Best college laptop in 2020: Apple, Dell, Microsoft and more

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Although a phone is central to social life in college, for most college students, a laptop is the main academic tool they’ll need. It’s likely to be one of the most significant investments, too. 

Students on a budget may find a tolerable entry-level laptop — with a decent hard drive, graphics card, display and battery life — for under $300. But rather than go for a cheap laptop, we think it’s worthwhile to spend a few hundred more on a machine with a longer battery life, better performance, and a bigger, faster SSD hard drive. This list of the best laptops for college students is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing. We’ll update it regularly as we review new products.

Note that most of our choices for the best laptops for college run between $500 and $1,000. If you’re looking for a less expensive college laptop — or if you’re open to an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS — we recommend checking out the best Chromebooks for students. The best budget laptop options are less expensive but still powerful enough to handle student-life basics such as email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets.

If you’re looking for something that can double as a gaming laptop, has a ton of storage or can handle powerful programs like video-editing software, however, read on for our picks of the best laptops for college students.

Read more: Best laptop backpack for 2020  

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The newest Apple MacBook Air hits all the right notes: It’s back to the old $999 starting price, and it has Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, which most people prefer to the previous model’s butterfly design. Even better, this Apple laptop features current-era Intel processors, a new Force Touch trackpad and 256GB of storage for the entry-level configuration. The major drawback: The base model of this Apple MacBook Air with Retina Display features a Core i3 processor, and stepping up to the Core i5 costs an extra $100. 

Still, the brand new Apple MacBook Air and older models are frequently on sale. At the moment, the 2020 MacBook Air is available for around $950, which is a decent deal. That noted, the 2019 base configuration — which comes with an older but more powerful Core i5 processor — is still a great laptop worth a look, especially when it’s discounted to less than $900, even though you’ll be stuck with that pesky older MacBook keyboard design.

Read our 2020 MacBook Air preview.

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If you’re committed to the Windows operating system and want a balance of portability, power and price, it’s hard to find a better 13-inch laptop than the XPS 13. Dell has been making incremental improvements to this Dell XPS 13 machine for so long that it’s hard to find a flaw. For 2020, Dell made the laptop even smaller, while making the screen larger and increasing performance for both CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. It’s not a huge leap, but it’s still the best in the category.

Read our Dell XPS 13 review.

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The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both as a Surface laptop and touch screen tablet, though this convertible laptop makes for a better tablet than it does for a laptop. (If you’re looking for the opposite, Lenovo’s two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh-edition Surface Pro finally gets a USB-C port. The Surface laptop’s super-portable size makes it ideal for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though this company still sells the Surface laptop Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found for a good price– sometimes with one or both accessories.

Read our Surface Pro 7 review.

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Dell’s G series laptops deliver a smart balance of build quality, battery life and performance, with plenty of graphics card power for college students looking to play the latest AAA games when they aren’t hitting the books. The slim, compact design masks its gaming pedigree and power. And even the entry-level configuration is powerful, equipped with a 10th-gen Intel Core processor and Nvidia GTX GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU. This machine currently starts at $800, and we’ve found some higher-power configurations on sale for around $1,000.

Lenovo

The Yoga Chromebook is a versatile student laptop — and it doubles as a convincing tablet. It has a 15.6-inch 4K touchscreen display, solid battery life and, with an Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, enough performance for everyday office and entertainment tasks. The aluminum chassis gives it a premium aesthetic, and it has a comfortable keyboard and touchpad. Though this touchscreen laptop lacks some of the higher-end features you find on the company’s Windows-equivalent C740 and C940, the Chromebook version does have a privacy webcam shutter. It starts at $900 — but is often on sale for less.

Read our Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-inch) review.

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