I review laptops for a living — the college laptops I recommend for every budget

college laptops
(Image credit: Future)

Summer is almost over, which means one thing: it's back to school time! Students are now hunting for the best college laptops, and quite frankly, I feel bad for them because you have something they don't: me.

I've been testing and reviewing tech for several years now, so I know a thing or two about which laptops are the best laptops. As such, I'm the best person you can come to for suggestions on the best college laptops.

Whether you've got less than $1,000 to spare or you have the means to splurge on a $2,000+ laptop, here are the best college laptops for every budget.

Laptops under $1,000

There are very few laptops under $1,000 that I'd recommend. One of them is the Lenovo Duet 5 Chromebook, which retails for only $369 on Best Buy. However, Chrome OS can be quite limiting. And its small form factor, though ideal for frequent travelers engrossed in Google's ecosystem, may not be suitable for students who need a comfortable keyboard.

The next best sub-$1,000 laptop I'd recommend to college students is the $800 Asus Zenbook 14 (Q409ZA).

3 reasons why the Asus Zenbook 14 is the best college laptop under $1,000

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Asus Zenbook 14

Asus Zenbook 14 (Image credit: Future)

1. You get so much value for your money. For less than $800, you get a laptop that lasts nearly 11 hours on a charge, packs a stunning 14-inch, 2,800 x 1,800-pixel display with a 90Hz refresh rate, a fingerprint scanner, and satisfactory performance. 

2.  The touchpad doubles as a digital numeric keypad. Asus calls this feature "NumberPad 2.0." When I reviewed it, I thought it was a gimmick, but it's an excellent feature for anyone who crunches numbers often (I'm talking to you accounting and math majors.) I also dig that you can use NumberPad 2.0 to quick-launch the Calculator app.

Asus Zenbook 14

Asus Zenbook 14 (Image credit: Future)

3. Its design will turn heads in the classroom. The Asus Zenbook 14 sports one of my favorite designs ever. Its unique look, draped in a Ponder Blue hue, is inspired by Kintsugi, a Japanese art style that captures the beauty of reconstructing broken glass and ceramics.

Where to buy: The Asus Zenbook 14 is $749.99 at Best Buy. It comes with a 12th Gen Intel Core i5-1240P CPU, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD storage, and a 14-inch, 2880 x 1800, 90Hz display. 

Laptops under $1,500

Looks like you've got enough money saved up to purchase a MacBook. Sweet! This means that you can snag some of the most power-efficient, long-lasting laptops on the market. In other words, you won't have to worry about short battery life.

For the sub-$1,500 category, I debated between two Macs: the 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro and the 15-inch MacBook Air. The former has me in a chokehold because of its jaw-dropping 18-hour battery life, but the latter delivers more screen real estate and better performance. I've decided to suggest the 15-inch MacBook Air; it's newer, fresher, zippier, and ideal for college students.

3 reasons why the 15-inch MacBook Air is the best college laptop under $1,500

MacBook Air 15

MacBook Air 15 (Image credit: Future)

1. This new 15-inch sweet spot is ideal for college students. Before the MacBook Air 15's debut, if you wanted a Mac with more screen real estate, you'd typically have to spend extra for a MacBook Pro. But now that the 15-inch MacBook Air is out, you can get the best of both worlds: a decent-sized panel for less than $1,500.

MacBook Air 15 review

MacBook Air 15 (Image credit: Future)

 2. Sleek and portable. This MacBook Air is the slimmest 15-inch laptop on the market with a height of only 0.45 inches, so this laptop should feel weightless as you carry it from class to class. Or, if you're planning on learning remotely, it'll be super lightweight as you frequent the kitchen for snacks.

3. 15 hours of battery life. According to Laptop Mag's records, the average laptop lasts for about 10 hours, but the 15-inch MacBook Air, thanks to its super power-efficient M2 chip, can last for an extra five hours. This means you'll spend less time hunting for power outlets and more time focusing on your studies.

Where to buy: The 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299 via Apple's official website. It comes with an 8-core GPU, a 10-Core GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD

3 reasons why the Acer Swift 14 is the best college laptop under $1,500

If you don't want a Mac and you prefer Windows, I've got a recommendation for you, too. Say hello the Acer Swift 14: this year's best "MacBook Killer." Let's dive into why it's the best sub-$1,500 laptop for college students.

Acer Swift 14

Acer Swift 14 (Image credit: Future)

1. Despite being cheaper, it has a faster CPU compared to the M2 MacBook Air (15-inch). The Acer Swift 14 has a Geekbench 5.5 multi-core score of 11,375, which crushes the 15-inch MacBook Air's score of 8,932.

2. It is better for creative college students. Compared to the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air, the Swift 14 has proven to be better for managing video and photo editing, as well as music production, according to our CrossMark tests.

3. It has a better display compared to the M2 MacBook Air 15. According to our display testing, the Acer Swift 14 covers a wider scope of the DCI-P3 color gamut. And it's brighter, too.

However, it's important to note that the Swift 14 can't complete with the 15-inch MacBook Air's power efficiency. It lasts nearly 12 hours on a charge, which isn't half bad, but the 15-inch MacBook Air has 15-hour battery life, which is an alluring selling point.

Where to buy: The Acer Swift 14 starts at $1,399 via B&H Photo. It comes with an Intel Core i7-13700H CPU, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16 GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 14-inch,  2560 x 1600-pixel touchscreen.

Laptops under $2,000

If you want to kick things up a notch — and you can spare a few extra Benjamins — check out the 14-inch MacBook Pro (10-core GPU, 16-Core GPU) as well as the LG Gram 17.

3 reasons why the 14-inch MacBook Pro is the best college laptop under $2,000

14-inch MacBook Pro

14-inch MacBook Pro (Image credit: Future)

1. It has a mind-blowing battery life. If you thought the 15-inch MacBook Air's 15-hour battery life was out of this world, wait 'til you hear that the 14-inch MacBook Pro delivers a spectacular runtime of nearly 17 hours (16 hours and 37 minutes to be exact.) 

2. It’s got a herculean M2 Pro chip. The M2 chip packed inside the aforementioned Macs is great and all, but it's becoming obsolete; 13th Gen Intel CPUs are crushing it on our performance benchmarks. If you plan to run demanding video-editing software, 3D modeling, machine-learning algorithms, and other taxing tasks, the M2 Pro chip is capable of handling it all.

14-inch MacBook Pro

14-inch MacBook Pro (Image credit: Future)

3.  Its speakers sound like heaven. If you're a college student who plans who loves to produce music and/or podcasts on the side, the 14-inch MacBook Pro's divine-sounding speaker system will meet your needs.

 Where to buy: The 14-inch MacBook Pro is $1,999 at Apple. It comes with the M2 Pro (10-Core CPU, 16-Core GPU) chip, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and a Liquid Retina XDR display.  

3 reasons why the LG Gram 17 is the best college laptop under $2,000

Don't sleep on LG! It's got a 17-inch laptop that sounds heavy, but trust me, every time you pick it up you'll be shocked at how light it feels. If you have an affinity for large-screen, lightweight laptops, snag the LG Gram 17 for less than $2,000.

LG Gram 17 (2023)

LG Gram 17 (Image credit: Future)

1.  Its lightweight form factor is shocking. When I reviewed the LG Gram 17, I was taken aback by its featherweight heft. Every time I picked up, it was as if I was carrying an empty binder. As such, if you're looking for a big-screen laptop to lug around from lecture to lecture, the LG Gram 17 is your best bet because it won't add much weight to your laptop bag.

2. It has discrete graphics. The LG Gram 17 comes with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU, so if you're a college student in need of a laptop that can handle your graphics-intensive workflow, this 17-inch laptop is what you've been looking for all along.

3. Great battery life for a Windows laptop. Macs usually reign supreme in the power-efficiency realm, but the LG Gram 17 managed to beat the 10-hour average by two hours (12 hours and 2 minutes) on our battery life test. No, it's not as dazzling as a Mac's ultra-long runtime, but considering all the powerful components it houses inside, 12 hours is pretty darn impressive.

 Where to buy: The LG Gram 17 is $1,996 at Amazon. It comes with a 13th Gen Intel Core CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

Laptops over $2,000

If you can splurge over $2,000 for a college laptop, I've got some good news. Earlier this year, I asked five laptop experts which is the best laptop of the year. Two said that the Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra is an absolute champion with its stunning 3K AMOLED screen, solid port selection, and top-of-the-line keyboard. However, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra isn't cheap; it'll set you back $2,400, but it's worth it.

3 reasons why the Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra is the best college laptop over $2,000

1.  Striking and stunning display. The Galaxy Book 3 Ultra's 3K, AMOLED, 16-inch display will rock your world. It's color accurate, rich and vibrant. 

Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra (Image credit: Future)

2. Its performance beats competing Windows laptops. When we pitted the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra against similarly priced rivals, we found that the Samsung laptop delivered the best performance scores across the board.

3. A clicky, excellent keyboard. The last thing a college student needs is a mushy, uncooperative keyboard. You don't have worry about that with the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra; it's got a large keyboard that is smooth and easy to type on. Its spacious, responsive touchpad adds to the experience.

Where to buy: The Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra is available at Best Buy for $2,399. It comes with an Intel Core i7-13700H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 GPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 3K, AMOLED, 16-inch display.

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