and beyond.
5. Apple MacBook Air 2020: Best build quality laptop
The Apple MacBook Air 2020 is, as you'd expect, a well designed and built machine that can withstand being thrown about all over campus, as it's built to last. The 13.3-inch display is a 2,560 x 1,600 Retina True Tone screen, meaning a backlit LED IPS that offers plenty of clarity and brightness for daytime use. This is backed by a redesigned Magic keyboard which offers a more responsive, deeper travel with greater reliability than previous models.
The webcam tops out at 720p and the battery life won't get you much beyond a day of use at best. But there is plenty of power with Intel Core i3 processing, 8GB of RAM and Intel Iris Plus. Yes, this isn't a video editor's level or power, or even a gamer's, but for most tasks you're set. And it's all controlled via the wonderfully friendly macOS.
Get the Apple reliability and ease of use with enough power to keep you going while staying super mobile and – of course – that Apple branding, all for a slightly above average price.
6. Asus Vivobook S14: Best stylish Windows laptop
The Asus Vivobook S14 is a very good looking Windows 10 laptop which combines a spacious 15-inch 1920 x 1080 screen with a metal build and backlit keyboard that offers a satisfying 1.4mm of travel. There's Harman/Kardon audio but in reality that didn't impress as it is rather underpowered.
The 11th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU offers plenty of processing power and that updated Intel Iris Xe graphics onboard makes for strong video capabilities. That means this can handling gaming, only less graphically intense stuff.
Battery life lasts a good day of use topping out at about 11 hours. Then you can expect fast charging back up with Asus claiming you get to 60 percent (likely from empty) in 49 minutes but in reality that can be slower as the more full the battery is the slower it charges.
This isn't the cheapest laptop out there but for the high quality build, decent specs and all that style this is a great option for college.
7. Acer Swift 3: Best lightweight Ultrabook
The Acer Swift 3 is all about portability with a slim and lightweight design that makes it ideal for having in a bag while you move about the college campus. Despite the weight, at 2.7 pounds, this still offers a decent 14-inch 1080p display and the latest WiFi 6 connectivity. Power is good with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, Intel UHD Graphics and 512GB of SSD storage.
The webcam is lacking quality at 720, there's a definitely lack of power in the speakers and despite all those specs this still isn't really powerful enough for proper gaming. The price, for an Ultrabook, is decent and that matte silver finish makes it feel premium to use.
The trackpad and keyboard are both decent with the latter perhaps being a little cramped for some. Battery life tops out at about seven hours of constant movie playing use which isn't amazing but should get you through a college day while staying lightweight to carry.