A great laptop is the beating heart of the college environment. Students need something that can keep up with heavy multitasking, and they need something with a battery that can last through long lectures. Having a great display and speakers for watching TV and movies in the evening can’t hurt either, and in some cases a discrete GPU might be required for work or for play. We’ve rounded up a bunch of the best college laptops for those hitting the books this year.
Best overall: Lenovo Yoga 9i 14
Lenovo’s new seventh-gen Yoga 9i 14 refresh has solved a bunch of the issues that I noted in my previous Yoga 9i 14 review, making it our top pick when it comes to the best Windows laptops. First and foremost, the display has been bumped up to a taller 16:10 aspect ratio for more screen real estate.
There are multiple display options available, including 1920×1200 (FHD+) with 400 nits brightness, Dolby Vision, and 100% sRGB color. Stepping up to 3840×2400 (UHD+), you get an OLED screen with 100% DCI-P3 color VESA DisplayHDR 500, and Dolby Vision. Last but not least is the 2880×1800 (2.8K) OLED screen with 100% DCI-P3 color, 400 nits brightness, VESA DisplayHDR 500, and Dolby Vision.
All of these displays are touch enabled, and the convertible design of the laptop makes it easy to spin the screen around for tablet mode. A Lenovo Precision Pen 2 with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt detection is included with each laptop. This only adds to the PC’s versatility; if you’d rather jot down notes by hand than type things out, this laptop can easily accommodate.
The touchpad is 45% larger than the previous generation, and the keyboard is still excellent. There’s even a column of one-touch Function keys for easier shortcuts. The all-metal body is joined by a rotating soundbar hinge that is louder than ever. This keeps audio unmuffled no matter how you’re using the laptop. Dolby Atmos makes it ideal for watching TV and movies. The laptop’s 1080p camera means you can conference with confidence, and the IR sensor allows for secure logins through Windows Hello.
The Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) isn’t all show. Processors got a bump up to 12th Gen Intel Core, RAM is now faster LPDDR5x-5200MHz, and the SSD uses PCIe 4.0 for incredible speeds. This laptop isn’t going to hold you back when it’s time to hit a deadline. Ports include dual Thunderbolt 4, two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 2), and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Check out our collection of the best Lenovo laptops if you like this idea but want something just a bit different.
- Soundbar hinge, OLED display great for movies and TV
- Versatile convertible design
- Rounded edges more comfortable to hold
- 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs with high-end performance
- Comfortable keyboard and touchpad
- Only about 9 hours of battery life
- Cheaper PCs available
Also great: Dell XPS 13 Plus
Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central
The XPS 13 Plus (9320) is a fantastic pick if you want to stick with a non-convertible PC. The XPS 13 Plus is a recent refresh of a laptop we already loved. In his Dell XPS 13 (9310) review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino made it clear that this was the best-looking laptop on the market with the features and performance to back up its appearance.
Major changes to the laptop for this generation include a new keyboard and touchpad, improved webcam, more speakers, and better performance. The keyboard now stretches from edge to edge thanks to larger keycaps, with almost no space between the keys. Below, the touchpad hides beneath a full glass palmrest for a seamless look. Instead of a real physical click, the touchpad uses haptic feedback for a natural feel. The keyboard now has capacitive function buttons to boot.
Underneath the keyboard are two extra top-firing speakers to join the down-firing audio. Although the camera is still set at a 720p resolution, the RGB and IR portions are now separated for a better overall image.
Performance is stellar thanks to Intel’s 12th Gen mobile CPUs, nearly doubling what the previous XPS was capable of in some cases. LPDDR5x-5200MHz RAM is much faster, as is PCIe 4.0 storage. You’re going to be able to cut through any standard work with this laptop, and the battery will get you through a day of lectures.
Displays are the same as the previous generation, with multiple FHD+, UHD+, and 3.5K OLED options. We’ve used a bunch of these screens and they all look great thanks to plenty of brightness, accurate color reproduction, and Dolby Vision in the high-end panels. This is the best Dell laptop out there right now, and it will make a great partner for college students.
If you need something with a larger display and a dedicated GPU, be sure to check out the Dell XPS 15.
- New keyboard, haptic touchpad, capacitive function buttons
- Stunning looks and design
- Beautiful display options
- 16:10 display aspect ratio, thin bezel
- Strong performance from 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs
- Webcam still at 720p
- Can get expensive
Premium convertible: HP Spectre x360 14
Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central
In his Spectre x360 14 review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino said that anyone who wanted a Surface Laptop built as a 2-in-1 with an OLED display should check out the laptop from HP. This is another convertible PC that can be used as a tablet or in tent and stand modes when you don’t need a notebook. The display has a tall 3:2 aspect ratio, with up to a 3000×2000 resolution with OLED and anti-reflective finish.
Thanks to the convertible design, this laptop is a great digital inking companion. The high-res models have a battery that lasts right around seven hours, though by opting for an FHD+ resolution that number should climb to more than 10 hours.
Due to the new aspect ratio, HP had plenty of room around the keyboard to play with. It enlarged the touchpad by 16.6% this time around, and the keyboard is comfortable for all-day typing binges. The laptop has quad speakers, with two on the top and two on the bottom. No matter how you’re using the laptop you’re going to get unmuffled audio.
The Spectre x360 14 hasn’t yet seen the bump up to Intel’s 12th Gen Core CPUs, but 11th Gen chips still put out a ton of performance. The laptop makes the cut for Intel’s EVO platform certification, ensuring snappy performance even on battery power. For added privacy there’s an IR camera, fingerprint reader, and webcam shutter.
If you love the look and capability of the Spectre x360 14 but want something larger with a discrete GPU inside, have a look at our HP Spectre x360 16 review.
- 3K2K resolution OLED display option
- Big 66Wh battery
- Quad speakers with excellent audio
- Gorgeous compact design
- Good performance
- No 12th Gen Intel CPUs
- Can find cheaper alternatives
Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central
Executive Editor Daniel Rubino noted in his Surface Pro 8 review that Microsoft finally fixed a lot of the blind spots with the Pro lineup with the most exciting update ever. Compared to older Surface Pro models, the Pro 8 comes at you with a more rounded chassis, thinner bezel around a larger display, ambient color sensor for the 120Hz screen, better IR and RGB cameras, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, larger battery, and dual Thunderbolt 4 ports.
That’s a lot of new stuff, and it all pays off. The Pro 8 looks a lot more like a modern tablet, but its built-in kickstand allows it to operate as a laptop when a Type Cover is attached. It’s also fantastic for inking, and there’s even a slot for the Slim Pen 2 in the new Type Cover design. There’s even haptic feedback for the pen in some apps. If you love jotting down notes and sketches while in class, this laptop will be up for it.
The larger 13-inch display makes it easier to multitask, and the 2880×1920 resolution is super crisp. The Pro 8 is using Intel’s 11th Gen Core CPUs, with up to 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage.
- Thunderbolt 4, fantastic webcam
- Slim Pen 2 with inking haptics
- Very good performance and battery life
- Larger display with 120Hz refresh rate
- Super portable
- Keyboard and pen not included in price
- No USB-A port
- Glossy touch displays
Super lightweight: XPG Xenia 14
Source: Windows Central
The XPG Xenia 14 is one of the most surprising laptops I reviewed last year. It’s not completely unique due to the fact that it’s using a reference design chassis, but that doesn’t subtract from its qualities. It’s one of the lightest laptops I’ve ever used, weighing in at 2.14 pounds (970g) and measuring just 0.6 inches (15mm) thin. Its magnesium alloy construction isn’t as durable as full metal, but I’ve had no problems carrying it around with me in a bag. It’s holding up well.
Typing is comfortable thanks to 1.3mm key travel, and the touchpad is absolutely enormous. It’s easy to sit down and work for long stretches of time on this laptop. Thunderbolt 4, dual USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2), two USB-A 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, and an SD card reader make it easy to operate without dongles. There’s even an SD card reader for removable storage. For added security, an IR camera sits above the display.
Performance is no slouch here despite the compact build. Intel’s 11th Gen Core CPUs can keep up with multitasking, and the PCIe 4.0 SSD is incredibly quick. Battery life should go for about 10 hours on a charge, too. If that wasn’t good enough, the 16:10 display has a 1920×1200 (FHD+) resolution, 98% sRGB color reproduction, and more than 350 nits brightness.
- Super lightweight and compact
- Enormous touchpad, comfy keyboard
- 16:10 aspect ratio, thin bezel
- PCIe 4.0 SSD and RAM are upgradeable
- Good battery life
- Not many configurations to choose from
- No 12th Gen Intel CPU options
Budget pick: HP Pavilion Aero 13
Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central
If you want to get the most out of your hard-earned money, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 is an impressive laptop with an even more impressive price tag. It starts at about $530, but you’d never guess the price by looking at it. It weighs in at just 2.2 pounds (0.99kg) with an all-metal chassis and sleek lines. The keyboard is outstanding, and the touchpad makes good use of space below. Whereas some budget PCs skimp on camera and audio, here they’re both perfectly usable in a college environment.
Performance is excellent thanks to AMD Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs, as well as up to 16GB of RAM and up to a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Integrated Radeon GPU power is a bit underwhelming, but at this price you shouldn’t expect to be playing too many intensive games.
HP didn’t cheap out on the screen either. The 13.3-inch display has a 16:10 aspect ratio with FHD+ or QHD+ resolutions available. Both have a matte finish to eliminate glare from overhead lights or sunny spaces, and there’s thin bezel for a modern look. How did HP make such a great laptop and price it so low? We don’t really know.
- Excellent CPU performance
- Outstanding design
- Keyboard and touchpad are tops
- 16:10 display aspect ratio
- Super light and affordable
- Radeon GPU is on the weak side
- Webcam is just OK
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 Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) is the best of all worlds, and is the one we’d be packing in our own bag for class.
Its convertible design, soundbar hinge, and high-end displays with Dolby Vision make it superb for watching TV and movies, while the 12th Gen Intel Core performance will make short work of studies. It can even be used to jot down notes and sketches thanks to the included active pen. It also just looks fantastic and it’s easy to use on a daily basis.
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
Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, accessory coverage, and the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
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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