All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, regardless of our parent company. Some of our stories include associated links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an associated commission.
We’re all struggling to get back to normal, and going back to school probably seems weird but exciting. Whether you’re going to a physical campus, attending classes online, or a combination of both, a laptop is sure to be the control center for your studies.
And things have changed quite a bit over the last year or so. We saw the introduction of Apple’s MacBook with M1, while Microsoft recently introduced Windows 11. Computers with ARM are teasing the future in which the line between mobile and desktop computing is blurred, and Windows 11 is working to bridge that shortcoming by supporting Android apps, the laptop market it’s been the most exciting for years.
But that could lead to additional questions for customers. What should you look for if you want an ARM-based computer? Will it start Windows 11 when this update is available? What key specifications should you add to the list you must have this year? We have compiled this guide to help you make the right choice, along with a list of the best laptops this year.
What to look out for in a school laptop (and what to avoid)
First: Windows on ARM is still not valid. Snapdragon laptops can look and feel sleek, offer excellent battery life and built-in cellular radios, but are usually quite expensive, especially given the limited application compatibility and software finesse. Apple’s M1 MacBooks, on the other hand, are great for just about anything except those that need external GPUs, niche software, or more than 16GB of RAM.
As for Intel’s stuff, almost every notebook released this year has an 11th-generation Core processor. You will probably be able to find a cheaper version of the product with a 10th generation chip, and it should still serve you. Don’t forget AMD’s Ryzen chips either – they’re quite powerful and are no longer just for the cheap bucket. If you are looking forward to the arrival of Windows 11 devices, do not expect to see them before the start of the semester. It is more likely to appear in the fall around the usual Microsoft hardware event in October.
Across the industry, companies have moved to a higher aspect ratio for their screens. Surface Laptops have 3: 2 boards, while many Dell and HP models offer 16:10. While the older 16: 9 format is good for watching videos, you’ll probably appreciate the higher format when you’re writing an essay. Some devices, like Dell’s XPS and Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro, come with OLED boards, which will be nice for working with photos and videos. They usually cost more and affect battery life, so you’ll need to weigh priorities.
Fortunately, there is a diverse selection of laptops around you, so you should find the right one, whatever your preferences. Here are our favorite notebooks for going back to school assignments.
Apple MacBook Air M1
With its fast performance, slim fanless design and excellent battery life, MacBook Air M1 not smart for any Apple user. You’ll appreciate the familiar features like the Retina display, comfortable keyboard and reliable touch pad. Plus, thanks to Rosetta 2’s excellent emulation software, you won’t notice much difference in performance when you rely on Intel applications.
However, the big news is that the ARM-based M1 allows the laptop to also run iPhone and iPad apps. While not every app will be available on macOS, the potential for more options on your desktop here is great. Now you just have to make sure you can distract yourself – which should be easy with the upcoming Focus modes on macOS Monterey, which will arrive in its final form later this year.
Unfortunately for those looking for more internal memory or something similar to run their custom video streaming settings, before fab MacBook Air M1 laptops have 512GB of storage (although you can pay up to 2TB), while the Pro M1 only supports up to 16GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro M1 also doesn’t support multiple monitors and external GPUs. Those with more demanding workflows may need to look for a Windows or MacBook running Intel to ensure application compatibility.
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s XPS series was years favorite Engadget. Despite the somewhat ordinary design that some might call “classic”, XPS 13 it still stands out by dunking almost everything that matters. Great performance? Check. A beautiful screen? Yes. Comfortable keyboard? Yes. Insert a long-lasting battery and a pair of Thunderbolt 4 inputs latest versions, and you have a powerful workhorse for all your watches (and more).
The company switched to a 16:10 ratio in 2020 recently added 4K OLED option. This means you’ll see higher contrast ratios and deeper blacks for maximum display goodness. The OLED configuration will cost you $ 300 more than the Full HD LCD option, but those who want the best viewing experience may not mind the premium. We also recommend that you spend a little more and get at least Core i3 model with 8 GB of RAM instead of the meager 4 GB offered by the base model.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
If you are looking for a great typing experience, look no further than Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft killed it with its recent Surface Laptops keyboards, and this one is no exception. While not as deep and resilient as the ThinkPads, the keys here are super responsive and offer plenty of travel. The spacious trackpad is also solid.
Of course, it is important that the Surface Laptop 4 delivers everything else, or we would not recommend it. 15 inch version which we tested it offered bandwidth performance, respectable battery life and a gorgeous 3: 2 Pixelsense screen that supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen input. Although its design is a bit calm, the Surface Laptop 4 still has a clean, professional look and a luxurious aluminum case that is strong enough to fit in a backpack on a regular basis. Plus, at 3.4 pounds, it won’t put much strain on your shoulders.
The best thing about the Surface Laptop 4 is that the base model, which is equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 5 processor and 8GB of RAM, starts at $ 1,000. It’s a rival to the Dell XPS 13, making it better for those who value value; for the money you get more screens, more power and more RAM. Both the Surface and XPS are great features, but the latter offers an OLED panel and a thinner frame that makes it look more modern.
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro
For those who prioritize lightweight design, Galaxy Book Pro series should be at the top of your list. With only 2.36 pounds for the shell and 3.06 pounds for the convertible model 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro it is one of the lightest 15-inch laptops. It is also extremely thin 0.46 inches thick, and despite its compact size it manages to accommodate three USB-C ports (one of which supports Thunderbolt 4), a microSD card reader and a headphone jack.
It also features an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and at least 8GB of RAM, along with a 68 Whr battery that provides similar uptime Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 4. This is especially impressive considering the Galaxy Book Pro has a Super AMOLED screen, which offers lavish image quality, high contrast ratio and deep black. Unfortunately, Samsung is still stuck on a 16: 9 screen format, which will become obsolete in a year or two, but will hardly violate the contract.
The Galaxy Book Pro’s keyboard isn’t as comfortable as the Surface Laptop 4, but it’s comfortable enough, and the trackpad is huge. We’re more concerned about weird webcam software that makes you look dark and skinny, so if you’re worried about looking your best in video calls, maybe you should consider something else. In addition, the base $ 1,100 model comes with an Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, making it a competitive offering compared to Dell and Surface laptops. Awesome camera aside, there’s a lot of love for the Galaxy Book Pro, especially for those who want to lighten their load.
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
If you’re thinking of saving a few hundred dollars by choosing Chrome OS, Acer Chromebook Spin 713 could be the right choice. Sure, there are cheaper Chromebooks, but it’s one of the few devices with a 3: 2 aspect ratio and has a useful design that makes it perfect for butterflies.
That price also brings you the 11th generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a solid 360-degree hinge, so you can set it up in a variety of modes. The 13.5-inch screen is also denser in pixels than most 1080p screens of the same size. Although Spin 713 on our battery test it works for about 8 hours, that’s enough to get you through the work day. If $ 700 feels too expensive for a Chromebook, wait for it to inevitably go on sale to save a little more. More sleek, more powerful Chromebooks are available, but Acer’s Spin 713 offers a good combination of performance and a stylish display for the money.
Acer Aspire 5
If price is your biggest concern, we recommend it Acer Aspire 5. It is a 15-inch Windows laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage that costs between $ 400 and $ 450. Yes, it has less memory than anything else on this list, but also it costs much less than any of our non-Chromebook suggestions.
There are plenty of ports here – including an Ethernet socket – and the aluminum case should make this laptop feel more expensive than it is. You’ll also appreciate its reliable performance, comfortable keyboard and 1080p screen. The Aspire 5 at its price offers everything you need to get through the school day, which makes it a great action.