The Finest Laptops for School in 2020

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the best college laptop you can buy. If you're not studying to become a graphic designer or architect, you probably don't need crazy performance for your college laptop. Instead, things like battery life, price and portability are more important, which the Asus ZenBook 13 offers in abundance.

How do we know Well, we checked, compared and tested hundreds of laptops to compare how they stack up against each other. For the value it offers, the ZenBook 13 is truly the ultimate college laptop. However, we have a few other options listed below if you want alternatives that we wholeheartedly recommend.

The best laptop for college at a glance

The best laptop for college: Asus ZenBook 13 UX333

Bill Roberson / Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You won't find many laptops that offer a better combination of low price, great performance and lightweight design.

Who is it for: College students who don't have to spend a lot, but still want a great laptop.

What we thought of the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:

The Asus ZenBook UX333 is a well-built, feature-rich, and very affordable device. We rated it 9 out of 10 in our rating, precisely because it provides the essentials for a laptop at a price that doesn't break the bank.

One of the best features of the ZenBook is that it looks great, including being made with the same aluminum case as more expensive machines. It also features Asus' iconic concentric circle spun metal finish, which makes the royal blue finish of the machine with attractive gold accents even more attractive. Throw in the fact that it's a thin and light laptop with an innovative ErgoLift hinge that lifts the keyboard to a comfortable angle, and you won't feel like you're carrying a budget machine around at all.

Of course, performance and battery life are important – and the ZenBook UX333 offers both in more than sufficient quantities. The 8th generation Whiskey Lake quad-core Intel Core i5-8265U processor delivers great performance and efficiency, while the 50-watt-hour battery should keep the machine running for an entire school day. The Asus ZenBook UX333 is a solid and reliable choice, proving that you don't have to spend excessive amounts to get a great laptop for college.

Read our Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review

The best MacBook for college: MacBook Air (2020)

Macbook Air (2018) review

Why should you buy this: This is the most economical entry into Apple's MacBook ecosystem.

Who is it for: Any student who loves the Mac but doesn't have the budget for the MacBook Pro.

What we thought of the Apple MacBook Air (2020):

Apple is known for building attractive, robust laptops that are popular at universities – not least because Apple has been in the education market for decades. And if you want a Mac, the 2020 MacBook Air is the most economical choice (while still getting the cute MacBook specs).

The latest version of the Air has an updated keyboard (which has already received a lot of praise) and a first-class retina display (13.3 inches at 2,560 x 1,600). The affordable model, which starts at $ 999, starts with a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 processor, 256GB PCIe SSD storage, 8GB RAM, and a battery pack that fits is designed for about 11 hours of online surfing. Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, a DisplayPort port and USB 3.1 are immediately available.

The best tablet for college: Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go Review

Why should you buy this: You won't find a better Windows 10 tablet to take your notes in class and then work on papers in the dorm.

Who is it for: College students who want to replace paper with electronic notes.

What we thought of Microsoft Surface Go:

The latest removable tablet from Microsoft differs significantly from the other entries in this list and is characterized by its flexibility. Six years later, Microsoft had many chances of getting its formula right. And they did it – the Surface Go is a well-built, stylish tablet that is perfect for discreet notes in lectures and seminars.

It also offers premium support for active pens, with the Surface Pen offering the lowest latency in a Windows 10 tablet, 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels, and tilt support. That said, it's great to take handwritten notes and make quick drawings, which can certainly be useful for today's college students. Use Microsoft's OneNote application and you can remove paper notes forever.

At the same time, you get a laptop that offers solid productivity performance and battery life. You may not be able to use this as a gaming or high-performance device, but for $ 400, you get 64 GB of memory, an Intel 4415Y CPU, and 4 GB of RAM, which is more than enough to write papers or catch up on Netflix. The battery also lasts about eight hours, which should get you through the day without charging. It's not perfect, but a student is the perfect population for this highly portable 2-in-1 laptop.

Read our Microsoft Surface Go test

The best Chromebook for college: Asus Chromebook Flip C214

ASUS Chromebook Flip C214

Why should you buy this: It is a unique 2-in-1 Chromebook that can withstand college life.

Who is it for: College students who don't need to run extensive applications.

Why we chose the ASUS Chromebook Flip C214:

At first glance, many Chromebooks appear to be too weak or too limited to manage college tasks. This flip model is a bold (and affordable) exception that offers Chromebook features in a 2-in-1 design for easy tablet use. There's an 11.6-inch HD touchscreen with a 360-degree hinge, an Intel Gemini Lake dual-core Celeron N4000 processor, and 4 GB of RAM.

Since it's a Chromebook, it can mainly be used with the cloud or an external storage drive and only has 32 GB of SSD storage. However, two USB-C ports, a USB-A port and a microSD card slot are available for data transfer.

But this portable laptop has another trick up its sleeve: it is robust against overflow resistance, a scratch-resistant coating and a rubber grip for more reliable holding. That makes it particularly qualified to endure college life.

The best cheap laptop for college: Acer Aspire 5

Acer Aspire E 15 review

Why should you buy this: Just because you have a tight budget doesn't mean you don't want a quality machine.

Who is it for: Any student whose budget can't go beyond the basics.

What we thought of the Acer Aspire 5:

College is expensive and sometimes you have other things to spend your money on than a new laptop. That's why it's great not to have to compromise with the Acer Aspire 5, a 15.6-inch notebook that is incredibly affordable, yet comes with fast, modern components. For example, you can get a configuration with an 8th generation Core i5-8145U CPU, 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SSD. You can increase or decrease some of these specs, but see how pricing works if you try!

In both cases, you'll also enjoy a 1080p display and excellent connectivity with two USB-A 3.0 ports, one USB-A 2.0 port, one USB-C 3.1 port, one Ethernet port for wired networks, and one HDMI in full size video connection. In a time when companies are tackling compatibility problems, this is no reason to sneeze. Most impressive, however, is the generous battery capacity of the Aspire 5. In our tests, the Aspire 5 exceeded Acer's 7-hour estimate when surfing the Internet by just over nine hours. You can walk around campus all day without lugging a power brick around or running back to your dorm for charging.

If you can collect extra money, you can check out some of the prettier machines on our list. However, if you'd rather save money on better furniture or textbooks for dorms, the Acer Aspire E 15 can meet your basic requirements and have some space available.

Read our Acer Aspire 5 review

The best college gaming laptop: Dell G3 Gaming

Dell G3 gaming laptop review

Why should you buy this: It offers a relatively thin and light laptop with some real gaming chops without breaking the bank.

Who is it for: Any student on a budget who wants to take a break from class and homework.

What we thought of the Dell G3 gaming laptop:

You'll spend hours and hours in class, learning, and taking tests, and there's nothing better than a quick game session to distract yourself from your work. If you're looking for a laptop that can keep up, the Dell G3 Gaming offers several important advantages.

First, the price for a configuration with an 8th generation 45-watt quad-core core it 8300H CPU, 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD is around $ 800. The most important thing is that you get an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, a fast mobile GPU that can play at 1080p with decent graphics in most modern titles.

Second, the Dell G3 Gaming is relatively thin and light for a gaming laptop. That means you can carry it around on campus too. As with all gaming laptops, it doesn't offer record-breaking battery life, but it's decent enough to take you to a class or two and back to the dormitory.

Read our Dell G3 gaming laptop review

How we test

We spend an enormous amount of time checking notebooks of all shapes and sizes – and that says something today when laptops are available in so many shapes, sizes and configurations. To ensure that our recommendations add real value to our readers, we live with the machines for a while and use them when writing our reviews to ensure that we can assess how they work for real users.

But we have a method for our madness in doing these reviews, and you can take a look behind the scenes here. Hopefully it will be obvious that our reviews are real love work – or hate depending on the notebook – so at least you can see that we cannot reach our conclusions without serious thought.

Research and buying tips

Are gaming laptops good for college?

There was a time when our answer was a strong no, mostly because gaming laptops used to be much bigger, thicker, and heavier than non-slot machines. This is the last thing you want to take from class to class. This no longer applies today when many gaming laptops are thinner and lighter than ever. In addition to our selection of Dell G3 games above, the Razer Blade may be the classic example of a laptop designed for gamers with fast CPU and GPU options, but not much thicker or heavier than other laptops.

At the same time, gaming laptops tend to focus more on performance than battery life, and you pay a premium to carry these gaming components in a thin, lightweight case. The great thing is that many laptops these days have Thunderbolt 3 ports that can be connected to external GPU cases for added gaming enjoyment. If you choose a laptop with at least an 8th generation quad-core Intel CPU and at least 8GB of RAM, you can connect it to an external GPU and get performance that is damn close to a dedicated gaming laptop. And your selection of laptops will be much larger, including the choice of the many excellent 2-in-1 devices that have come onto the market in recent years.

Is a 256 GB SSD enough for the school?

You need enough space for the operating system, your applications, and all the documents and other files you need to keep up with your studies. Microsoft recommends 32 GB for Windows 10 itself, and you can assume that at least 50 GB will be required once your laptop is ready for use. Then you should consider your applications and keep in mind that many games can claim a few gigabytes (or more) on their own. That means a 128GB SSD may be a bit light, and 256GB is probably a better place to start.

If you want to reconcile the cost (the bigger the SSD, the more you pay, of course) and expandability, look for a laptop with an SD card slot. Today, you can add a 400 GB micro SD card for around $ 60. So if your local storage is full, you can significantly expand the available storage space for your most important documents. If you use a cloud storage service like OneDrive from Microsoft that allows you to save all your documents offline and then download only the documents you need, you can save local storage requirements.

Is it worth buying Chromebooks?

Google's Chrome OS may be a better choice for all college students whose homework is limited to web use and word processing. Chrome OS is very light and requires less powerful components. Therefore, a Chromebook can offer much better performance and longer battery life for a lot less money.

In addition, Chromebooks are probably more secure and are updated regularly than Windows 10 and MacOS. They are more restricted and less likely to tempt a college student to waste time on nonessentials. There is a reason why Chrome OS is becoming more popular in educational environments and why Google continues to focus on making the operating system attractive to students.

Can tablets be used as laptops?

If by "tablet" you mean one of the many Windows 10 2-in-1 devices with removable keyboards, like the Surface Go included in our list, then a tablet is absolutely the same as a laptop when you convert it to a laptop . If you mean "tablet" a real mobile device like an iPad, this question is more difficult to answer.

Yes, you can connect a keyboard to an iPad and use it as a traditional laptop. You can even add a mouse or touchpad soon. However, IOS does not yet support the same full-featured applications that you find on Windows 10 and MacOS, at least not yet. You need to be very careful to review all of your application needs – now and in the future – to make sure you can do all of your work. However, if you do not have specific applications that cannot run on such a tablet, you can certainly benefit from the very light housing and the relatively simple software.

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