Laptop for High School Students
An ideal laptop for a high school student needs to be powerful, offer great value, be rigid enough for daily use, and have a sound design that younger consumers would want to use. The Dell XPS 13 ticks all these boxes and is one of the best 13-inch laptops you can buy. The latest model comes rocking 8th Gen Intel processors and plenty of storage and RAM for school work.
Best Overall: Dell XPS 13 (9380)
The XPS 13 (see our review of the previous model) by Dell is the entry product in the XPS line of premium laptops, but is an ideal match for students looking to take advantage of capable hardware to help with their studies. Picking the best laptop before heading back to school in 2019 doesn’t have to be yet another chore on the list of things to get done. The beauty of the XPS 13 is you’re able to configure it exactly how you wish. Need more than 128GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage? Simply add a 256GB drive when ordering or install one after the laptop gets delivered.
Then you have a Full HD display with barely any bezel, which can be bumped to QHD with touchscreen support. Speaking of specifications, the XPS 13 was refreshed by Dell to include Intel’s 8th Gen processors. These components are matched with at least 4GB of RAM and Killer 1435 wireless connectivity. The latter improvement with the XPS 13 is a major benefit for students, thanks to its excellent wireless range and reliability. The laptop can also be personalized with a choice of color: silver or rose gold.
The keyboard is likely what will be used the most, and this is probably the laptop’s weak spot. It’s not the worst keyboard by any means, but it’s also not among the best. With only 1.3 mm of key travel (how far the key can be pressed down), it can feel somewhat “mushy” to those who are used to desktop mechanical keyboards or other portable PCs with enhanced means of input. There’s also an issue with oil stains after considerable amounts of use. Another issue we found was with coil whine — that high-pitched noise you might hear when booting up your computer. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it can be annoying.
Overall, you’ll get a super-portable laptop with a gorgeous display and excellent performance. Couple all that with improved battery life (thanks to expanded capacity and the newest processors) and you’ve got one fantastic device for any student.
- Alpine-white and gold chassis is gorgeous
- Strong performance and good battery life
- New IGZO 4K anti-glare display is best-in-class
- New Windows Hello IR camera
- Full Thunderbolt 3 USB C ports
- Keyboard could be better
- Some coil whine
This laptop doesn’t just look amazing
The XPS 13 is a premium laptop offered by Dell, a slim and powerful notebook that’ll be more than a match for both studies and downtime.
Runner-up: Huawei Matebook 13
The MateBook 13 is a premium piece of kit, including an Intel Core i7 processor, Intel AC-9560, an amazing touch display, and a solid typing experience. It’s also ready for the entire day with a battery that should last you up to around seven hours. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider just how powerful the MateBook 13 is, it’s a feat of engineering. There’s even an optional NVIDIA-dedicated GPU.
Overall, just like the XPS 13 from Dell, there aren’t many downsides to the MateBook 13, but there are a few. Audio is mediocre when the laptop is in your lap due to speaker placement, but it is otherwise excellent when on a desk. The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a letdown, but it’s worth pointing that Huawei sells Thunderbolt 3 with the higher-end MateBook X Pro laptop, acting as a differentiator and partially justifying that extra $200.
However, if you need a premium laptop and don’t fancy the Dell XPS 13, the Huawei MateBook 13 is a superb choice.
- Excellent 3:2 “2K” display
- Exceptional performance
- Better value than MacBook Air
- Stylish but muted
- Optional GPU
- No Thunderbolt 3
- No USB Type-A port
- Huawei name is controversial
- Mediocre audio with some placements
One of the best MacBook Air rivals comes from Huawei
Despite Huawei’s recent woes in the U.S., its latest MateBook 13 laptop is a solid middle-of-the-road Ultrabook.
Best Ultrabook: Surface Laptop 2
The Surface Laptop 2‘s 13.5-inch notebook chassis holds a touch display with a 2256×1504 resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio, and relatively thin bezel. It’s compatible with the Surface Pen for a great inking experience, and color accuracy hits 99% sRGB and 81% AdobeRGB, which is great for media professionals or people who prefer a great display.
Grab either an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor (CPU) with four cores for stellar performance, add up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM, and up to a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) that can hit read and write speeds around the 1,500 MB/s and 800 MB/s marks, respectively. For ports, you get USB-A 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect, and 3.5mm audio.
The battery lasts between 8–10 hours on a full charge when tackling regular productivity tasks, allowing you to mostly forget about a charger when heading to the office or to class. Seated above the display is an IR camera for logging in securely with Windows Hello, and the palm rests are covered in Alcantara fabric for a more comfortable typing and pointing experience.
- Stunning 13.5-inch touch display
- Premium build quality and Alcantara fabric palm rest
- All-day battery life
- IR camera for Windows Hello
- Fast SSD storage
- More affordable options available
- Port selection is limited
The best Ultrabook for serious students
With a slim, light chassis, the Surface Laptop 2 has the portability and performance needed to get through a standard day’s work.
Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Pro LTE
Microsoft’s Surface Pro with LTE is the company’s first attempt at creating an LTE version of the Surface Pro, which launched in 2018. Sporting 4G, this tablet 2-in-1 packs a punch, allowing you to get work done no matter where you may be located. There’s no need to stay hooked up to an outlet thanks to the great battery life, and now you don’t need a Wi-Fi network. It’s truly portable.
The only drawback to the Surface Pro with LTE is configuration, or lack thereof. You’ll need to settle with 8GB version with an Intel Core i7 processor. The other obvious complaint is the limited hardware configurations. Still, it’s more than enough for portable use, especially for a tablet, but this is something worth bearing in mind when considering the rather high price. You can configure the Surface Pro 6 without LTE if you choose to.
- Excellent LTE integration, performance, and controls
- Battery life not really affected
- Snapdragon X16 and eSIM help “future proof”
- Late to market and last gen CPU
- No USB Type-C
- Still expensive
When you need to do some work wherever you may be
Sporting an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, this is geared for portable use at school and work, letting you get more done on the go.
Best Gaming: Razer Blade 15
When it comes to PC gaming on a laptop, the Razer Blade 15 is one of the best options out there. Not only can it be configured with an NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q dedicated GPU, but also an 9th Gen Intel Core i7-9750 CPU, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 512GB SSD for maximum performance. While you’ll be able to play most modern PC games, you’ll find the battery life depletes rapidly when all these power-hungry components are put under load.
The 15.6-inch display has an FHD resolution and up to a 240Hz refresh rate for smooth graphics, and you can go up to a 4K display with 60Hz refresh rate if you’d like to push things to the limit. No matter which display you choose, you’ll fail to notice any bezel and instead appreciate outstanding color reproduction. The RGB keyboard can be fully customized, and you can use the huge Precision touchpad for standard tasks when not gaming with an external gaming mouse — and we recommend you buy a mouse for gaming.
For ports, you’re getting HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, Mini DisplayPort, and USB-A 3.1, which allow you to connect external monitors and other accessories for a gaming battlestation when you’re not on the move.
- Gorgeous 4K and FHD display options
- Insane gaming performance
- Slim, premium build
- Decent port selection
- Enormous Precision touchpad
- Runs hot
The ultimate portable PC gaming machine
The Razer Blade 15 is slim, it’s packed with powerful gaming hardware, and it has beautiful display options.
Budget-friendly: Dell Inspiron 15 5585
You may think the Inspiron 15 5585 is sorely underpowered due to the price, but it’s really not. Inside you’ll find an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U CPU, which is part of the same family of processors that have become so popular on the desktop. There’s also integrated Radeon Vega 3 graphics, which beats out the integrated chipset Intel uses. You’ll also be able to enjoy some light gaming after school on the same PC.
The design isn’t too bad for a sub-$600 laptop. In fact, it looks relatively premium when compared to more pricey alternatives. The CPU and GPU are joined by 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, both perfect for school work and the 15.6-inch display will make all your work pop. That’s not all this laptop has to offer as there’s even a fingerprint reader with full support for Windows Hello.
The performance and design won’t blow you away, but if you simply need a budget-friendly laptop to get the youngling off on the right track with school with a battery to last the day, the Inspiron 15 5585 should be shortlisted.
- AMD Ryzen CPU
- Integrated Vega GPU
- Decent battery life
- Fingerprint reader
- Lackluster performance
Powered by AMD
You don’t have to go premium for high school and the Inspiron 15 5585 from Dell is a great example of value with AMD internals.
Ultra Portable: Surface Go
The Surface Go isn’t the most powerful on our list (far from it), but what it lacks in performance this tablet sure makes up for in portability. It’s even more mobile than the Surface Pro, weighing less, rocking a better battery life, and allowing you to qucikly complete tasks at school. Hardware includes up to an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, enough to tackle everyday productivity tasks and even some light gaming. The addition of 4G LTE options means you can stay connected just about everywhere, and you’ll get a full workday of battery life from a charge.
The 10-inch display has an 1800×1200 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio, it’s compatible with the Surface Pen for a stellar inking experience, and by adding a Type Cover, you get a true laptop. Ports include USB-C, a microSD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
- Optional 4G LTE connectivity
- Premium compact design
- Beautiful touch display with inking
- Great battery life
- Starts at a low price
- Limited ports
- Not enough performance for some
The best combination of size and power
Microsoft’s most affordable Surface is the Go, yet it delivers a high-quality computing experience that you can take with you wherever you go.
The XPS 13 by Dell is a stunning laptop and is one of our favorites. A gorgeous design, solid performance and reliability make it fit for purpose at college. You’ve got Intel 8th Gen processors, speedy storage, plenty of RAM and great wireless connectivity, making it ideal for school work (and play).
Other notebooks in our collection are worthy considerations like the excellent MateBook 13 from Huawei. Should you need a little more, Microsoft’s Surface line-up is where it’s at, taking into account student discounts.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Rich Edmonds is a staff reviewer at Windows Central, which means he tests out more software and hardware than he cares to remember. Joining Mobile Nations in 2010, you can usually find him inside a PC case tinkering around when not at a screen fighting with Grammarly to use British words. Hit him up on Twitter: @RichEdmonds.
Daniel Rubino is 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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