Shopping for a laptop can be an overwhelming experience, particularly if you or your children are embarking on online learning for the first time. With varying laptop use cases and distinct needs across different age groups, the decision-making process can be challenging. Additionally, as the market for the best laptop and Chromebook continues to evolve, students’ requirements also change. To gather valuable insights, I consulted with the experts on the subject: the students themselves.
To cater to a diverse range of preferences and budgets, my recommendations serve as a starting point rather than an exhaustive list. However, it’s important to note that every student’s needs are unique, and before making a decision, it’s advisable to read reviews and test out devices, if feasible. I will strive to update this article regularly with in-stock items to provide the most current information.
Best Laptop for Students
Best laptop for elementary school:
When it comes to younger students, touchscreen devices are typically more user-friendly than keyboards and touchpads, according to Michelle Glogovac. Her five-year-old son uses an iPad for Webex meetings with his kindergarten class and has already learned how to mute and unmute himself, a skill that even many adults struggle with. However, if you choose to go the tablet route, it may be worth investing in a keyboard case since typing meeting codes and passwords on the iPad’s flat screen can be cumbersome.
As children grow older, their ideal laptop choice will depend on their specific needs, so it’s crucial that both you and your child are on the same page regarding how they intend to use the device and the size of the programs they want. Kristin Wallace purchased a budget HP laptop for her nine-year-old daughter Bella, but quickly ran out of storage. Bella uses the laptop for Zoom calls with friends and virtual guitar lessons and math enrichment classes, and she’s now in need of a device with more storage space.
For kids’ laptops, audio quality is an essential consideration, especially since students often watch YouTube videos in addition to their online classes. Battery life is also critical, even for distance learners who may not be far from a wall outlet. Bella, for instance, enjoys using her laptop all around the house and prefers not to carry the cord with her. Additionally, durability is worth investing in, according to Lisa Mitchell, an elementary library media specialist. If you opt for a tablet, a protective case is recommended, and it’s usually worth the extra expense to purchase reasonably-priced insurance or a replacement policy.
1. Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition: a colorful, fast tablet with kid-friendly content
2. Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3: a tiny 11-inch Chromebook with a detachable keyboard
3. Apple 10.2-inch iPad: a great budget tablet that supports the Apple Pencil
4. Microsoft Surface Go 3: a solid Windows tablet with a built-in kickstand
5. Google Pixelbook Go: a sturdy touchscreen Chromebook
Best laptop for middle school:
The middle school students I spoke to don’t use their laptops for much more than web-based schoolwork and browsing. Don’t be too concerned about power — prioritize a machine that’s comfortable and easy for your child to use.
“We just got the most basic Chromebook and it is totally perfect,” says Gabrielle Hartley, an attorney and mother of three children. “The most basic Chromebook serves all the needs of the basic middle schooler.”
When it comes to middle school students, they typically use their laptops for web-based schoolwork and browsing, so power isn’t a major concern. Instead, prioritize a machine that is comfortable and easy for your child to use. Gabrielle Hartley, a mother of three children, recommends a basic Chromebook, which serves all the needs of a basic middle schooler. Even for students with more demanding hobbies, a budget device can get the job done.
While some kids may desire a gaming laptop or PC, most won’t require it. Eighth-grader Max Hartley uses his run-of-the-mill Samsung Chromebook for Google Classroom applications like Gmail, Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets, and finds it easy to use. However, it’s worth checking with your child’s teachers to determine which operating system is most compatible with their workflow.
For middle schoolers, a comfortable keyboard is worth investing in since many aren’t used to typing for long periods. Additionally, look for a device that is compact and easy to carry around, especially if your child is preparing for in-person school. An 11- to 13-inch model is ideal, and you should avoid going larger than 15 inches.
1. HP Chromebook x360: an affordable Chromebook with great battery life
2. Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook: a small but sturdy laptop made for students
3. Lenovo 300e: a durable 2-in-1 with a stylus and LTE
4. Acer Aspire 5: a portable option for kids who need a 15-inch screen
5. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2: an attractive, light Windows laptop
Best laptop for high school:
When it comes to high schoolers’ laptop needs, it’s important to consider their interests, but powerful machines with lots of features may not be necessary and could even be detrimental to schoolwork. For instance, Laguna Beach High School student Miles Riehle finds his high-end Surface Pro 7 overwhelming, preferring something simpler instead. The best operating system will depend on your child’s familiarity with technology. Barrington High School student Aryan Nambiar prefers his iMac at home and enjoys using an iPad for schoolwork, while Riehle would opt for a Chromebook because of his Android phone and frequent use of Google services.
However, almost every student I spoke to agreed that portability is the most critical feature in a high school laptop. Since kids attending in-person classes may be carrying their device around for much of the day, opt for a 13- to 14-inch screen or a lighter 15- to 17-inch model. Sturdiness is also essential, as high schoolers tend to toss their laptops into backpacks without much care. Battery life is crucial as well, as it can be challenging to find a place to charge during class.
A touchscreen with stylus support is highly recommended by many students for drawing diagrams, filling out forms, annotating PDFs, and taking notes. Connectivity options are also essential, depending on the broadband situation in your area. For example, Aadit Agrawal, a high school student from India, recommends an LTE model since powercuts can interrupt online classes, while Matej Plavevski, a junior at Yahya Kemal College in North Macedonia, suggests looking for an Ethernet port to prevent slower connections from disrupting meetings.
1. Acer Chromebook Spin 514: a convertible Chromebook with all-day battery
2. Apple iPad Air: a powerful tablet with a great screen
3. Acer Chromebook Spin 714: a fantastic Chromebook that’s not too pricey
4. Dell XPS 13: a solid clamshell Windows laptop
5. Surface Laptop 5: an excellent, light laptop that’s comfortable to use
Best laptop for college:
College students often require a higher level of performance from their laptops, especially those studying STEM subjects like electrical engineering or computer science. Assad Abid, a Pakistani undergraduate, needs simulation software to complete his assignments, while Aakash Chandra, an Indian student at New Horizon College of Engineering, frequently uses coding programs and creative tools like Premiere Pro and Photoshop, as well as for gaming. It’s also important for college students to invest in a laptop that can last beyond graduation, allowing them to avoid the hassle and expense of finding a new device while they settle into their careers.
However, with so many high-end options available, students stress the importance of finding a laptop that is lightweight and easy to carry between classes, meetings, and other activities around campus. Haseeb Waseem, a senior at Villanova University, emphasizes the convenience of being able to carry his laptop and notebooks without feeling weighed down during his six-hour day.
Other often-overlooked features, such as speakers and webcams, should also be given some attention. Good audio and video quality are essential for attending online classes, virtual meetings, and engaging with other students. Waseem suggests that a high-quality screen is a priority for those who need to multitask between various activities like streaming, social media, video chatting, and Microsoft Office work.
Ultimately, college students’ laptop requirements depend on their specific needs and interests. For example, Chandra would prefer a laptop with a stylus and touchscreen, while Waseem prioritizes a large screen. Whatever their needs may be, students should invest in a laptop that will last them beyond their college years, giving them the flexibility and reliability they need to succeed.
1. Acer Swift 3: a super light laptop that performs well
2. HP Envy x360 13: a fast and stylish 2-in-1
3. Dell XPS 13: a solid clamshell Windows laptop
4. Surface Laptop 5: an excellent, light laptop that’s comfortable to use
5. HP Spectre x360 14: a premium convertible with standout battery life