When it comes to choosing laptops for students, children and parents don't always see eye-to-eye.
Ask an undergrad what model to buy and chances are it will have a fancy logo on it—along with a price tag that's not really suited to someone with no salary.
Ask a parent and you get: "A computer? Really? Back in my day, we just used a typewriter."
Fortunately for everyone, quality laptops are now cheaper, more efficient, and more portable than ever. Some models even let you leave the Xbox at home with mom and dad. And that makes it much easier to find a computer that pleases everyone.
Here are a few smart options that performed well in our testing labs:
Acer ChromeBook C810-T7ZT
For the Budget-Savvy Scholar
Believe it or not, you don't need a $1,000 computer to get good grades. In most cases, this low-cost ChromeBook will get the job done. In fact, the Google office software that comes with it is robust enough to produce the standard college newspaper.
Powered by an Nvidia Tegra K1 processor—the same one that powers Google's Nexus 9 tablet—the Acer Chromebook offers 4GB of RAM, which will get you through a tab-filled web browsing session with few stutters. The 13-inch display may not deliver HD-quality video viewing, but it does have an anti-reflective coating that lets you review the professor's online lectures while your sunning on the campus lawn
The laptop also features an impressive 17-plus-hour battery life, a memory card slot (handy for photo storage), and three ports (an HDMI and two USB) to accommodate your other devices. And, at 3.1 pounds, it won't weigh you down while you complete your class schedule.
Best of all, with the money you save, you can start paying off those student loans.
Acer Aspire R5-471T-52EE
For the Kid Who Wants a Little More Horsepower
This Windows 10 laptop delivers real value for the $700 price.
The Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 256GB solid state drive make accessing your work and browsing the web quick and lag free. The computer can even handle tasks like light photo editing. Don’t expect to play video games, however, unless you love Tetris.
If you want to watch a TV show or a movie, the Aspire R5 can fold into a tablet. But at 4.1 pounds, it's certainly not one you'll want to hold for two hours—unless you're a member of the weight-lifting team. The device doesn’t have a disc drive, either, but, hey, that's old school.
The 14-inch 1080p touchscreen doesn’t perform well in bright sunlight, but it does have a wide viewing angle, which is helpful for class presentations. And, speaking of presentations, that 12-hour battery life will definitely get you through one, as well as an intense study session or two.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
For the Budding Picasso
Right-brain students need a computer that lets them flex their artistic muscles after enduring all those boring prerequisites. This 2-in-1 laptop is the answer.
Powered by an Intel Core m3 processor, it weighs only 2.4 pounds and features 4GB of memory and a 128GB solid state drive. The nine hours of battery life will get you through the school day. If you plan on studying at the library into the night, though, don't forget to bring the charger.
The high resolution display delivers a wide viewing angle and accurate color reproduction. It performs well in sunlight, too.
When paired with the $60 Surface Pen, the laptop fluidly captures detailed sketches and handwritten notes. It also offers palm rejection, which saves you from messing up your masterpiece by inadvertently placing your hand on the screen.
And, if the Surface Pro 4's lone USB port is a problem, you can add the Surface Dock ($199). About the size of a laptop power brick, it provides four USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and an audio jack for your headphones.
Not convinced all that functionality is worth $900? Take a look at the $599 Surface Pro 3.
Acer Aspire Nitro VN7- 592G-77
For the Dorm Room Gamer
Studying for finals sure can take a lot out of you. If you're the sort who likes to recharge by playing video games, this is the laptop for you.
Under the hood, you'll find an Intel core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid state hard drive, and a 1TB hard disk. That's plenty of storage space for high-end games and more than enough power to browse the web on the laptop's 1080p screen. Booting up is a snap, too.
When you're not playing games, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics card is also good for heavy video editing. And the laptop's many ports—4 USB, a Thunderbolt, an HDMI, and even an Ethernet (probably for LAN parties)—allow you connect to all sorts of devices.
You’ll pay a steep price for such a powerful machine, of course. That includes the battery life—about six hours—which won’t get you through the day without a pit stop. And once you lift that 5.1 pounds, you'll be wishing you signed up for a few online classes.
Apple MacBook 12-inch MLHE2LL/A
For the Apple Lover
When you’re hopping from class to class, racing from one side of campus to the other, you want a lightweight laptop with a long battery life.
This 2.1-pound MacBook has an Intel Core M processor (along with 8GB of RAM) designed for just such a scenario. It's not ideal for video games or video editing—especially given the limited 256GB solid state drive—but you certainly can watch movies on it when you're done with your studies. In fact, Netflix looks pretty darn good on the crisp display, despite the 12-inch size.
Bottom line: The Core M in this laptop is efficient enough to grant you 17 hours of battery life, which lets you keep moving and studying deep into the night.
On the downside, this MacBook has no disc drive and only one USB-C port. To expand your options, you'll need to purchase additional hardware. Apple sells a USB-C multiport adapter, for example, that provides an HDMI port, standard USB port, and USB-C port.
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