When students start a college course or are going back to school, these days, pen and paper aren’t the only tools they need for modern education.
Hardcover books, photocopies, handwritten assignments, and in-person courses are now often replaced or supplemented with e-books, distance learning platforms, virtual classes on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and collaboration over mobile apps — all of which increases a student’s reliance on laptops, smartphones, and tablets to work successfully both on campus and at home.
Also: The 6 best Macs
The best laptop for school now needs to go beyond what we may have expected pre-pandemic. When purchasing a new device, there are more factors to consider: it has to be reliable and ready for everyday use, may need to be used in real-time video calls, and might have to be suitable for resource-hungry programs.
Below, ZDNET has compiled a selection of the best laptops for students with these requirements in mind.
- Super lightweight
- Affordable for students
- Has Apple’s M2 chip
- Not as powerful as the MacBook Pro
Specifications: Display: 13.6-inch | Apple M2 chip | Memory: 8 to 24GB | Storage: 512GB to 2TB SSD | Retina display with True Tone | Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports | Webcam: 1080p | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Space Grey, Silver | Custom options available
As ZDNet has previously recommended in our remote student gadgets roundup, Apple’s MacBook Air is a more lightweight macOS option which could be an excellent option for students that need a machine powerful enough to manage videoconferencing and remote study applications, but also weighs less than your average hardcover book.
The difference? A MacBook Air has been designed to be lighter and thinner than the MacBook Pro and while you may sacrifice some of the more powerful tech specs available as a trade-off, the Air is a more affordable option for students and will last throughout their studies.
A $100 discount is available in Apple’s education store.
- Packs a lot of power and features
- Great for creative applications like Adobe
- Has Apple’s new M2 chip
- Expensive option for students
Specifications: Display: 13, 15, and 16 inch | Processor: Apple M2 | Memory: 8GB to 24GB | Storage: 256GB to 2TB SSD | Webcam: 720p | Colors: Silver, Space Gray | Custom options available
MacBook Pros are a common sight on college campuses. They are expensive — especially, arguably, given the specifications on offer — but they are solid, quick workhorses that will last throughout a college career. They are especially popular for creative applications, but you may find the device overheating if you are running power-heavy games.
The 13-inch model is most suitable for college students as it is a powerful machine but still small enough to travel with and to fit on pull-out tables in lecture halls.
You can take advantage of a $100 discount in Apple’s education store.
- Tablet or laptop use
- Great battery
- Up to 256GB storage
- Can only install apps from Microsoft Store in Windows 10 S mode
Specifications: Display: 10.5-inch, touchscreen | Processor: Intel Pentium Gold or 10th-gen i3 | Memory: 4GB or 8GB | Storage: eMMC drive: 64GB, up to 128GB SSD | Intel Graphics | Webcam: 5MP/8MP HD | Colors: Platinum, Black | Custom options available, including LTE
A hybrid laptop option focused on mobility is Microsoft’s Surface Go 3. Starting at $399.99, the device is made up of a detachable 10.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display, keyboard, kickstand, and stylus. With an estimated battery life of up to 11 hours, the Windows-based device can be used as a traditional laptop or a standalone tablet and weighs only 1.2 pounds.
The Surface Go 3 runs on Windows 11 Home and comes with Windows Hello biometric security, as well as both a 5MP front-facing camera and an 8MP rear-facing camera, which is adequate for virtual classes on the go. This device should be considered useful not just for a college career but also for when a student enters the workforce.
- Secure fingerprint reader
- Long battery life
- Comfortable keyboard
- Webcam resolution could be better
Specifications: Display: 14-inch | Intel Core 11th-gen i5 | 8GB RAM | 256GB SSD | Intel Iris Xe Graphics | Webcam: IR & 720p HD with HPD | Windows 10 Pro 64 | Fingerprint reader | Custom options available
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 is one of the more heavy-duty options we recommend specifically for college students — especially for those that require hefty processing power, creative apps, and gaming.
This laptop is also an option for users who want a rugged laptop as Lenovo tests out the ThinkPad line against a variety of different environmental conditions.
When it comes to security, this laptop contains a fingerprint reader and ThinkShield technology.
With a huge host of ports, battery life of at least 15 hours, an anti-glare screen, and rapid charge technology, this versatile laptop will not only be a valuable addition to any dorm room, but is also excellent for leisure, whether this is streaming or gaming. Useful key sub-functions are available for making calls over videoconferencing platforms, too.
- Stylish color options
- Super long battery life
- PixelSense touchscreen display
- Not as many ports as other options
Specifications: Display: 13.5/15-inch, touchscreen | Processor: AMD Ryzen 5/7 to Intel Core i7 | Memory: 8GB,16GB, or 32GB | Storage: 128GB to 1TB SSD | Webcam: 720p HD, Windows Hello biometrics | BitLocker support | Colors: Black, Platinum, Sandstone, Metal, Cobalt | Custom options available
For students who prefer the Windows 10 Home operating system and need power for high-end applications, whether for work or play, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is an excellent choice,
Available in 13.5 and 15-inch PixelSense touchscreen options, the laptop is light enough to carry around on campus and is also compatible with a stylus. Users can expect 16.5 hours or more of battery life, depending on usage.
- Inexpensive laptop
- Small and portable
- Quality build
- No 5G
- Disappointing speakers
Specifications: 11-inch display | Chrome OS | Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c processor | Qualcomm Adreno 618 Graphics | 4GB RAM | 64GB SSD storage | 1 microSD media card reader | 5mp/8mp cameras | Up to 11 hours battery life
As part of HP’s back-to-school sale, the HP Chromebook x2 is a laptop to consider if you are on a budget. With a saving of $210, this device operates on Chrome OS and is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile processor, Adreno Graphics, and comes with a reasonable 4GB memory and 64GB SSD storage.
In addition, this device contains a fingerprint reader for biometric security.