"What's the best laptop for college?" is a question we often get from both parents of college students and university-bound pupils anxious about the upcoming start of the school year.
As a laptop reviewer, there are four things I look for when it comes to figuring out which laptop is the best for college:
1. Affordability. College students typically don't have the luxury of splurging thousands on a laptop, so they need a machine that gives them the best bang for your buck.
2. Portability. Is it lightweight and compact enough for you to carry as you bounce from one lecture hall to another?
3. Performance. As a college student, your coursework likely won't demand an ultra-powerful CPU and GPU, but you'll still need enough "oomph" from your internals that can stomach your browser workflow. (I'm talking to the folks who have, like, 200 tabs open on Google Chrome at any given time.)
4. Decent battery life. Outlets are rare gems at some institutions, so needing to constantly juice up your laptop can be a pain in the rear. That's why you need a laptop that has a 10-hour runtime or longer.
Lucky for you, we do in-house testing on every laptop that comes through Laptop Mag's lab, so I've got battery life and performance numbers up the wazoo to help me determine the best college laptop of 2023. Plus, I'm a sucker for featherweight laptops, so I know exactly which notebooks feel like you're holding an empty binder.
And finally, like you, I'm not spending more than my rent on a laptop. It's just not happening, so I'll make sure the laptop I recommend is less than $1,000.
What is the best laptop for college?
After digging through the laptops I've reviewed this year, ladies and gentlemen, I've found it. Behold! The best laptop for college students: the Asus ZenBook 14 (Q409ZA) OLED.
The Asus Zenbook 14 (Q409ZA) OLED only costs $749. That's it! It's less than $800, but gives you plenty of bang for your buck.
You can buy it at Best Buy, and as of this writing, Amazon is selling it for $10 cheaper for a price tag of $735. Sweet! (I wonder if the price will drop down even lower as the best Prime Day laptops go on sale on July 11 and 12.)
The laptop I'm recommending comes with the following specs:
- Intel Core i5-1240P CPU
- Intel Iris Xe graphics
- 8GB of RAM
- 256GB of SSD storage
- 14-inch, 16:10, 2880 x 1800-pixel, OLED display
Of course, I wish it had more RAM as well as an Intel Core i7 processor (alas, these concessions are expected from a sub-$800 laptop), but while experimenting with the ZenBook 14, it had no issues handling my chaotic Google Chrome workflow, which involves a tsunami of tabs weighing down the browser.
It's worth noting that I was pleasantly surprised to see such a striking display on a budget-friendly laptop. The 14-inch OLED panel on this bad boy has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which gives you more vertical real estate than your typical 16:9 laptop. Plus, it supports a 90Hz refresh rate and a 0.2ms response time, making the screen feel zippy and highly responsive.
Another interesting feature is that the ZenBook 14 has a 180-degree hinge, allowing it to lay flat on any surface. With a single action, you can flip the screen so that it faces someone sitting opposite from you — a move that will surely impress your classmates while you're working on a group project together.
By the way, the touchpad doubles as a numeric keypad. You can also quick-launch the Calculator app from it, too.
You get all of this, and so much more, for a price tag of $750. How sweet is that?
When it comes to laptops for college students, I wouldn't recommend anything larger than a 15-inch notebook. After all, you don't want to be the one person with a 17-inch machine sticking out of your laptop backpack because it doesn't fit. That's why the ZenBook 14, sporting a 14-inch display, should fit snugly into your bag while giving you ample room to throw in your other daily necessities.
The Asus Zenbook 14 has dimensions of 12.35 x 8.69 x 0.67 inches and a weight of 3.06 pounds. For perspective, it's lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Air, which has a heft of 3.3 pounds. However, it is thicker (the 15-inch MacBook Air has a height of 0.45 inches.)
While experimenting with the Zenbook 14, I found it to be airy, lightweight and feathery. It slipped seamlessly into my favorite work bag, allowing me to commute from A to B without feeling much added weight on my shoulders. Win!
And can we talk about the gorgeous design? It's inspired by a Japanese-art design called Kintsugi, which mimics the flawed, imperfect beauty of broken glass.
The typical workflow of a college student is pulling up documents, PDFs and decks to follow along with the college professor while launching a word processor to take notes.
When they get home, it's homework time, so they spend a lot of time browsing the web for research — perhaps with a heap of tabs open — to find the best references and sources for their essays, dissertations, and other long-form assignments. They're also often on social media sites, communicating with classmates, friends, and family. Plus, they're frequently checking their emails for any updates from professors.
Every now and then, of course, college students want a break from the monotony of college coursework, so they'll want to stream their favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu, and other similar platforms to escape into a funny sitcom or an action-packed series.
The Asus Zenbook 14, packed with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5-1240P CPU, doesn't have class-leading internals, but it has more than enough power to do all the aforementioned tasks, including word processing, web browsing, streaming, and more.
According to our in-house testing, the Asus Zenbook 14 output a multi-core Geekbench score of 8,590. To put this into perspective, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (one of the best business laptops on the market) I recently reviewed, which is twice the price of the Zenbook 14, delivered a score of 8,628, which isn't too far off from the ZenBook 14's figure.
Don't listen to manufacturers that claim that laptops can climb up to nearly 20 hours of battery life. It's not true! Except for one peculiar instance, I've never seen a laptop surpass the teens and hit a 20-hour runtime. At Laptop Mag, we run a battery test that reflects a more accurate use case of the average user.
According to our records, a typical laptop under the price of $1,500 delivers a runtime of 9 hours and 55 minutes. The Asus Zenbook 14 blows that figure out of the water. It lasted nearly 11 hours (10 hours and 52 minutes to be exact) on the Laptop Mag battery test, which consists of continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness.
In other words, the Asus Zenbook 14 can last about an hour longer than the average mainstream laptop. Win!
(Check out our laptops with the best battery life page if you want something with better endurance, but it will cost you.)
While I've gushed about many aspects of the Zenbook 14, I will say that I'm not a fan of its keyboard. However, to be fair, I'm a bit of a keyboard snob. While other people may not care much about a slightly mushy keyboard, I figured it would be worth noting in case you're just as much a stickler for springy keycaps as I am.
Keep in mind that I've reviewed countless laptops, so I'm more acutely aware of a keyboard's shortcomings more than the average person, so you may not even notice that the keyboard delivers a so-so tactile response.
Overall, the Zenbook 14 is the best laptop for college students. It's lightweight and portable, delivers sufficient performance, lasts for 11 hours, and sports a striking, OLED, 90z, 14-inch display. If you're ready to conquer college with all you've got, the Zenbook 14 is the best companion to help you do it.
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Kimberly Gedeon, holding a Master's degree in International Journalism, launched her career as a journalist for MadameNoire's business beat in 2013. She loved translating stuffy stories about the economy, personal finance and investing into digestible, easy-to-understand, entertaining stories for young women of color. During her time on the business beat, she discovered her passion for tech as she dove into articles about tech entrepreneurship, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the latest tablets. After eight years of freelancing, dabbling in a myriad of beats, she's finally found a home at Laptop Mag that accepts her as the crypto-addicted, virtual reality-loving, investing-focused, tech-fascinated nerd she is. Woot!