Our top pick for a school laptop is the Apple MacBook Air, for its durability and power, although the Samsung Chromebook 3 is a worthwhile budget option at a fraction of the cost. College laptops will likely see even more use, making the Apple MacBook Pro a natural top choice, though the Asus VivoBook Flip is a great value pick for those with a major that won't require as much processing power.
A good laptop can give your child a fantastic research tool to see them through their school years. The best school laptops can help children to learn vital computing skills, and also give them a powerful research machine for all their studies. The ideal model will be good value, dependable, lightweight and long-lasting.
With the future of school life a little up in the air amid the COVID pandemic, a laptop is more essential than ever for wherever a student might be working, from video calls to late-night homework. If you're lucky, it'll keep ticking all the way through college – although we also have plenty of more powerful college-specific devices to recommend if the high school computer doesn't make it.
Here, we pick out some of the best laptops available for students, with models to fit all budgets.
These are the best laptops you should consider for packing into a school bag:
- Apple MacBook Air – It will be a lucky student who gets a MacBook Air. The ‘cheapest' MacBook is hardly low-cost, but it will breeze through all tasks and last for years.
- Dell XPS 13 – Lightweight and powerful, this Windows 10 laptop will be sure to impress
- Samsung Chromebook 3 – A great value Chromebook that’s fast to boot and lightweight
- Asus Chromebook Flip C302 – A more powerful Chromebook with a flip touchscreen
- Microsoft Surface Go – Microsoft’s entry-level Surface tablet/laptop hybrid
Apple MacBook Air 2018 – $1,099
Best for design-minded students
The Apple MacBook Air might be Apple’s cheapest laptop, but you’re still looking at over $1,000 worth of tech, so it’s by no means a budget choice.
It should, however, last for years – ideally seeing a student through from high school to college.
Packing an Intel Core i5 processor, the Air will happily cope with hardcore homework, and the 12 hour battery means that it can keep going from the breakfast to recess through to evening without needing a charge.
After a period of neglect, Apple is back to promoting the Air again, and the 2019 MacBook Air is one of the best MacBooks (and cheapest) you can buy. If you're keen on a Mac and fancy making a saving, you can still pick up the older MacBook Air model for under $1,000. It's a perfectly good computer that's still super-stylish.
- Cheapest MacBook
- 15 hour battery
- Light and easy to carry
- Not suited to graphics-heavy tasks
Buy on Amazon
Dell XPS 13 – $800
Best for demanding Windows users
It's the kind of laptop to consider for a senior student with more demanding coursework, perhaps. For any other high school student, it's overkill. The Dell XPS 13 has a fast processor in a small and lightweight frame, plus with a decent battery life.
A solid state drive means it's fast to boot up, taking just seconds, so that killer essay idea won’t be lost in the moment.
- Fast to boot
- Great battery life
- Powerful processor
Buy on Amazon
Samsung Chromebook 3 – $280
Best for Google-loving students
It runs the Google Chrome operating system – all notes and essays are automatically saved to the cloud, so there's no panic about lost files if the laptop gets left on the school bus.
Chromebooks like this one can open and edit Microsoft Word or Excel documents, though they use Google's suite of web apps (Docs and Pages) to do so. They're virtually indistinguishable in practice, and the Google tools have better options for sharing and collaborating on work.
- Fast and snappy
- Excellent battery life
- Low entry price
- Lacks Windows
- Very little storage
Buy on Amazon
Asus Chromebook Flip – $450
Best for flexibility
It also has a neat trick up its sleeve – its touchscreen can rotate 180 degrees and double as a tablet.
The touchscreen is useful for making quick diagrams or notes, and the flexible screen makes it easier to comfortably watch videos when it's in the “upside-down-V” shape.
- Well priced
- Versatile 180 degree screen
- Touchscreen great for annotations
- Lacks Windows
- Storage space an issue
Buy on Amazon
Microsoft Surface Go $381
Best for portability
Microsoft has recently introduced its cheapest entry-level Surface yet, the Go, priced at $381. The price point makes it a compelling alternative. Easy to slip into a bag, offering the full Windows experience and with a long battery life, there’s a lot to like here.
You’ll definitely want the keyboard though, which is sold separately (for an extra $100).
- Great entry price
- Modest specs make it best for casual users
- Compatible with keyboard and pen peripherals
- USB-C port
- Keyboard is an optional extra
Best Laptops for College Students
Whether you’re off to college, or already there, a trusty laptop is an essential tool. The best laptops for college are able to balance essay writing as well as plenty of Netflix, social media and video calls back home. You’ll want a laptop that can go the distance: A college computer will need more power and durability than a grade-school laptop, and might cost more as a result.
But what should you go for? Will a $300 Windows laptop do the trick? Or do you need a MacBook (you may want one, but do you need one?). And what about a Chromebook? With a year at college costing the average student at least $20,000, you'll want to spend your money wisely.
The good news is that all of the above are viable laptop options, depending on what type of student you are. Here are the main choices when buying a laptop for college:
- Apple MacBook Pro – A powerhouse, and a great tool for design students
- Lenovo Yoga 730 – A stylish Windows 10 laptop that thinks it's a tablet, too
- Acer ChromeBook Spin – A diminutive Chromebook that will slip into any bag
- Asus VivoBook Flip – A full-function Windows 10 laptop at a nice price
- Apple MacBook (12-inch) – The thinnest and lightest MacBook yet
- Acer Spin 3 – Flexible and inexpensive
- Samsung Chromebook Plus – A snappy Chromebook
- Microsoft Surface Go – A tablet that thinks it's a laptop
Whether you choose a MacBook, a Chromebook or a reliable Windows 10 laptop, any of the above will prove a capable companion during your studies, and help you unwind with some Netflix or Spotify when you need a break from the books.
Apple MacBook Pro – $1299
Best for: Art & Design students
This is the ultimate MacBook, with a price-point to match. The entry-level model starts at $1299, but shoots up to $2,800 for the fully kitted out version. The good news is that you probably don’t need that one.
So what does the money get you? For the very latest entry-level MacBook Pro, you'll get an Apple M1 chip, 8GB of Ram, and of course that visually stunning Retina display. All those specs can be improved upon if you spend more, naturally.
There’s a reason that MacBooks are so highly regarded in the design and creative industries, and the MacBook Pro is the pinnacle of this. If you’re studying design or a related offshoot, a MacBook Pro is a great tool for your course.
Not sure which MacBook model to go for? Read our full guide, Which MacBook Should I Buy?
- Magic Keyboard
- Touch Bar
- Apple M1 or Intel Processor
- Price bump from Air
Buy on Amazon
Lenovo Yoga 730 – $750
Best for: Students who can't decide between a tablet or laptop
This is a Windows 10 laptop with a surprising twist – literally. The screen can fold all the way back to onto itself, essentially serving as a large, 13-inch laptop, with a handy touchscreen.
It’s no gimmick though – the screen makes it genuinely useable when flipped upside down as a hybrid tablet. It's great for watching videos this way, for example.
Beyond this trick, the Yoga 730 has plenty under its hood. There's the latest generation i5 processor (for the entry-level model) and a 128GB solid state drive for fast load times and a decent amount of storage. If you like to make diagrams in class, it’s also compatible with a stylus, although this is sold separately, and costs around $50.
- Screen folds back
- Latest gen processor
- Stylus not included
- Storage could be lacking for some
Buy on Amazon
Acer ChromeBook Spin 13 – $799
Best for: Compulsive note-takers
Ditching the traditional Windows and macOS operating systems for the Chrome OS, the Acer ChromeBook Spin does things a little differently. As with other ChromeBooks, it’s mainly cloud-based – think of it as the Chrome web browser, with a keyboard added on.
You're not expected to depend on saving files to the computer itself – storage is capped at a slim 68GB. Instead, you can save files securely in Google Drive.
The i3 processor might not be top of the market, but it still gives an extremely streamlined experience in ChromeOS. The laptop is super-fast to boot up and switch apps.
If you want to do anything other than write essays, browse the web, stream video or research online, then this might not be for you. But, it’s a moderately cheap alternative to a traditional laptop.
- Fast to boot
- Stylus included
- Hybrid tablet/laptop design
- No Windows OS
- Limited storage
Buy on Amazon
Asus VivoBook Flip – $429
Best for: A long-lasting budget option
If you want to stick with good old Windows 10, then the Asus VivoBook Flip is a respectable, cheap laptop that should see you through college.
Like the Acer Chromebook, the Pentium processor will limit what you can do, and the 64GB of storage is hardly generous. You'll need to save docs to the cloud, or get an external hard drive.
However, for around $429, you get a fully functioning 14-inch Windows 10 laptop. As the Flip name suggests, the screen can fold back on itself, much like the Yoga 720 above, but at a fraction of the price. It’s pretty slim and lightweight too, for the price bracket.
- Entry-level price
- Versatile screen
- Limited storage
- Under powered for some
Buy on Amazon
Apple MacBook $1300
Best for: Apple fans who like to travel light
The MacBook has recently been surpassed by the Air – a cheaper and more powerful laptop. In fact, the Air has all but made the MacBook redundant for the most part. Yes, it's thinner, yes its slimmer, but the Air is barely a behemoth that will weigh you down.
The MacBook has a 12-inch screen, compared to the Air's 13.3-inch, so if you're looking for something smaller, then it might appeal, but unless you can grab the MacBook for a bargain price, we recommend the Air.
The Air also has the added bonus of two USB-C ports. It's hardly impressive, but with the MacBook you only get one, limiting your options for peripherals considerably.
Again…just get the Air.
- Smallest MacBook, with 12-inch screen
- Lightweight and slim
- Plenty of power
- New MacBook Air is better value
- Same entry-price as more powerful Pro
- Just one USB-C port
Buy on Amazon
Acer Spin 3 $499
Best for: Flexibility on a budget
A nice, large, 14-inch laptop with a revolving screen, this laptop is well priced for those who want style and power on a budget.
Granted the Intel Core i3 won’t turn heads, but it will prove more than capable for day to day tasks, and is a leg up from the Celeron and Pentium processors that are often found in cheaper laptops.
If we've got one complaint, it's that the battery life could be better. It'll last you a few lectures, but it's not really an all day machine, unless you're in handy reach of an outlet.
- Fold back screen
- Good value
- Average battery
Buy on Amazon
Samsung ChromeBook Plus $300
Best for: Budget-conscious students
A Chromebook can be a cheap, smart way to grab a speedy laptop, as long as you’re comfortable working within the Google operating system. This Samsung has a stunning 12-inch screen and the processor can more than cope with anything you throw at it.
Don't discount Chrome because you're concerned about Windows compatibility. You can run the full suite of Microsoft's Office programs, including Excel and Word, so you can still present your work in a format professors are familiar with.
The price has dropped over a hundred bucks in the last few years, making it more attractive to price-conscious buyers than ever.
- Snappy processor
- Built-in pen
- Laptop/tablet hybrid design
- Keyboard not backlit
Buy on Amazon
Microsoft Surface $499
Best for: Students who prefer a tablet but still need Windows
Okay, this isn’t a laptop exactly, but a tablet. However, starting at $400 and offering Windows 10 in full, the Surface is worth considering. It’s undoubtedly compact and lightweight, if you can deal with taking notes and writing essays on its 10-inch screen.
Battery life is excellent, and the touchscreen makes annotations and quick sketches a breeze – a nice little added bonus over traditional laptops.
The keyboard is extra, and frankly, essential, but if you’re on a course that only requires occasional note taking and research, take a look.
- Full Windows 10 on a tablet
- Highly portable
- Limited storage
- Keyboard extra
Buy on Amazon
If budget is a concern, then rest assured that there are plenty of bargain laptop choices that will serve any school student perfectly well. Shop around and you’ll find plenty of laptops that fit your budget and can do everything a school child should need. So, how much should you be looking to spend?
Up to $300
This is the starting point for Windows laptops. At this price they will be low powered, and chunky. They're also likely to not come with too much storage space, but most can be expanded with a cheap SD card.
There are also a lot of Chromebooks available at this price point, like the Samsung ChromeBook Plus – these are well worth considering. They may be a little more basic than a traditional laptop, but can do pretty much anything a student would want. See more about Chromebooks below.
Up to $500
You're entering the mid-range territory at this price point, so you’ll be able to pick up a laptop that offers a modest degree of power, like the Acer Spin 3. Processor and Ram are the key differences. While under $300 you’ll be restricted to around 4GB of Ram, for up to $500 you can get 8GB. More importantly still, the laptop should have a more respectable processor. This will mean faster startup and running speeds and better multi-tasking from the laptop – useful for flitting through the numerous browser tabs open during research, or when going between documents.
Up to $750
With up to $750 at your disposal it’s possible to score a nice laptop — the Lenovo Yoga 730 is one such option. But really, for school students, this price point is diminishing returns. While faster processors mean better performance, it will be mostly under-utilized. You’re paying for the kudos of a more powerful laptop without actually getting to use the power. Imagine buying a supercar, but only ever driving it at sensible speeds on public roads. However, if your child is studying anything like graphic design or coding (or wants a laptop for gaming, too) the price could be justified.
$750 – $1,000
At this price point, you're certainly being generous. The most likely laptops to fall within this band are Apple MacBooks – they're brilliant machines, but overkill for essay writing and web browsing. The main things going in their favor are style and reliability. A MacBook will look the part, but being super-slim, they're easy to put in a bag for the day. Better still, a MacBook should last for years.
- Portability: You’ll want to pick a laptop that's slim and light. The good news is that most laptops today weigh less than your average reference book, but always check the weight before hitting the buy button.
- Screen size: A potential trade-off with portability, so don’t go too big. A 15-inch laptop may come with a nice large screen, but will prove too large to carry around. Aim for 13-inches – smaller laptops aren't as good for long periods of typing.
- Processor: A high end Intel Core i7 might be appealing, but you’ll be paying for a laptop with ability way beyond its need. Aim for an i3, or, if you really need the power, an i5. Even the lower-end processors, such as Pentium models, should have enough muscle for daily school tasks. Chromebooks can get by just fine with less powerful processors, for example.
- Graphics card: A dedicated graphics card is a ‘nice to have’, but unless design or image editing is a concern, not worth the money for school use. If your child wants a laptop for gaming, you may need to up your budget (and the laptop will be a lot less portable).
- Storage: You’ll be looking at a solid state drive (SSD) or traditional hard drive (HDD). The SSD will mean faster load times, but you get less storage for your files. Consider what the student will be saving on the laptop. If it’s mainly documents and spreadsheets, these barely take up any space. Graphic/video files and additional programs however can soon fill up your storage.
A Chromebook differs from a traditional laptop. These low-cost models run the Chrome operating system rather than Windows or macOS. The ethos behind the Chromebook is “cloud-first” – everything is stored online. Although Chromebooks do come with some built-in storage, it’s usually small.
You don’t get Word or Excel either, but Google’s nearly identical alternatives – Google Docs and Google Sheets – as well as other apps such as presentation software. Importantly, you can open and edit Microsoft files with these tools.
Chromebooks tend to be speedy to start up too, utilizing an SSD and not bogged down by unnecessary programs. It’s a very well streamlined platform that runs the same way your Windows laptop did when you first took it home, but everyday.
Chromebooks are also very light and portable, strengthening their justification as a worthy consideration.
The main reason to go for a Chromebook? Price. You can buy a respectable model for under $300, and it will run fast and look slim and modern. If your child is only going to need a laptop for spreadsheets, essays and web browsing, a Chromebook can be a great choice.
And if you're a student yourself and headed to college, the same logic applies. Your average Politics, History or English major will find they get along great with a Chromebook. But, for anyone who needs some processing power, like those on a Design or Engineering course, will find them sorely lacking.
There’s bound to be at least one much-envied student in the class with a MacBook, but that doesn’t mean that you have to follow suit.
For a school student, even the entry level MacBook Air is overkill. Yes, of course it'll run quickly, plus give lots of power and a beautiful screen. But, there are laptops that can do all the same tasks for half the cost (and admittedly, a little less style).
That said, your child will love you forever (or until the next Apple refresh), and that laptop will last a long time. It might even find its way back to you, if your child moves onto the next thing.
But what if you're a student considering a purchase for yourself before you head off to college? The MacBook is no stranger to the college campus, and while it’s true that anyone rocking one in class will never be wanting for power (or for that matter, style), it could be massive overkill (and overspend) for most students.
A MacBook might be for you, depending on your major. If you’re mainly writing notes and researching papers, then a MacBook is likely to be under-utilized in your care. However, designers and media students have a stronger use case, thanks to the platform's (deserved) reputation as a tool for graphics and video editing. The MacBook Pro is, after all, one of the Best Laptops for Designers.
The good news is that Apple offers some decent discounts on MacBooks for students – if you want to buy one laptop to last plenty of years, it could still work out as a good investment.
Which MacBook Should I Buy? – our handy guide explains the differences between the MacBook Air, Pro and 12-inch MacBook
If you're looking to pick up a new laptop for a student, there are a few ways you can save yourself some cash in the process.
Timing is key. The back to school season is a vital one for retailers, and they'll be slashing prices of school kit. That's not just pencils and erasers, but laptops too. Check the retail stores before a new term starts to find decent deals on laptops, including Best Buy, Target, and Amazon. You can check the history of Amazon's product pricing at www.camelcamelcamel.com to make sure that a bargain laptop really is on sale for its cheapest price.
Don't forget to go straight to the manufacturers either. Both Apple and Microsoft offer student discounts on their laptops. Microsoft gives a 10% discount on hardware, but also offers software to students for free, including Office 365, which includes full versions of Word, Excel and other programs.
It's also worth checking if the school has an existing program. Some schools offer laptop loans to their students, depending on background. If you qualify, you may be entitled to a free loan of a device for the child's time at the school.
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