Best college laptops Windows Central 2021
A good laptop is critical for today's college students. It's the beating heart of the working environment. Whatever the budget, you want a quality laptop for work and play, and these are the best Windows laptops to take with you to college.
- Best overall: HP Spectre x360 14 convertible
- Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Go 2 tablet
- Best 15-inch: Dell XPS 15 Ultrabook
- Best for gamers: Acer Nitro 5 gaming laptop
- Best budget: Samsung Galaxy Book Go laptop
Best overall: HP Spectre x360 14
The latest revision of the HP Spectre x360 is a striking-looking machine that's sure to turn heads, and it has room inside its svelte frame for a Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of SSD storage. Throw in a superb precision trackpad and a fantastic keyboard, and the Spectre x360 is a laptop you want to use again and again.
Additionally, the x360 is a convertible, something which many others in the Ultrabook space are not. That means you can get your hands all over that gorgeous display with the touchscreen, or make it more comfortable to enjoy some post-class movies in tablet or stand mode. It also uses Intel's new Iris Plus integrated graphics, which, while far from gaming-grade, can still handle some light titles or tasks like video editing with relative comfort.
The x360 is a laptop that excels across the board. It combines power with a stunning design and a terrific typing experience and with a sprinkling of excellent battery life thanks to the sizeable 66Wh powerplant inside. It's a PC a college student shouldn't leave home without.
Reasons to buy
- Fully convertible laptop
- Great performance
- Thin bezels, small footprint
- Great value
- Beautiful design and excellent build quality
Reasons not to buy
- No LTE option
- Tad pricey
Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Go 2
The Surface Go 2 is a perfect companion to any college student for a host of reasons, getting the nod over the larger Surface Pro for being more affordable and smaller, thus easier to carry about. The killer feature, though, is the inking support because the size of the Surface Go 2 makes it a truly spectacular digital notebook and sketchpad.
The Intel Pentium processor, 64GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM in the base model are perfect for lighter computing needs, but there are also models with an Intel Core m3 available, as well as optional LTE. While the optional Type Cover will get the best experience from it, it's not a compulsory purchase. You can alternatively just use any wired or wireless keyboard you may already have to type on the Surface Go, though when you're in class, you'll undoubtedly benefit from having one.
The Surface Go is a proper Surface but with a much more attractive price. And that's what makes it so special; it's a Surface for everyone. And for college work, in particular, this is a fantastic device, with enough flexibility to be used for recreation time when the work is all done. The experience is much the same as the Surface Pro but in a more compact and portable body.
- All-day battery life
- Kickstand built-in
- Touchscreen with inking
- Plenty of storage
- Optional LTE
- Keyboard not included
- Pen not included
Best 15-inch: Dell XPS 15
Dell's XPS 15 is seriously impressive. It crams a high-end, 15-inch notebook into the form factor of a 14-incher, thanks in no small part to the display. But the latest model really is the best it's ever been, with a better, larger trackpad, super skinny bezels, a choice of 1080p or 4K displays, and an IR camera for fast, secure logins with Windows Hello.
Inside, you can get up to a 11th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 64GB of RAM, and a 2TB M.2 PCIe SSD, with an option for an NVIDIA GTX 3050 Ti dedicated GPU. It's not a gaming laptop, but it can certainly do a little gaming if you wish.
This is, without a doubt, the best 15-inch laptop on the planet right now, and it does come at a price. The entry-level model is very reasonable if a little underwhelming on the hardware side, but when you start cranking up the spec sheet, the price naturally goes with it. Still, if you ever considered a MacBook Pro for your college work, this is a perfect alternative.
- 16:10 aspect ratio display
- Gorgeous FHD+ and UHD+ screen options
- Powerful performance
- Top-firing speakers
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Entry model a little underwhelming
Best for gamers: Acer Nitro 5
If you're a gamer as well as a college student, the Acer Nitro 5 (AN515-55) is no doubt going to be quite appealing. That's because it's capable of playing today's latest titles, doing all your work, and it doesn't cost a heap to buy.
Despite its attractive price, the 15.6-inch IPS display has a 144Hz refresh rate with a 1080P resolution. You also get an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM which can also be upgraded, a 256GB SSD, and an NVIDIA GTX 1650 Ti GPU.
The full keyboard with a number pad has a red backlight to match the Nitro theme, and the touchpad uses Precision drivers for a satisfying typing experience when you're not gaming with a mouse. It's a pretty no-nonsense gaming laptop that ticks all the important boxes for a college companion.
- Great price
- Solid mid-range performance
- Decent port selection
- Display with high refresh rate
- Not the most powerful GPU
Best budget: Samsung Galaxy Book Go
The Galaxy Book Go is Samsung's latest Windows laptop but comes at a much more affordable price point than some of its others. For those shopping for school or that just want to get the best possible laptop for the lowest price, this is hard to ignore.
It's an ARM-powered laptop, specifically using Qualcomm's new 7c Gen 2 CPU for more affordable devices. The added bonus to using an ARM CPU is battery life and near instant-on, and Samsung says you can expect up to 18 hours of battery life from the Galaxy Book Go. Whatever schoolwork needs doing, the Galaxy Book Go will be able to crank it out and keep on going.
Spec-wise there are a few different options, including 4GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of storage, and there are also versions with a cellular connection, too. This depends on which region you're buying in, but both 4G and 5G are options, though the latter, in particular, will certainly boost the price.
But with a really nice-looking 1080p display, a compact, incredibly slim 14-inch form factor, good keyboard and trackpad, and even a microSD card slot, the Galaxy Book Go is a great laptop for going away to college.
- Fantastic battery life
- Optional cellular
- 1080p display
- Decent RAM and storage options
- microSD card slot
- Won't be able to handle more intense workloads
- Cellular models a bit pricier
It's a fantastic time to be choosing a laptop for you or a loved one to take to college. The Windows hardware ecosystem has never been stronger, and whatever your specific needs or budget, there's something to suit. Ultimately, the HP Spectre x360 14 is the best of all worlds, and is the one we'd be packing in our own bag for class.
HP did nail the design of the latest Spectre, and while a taller display would be nice, this striking machine will stand out wherever you go. It's also incredibly versatile, powerful, and well priced, which is essential since when you're at college, budget is always something to consider.
Any of the alternatives are also great buys depending on what you're looking for, and there has never been a better time to be buying a laptop to spend the next few years doing important work on. Or to help you relax a little after class.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Daniel Rubino is the executive editor of Windows Central. He has been covering Microsoft since 2009 back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Surface, HoloLens, Xbox, and future computing visions. Follow him on Twitter: @daniel_rubino.
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