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Best laptops for students: See where the MacBook falls on our list

Best laptops for students: See where the MacBook falls on our list

Laptops aren’t one size fits all — we compare the specs of the best traditional laptops and 2-in-1 convertible laptops on the market to help you weave through the crowd.

All products featured here are independently selected by our editors and writers.If you buy something through links on our site, Mashable may earn an affiliate commission.

If you’re a student, your laptop is your toolbox, your textbook, your everything — and you need a solid machine that’s going to last you from orientation to graduation. It’s an essential tool, and you need one that you can rely on: No one has the extra cash to be replacing a subpar laptop halfway through school, and you don’t want to be dealing with unexpected repairs when you have papers to write and parties to attend. 

Memory and processors are important when you’re looking for a laptop, especially for classwork: You’ll want something that can handle a ton of tabs and simultaneous programs, as well as enough storage to save downloaded lectures, textbooks, films, the dreaded term project, and other study materials. Here are a few other factors to consider: 

Battery life matters
There’s nothing worse than having your laptop’s battery start to die halfway through a lecture or when you head to the student union to study only to find all the power outlets are occupied. Long battery life is key for students, so having one that can go most of the day (or even overnight for those all-nighters in the library) is essential. 

Don’t overlook a laptop’s weight
The last thing you want in a laptop is one that you have to lug instead of carry, and with full days going between classes on campus, the lighter the computer, the better. Look for something in the range of 1-2 lbs. Trust us: Your back will thank you. 

Consider the price
While laptops are a pretty essential school supply these days, that doesn’t mean there’s the money to drop a couple grand on a machine that’s top of the line. And chances are high that, on a student budget, the price point might make or break a purchase. That being said, you don’t want a laptop that’s going to crap out on you after a year, either. We’ve found machines that balance not-eye-watering price tags with performance and durability. It’s hard to get around the fact that quality laptops mostly cost north of a grand, so think of this as an investment in your next four years. That being said, the broke college kid life is real, so we’ve included some budget options you can rely on too.

Now, read on for our favorite picks. 

Apple MacBook Pro

A classic from Apple with the highest specs of any MacBook ever built and ideal for photo and video editing.

  • Storage:
    256GB SSD
  • RAM:
  • Battery life:
    Up to 20 hours
  • Features:
    Apple-designed M1 chip, 8-core CPU, 2560 x 1600 HD Retina display, 2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, headphone jack, Touch ID

You had to know we’d throw a MacBook Pro in here. And not just because MacBooks give you great street cred, but because the newest MacBook is a badass powerhouse. They’re the most expensive in our list, but with the introduction of Apple’s first chip designed just for Macs, the price makes sense. The performance on this laptop is almost three times as fast as previous generations and the eight-core CPU in this model has graphics that are five times as fast. Plus, MacBooks will seriously last through beatings, taking you from college straight into the working world.
While Apple hasn’t gotten around to a totally touchscreen laptop yet, the OLED touch bar is such an Apple thing to do. Here, you can control brightness, sound, use touch ID, and do what you would with FN keys. (A lot of people question the point of this, though.) The Retina display has True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the yellow and blue tones in your screen to match your environment, making things easier on the eyes. As people who appreciate the iPhone’s Night Shift feature will say, the color of your screen can affect your health, and too much blue light before bed can affect your sleep. This is extra clutch for students, because you’re going to need all the shuteye you can get. 
The Pro is a great general-use laptop (and is probably what everyone in your classes will have) but is especially nice for serious apps like Adobe Premiere. Its importing and exporting times are lickety split, even for large files like long 4K videos. If you’re in school for anything like photography, film, graphic design, or music, this will be an ace choice to keep up with your assignments. Its fast internet connection and insane download speeds also allow most webpages and apps to load in less than a second. 
At the end of the day, there are PC people and there are Mac people, and if you’re a Mac person, no amount of shortcomings will change your mind. There are a few different configurations of the 13-inch MacBook Pro depending on the storage and speed you want. Also check out the 16-inch for something a little larger and more powerful.

Speedy WiFi connection and charging • Small but gorgeous HD screen • Lightweight for traveling

No legacy desktop apps • Cheap-feeling touchpad

A well-reviewed, sturdy 2-in-1 with stellar specs that you wouldn’t expect in this price range.

Asus Chromebook Flip

A well-reviewed and sturdy 2-in-1 for under $500 with specs that blow others in this price range out of the water.

  • Storage:
  • RAM:
  • Battery life:
    Up to 10 hours
  • Features:
    1920 x 1080 FHD display, Intel Core m3-8100Y Processor, two USB-C ports, micro SD slot, USB-A port

Not everyone has close to a grand to drop on a laptop, and if you’re trying not to solely exist on instant ramen for all four years, then Asus’ Chromebook Flip is a great choice. It’s almost half the price of others on our list but holds up under the pressures of student life: It’s thin but sturdy and has a 14-inch full HD touchscreen that can be flipped 360 degrees. Plus, it weighs just over three pounds — which makes it manageable for carrying around campus — and can muster 10 hours of battery life. 
Inside is a Intel Core M3-8100Y processor, up to 4GB RAM, a fully backlit keyboard, and ultra fast loading speeds thanks to the 802.11 b/n/ac WiFi connection. What that means: A super-powerful machine that’ll keep up with you semester after semester. 
Asus has never compromised quality when it comes to their machines, and that’s why they’re one of our favorites. For a budget pick, it doesn’t get much better than this.

HD webcam • Included stylus • Touchscreen

Wonky battery life • No USB-A ports

Clutch (and still attractive) choice for writing, drawing, or stylus fans.

Samsung Notebook Pro 9

A 2-in-1 showoff with an included stylus for drawing and note taking, but also ideal for movie-watching and traveling.

  • Storage:
    512GB SSD
  • RAM:
    8 GB
  • Battery life:
    Up to 14 hours
  • Features:
    Full HD 1920 x 1080 touchscreen display, Intel Core i7-8565U up to 4.6 GHz, 1 USB-C and two Thunderbolt 3 ports, media card reader, Intel UHD Graphics 620
Another sweet option for a 2-in-1 tablet notebook (and our choice for the most teched-out laptop) is the Samsung Notebook Pro 9, which comes with a Samsung stylus, the Active Pen. As you can guess, that snazzy pen makes the NoteBook Pro ideal for creative students, whether their major is something like drawing or design, or they simply enjoy doing these things as a hobby. Plus, we’re sure you’ve at least heard through that, and the Active Pen makes that possible without having to lug physical paper around. It features 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and has an ultra-precise pencil-like tip.
The color-rich full HD touch screen (1920 x 1080 pixels) offers complete hands-on control, and in tandem with the Active Pen, users can mold the Notebook Pro 9 to their personal creative needs. It’s not the highest res display in this list, but after all of its other aspects, you probably won’t mind. You have a choice in how much drive space you want, up to 2TB and you can decide whether you want Windows 10 Pro or not.
Not many laptops offer this much versatility. Though a seemingly small addition, the inclusion of the Active Pen raises the Notebook Pro 9’s creative possibilities infinitely, and makes the hefty investment worthwhile. 

Fast Ryzen CPU processor • Good for gaming and multitasking • Versatile ports • HD webcam

Sensitive touchpad • Short battery life • Compressed keyboard

The battery life isn’t great, but it makes up for that with its speed and sheer power.

Acer Aspire 5

This is a powerful machine with a fast processor — and it won’t break the bank.

  • Storage:
    128GB SSD
  • RAM:
  • Battery life:
    Up to six hours
  • Features:
    AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor, up to 3.5 GHz, bonus HDD storage, 2 USB 3.1 ports, 1 USB 2.0 port, HDMI port

The Acer Aspire 5 looks like it tried to take a page from the MacBook Air’s book with a thin, angled design. (Albeit a little clunkier than the sleek Apple computer.) Regardless of what it looks like, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
It has a surprisingly powerful AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor that’s good for having lots of tabs open while you’re doing your schoolwork (or for late night gaming, let’s be honest). This laptop is available in a few different configurations with 8GB to 16GB RAM and 128GB to 2 TB HDD.
The 15.6-inch FHD display has a 1920 x 1080 resolution and the laptop itself is pretty lightweight at just over 4 pounds. Some of Acer’s other budget laptops have pretty bulky, ugly designs, but you won’t feel embarrassed sitting in the library with the Aspire 5. Don’t forget your charger, though, because this thing only gets about six hours of battery life before it dies.
Now, we’re obviously only condoning gaming if it’s happening when all of your studying is done, BUT… this laptop is pretty damn good for entry level gaming. It’s not usually marketed as such, and isn’t for hardcore gaming, but any Ryzen processor will give you enough speed to keep up with your favorite games, glitch-free.
For less than $500, this is honestly an unbeatable laptop — you won’t be disappointed by the quality.

Compact and portable • Affordable • Touchscreen

Less-than-awesome display • Power-intensive apps are a no-go

This is a no-frills laptop, but it’ll get the job done and the price is pretty sweet.

Dell Inspiron 11 3195 2-in-1

At 11 inches, this 2-in-1 laptop is super compact and portable — but you’ll have to sacrifice some power.

  • Storage:
    128 GB
  • RAM:
  • Battery life:
    Up to five hours
  • Features:
    1366 x 768 resolution, AMD A9-9420e Processor (Dual Core, 2.6Ghz, 1MB Cache, 15W) and Radeon R5 graphics, 2 USB 2.0 ports, USB 3.1 port, HDMI port, microSD reader

The Dell Inspiron 11 3195 2-in-1 is a compact and personal 11 inches and is ideal for minuscule desk space or working on the bus or train. Though it’s small and lower-priced, it’s sturdy where it needs to be and doesn’t feel cheap. Where it falls a bit short is with the display: At a measly 1366 x 768 resolution with less-than-stellar viewing angles. Don’t expect to impress your boo with a Netflix and chill night. (There is an HDMI port to stream to your TV, though.) 
The 128GB of storage will probably be okay for everyday use, but there is an SD card slot as well as two USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.1 port. As for speed, it’s equipped with a 2.6GHz AMD A9-9420e processor and Radeon R5 graphics card, which is just fine. 
This little machine has a 360-degree hinge for setting it up in different positions and it features a webcam, though don’t hold your breath for anything too outstanding. But for those on a seriously tight budget who are also low on space, it’s a really solid option.

Stylish • Large 15.6-inch display • Easy connectivity with multiple ports

No matter where you go or what you need to plug into it, the VivoBook should have you covered.

ASUS VivoBook

A portable, stylish laptop that doesn’t skimp on components or features.

  • Storage:
    512GB SSD
  • RAM:
    8GB RAM
  • Features:
    AMD Ryzen 5 3500U 4 Quad-Core Processor (2.1 GHz base frequency up to 3.7 GHz, 4 Cores, 6MB L3 Cache), Radeon RX Vega 8 Graphics, USB 3.1 Type A, USB 3.1 Type C, two USB 2.0, HDMI, 1920 x 1080 FHD display

If you want a machine to take you from studying to streaming and gaming seamlessly — at a price point that won’t make your eyes water — the latest VivoBook is a great bet. The ASUS VivoBook not only comes with some style cred to stand out from the crowd, but it has the specs to back it up. This sleek and stylish laptop has a 15.6-inch full HD display with a super-thin bezel, giving you more than enough screen space to multitask and still comes in under 4 pounds. 
Under the hood it has a AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor with up to 3.7Ghz processor, 8GB of RAM, and a larger 512GB SSD drive. The laptop also doesn’t skimp on connectivity, flaunting two USB 3.1 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Bluetooth 4.1, a MicroSD card reader. (Mac could never.) Nine hours of battery life will get you through most of the day of classes before you have to recharge, too. 
The 15-inch screen does make the laptop feel bigger than some of the others on our list, but it isn’t a sacrifice for those wanting a less cramped workspace. The graphics card in this model is better than previous Vivobooks, but it might not be quite good enough for serious gamers. Still, for everyday use and a solid, stylish build, this computer gets top marks.  

Fingerprint reader • Dolby Atmos speakers • 3K screen • Glorious battery life

Awkwardly placed, low-quality webcam • Smudges easily

If you can ignore the webcam placement, this laptop’s 3K touchscreen and stellar speakers make it a powerhouse for studying (and playing).

Huawei MateBook X Pro

If you can ignore the webcam placement, this laptop’s 3K touchscreen and stellar speakers make it a powerhouse for studying (and playing).

  • Storage:
    512 GB SSD
  • RAM:
    16 GB
  • Battery life:
    15 hours
  • Features:
    USB-C ports, 3K touchscreen, second-generation Dolby Atmos speakers, Intel i7-8550U processor, one-touch power button with identity authentication, NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card, no SD card slot
If you’ve done any other laptop research recently, this pick isn’t quite a shocker. The Huawei MateBook X Pro has been dubbed the best laptop by numerous media brands including PCMag, The Verge, and Tech Radar. , and guess who came out on top? Huawei. It’s a pretty shameless copy of the MacBook Pro’s thin look, but packs some excellent specs into such a lightweight device — which is ideal for people who travel a lot or have an annoying commute to work. Plus, the battery is said to last up to 15 hours (unheard of for a laptop this size), which will make long days significantly more painless.
The 13.9-inch, 3K 3,000 x 2,080 touchscreen display is crystal clear and movie-theatre like, featuring ultra thin bezels and (with the more expensive i7 version) a Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card. Second-generation Dolby Atmos speakers along the sides will also give your movie nights a boost. It’s also a powerhouse inside, with a quick Gen Intel Core i7 8550U/i5 8250U processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512 GB SSD (which you’ll need, because you’ll probably download a ton of books, and there’s no SD card slot.) 
If you’re wondering where the camera fits in those thin bezels, we’ll let you know that the camera isn’t up there — it’s in a little pop-up button on the keyboard. This makes everything more compact, but gives an awkward up-the-nose angle. The camera isn’t HD either, but since the person on the other end will basically be looking directly into your nostrils, maybe low quality is better. That’ll be annoying if your long-distance relationship relies on Skyping, but don’t let that sway your choice too much. Your smartphone can more than make up the difference.
Read our and find out why we called it a MacBook Pro killer.

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