The Best Laptops for College Students – June 2018
College can be one of the best times of your life—the sense of freedom, making new friends, gaining new experiences you never thought possible—but it’s important to remember why you’re at school. While long nights and good times are fun, sooner or later you have to get down to work. Now that May has rolled around, it’s time for high school seniors to start looking at the perfect gear to ask for in celebration of their graduation. With hundreds of thousands of new students preparing to step forth into their new life studying in higher education, it’s the perfect time to start shopping for what might arguably be the most important tool in any college student’s life: their laptop.
Whether you’re writing long papers, editing photos, crafting short films, or just marathoning The Office on Netflix, a good laptop is essential for college students of any major. And while plenty of great laptops exist across all sorts of price ranges, it’s important to make sure we have machines for every kind of student out there. No matter your budget, there’s a laptop out there made ideally for you. Students who have to walk from class to class will want something small and light; students who are looking to play games or create multimedia will want something with a bit more power. No matter what your use case is for your device, there’s a laptop out there with your name on it.
That said, since every user might need a different computer for different uses, we’ve compiled some of the best laptops on the market this summer. These laptops make for perfect companions for your standard college student, with all of them able to do the basics: writing papers, taking notes, and of course, watching Netflix on weeknights. We’ve gathered the best machines in every category, so no matter what you’re looking for in your new laptop, you’ll be able to find it below.
Last year, we called the XPS 15 the laptop for everyone. As a 15″ laptop in the body of a typical 14″ device, that machine was fantastic for writing, editing, and even some light gaming, all while offering a fairly slim body for the specs offered by the device. Unfortunately, the engineering and technology that went into the XPS 15 made it one expensive device, quickly totalling near $2000 when all things were considered. This year, we’d like to recommend another Dell product to students old and new alike: the brand new Dell XPS 13 for 2018. While it isn’t quite as powerful as the Dell XPS 15 from last year—primarily in terms of a graphics card— we think that, ultimately, students will find more to love about this device than having a full GTX 1050. Let’s take a look.
First things first: the redesign. It’s subtle, a minor change compared to previous iterations but the first real change to the XPS 13 we’ve seen since it arrived on the scene several years ago. For that reason alone, it’s important to consider that the 2018 XPS 13 has changed things in some fairly important ways, even if they aren’t quite as big news as what you might have seen from other laptop redesigns. First things first: there’s a new colorized model, offered in a gorgeous white and rose gold. Whether it works for you is really a personal choice, but from our eyes, the device looks great, standing out from the traditional black laptop field that is so popular these days.
The casing is still built with aluminium, giving it a premium feel in the hand, though some users have since reported a bit of flexing in the overall casing of the device. Whether this ends up being a major problem with you really comes down to personal taste; frankly, most laptops these days have a bit of flex to them, so it isn’t surprising to see that the XPS 13 isn’t left alone from this phenomenon. The laptop is slimmer than before, measuring just .46″ at its thickest point, compared to the .6″ of the older model from 2017. That reduction in thickness hasn’t done much to reduce the weight of the device, however: the non-touchscreen model weighs 2.67 pounds, a reduction from the 2.7 pounds of the original model. However, it does help the 4K touchscreen model, reducing the weight from 2.9 pounds down to just 2.68. Ultimately, the redesign is minimal in terms of how it truly affects day to day usage of the XPS 13, but the reduction in size is most certainly appreciated.
Unchanged from the older models, however, is the XPS 13’s marquee feature: the display. The laptop that kickstarted the minimal bezel movement retains that design flourish here, with the screen surrounded by a nearly-invisible border on the top, left, and right sides of the screen. The bottom portion retains the larger bezel, both for containing the components that power the display and for hosting the webcam, as we’ve seen in previous models. Nearly every bezel-free laptop we’ve seen from various companies have placed the webcam at the bottom of the model in a similar fashion, a design trait that seemingly kicked off with the original slim-bezel XPS 13 a few years ago. If we’re being honest, the decision basically renders the webcam useless, unable to be used for video calls without the person on the other end seeing up your nostrils while speaking. If you plan on making a lot of video calls, you’ll want to invest in an external camera.
For most consumers, we think the sacrifice of a quality webcam is worth it for how great this display truly is. Several years since launching the first XPS device with slim bezels, the design is still striking as ever, and makes watching Netflix or browsing the web feel that much more immersive. And this is to say nothing of the actual panel used by Dell here. Recent XPS devices have all had a legacy of featuring great displays, and this one is no different. The entry level laptop has a 1080p panel is bright with solid color accuracy, though unfortunately, the 1080p model lacks touch input. To gain a touchscreen, you’ll have to upgrade to the 4K model, which increases both pixel density and color accuracy (reaching 100 percent sRGB), but comes at a reduction of battery life and an increase in cost.
Despite the decrease in thickness, the XPS 13 doesn’t skimp on the port selection here. That said, if you haven’t made the move to using USB-C accessories, you’ll want to pick up a dongle or two. The XPS 13 has three USB ports, but all three use the newer Type-C connector instead of the older USB-A ports we’ve seen on previous models. There are a lot of upsides to this: two of the USB-C ports are Thunderbolt 3-compatible, and all three ports support video-out using DisplayPort and DC-in. This means there’s no separate charging port on the XPS 13—it uses a USB-C connector, just like every Android phone on the market today. Charging your laptop from the same charger you use to power your Pixel 2 or Galaxy S9 is great, as is the ability to charge your laptop from a USB battery bank. Along with the 3 USB-C ports, the XPS 13 also includes a headphone jack (not yet removed!) and a microSD card reader.
Let’s talk specs. This new generation of XPS 13 uses Intel’s newest 8th-gen Core processors, with the entry-level models equipped with a Core i5-8250U and the more expensive models featuring a Core i7-8550u. As far as choosing which model to buy, the best middleground model comes in the form of the $1199 price range, which uses the Core i5 processor but delivers 8GB of RAM instead of 4GB, as you’ll find on the $999 model. In 2018, 4GB is the least amount of RAM you would want on a device, but if you’re already spending $1000 on a laptop, you’re going to want to make sure it’s good to last through all four years of school, and 4GB just won’t cut it for Windows laptops (Chromebooks are another discussion altogether). The $999 model includes a 128GB SSD; all other models start with 256GB and can be equipped with larger drives as needed.
Unsurprisingly for a device this size, there’s no dedicated graphics card, though the Thunderbolt 3 ports make external GPUs an option for anyone looking to game on the device. The integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics can handle most minor to moderate graphics needs, but as far as gaming goes, you’re really not going to want to game on this laptop. More than anything else, the XPS 13 is an Ultrabook first, which means it’s great for light photo and video editing, word processing, and media consumption.
Dell is using a new cooling system on the 2018 XPS 13, in order to reduce fan noise and to keep the system from over-throttling. Inside the device, Dell has equipped the laptop with Gore thermal insulation, claiming to be the first device to accomplish such a feat, which directs heat outside the device, while utilizing the fans and the heat pipes inside the laptop to cool the device even further. Generally speaking, it works: the laptop’s fans are fairly quiet, even under load, which helps keep your attention focused on studying or writing a paper in the library than wondering why your laptop sounds so loud as you type.
A few more notes on the device: the keyboard remains largely the same experience as on the older devices, though thanks to the smaller profile of the device, the keys may feel a bit more compressed as you type. It’s a solid keyboard, great for taking notes in class or for chatting with friends through Messenger, and the backlight makes it easy to study while your roommate is sleeping. The touchpad hasn’t changed at all from previous devices; it still uses Windows Precision drivers and a glass surface, putting it on par or just below the experience of using a MacBook touchpad. There’s no fingerprint sensor to unlock the device, but the webcam has been upgraded to support Windows Hello and face unlock.
Battery life is solid on the 1080p model, averaging around eight to ten hours depending on your use. The battery is smaller than on previous models, however, and unfortunately, the 4K model suffers the most here, with some users reporting just five to six hours of average battery with the higher-resolution display. Again, unless you need the touchscreen, it’s better to stick with the 1080p display here, which nets you better battery life and a great experience at the 13.3″ display size.
What else is there to say about the XPS 13 that hasn’t been said? It’s a fantastic all-around laptop, perfect for the average student looking for a great laptop to carry through the day. It’s one of the smallest 13″ laptops on the market today, and considering the importance of keeping the weight of your backpack down when trekking from class to class each day, buying into a smaller laptop is a brilliant idea. Same goes for the battery life offered by the 1080p model, making it easy to get through a full day of notetaking and a full night of studying without having to worry about finding an outlet. Dell’s laptop design remains second to none, with the exception of the webcam on this device, and it remains not just one of the best Windows laptops on the market today, but one of the best laptops all around.
- Fantastic, minimized design
- Solid performance
- Great battery life—on the 1080p model
- No 1080p touchscreen option
- 4K model has poor battery life
- Webcam placement
As always, the MacBook Pro remains a staple of college campuses everywhere. Thanks to the Apple ecosystem and the prevalence of iPhones among younger people in the US, thousands of college students every year choose the MacBook Pro over other similar laptops running Windows, thanks to the advantages offered by using MacOS with iOS at the same time. Some people use programs and apps that only run on MacOS, like Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro. There are apps that people build jobs around, making MacOS an obvious choice for some users everywhere.
Choosing between the current lineup of MacBook products—the MacBook, the MacBook Pro, or the aging MacBook Air—remains a challenge, each featuring their own unique pros and cons. Compounding the difficulty in choosing between each MacBook model is the age of the devices; each product is currently nearly a year out since the last upgrade to its specs, which makes it a difficult time to buy a MacBook Pro if you’re looking for the latest and greatest in laptops today. While we expect to see a MacBook Pro spec bump (and possibly a price drop) occurring sometime this fall, the choice remains the same: right now, the best MacBook to buy is the 13″ MacBook Pro from last year.
Starting at $1299 for a new model (and with cheaper options for both refurbished models and for student discounts), the 13″ MacBook Pro is the perfect middle-ground in laptops today, with the power to manipulate photos in Photoshop and to edit HD video in Final Cut or Premiere Pro. The outer shell of the device is gorgeous, with a full unibody aluminum design available in space gray or silver, depending on your personal taste. The 13″ model is just half an inch thick and weighs in at just over three pounds, a perfect size and weight to not be too heavy for daily treks around campus. Along the sides of the device, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C ports, both of which can be used to charge the device, and a headphone jack for listening to music while studying in the library. It’s not the widest IO selection we’ve seen on a laptop by a good measure, but it’s good enough for most users so long as you’re willing to buy an adapter or two.
Opening up the machine reveals an incredibly gorgeous 13.3″ IPS display, surrounded by a glass black border and with a resolution of 2560x1600p. What makes this display incredible is its accuracy and brightness; the device features near 100 percent representation of sRGB and can increase in brightness up to 500 nits, making it one of the brightest laptop screens on the market today. It’s not quite as accurate as the display on Dell’s XPS 13, but it’s far brighter and, for most users, that accuracy and reproduction won’t matter. At the end of the day, this is an excellent display, and no one grabbing one of these will find themselves disappointed.
Let’s talk specs. Currently, the entry-level MacBook Pro is priced at the same amount as the 12″ MacBook, with both machines starting at $1299. While it may be tempting to jump to the 12″ model, thanks to its expanded color choices, its novelty, and the thin-and-light build of the device, you’re far better off doubling down on grabbing the Pro. For that $1299 price, you get an Intel 7th-gen Core i5 processor, a decent mid-range processor that can be bumped up to an i7 if you have the cash for it. Same goes for the device’s memory: the entry-level product includes 8GB of RAM, but those who need the additional memory can upgrade to 16GB on Apple’s website. The $1299 model includes 128GB of storage, though there’s an expanded model with an option for 256GB. If you want the 512GB model, you’ll need to drop cash on the TouchBar-equipped model.
The full-fledged processor in this device means it’s actually cooled by a real fan, instead of just running with an uncooled device. As far as performance goes, you’re looking at a nice middle-ground between a gaming laptop or something like the Dell XPS 15 and the 12″ MacBook. In terms of a graphics card, you won’t find one on the 13″ MacBook Pro—it uses Intel’s built-in Iris graphics. Good enough for some photo editing and light video editing, but nothing close to what you’ll need for real games. You might be able to get some light gaming in with the integrated graphics, however, and thanks to the Thunderbolt compatibility, you could always buy and use an external GPU enclosure to get some real gaming in.
The touchpad is, unsurprisingly, one of the best you can buy on any machine. Apple has mastered quality touchpads for some years now, and even the best touchpads on Windows devices often can’t beat the gesture support Apple supplies with their glass-coated trackpads. When the company reinvented their Pro line in 2016, they also redesigned the touchpads to be far larger than they were before, making for an expansive and easy to use area on their laptops.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the MacBook lineup right now is the keyboard. Apple’s entire MacBook line has now switched to the company’s “butterfly”-style keyboard, which promises shallow key typing, something many users have found to be unusable for daily typing. Making things worse, however, is the recent controversy and growing outrage that began in late-2017 over Apple’s keyboard and its longevity. The Outline editor Casey Johnston wrote an editorial about her experience with trying to have the keyboard on her MacBook Pro repaired, only for the spacebar to be deemed irreparable due to a “piece of dust.” Since then, an actual class-action lawsuit over the butterfly-style keyboard has become a real thing; you can find more details on that lawsuit here.
You don’t have to let the controversy surrounding the keyboard on these laptops scare you off, but it is important to note that plenty of regular Apple users have found themselves with inactive keys for seemingly miniscule reasons. You’ll want to test out the keyboard in an Apple Store before you pick one up if you can. In all honesty, you can probably pick up one of these and not worry too much about something bad happening to your keyboard, but it’s important to keep in mind before you do.
Finally, despite the machine being slimmed down last year, the speakers on this MacBook Pro are still some of the best you can buy on a laptop, really only bested by the 15″ MacBook Pro. You won’t be disappointed with the sound. Battery life is also similar, with a rated battery life of about ten hours. It’s important to remember that some programs, including Chrome, may drastically reduce the battery life you see on these laptops. If you’re worried about getting the most from your battery, you’ll want to switch your default browser over to Safari.
Though we don’t like the 13″ MacBook Pro as much as we liked this year’s XPS 13 from Dell, it’s still an easy recommend for anyone looking to buy a MacOS laptop. However, it’s important to consider the age of the device. This MacBook Pro’s specs aren’t bad by any means, but they are a generation behind the 8th-generation Intel Core processors we’ve seen on other laptops. Unfortunately, WWDC came and went without a single new hardware announcement outside some watch bands for the Apple Watch. While we gained a preview at the changes in MacOS Mojave coming this fall, the entire MacBook Pro lineup remains in 2017 while newer devices move forward with Intel’s top-end chipsets. Unfortunately, would-be Mac owners will either have to wait it out until a new device is announced sometime this fall, or pick up the 2017 MacBook Pro—a solid computer, but one that is growing older by the day.
- MacOS is unbeatable for some
- Fantastic touchpad
- Best-in-class spakers
- Last year's specs
- A bit pricey
- Flawed keyboard
Last year, Microsoft finally released what they’ve seemingly been building towards for years with their Surface line of tablets and hybrid devices: a full-sized traditional laptop running a (nearly) full version of Windows. The device received its fair share of hype and praise, and now, one full year later, we can definitely say the Surface Laptop is a great buy for anyone looking for a thin-and-light laptop that is easy to carry around campus for taking notes, writing papers, and watching some quick YouTube videos between classes. Now starting at just $799 for the base model, the standard Surface Pro ships with an Intel 7th-gen Core m3 processor, and 4GB of RAM. While these aren’t killer specs by any means, they’re good enough for basic laptop tasks—and the laptop comes with a multitude of specs increases, including up to an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a full terabyte of storage.
What every Surface Laptop does come with is a gorgeous touch-friendly display, measuring in at 13.5″ and with a resolution of 2256×1504, using a 3:2 aspect ratio that makes it easy to browse, program, and more. The display also supports pen input, making it ideal for anyone looking for a way to take notes on their device. As for IO on the laptop, you’ll find a single USB type-A port, a mini DisplayPort for video output, a headphone jack, and the Surface connector for charging the device. Microsoft promises up to 15 hours of battery life, though you’re more likely to see something along the likes of nine or ten hours of real world usage—a great number nonetheless. The outside of the device is built of aluminum available in four unique colors (Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold).
The big feature about the Surface Laptop that caught headlines upon its release is Windows 10 S, the new version (or mode) of Windows that limits your app selection to that of the Microsoft Store on the device. While the Microsoft Store does gain access to new apps all the time (yes, iTunes is there, though Chrome isn’t), anyone who wants a more traditional version of Windows can upgrade their experience by paying an additional $49 to turn off S mode and to re-enable Windows 10 Pro. Whether this is something you need is truly up to you; if it is, the option is always there. Overall, the Surface Laptop is one of our favorite Windows devices on the market right now, especially as far as traditional thin-and-light models go. If you do choose to purchase one, we recommend the $1099 model, which includes a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage.
- Gorgeous metal-and-fabric design
- Incredible display
- $49 fee to unlock Windows 10 Pro
- Entry-level models only have 4GB of RAM
Dell’s line of affordable gaming notebooks has become incredibly popular over the last several years, thanks to its high specs in comparison to a fairly-low price. Last year’s Inspiron 15 7567 made our guide, thanks to its powerful processor and the included GTX 1050 graphics card that made light-to-medium gaming possible on the 1080p display. This year, the Inspiron gaming line has been upgraded to Dell’s new G-series of laptops, and the G7 is an even better purchase for the same relative price. Starting at just $849, the G7 gets you an incredible gaming experience for a relatively low amount of cash.
The first thing you’ll notice about the device is its new blue-highlights on the color scheme. The Dell G7 comes in black/blue and white/blue combinations, and we’ll be honest: the white is especially striking. Like last year’s model, the device is fairly bulky, measuring about an inch thick and weighing well over five pounds total. For the money, however, you can’t beat the specs: the best model for most gamers is the $1,080 model, which nets you an 8th-generation six-core Intel i7 8750H, perfect for gaming and for creating videos or editing photos. That model also comes with 8GB of RAM, a GTX 1060 MaxQ graphics card, a full-HD display that, while not the most color accurate display on the market, is solid for the price, and a full-size keyboard with a number pad and optional blue backlights.
With laptops like this, you often see a sacrifice somewhere when using the device. Everything here, however, has come together to make Dell’s best gaming-focused laptop yet. Gone are the traditional gamer-themed black-and-red color schemes, and the weak build quality in the hinge: this thing is built like a tank. The keyboard is enjoyable to type on, if a bit soft, and the speakers are front-firing and sound great. If there’s one complaint among the device, it’s the battery life. You might not have to bring the charger to class, but if you’re using your laptop for an eight hour work day without the chance to stop for a charging break, you’re going to run into some problems along the way.
- Great budget gaming laptop
- Surprisingly good looking
- Bulky and heavy
- Short battery life
There’s a reason you don’t see many Huawei products in the United States: their phones are often takes on the device we’ve seen Apple create in the past. For example, their most recent flagship device, the Huawei P20 Pro, is a device that looks similar in build to the iPhone X, with some subtle changes around certain aspects of the device. Similarly, the Huawei Matebook X Pro is a laptop that looks nearly identical to the MacBook Pro design currently on the market, down to its space gray color and large touchpad. If you’re looking for a premium laptop that resembles the MacBook Pro, but has updated specs for 2018 and runs Windows 10, the Matebook X Pro might actually one of the best laptops on the market today.
Let’s start with the good stuff: everything from the MacBook-esque design to the nearly-bezeless display, the large touchpad to the low-travel keyboard, everything here is top-notch when it comes to hardware. Unsurprisingly, there are very few things here that strike us as downsides to the design of the device. The keyboard is low-profile but feels better than Apple’s own, the touchpad uses Windows Precision drivers and is about as good as you can get on a Windows laptop today, the 3:2 aspect ratio is modern and great for productivity and includes a touchscreen, and even the speakers manage to sound great. The only downside comes from the webcam: it’s actually hidden in the keyboard and raises up with a keypress. Though this is a neat engineering feat and is excellent for privacy concerns, it unfortunately is terrible in actual day to day use for video calls or photos.
Webcam aside, everything about the design is excellent. The specs continue this trend: two versions are available in the US, and both are excellent models. The first includes an 8th-gen Core i5 processor from Intel and 8GB of RAM, along with 256GB of storage. The second model ups the specs to a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. More importantly, however, is that model’s addition of the Nvidia MX150 graphics card a low-power dedicated card that will help with both photo and video production and allow the device to play some light games, like Fortnite or Overwatch. Battery life is okay; it’s quoted at 12 hours of video playback, but in regular use, you’ll probably see anywhere from five to eight hours.
The price is solid, undercutting what we expect from the Macbook by a couple hundred dollars. The Core i5 version starts at just $1,199, while the higher-end Core i7 with the Nvidia MX150 comes in at just $1,499. These are solid prices, both in comparison to the Macbook and in comparison to devices like the Dell XPS 13 and the Microsoft Surface Laptop. It’s not a laptop for everyone, but if you’re looking for the closest “do it all” device, this might be it.
- Great design and display
- Great specs
- Relatively affordable for the device
- Derivative design
- Webcam placement makes it worthless
- Battery life is okay
Okay, so the Dell XPS 13 is a great all-around thin laptop for carrying on campus. But what if you want a laptop that is light enough, you can barely remember it’s in your bag, while also offering a larger display? The LG gram 15 is the answer to your dreams, a laptop that combines the effectiveness of using 15″ displays on the go for productivity purposes with the portability of smaller, lighter devices. At just 2.5 pounds (or just over a kilogram), the LG gram 15 is one of the lightest 15″ laptops on the market today, while still measuring about .6″ thick (the same thickness as the 15″ MacBook Pro, which weighs a full pound and a half more with similar specs). The body of the device is built with magnesium alloy, which makes it feel secure and strong in the hand, though we’d be lying if we said the device had absolutely no flex to it whatsoever (the keyboard and display, specifically, both flex).
Inside the device, you’re looking at a fully-specced laptop. The LG gram 15 is powered by the brand-new eighth-gen Intel Core i7-8550U, a solid undervolt processor that is great for good performance with great battery life. That’s combined with 16GB of RAM and two unique M.2 SATA SSD drives, each clocking in at 512GB for a total of a full terabyte of storage. IO is solid for an ultralight laptop like this: you get three full-size USB-A 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, a microSD card slot, HDMI-out, and a headphone jack. That Thunderbolt 3 port isn’t just capable of data transfer—it can handle video out, ethernet, and even charging from a USB battery pack.
That isn’t to say you’ll need to need to charge it that often, however. LG claims up to sixteen hours of battery with the device, and most reviewers saw anywhere from 12 to 14 in real world usage. That is some crazy-long battery life, something that most people should pay attention to, since LG is quietly winning the race for the laptop with the longest battery. As far as the actual day to day use, you’re in good hands. The IPS display is 1080p and looks crisp and clear, and the keyboard and touchpad remain basically the same from last year’s Gram model (the keyboard is solid, though it does have that flex we mentioned earlier, and the touchpad is similar—good, if unexceptional). The gram 15 is a pricey commitment at $2000, but if you’re looking for a laptop to last you through all four years of college without having to deal with the back-breaking experience of carrying a full-size 15″ laptop, LG has made the perfect device for you.
- Lightest 15" laptop available
- Amazing battery life
- Some flex in the display and keyboard
- Very expensive
In lieu of recommending the XPS 15 this year, we’ve chosen to highlight one of the more interesting laptops competing directly with Dell’s flagship 15″ device. Gigabyte’s Aero line of devices has been growing in popularity for a while, first with the success of the Aero 14 and then with its successor, last year’s Aero 15. This newest model, the 2018 Aero 15X, is one of Gigabyte’s most powerful devices yet, with a sleek design that hides its power for gaming in subtle, smart ways. At 4.5 pounds and just three quarters of an inch thick, the Aero 15X is one of the thinner gaming laptops we’ve seen yet. The build uses both metal and plastic to create a solid-feeling, flexless chassis, and the black color design makes it look less like a gaming laptop and more like a professional creation device.
The Aero 15X is incredibly powerful, running an Intel 8th-gen i7-8750H six-core processor, complete with 16GB of RAM and a GTX 1070 with MaxQ design. That makes the 15X one of the most powerful devices on this list, capable of playing basically any game on the market today at high or ultrahigh settings. That six-core processor also makes it ideal for content creation, especially with apps like Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects. Once you open up the device, you’re greeted with an incredible 15.6″ 1080p display with minimal bezel—similar to the XPS 15—that happens to run at 144Hz, making it perfect for gaming at 120 frames per second. Gigabyte also offers a model with a 4K display running at 60Hz, but at this size, you’re better off choosing to use the 1080p model with the higher refresh rate.
The keyboard is solid, if a bit clicky, so anyone used to softer keyboards on devices like the XPS line will likely need an adjustment period to get used to the full-sized keyboard. The device supports full RGB per key, which means the entire laptop has customizable settings for changing how your device appears in day to day use. Surprisingly, battery life is great: assuming you aren’t gaming, you can get upwards of seven or eight hours of battery life on the device, thanks to the Nvidia Optimus tech built into the device. The only real weak points of the laptop are the trackpad, which is acceptable but not quite outstanding in any way; the webcam, which is bottom-mounted like on the XPS 15 to accomodate for the small display bezels; and the speakers, which are solid but unexceptional.
Overall, this is the perfect laptop for gaming, writing, and creating—as long as you can buy into the $2,300 price, that is. The cost of the device keeps us from recommending the product to everyone, but if you can manage to drop that kind of cash on your new laptop, the Aero 15X is one of the most powerful devices on the market today.
- Desktop-class gaming performance in a thin body
- Great, bezel-less display
- Priciest laptop on the list
- Keyboard is a bit hard to type on
We’ve never included a Surface Pro device on this roundup, despite their popularity on college campuses around the country. While we would consider the Surface Pro with a keyboard dock a laptop of sorts, the true reason is that the device never struck the right combination of price and specs to recommend it over other similarly-priced hybrid laptops. The Surface Laptop only complicated things more, providing users a touch-friendly Microsoft product in a more traditional form factor. The Surface Pro also doesn’t include a keyboard dock, making it a confusing buy for potentially first-time laptop owners like college freshmen. The Eve V changes all that, offering the same strengths as the Surface Pro in a cheaper product that doesn’t skip out on the features.
The Eve V began life as a crowd-sourced product, with potential Eve buyers telling the company what they wanted from this sort of product. The resulting device, the Eve V, has been a fairly large critical success, with most reviewers praising the product as an excellent alternative to devices like the Surface Pro. Starting at $1099, the base product includes both the computer and the compatible keyboard dock, making it an ideal purchase for anyone looking to jump into the ecosystem of hybrid devices. The base model Eve V includes an Intel 7th-gen i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Perhaps the best part of the device is its port selection: the Eve V includes two traditional USB-A ports, a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a micro SDXC reader, a much wider selection than what’s offered on similar devices (mainly, the Surface Pro).
Other pros of the device: the 12.3″ display is gorgeous, with 100% sRGB support and a resolution of 2880×1920. With the device, you gain access to a fingerprint sensor, quad speakers, a front and rear-facing camera, and most importantly, a full-size backlit keyboard with a glass trackpad. That keyboard is included in the box, as is a stylus with over 1000 pressure levels and two hardware buttons (the device also supports the 2017 Surface Pen). The inclusion of both of those accessories, along with a clean install of Windows, makes for a great product well worthy of recommendation on this list.
If there’s one downside to buying into the Eve V hype, it’s the shipping speed: as of writing, purchasing a product will only get it in your hands by “June or July.” This is truly an upstart of a company, and it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re buying. If you can put up with the slow shipping speeds through Eve, you’ll have a fantastic Surface alternative with both a keyboard and a pen at several hundred dollars less.
- Hybrid device that includes keyboard and stylus
- Great performance
- Hard to buy
- Gets expensive
The hybrid device may be popular for some, but not everyone wants a part-tablet, part-laptop model like the Surface Pro or Eve V. For folks who are looking for something more traditional to keep in their backpack, while still gaining access to the tablet-like features we’ve seen on other devices, like the touchscreen and a full tablet mode for taking notes with a stylus, the newest Yoga device from Lenovo may be a perfect buy. The Yoga line has long been a popular choice for college students, thanks to its user-friendly build and its variety of modes for taking notes, drawing or writing on the screen, and for watching movies after a long day of studying. At just $799, the Yoga 730 isn’t the highest-specced device on the market today, but it is a fantastic choice for students looking for a budget-friendly device that doesn’t skimp on the features.
Let’s start with the build. At .55″ thick and just 2.62 pounds, the Yoga 730 is a backpack’s best friend, easily fitting into smaller bags and making it easy to throw into your bag for the day and forget about it. The display is a sharp IPS panel at 1080p, though the 16:9 aspect ratio is a bit old-fashioned; we would’ve been better off looking at a 4:3 or 3:2 panel here for the tablet content, but it does make the display great for watching movies. Along the side, you’ll find 2 USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, a full-size USB-A 3.0 port, and an audio jack. Lenovo wuotes up to 11.6 hours for battery life, although you’re more likely to see closer to seven or eight hours of battery, depending on your performance settings. It’s solid, but we’ve seen better on similar device.
Inside the device, the standard $799 model gets access to an eighth-gen Intel Core i5 processor, which should do well to power the device no matter what you need it to do. That processor is paired with 8GB of RAM, integrated graphics from Intel, and a 256GB SSD, all par for the course for a Windows laptop around this price. You can upgrade the processor to a Core i7 model, but you’re likely going to be looking at a similar level of performance in order to maintain solid battery life. If there is one upcharge you might want to consider with the Yoga 730, it’s the compatible Lenovo stylus that is sold separately. Performance with the stylus is great, and when it comes to taking notes, it’s unbeatable for handwriting precision. Overall, the Yoga 730 is a comparable device to the MacBook Pro we recommended above. If you don’t mind using Windows and you want the portability and flexibility of a device like the Yoga, it’s a perfect buy.
- Solid convertible for the price
- Easy to carry
- Too heavy for long use in tablet mode
- Battery life is okay
Chromebooks have become a staple of the education market, ranging all the way from elementary school to college campuses. Chromebooks are great for anyone who just requires a browser and not much more, giving users a cheap way to buy into a laptop that can playback Netflix and Spotify, browse Twitter or Instagram, and even play some Android games. When it comes to choosing a Chromebook, you can’t go wrong with the Asus Chromebook Flip C302, a fantastic Chromebook for the cash that has a premium look and feel and every feature you could want for under $500. The device is built like a MacBook Pro, with a solid aluminum body that manages to be thin and light, weighing in at just 2.65 pounds and about half an inch thick. The 1080p panel on the device is also excellent, with clean and crisp pixels and excellent colors, though we’d be lying if we said it was the best display n a Chromebook today.
On the sides of the device, you’ll find two USB Type-C ports that can be used for charging, data transfer, and video-out, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot for expandable storage. Inside, the device is powered by an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, one of Intel’s more undervolted processors, which uses a low-power consumption mode to help ensure you’re getting the longest battery life possible (plus, it doesn’t require a fan). There’s also 4GB of RAM on the device, one of the lesser amounts of memory for a device on this list, but a solid amount for most multitasking on a Chromebook. You’ll also find 64GB of internal storage inside the device, around double the average amount in most Chromebooks, which makes it a solid buy compared to other laptops.
The keyboard and touchpad on the C302 are both solid, all things considered, The 12.5″ display is a full touch-enabled screen, and you can flip the device around in different modes to use the tablet for assorted productivity tasks (taking notes on the keyboard; using it in tablet mode to draw on the screen) or for media consumption (placing it in a tent mode to watch Netflix; using it in tablet mode to play games). The C302 has full support for the Google Play Store, which means you can play any number of games on the device without having to worry about compatibility. Two major downsides: first, the speakers on the device aren’t great. They’re side-mounted and sound fairly tinny and distorted, especially at high volumes. Second, 2.65 pounds is pretty hefty for a device to use in tablet mode, so you might want to keep that in mind before hoping to use the device in tablet mode only. Still, the C302 is a great buy, especially for students on a budget or anyone looking for a device similar to the Yoga 730 but with better
- Solid build quality
- Great battery life
- Terrible speakers
- Fairly heavy for a tablet
If the Chromebook Flip C302 isn’t the right fit for you, you could also consider the Samsung Chromebook Plus, an excellent Chromebook from Samsung that launched about a year ago and has retained an excellent quality. Like the metal build on the Flip C302, the Chromebook Plus features a metal body that feels both premium and light in your hand. The rounded corners of the design mean it doesn’t feel quite as premium as the Chromebook Flip, but it does feel a bit more friendly in the hand. Opening the laptop reveals the main reason to purchase the Chromebook Plus over its Asus-made competitor: the display. The Chromebook Plus’s screen boasts a gorgeous LED-lit 2400×1600 display at a 3:2 ratio. It’s one of the best displays you can get on a laptop—any laptop—today, and it’ll make everything from text to videos look crisp and sharp.
On the inside of the device, you’re looking at another Chromebook with 4GB of RAM, and just like with the Flip, we’re happy to see more and more Chromebooks receiving 4GB of RAM as a standard these days. Cheaper Chromebooks typically ship with a measly 2GB, and it just isn’t enough to power ChromeOS above a few open tabs. Unlike the Flip, Samsung chose to ship the Plus with only 32GB of storage, and while that should be enough to tide you over for most tasks on Chrome OS, having double the storage on the Chromebook Flip is certainly a premium. The Chromebook Plus runs on an ARM processor, similar to the Qualcomm processors found in smartphones and tablets. Despite the mobile-class card, performance is solid on the Chromebook Plus. You shouldn’t have any problems keeping tabs open and running in the background—in fact, the ARM processor might even help when it comes to running Android apps.
Just like we saw with the Chromebook Flip, the Chromebook Plus has a 360 degree hinge that allows the device to be set and displayed any way you’d like, making it another great laptop for reading or watching videos. Like Samsung’s own Galaxy Note line, the Chromebook Plus includes a stylus for taking notes and drawing on the display. Overall, we still think the Chromebook Flip just edges out the Chromebook Plus from Samsung as a premium device, thanks to its more-powerful Intel processor, it’s cleaner design, and its backlit keyboard. If stylus support and a 3:2 aspect ratio seem like the way to go, you won’t feel like you missed out on much with the Flip going with this option. But if you value a traditional design and a backlit keyboard, the Samsung Chromebook Plus might be something of a disappointment.
- Gorgeous display
- Includes stylus for notetaking
- No backlit keyboard
- 3:2 aspect ratio good for web browsing but bad for video