Laptops have increasingly become a must-have for students. Never more so than this year, when the possibility of remote learning means having the right technology at home is more important than ever. Portable and powerful, a laptop is simply a great tool to have whether you’re in the classroom, studying in the library, or participating in a Zoom class from your room. The most difficult part of choosing a laptop is picking the right model. A lot of that comes down to personal preference and program requirements, but to help you out I’ve put together a list of the top 10 laptops for back to school.
These are all great options, and cover a range of platforms, form factors and price tags.
It seems as though Chromebooks get more popular every year. And as they grow in popularity, the number of choices is increasing. The latest crop is more compelling than ever. They keep the key advantages of the platform (including security, battery life, the ability to run Android apps, and affordability), but many now feature 1080p displays and a much more upscale appearance.
ASUS Chromebook Flip C214 (coming soon!)
The ASUS Chromebook Flip C214 is ideal for younger students, those who are short on space, and kids who are just plain tough on their laptops. This is an ultra-compact Chromebook with an 11.6-inch HD touchscreen display. It’s not short on features, though, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5 wireless connectivity, plus both USB Type-C and USB Type-A ports, and a micro SD card slot. Its Intel Celeron processor with 4GB of RAM provides snappy performance, while 64GB of eMMC storage provide plenty of space to download assignments locally. The Chromebook Flip C214 is even equipped with a 720p webcam for videoconferencing.
Best of all (at least for parents), this is one tough laptop. Its 360 degree hinge has been subjected to tens of thousands of open and close cycles, the laptop has been drop-tested, and the Chromebook Flip C214 meets military MIL-STD 810g durability standards
I recently reviewed this 2-in-1 Chromebook, after it generated considerable buzz at launch. After going hands-on with it for a week, I could understand why the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet was causing so much excitement. It’s not a screaming high performance machine—although few Chromebooks are—but it is an excellent value. There’s a bright, 10.1-inch Full HD IPS display that pops nicely when streaming video and displays text crisply. That display does double-duty as a tablet. Attach the keyboard case (which is included in the box!) and it becomes a fully functional laptop—with a webcam, 128GB of SSD storage, USB-C, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and 10-hour battery life.
HP’s x360 is a 14-inch, 2-in-1 Chromebook that’s equipped with all the latest tech. That includes a Full HD IPS WLED-backlit screen with multi-touch support, integrated Wi-Fi 6 support (read all about this latest Wi-Fi standard here), Bluetooth 5, and a USB-C port. It also has legacy accessories covered with USB-A, while HDMI makes it easy to plug into a big display or a TV. The 360-degree hinge allows for multiple use modes, including laptop, stand and tablet. Remote learning support includes an integrated HD Wide Vision webcam, Dual speakers by Bang and Olufsen, and dual array microphones.
Google’s new Pixelbook Go is at the higher end of the Chromebook spectrum. This ultra-thin laptop is clad in a premium magnesium case, with a unique ridged bottom that makes it easier to grip. The 13.3-inch Full HD touchscreen display is bright, colourful, crisp and responsive. This configuration is perfect for students who want a Chromebook with a little more performance. It features a dual-core 8th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of solid state storage, dual USB-C ports, and 12-hour battery life. It also has a backlit keyboard that’s wonderful to type with. You’re fully covered for remote learning, with fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a 2MP 1080p DuoCam webcam and stereo audio. If you’d like to learn more about the Pixelbook Go, you can read my review here.
Thin and Light Laptops
The name says it all. If you are adding a laptop to the list of things you need to lug to and from school, then you want one that’s not going to weigh you down. Ideally, it will fit in your backpacks as well (a padded, laptop-friendly backpack, of course). At the same time, you don’t want to give up performance and battery life. Here are four laptops that offer a great user experience, along with a super-slim profile.
Over the past several years, the Dell XPS 13 has come to define the “thin and light” laptop category, thanks to advances like its InfinityEdge display. The latest version is more stunning than ever and if you want power in a sleek package, this is your laptop.
It’s equipped with a 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of M.2 PCIe NVMe storage, dual USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports, Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 + BT5.0 connectivity, a 13.3-inch 1080p display with Eyesafe technology, and up to 18-hours of battery life. Bezels have shrunk even further, and this new Dell XPS 13 boasts a 91.5% screen to body ratio. Premium materials are used throughout, including carbon fibre, CNC-machined aluminum and Gorilla Glass 5. Remote classes are enhanced by 2.5W stereo speakers, far-field microphones, and a new webcam with an advanced 4-element lens. All in a laptop that weighs just 1.27 kg.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 feels as though it has been engineered specifically for students. It has all the basics, including a high-resolution 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display, quad-core 10th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. It’s also equipped with the latest connectivity options including USB-C, USB 3.0, Microsoft’s own Surface Connect+ port, Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6. You’re covered for videoconferencing as well, with dual far-field studio mics, omnisonic speakers, and a webcam. Stand out from the crowd with its unique Alcantara fabric-covered keyboard. The Surface Laptop 3 is light, thin, equipped to handle multi-tasking, it offers all-day battery life, and it’s affordably priced. Perfect for back to school.
If this particular configuration doesn’t quite meet your needs, Microsoft offers other Surface Book 3 models, including powerful 15-inch AMD Ryzen versions.
ASUS has a very intriguing option in the 14-inch ZenBook. Everything is unique about this super-slim laptop from its Royal Blue finish, to its 14-inch Full HD NanoEdge display, the ErgoLift hinge, and the 5.65-inch ASUS-exclusive ScreenPad interactive touchscreen trackpad. It has the specs to be a solid performer—including a quad-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5CPU with 8GB of RAM, Wi-Fi 6, a full range of ports, and a 512GB SSD. Despite the solid specs and the big screen, the Zenbook 14-inch laptop weighs just 1.13 kg, and it’s built tough to meet MIL-STD-810H military standards.
If you need more power on tap for a course that demands everything a laptop can deliver (3D modelling or 4K video editing, for example), ASUS also offers this laptop with an Intel Core i7 CPU, and dedicated Nvidia GeForce graphics.
The ASUS VivoBook 15.6-inch laptop is one of the best values going as an all-round productivity machine. Students who need a laptop that offers a balance between performance and portability will like this one, and its affordable price is a real bonus.
You won’t be squinting with a huge 15.6-inch display at 1080p resolution. NanoEdge bezels reduce the space required by that big screen, so this is more like the size of a 14-inch laptop and tips the scales at just 1.68 kg. The ErgoLift hinge raises the backlit, full-sized keyboard for a more ergonomic typing experience.
Power is provided by a quad-core, 10th generation Intel Core i5 CPU. While most laptops of this class typically ship with 8GB of RAM, the VivoBook is equipped with 12GB of RAM for smooth multitasking, and the 512GB SSD (supplemented with 32GB of Intel Optane memory) offers plenty of lightning-fast storage. Other key tech highlights include a Windows Hello fingerprint sensor, a wide range of ports (including USB-C, USB 3.1, USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, and a microSD card slot), plus the latest in wireless communication: Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 dual band. Online courses? No worries, you’re covered with a built-in HD webcam, speakers and microphone.
The ultimate in flexibility, a 2-in-1 laptop may just be the ideal form factor for students. Use the laptop as a tablet for reading, or taking notes. Flip the display to face the class when making a presentation. Put it in stand mode and set it on any convenient flat surface to watch a streaming movie. And of course, you can use it as a traditional laptop when it’s time to work on that essay.
HP has a compelling offer for 2-in-1 fans in the Envy x360. This is a 15.6-inch laptop with a Full HD MicroEdge touchscreen display. Rotate the display on its 360-degree hinge and you can use the included HP pen stylus for writing notes using Windows Ink, drawing, or marking up documents. It’s equipped with a full complement of high-speed ports (including USB-C), offers plenty of power with a 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and still delivers over 8 hours of battery life. Lots of assignments? With a massive 1TB of SSD storage you’ll have the space to store everything, including multimedia files. If you need to meet with classmates remotely to work on a project, this laptop is equipped with Wi-Fi 6 for a fast internet connection, and an HP wide-angle webcam so you’ll look your best.
The final entry on this list is the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5. This is performance-focused 2-in-1 laptop equipped with a 2.1Ghz AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor and 16GB of DDR4 RAM. Combined with 512GB of PCIe solid state storage, you know the Flex Pad 5 is going to be a snappy performer. It’s equipped with all the ports you would need for accessories and peripherals, including USB-C, HDMI, and USB-A 3.1, along with high-speed 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Battery life is rated at up to 10 hours, more than enough for a long day on campus. The 360-degree hinge means the Flex 5 can be used as a laptop, a tablet, and everything in between. When not being used for online learning or video conferencing, the Flex 5’s webcam has a built-in hardware cover so you can be assured of privacy.
All your back to school needs are covered!
Laptops may have a starring role, but students need more as they head back to school this fall. Whether you shop online or choose a safe, in-store experience, and whether your class is on campus or delivered through remote learning, Best Buy has everything needed for a successful school year.
[Editor’s note: this is an updated version of an earlier article. The laptops mentioned have been updated to reflect products that are currently available.]