Update: To get primed for back to school season, we’ve gone and overhauled our buying guide – replete with a new entry – aimed to serve all sorts of students’ needs. Check them out below!
Even for those who feel at home with their nose in a textbook, the end of that tiny spring break is a big bummer. But, as much as it’s a return to school and schedules, it’s an opportunity.
With some much-needed breathing room, this is as fine a chance as any to invest in some fresh tech to make finals all the more bearable.
If you’re still using a bulky desktop, or if your laptop winces at the sight of an HD video lecture, then it’s time to upgrade. Luckily, if you know where to look, it’s possible to get a sleek and impressive notebook without blowing through your savings (or taking yet another student loan).
We’ve sifted through our most recent, top-ranking reviews and picked out the best laptops for high school and college. The list below spans all budgets, from power-sipping, price-conscious Chromebooks for you liberal arts folks to powerful laptops ready for design or animation coursework – or, you know, dorm room “LAN” parties.
Asus Zenbook UX305
A most affordable and excellent Ultrabook
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core m3 – Core m5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 – 5300 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD
Incredibly thin and light
Wonky video driver
Call it a MacBook Air knockoff all you want, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is one of the best and most affordable Ultrabooks available now.
Like the Dell XPS 13 listed below, this is further proof that you can find a truly primo, general use laptop for less than a thousand bucks. This is an honest-to-goodness laptop that wins at the basics and offers up an attractive package.
Read the full review: Zenbook UX305
HP Chromebook 14
A well balanced Chromebook
CPU: 6th generation Intel Celeron | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB – 4GB | Screen: 14-inch HD (1366 x 768) – FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 16GB – 32GB eMMC
Excellent keyboard and trackpad
Chrome OS is speedy and responsive
Crisp, vivid screen
Average battery life
The HP Chromebook 14 is no performance powerhouse, but Chrome OS’s speediness, combined with a funky blue case, makes this one fun notebook to use.
For classwork, this laptop is ideal for high school students or those pursuing degrees in liberal arts because of its low cost and simplicity in its use and maintenance while providing the access to nearly every major app and service an undergrad would need.
Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14
13.3-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
CPU: 5th generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen:13.3-inch WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Force Touch underdeveloped
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is an excellent option for students who may need more power than a Chromebook or a MacBook Air without sacrificing portability, thanks to its long battery life, relatively light weight and high resolution display.
Students on a budget will be happy to know that they can get started right away as the MacBook Pro with Retina display ships with free copies of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote out of the box as well as iMovie, Photos, and GarageBand for basic, creative projects.
Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display
Acer Chromebook 15
The colossus of Chromebooks
CPU: 5th generation Intel Celeron – Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB – 4GB | Screen: 15.6-inch HD (1,366 x 768) – FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 16GB – 32GB SSD
Fast processing speeds
Long battery life
If you’re convinced that every Chromebook on the market has to be less than 14 inches, you’d be dead wrong. The Acer Chrombook 15, for example, boasts not only a whopping 15.6-inch screen, but it also packs an equally impressive range of processors.
Despite some slight discomfort experienced during prolonged use, but you can snatch the Acer Chromebook 15 at a much cheaper price now than when it originally released, making it well worth the sacrifice.
Read the full review: Acer Chromebook 15 C910
13-inch MacBook Air
Finally, battery life within our grasp
CPU: 5th generation Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB | Screen:13.3-inch WXGA+ (1,440 x 900) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Fantastic battery life
No Retina screen
Not user upgradeable
Though it’s yet to adopt Apple’s Retina display standard, the benefit to this compromise is a 12-hour battery life coupled paired with a dual-core, Broadwell processor.
Plus, if you don’t like the feel 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 way to get that backlit Apple logo on the back of your laptop.
Read the full review: MacBook Air 13-inch
Lenovo IdeaPad Y700
Long battery life tops off this attractive gaming laptop
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M (2GB – 4GB) | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD IPS (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 500GB HDD – 1TB HDD + 512GB SSD
Ample battery life
Terrible trackpad buttons
Look, you’re bound to have some down time during college, so why not put some of that entertainment cost into one of these bad boys? This 15-inch gaming laptop looks nice and its price tag is even nicer.
Don’t expect to run games on Ultra settings, but hey, with a system like this you’ll be able to accomplish just about anything else – from writing essays to making movies.
Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaPad Y700
Dell XPS 13
A revolution in laptop design
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 128GB – 256GB SSD
Small frame limits battery life
Packing a high-resolution screen and serious processing power, there’s more to the Dell XPS 13 than being a surprisingly small Ultrabook.
There’s a 13-inch display crammed into an 11-inch body, a truly worthy competitor to a certain aluminum laptop line perfect for any basic coursework scenario. After all, Apple doesn’t make the only premium, general use laptop worth batting an eye at, and the Dell XPS 13 is the proof.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13
HP Pavilion x2
The best and most affordable Windows 10 convertible
CPU: Intel Atom Z8300 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 10.1-inch WXGA (1,280 x 800) | Storage: 32GB eMMC
Long battery life
32-bit Windows 10
Limited storage and memory
The HP Pavilion x2 might be a little tike of a 2-in-1 laptop, but it’s a great Windows 10 device for media and basic computing tasks.
If you seek something to suit those Sundays spent streaming Netflix in bed as well as it does taking notes in the classroom, this is a fine place to start that search. Lightweight and capable for but a relative pittance, you’ll get a tablet and a laptop that nail the basics in equal measure.
Read the full review: HP Pavilion x2
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The tablet that can replace your laptop
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core m3 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 – Iris Graphics | RAM: 4GB – 16GB | Screen: 12.3-inch PixelSense (2,736 x 1,824) | Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
Improved Type Cover
Cover still sold separately
Intel Core m3 to start
A higher resolution screen, a thinner design and a move to Intel’s more powerful Skylake processors all help to make this portable tablet a capable replacement for your laptop. Sadly, the Type Cover keyboard is still an optional necessity for this laptop replacement.
Nevertheless, what you do get is one of the few tablets we can say for certain can replace your laptop. Luckily, with Windows 10, it serves as a great companion device, too.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
LG gram 15
Bigger, thinner and lighter than a MacBook Air
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 15.6-inch UHD (3,840 x 2,160) | Storage: 256GB SSD
Thin, light and attractive design
Lots of ports
Below average battery life
Webcam in the hinge
Sure, if you’re switching over from a MacBook, you might be unimpressed with the lack of color options, but the LG Ggam 15 is fantastic in just about every other way. It boasts a 15.6-inch display, for example, coupled with a rugged Core i5 processor to boot. Add 8GB of RAM, four USB ports – including one Type-C – and a microSD card reader, and what you have is the anti-MacBook.
By adopting the thin-and-light design while trashing the minimalist port solution, the LG gram 15 is one of the best laptops you can buy at its enticing $1,099 (about £752, AU$1,444) price point.
Read the full review: LG gram 15