Best laptop for high school students Windows Central 2021
An ideal laptop for a high school student needs to be powerful, offer great value, be rigid enough for daily use, and have a sound design that younger consumers would want to use. The Dell XPS 13 (9310) ticks all these boxes and is one of the best 13-inch laptops you can buy. In fact, it's one the best Windows laptop options available today. The latest model comes rocking 11th Gen Intel processors and plenty of storage and RAM for schoolwork.
- Best overall: Dell XPS 13 (9310) laptop
- Runner-up: HP Pavilion AERO 13 laptop
- Best Ultrabook: Surface Laptop 4 Ultrabook
- Best portable: Microsoft Surface Pro X tablet
- Best gaming: Razer Blade 15 (Base model)
- Budget-friendly: Dell Inspiron 15 (3000) laptop
- Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 7 2-in-1
Best overall: Dell XPS 13 (9310)
The Dell XPS 13 is the entry product in the XPS line of premium laptops but is an ideal match for students looking to take advantage of capable hardware to help with their studies. Picking the best laptop before heading back to school in 2021 doesn't have to be yet another chore on the list of things to get done. The beauty of the XPS 13 is you're able to configure it exactly how you wish. Need more than 128GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage? Simply add a 256GB (up to 2TB) drive when ordering or install one after the laptop gets delivered.
Then you have a Full HD display with barely any bezel, which can be bumped to 4K. Speaking of specifications, the XPS 13 was refreshed by Dell to include Intel's 11th Gen processors. These components are matched with up to 16GB of RAM and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity. The latter improvement with the XPS 13 is a significant benefit for students, thanks to its excellent wireless range and reliability.
The keyboard is likely what will be used the most, and this is probably the laptop's weak spot. It's not the worst keyboard by any means, but it's also not among the best. With only 1.3mm of key travel (how far the key can be pressed down), it can feel somewhat "mushy" to those who are used to desktop mechanical keyboards or other portable PCs with enhanced means of input. There's also an issue with oil stains after considerable amounts of use.
Overall, you'll get a super-portable laptop with a gorgeous display and excellent performance. Couple all that with improved battery life (thanks to expanded capacity and the newest processors), and you've got one fantastic device for any student.
- Alpine White and gold chassis is gorgeous
- Strong performance and good battery life
- 4K OLED display
- Windows Hello support
- Full Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports
- Poor webcam
Runner-up: HP Pavilion AERO 13
HP worked some seriously dark magic with the Pavilion AERO 13 and it's all in the name, AERO. This thing is stupendously light. Even with a powerful AMD Ryzen 5 processor and integrated Radeon graphics, you've got a laptop that weighs in at less than 1kg. Throw in 8GB of RAM and 256GB for storing all your files and you're onto a student winner here.
If you have a little bit of spare cash, it's possible to configure the AERO 13 with up to an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD. Compared to the Dell XPS 13, this laptop is upwards of 200g lighter, making it ideal if you're on the move more across campus or require something to use out in the field.
The 43Wh battery will ensure you're able to keep going through the day, and Wi-Fi 6 means you won't have any issues getting online. Ports-wise, HP went with a USB-C port capable of power delivery and video out (DisplayPort 1.4), USB-A, HDMI 2.0, AC power, and an audio jack for good measure.
- Great battery life
- Excellent port selection
- Incredibly lightweight
- Capable AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs
- Precision touchpad
- No Thunderbolt 3
Best Ultrabook: Surface Laptop 4
The Surface Laptop 4's 13.5-inch notebook chassis holds a touch display with a 2256x1504 resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio, and relatively thin bezel. It's compatible with the Surface Pen for a great inking experience, and color accuracy hits 97% sRGB and 72% AdobeRGB, which is great for media professionals or people who prefer a great display.
Grab either an 11th Gen Intel Core or AMD Ryzen 4000 series processor (CPU) for stellar performance, add up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and up to a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) that can hit read and write speeds around the 2,310 MB/s and 1,060 MB/s marks, respectively. For ports, you get USB-A 3.0, USB-C, Surface Connect, and 3.5mm audio.
The battery lasts more than 14 hours on a full charge when tackling regular productivity tasks, allowing you to mostly forget about a charger when heading to the office or class. Seated above, the display is an IR camera for logging in securely with Windows Hello, and the palm rests are covered in Alcantara fabric for a more comfortable typing and pointing experience.
- Very capable Intel and AMD CPUs
- Excellent performance and decent battery life
- Still the best keyboard, trackpad, and audio in a Windows laptop
- Not much competition (15-inch model)
- Very quiet fan
- More affordable options are available
- Port selection is limited
- No HDR
Best portable: Microsoft Surface Pro X
Microsoft's Surface Pro X is the company's first attempt at creating a dedicated LTE Surface device. Sporting 4G, this tablet 2-in-1 packs a punch, allowing you to get work done no matter where you may be located. There's no need to stay hooked up to an outlet so long as you don't need more than seven hours, and now you don't require a Wi-Fi network. It's truly portable.
There are a few drawbacks to the Surface Pro X, however. ARM64 is a little confusing, which is what Microsoft's custom CPU is based upon. There's no Intel CPU choice here. Still, it's more than enough for portable use, especially for a tablet, but this is something worth bearing in mind when considering the relatively high price. This 2-in-1 is all about portability.
- Outstanding hardware design
- Unlocked 4G LTE SIM + eSIM
- Upgradable SSD
- Ten-hour battery life (ARM64)
- Slim Pen and keyboard are super clever
- Excellent audio, display, and typing
- ARM64 is confusing
- Bad for gaming
- No Dolby Vision or anti-glare display
- Seven-hour battery life (x86)
Best gaming: Razer Blade 15 (Base model)
When it comes to PC gaming on a laptop, the Razer Blade 15 (review is for advanced model) is one of the best options out there. Not only can it be configured with an NVIDIA RTX 3070 discrete GPU, but also an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11800H CPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 512GB SSD for maximum performance. While you'll be able to play most modern PC games, you'll find the battery life depletes rapidly when all these power-hungry components are put under load.
The 15.6-inch display can have a Full HD, QHD or 4K resolution and up to a 165Hz refresh rate for smooth graphics.. No matter which display you choose, you'll fail to notice any bezel and instead appreciate outstanding color reproduction. The RGB keyboard can be fully customized, and you can use the large Precision touchpad for standard tasks when not gaming with an external gaming mouse — and we recommend you buy a mouse for gaming.
For ports, you're getting HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, Gigabit LAN, and USB-A 3.2 Gen 2, which allow you to connect external monitors and other accessories for a gaming battle station when you're not on the move.
- Gorgeous 4K and QHD display options
- Insane gaming performance
- Slim, premium build
- Decent port selection
- Enormous Precision touchpad
- Runs hot
Budget-friendly: Dell Inspiron 15 (3000)
You may think the Inspiron 15 3000 is sorely underpowered due to the price, but it's really not. It all depends on how much you're willing to spend. Inside you'll find up to an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, but the most affordable model comes rocking a 11th Gen Intel Core i3-1115G4 CPU.
The design isn't too bad for a sub-$500 laptop. In fact, it looks relatively premium when compared to more pricey alternatives. The CPU and GPU are joined by 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD (up to 12GB of RAM and 512GB SSD), both perfect for schoolwork, and the 15.6-inch display will make all your work pop. There's even a fingerprint reader with full support for Windows Hello.
The performance and design won't blow you away, but if you simply need a budget-friendly laptop to get the youngling off on the right track with school with a battery to last the day, the Inspiron 15 should be shortlisted.
- 11th Gen Intel CPU
- Decent battery life
- Fingerprint reader
- Lackluster performance
Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Microsoft's Surface Pro 7 returned with a USB-C 3.1 port that replaced the older Mini DisplayPort. It's capable of handling dual 4K displays and is rounded out by USB-A, a microSD card reader, Surface Connect, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Wi-Fi 6 connectivity is available for blazing wireless speeds, and Bluetooth 5.0 is also included. If all that wasn't enough already, the Pro 7 now has Instant On, meaning it's ready to go as soon as you need it.
This makes it ideal for use out on the field, in the study room or library, and class. The 10th Gen Intel Core processors boost performance and add Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics, and models can be configured with up to 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM and a 1TB SSD. The display hasn't changed, but that's a good thing as the previous Pro had an excellent panel. The 12.3-inch touch screen still has a 3:2 aspect ratio and 2736x1824 resolution, complete with Surface Pen compatibility for a quality inking experience.
The Pro 7 keeps cool under load, and you can expect about eight hours of battery life from a model with Core i5 CPU. For some extra security, an IR camera is included for Windows Hello.
- Excellent performance from 10th Gen Intel hardware
- Now with a USB-C port
- Eight hours of battery life
- Instant On and resume
- Premium build quality
- No Thunderbolt 3
- No LTE
- Bezels are a bit thick
The XPS 13 by Dell is a stunning laptop and is one of our favorites. A gorgeous design, solid performance, and reliability make it fit for purpose at school. You've got Intel 11th Gen processors, speedy storage, plenty of RAM, and great wireless connectivity, making it ideal for schoolwork (and play).
Other notebooks in our collection are worthy considerations like the excellent HP Pavilion AERO 13. Should you need a little more, Microsoft's Surface lineup is where it's at, taking into account student discounts. Then you have some steep savings with Dell's own Inspiron range. It all boils down to your available budget and just what kind of work you need the laptop for.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Rich Edmonds is a staff reviewer at Windows Central, which means he tests out more software and hardware than he cares to remember. Joining Mobile Nations in 2010, you can usually find him inside a PC case tinkering around when not at a screen fighting with Grammarly to use British words. Hit him up on Twitter: @RichEdmonds.
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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