Heading to college, whether on campus, online, or a hybrid of both, requires a reliable laptop to steer your academic pursuits. As the back-to-school season approaches, equipping yourself with a new laptop can be a game-changer for managing your tasks, particularly when juggling multiple research tabs for essay writing. The lingering effects of the pandemic coupled with inflation have unfortunately made many products pricier. But on a brighter note, today’s laptops boast of longer lifespans. If chosen wisely, from reputable brands, and with the right specs, they can be a trustworthy companion throughout your college journey. Here’s a guide on key considerations, accompanied by our recommendations for the top college laptops.
What’s in Store for Laptops
Apple’s shift to its own Silicon is complete, marking the end of Intel-powered Mac options. However, this isn’t a setback. Apple’s M2 and M1 MacBooks have showcased exceptional speed, reliability, and longevity. As we anticipate the unveiling of new chip generations, M1-based models will likely see a price drop, providing students with budget-friendly yet robust options.
On the PC front, the spotlight is on the recently released models powered by 13th-gen Intel processors or the newest AMD Ryzen iterations. Apple’s shift to ARM-based systems has been triumphant, yet the PC market hasn’t quite mirrored that success. With Windows on ARM losing momentum, it’s advisable to sidestep ARM-based PCs, which are scarce now.
High-spec laptops come with a price tag hovering around $1,800 to $2,000. However, most students, whose primary tasks involve writing assignments and internet browsing, might not need such powerhouses. An Intel Core i3 or its equivalent, supported by a minimum of 6GB RAM, could suffice. For those in design or coding courses requiring specialized software, it’s wise to opt for laptops with enhanced processing capabilities and RAM. Alternatively, students who majorly rely on online platforms or browsers can save significantly by choosing Chromebooks.
Weight becomes a crucial consideration for those frequently transporting their laptops to lectures. The market offers premium 13-inch ultraportables equipped with Intel’s Core i3 or i5, priced around $1,000. If they seem steep, there are commendable alternatives ranging from $600 to $800. These might be a tad bulkier and powered by older chips. For budget-conscious students, this guide lists the top budget laptop recommendations, but there’s also a broader list of economical choices available for perusal.
Laptop shopping in 2023 presents its own unique challenges and considerations. As some manufacturers bid farewell to headphone jacks, you’ll need to scrutinize spec sheets closely when on the hunt for new machines. If you’re yet to join the wireless headphone revolution or rely on equipment that connects via the 3.5mm jack, steer clear of devices like the Dell’s XPS 13 Plus which lack this feature.
On the connectivity front, while the majority of 2023’s laptops come with WiFi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or later, don’t feel pressured to jump aboard this train unless you have compatible routers and devices to match these speeds. Remember, it’s likely that your college WiFi is running on an older configuration, making these advanced features somewhat redundant for now. While future-proofing is never a bad idea, it’s worth noting that the presence of WiFi 6E shouldn’t be a primary deciding factor in your purchase.
Top Laptops for College Students in 2023
Top Picks for Apple Laptops for College
1. MacBook Air (M2 variant)
Apple’s newest addition to its lineup, the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air, has been creating quite a buzz. Reasons for its popularity include:
Performance: The M2 chipset brings remarkable power and speed.
Display: A 13.6-inch Liquid Retina screen that showcases vibrant colors and sharp details.
Design: Slimmer than its predecessor, the M1 MacBook Air.
Cost: Its only potential downside is the cost. At a starting price of $1,199, it’s $200 pricier than the M1 MacBook Air.
2. MacBook Air (M1 variant):
For those not insistent on having the latest, the M1 MacBook Air remains an appealing choice:
Performance: Despite being an older model, it effortlessly outclasses numerous PCs, especially noteworthy given its fanless design.
Price: It’s more pocket-friendly, with prices starting at $1,000.
Features: It boasts a commendable keyboard, impressive battery life, and a vibrant Retina display. However, it is equipped with a 720p webcam, unlike the sharper 1080p camera on the newer M2 model.
Design: The M2’s design includes reduced bezels and a webcam situated in a notch, a feature that may not sit well with everyone. If that’s a deterrent, the M1 remains an available option.
Ports: The M1 variant offers two USB-C charging ports, sans the MagSafe socket exclusive to the M2 models.
In summary, if cutting-edge tech and design are high on your priority list, the M2 MacBook Air might be the choice for you. However, if you’re seeking value for money and can compromise on some of the latest features, the M1 MacBook Air presents an enticing deal.
Top Picks for Windows Laptops for College
1. Dell XPS 13 Plus:
This stalwart of the PC world has earned its reputation as a reliable companion for those who prefer Windows over Mac. Some notable features include:
Display: The laptop boasts a striking OLED screen that’s paired with ultra-thin bezels.
Design: The XPS 13 Plus sports a fresh minimalist design that exudes modernity and offers a performance upgrade compared to the standard model.
Keys: One change that may not be universally appreciated is the capacitive key row, replacing traditional function keys. While they may be challenging to discern outdoors, familiarity will ease usability over time.
Trackpad: The trackpad, though expansive, lacks defined boundaries which can be tricky for some users.
However, there are certain drawbacks:
Headphone Jack: Its omission may be a deal-breaker for some.
Visibility Issues: Some users might find the capacitive keys and invisible trackpad boundaries a little challenging to navigate initially.
Older Dell XPS 13 Models: If the updates on the Plus don’t appeal to you, older models still pack a punch and retain features like the headphone jack.
Samsung Galaxy Book Series: These are noteworthy for their stunning OLED displays, lightweight designs, and sharp webcams.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptops: The recent edition of this series offers robust performance coupled with an impressive battery lifespan. However, its design might feel a tad dated for those seeking the latest aesthetics.
In essence, while the Dell XPS 13 Plus is a robust contender for the title of the best Windows laptop for college students, it’s essential to weigh its features against personal preferences and requirements. For those skeptical about its changes, there are always reliable alternatives in the market.
Top Picks for Gaming Laptops for College Students
1. Razer Blade 15:
When it comes to blending work and play, the Razer Blade 15 stands tall in the gaming world. Here’s why it tops the list:
Performance: With an Intel Core i7 processor and the NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics, it ensures a smooth gaming experience.
Display: Available in varying configurations, including a 15-inch quad HD display with a 240Hz refresh rate. Other options feature Full HD 360Hz and 4K 144Hz displays.
Design & Updates: Razer’s Blade series is renowned for its sleek design and consistent hardware upgrades.
Higher-end Model: For those looking to push the envelope, the new Razer Blade 16 offers NVIDIA’s RTX 4060 or 4070 GPUs.
Price: The $2,500 tag might seem steep, but it’s a worthy investment for those prioritizing gaming.
2. ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14:
Though it was the favorite in 2021, the price bump in the 2022 refresh has positioned it as a secondary option. Nonetheless, it remains a commendable choice:
Value for Money: Although the price hike is significant, its performance justifies the cost.
Display & Design: The laptop offers a stellar display and maintains a spacious trackpad and numerous ports, even with its slim design.
In summary, if gaming ranks high on your list and you’re seeking a device that effortlessly transitions between schoolwork and leisure, the Razer Blade 15 is the way to go. However, if budget constraints are a concern, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, despite its price hike, remains a formidable contender in the gaming laptop arena.
Top Chromebook Choice for College: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook
For those leaning towards a web-centric educational experience, Chromebooks are an enticing option. They tend to provide great value without compromising on the essentials, and Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook stands out among them.
Why the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook is our top pick:
1. Basics Done Right: It houses a 13.3-inch Full HD touchscreen, offering clear visuals. Plus, typing assignments become a breeze with its excellent backlit keyboard.
2. Performance: The machine is powered by an 11th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. Coupled with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, it provides more than sufficient power and space for a Chrome OS device.
3. Connectivity: The inclusion of USB-A and USB-C ports ensures flexibility in device connections. Additionally, the microSD card slot offers further storage expansion options.
4. Battery Life: With an estimated battery life of around eight hours, it’s great for a full day of classes and assignments.
5. Build & Design: Although it isn’t the most compact or lightweight option on the market (weighing 3 pounds and 0.66 inches in thickness), its robust build ensures durability.
6. Updates & Longevity: Lenovo promises software and security updates until June 2029, ensuring that the device remains relevant and secure during its lifetime.
7. Price: The Lenovo Flex 5i delivers a lot for its price, making it a superb choice for budget-conscious students. Although no longer sold directly by Lenovo, it’s often available on platforms like Amazon, priced approximately around $350-$400, delivering exceptional value.
As technology evolves and new models emerge, our recommendations may change. But for now, for students seeking an affordable, reliable, and long-lasting laptop experience, the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook is the ideal choice.
Top Budget-Friendly Laptop Pick for Students: HP Pavilion Aero 13
For students navigating the college experience on a tight budget, the cost of technology shouldn’t add to the financial stress. The HP Pavilion Aero 13 emerges as an ideal choice for those seeking a wallet-friendly yet competent laptop.
Here’s why the HP Pavilion Aero 13 is worth your consideration:
1. Display: The laptop boasts a Full HD screen with a desirable 16:10 aspect ratio. This makes it great for both content consumption and productivity tasks. The thin bezels around the screen further enhance the visual experience, making it seem more premium than its price tag suggests.
2. Performance: Despite its affordable price, the Aero 13 doesn’t skimp on performance. With an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics onboard, it’s well-equipped to handle typical student tasks smoothly.
3. Design & Build: A comfortable keyboard and spacious touchpad ensure that those long typing sessions, be it for essays or class notes, remain comfortable. The sturdy build also means it’s likely to endure the usual wear and tear of college life.
4. Connectivity: The inclusion of a generous array of ports ensures that you won’t find yourself constantly reaching for adapters or dongles – a convenience that can be especially appreciated during a busy day of classes.
5. Battery Life: A long-lasting battery is crucial for students, and the Aero 13 doesn’t disappoint. It promises enough juice to see you through a packed day of lectures, assignments, and research.
6. Value for Money: Considering its age, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 continues to deliver outstanding value. It challenges the notion that you have to compromise significantly on features and performance when operating on a budget.
For students mindful of their expenses but unwilling to settle for a subpar laptop experience, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 is a standout choice. It expertly balances price, performance, and essential features, making it a top recommendation in the budget segment.
Top Convertible Laptop/Tablet for Students: Microsoft Surface Pro 9
For students whose academic and creative pursuits demand a device that’s as versatile as they are, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 9 shines as a leading convertible option. These devices effortlessly straddle the line between laptop and tablet, providing users with unparalleled flexibility.
Here’s a closer look at what makes the Surface Pro 9 a standout pick for those seeking a convertible laptop:
1. Design and Portability: Retaining Microsoft’s signature sleek design, the Surface Pro 9 offers both aesthetics and portability. With a slender profile and minimal bezels, it’s easy on the eyes and even easier to carry around.
2. High Refresh Rate Display: The 120Hz display ensures a smooth experience, whether you’re casually browsing or intensely multitasking. The flexibility to switch to 60Hz for conserving battery life gives users more control over their device’s performance.
3. Intel Over ARM: The Surface Pro 9 offers configurations with Intel processors, ensuring better app compatibility. This can be crucial in academic settings where specific software may be required. The ARM configurations, though innovative, still have some hiccups when it comes to compatibility with certain apps.
4. Type Covers and Surface Pens: Microsoft’s Type Covers provide a tactile keyboard experience that mimics traditional laptops, while the Surface Pen unlocks creativity and utility, especially for artists or those taking handwritten notes. However, it’s essential to factor in the added cost of these accessories, as they’re sold separately.
5. Versatility: Easily transitioning from a powerful laptop to a portable tablet, the Surface Pro 9 addresses a range of needs – from note-taking and art projects to research and multimedia consumption.
6. Cost vs. Value: While the Surface Pro 9 might command a premium, especially when adding on the cost of essential accessories like the Type Cover or Surface Pen, its versatility and performance often justify the price for those who will utilize its full range of features.
In conclusion, for students and professionals who appreciate the ability to switch between laptop and tablet modes without sacrificing performance, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 stands out as a premier choice. Its blend of performance, design, and versatility make it a worthwhile investment for those in need of a multi-faceted device.