A good laptop is critical for today’s college students. It’s the beating heart of the working environment. Whatever the budget, you want a quality laptop for work and play, and the HP Spectre x360 fits that bill perfectly.
Best Overall – HP Spectre x360 13t
The latest revision of the x360 is a striking-looking machine that’s sure to turn heads, and it has room inside its svelte frame for a Core i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of SSD storage. Throw in a superb precision trackpad and a fantastic keyboard, and the Spectre x360 is a laptop you want to use again and again.
Additionally, the x360 is a convertible, something which many others in the Ultrabook space are not. That means you can get your hands all over that gorgeous display with the touchscreen, or make it more comfortable to enjoy some post-class movies in tablet or stand mode. It also uses Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics, which, while far from gaming-grade, can still handle some light titles or tasks like video editing with relative comfort.
The x360 is a laptop that excels across the board. It combines power with a stunning design and a terrific typing experience and with a sprinkling of excellent battery life thanks to the sizeable 60Wh powerplant inside. It’s a PC a college student shouldn’t leave home without.
Reasons to buy
- Fully convertible laptop
- Great performance
- Thin bezels, small footprint
- Great value
- Beautiful design and excellent build quality
Reasons not to buy
- Frustrating USB-A port
- Still uses 16:9 aspect ratio
HP Spectre x360 13t
They fixed almost everything
The HP Spectre x360 only had a few things keeping it from greatness, and now those things are here.
Best 2-in-1 — Microsoft Surface Go 2
The Surface Go 2 is a perfect companion to any college student for a host of reasons, getting the nod over the larger Surface Pro for being more affordable and smaller, thus easier to carry about. The killer feature, though, is the inking support because the size of the Surface Go 2 makes it a truly spectacular digital notebook and sketchpad.
The Intel Pentium processor, 64GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM in the base model are perfect for lighter computing needs, but there are also models with an Intel Core m3 available, as well as optional LTE. While the optional Type Cover will get the best experience from it, it’s not a compulsory purchase. You can alternatively just use any wired or wireless keyboard you may already have to type on the Surface Go, though when you’re in class, you’ll undoubtedly benefit from having one.
The Surface Go is a proper Surface but with a much more attractive price. And that’s what makes it so special; it’s a Surface for everyone. And for college work, in particular, this is a fantastic device, with enough flexibility to be used for recreation time when the work is all done. The experience is much the same as the Surface Pro but in a more compact and portable body.
- All-day battery life
- Kickstand built-in
- Touchscreen with inking
- Plenty of storage
- Optional LTE
- Keyboard not included
- Pen not included
Microsoft Surface Go 2
A high-end experience with an affordable price
This is a proper Surface in every way, it’s just smaller and much more affordable, and with optional LTE, you can always be connected to your college work when it matters most.
Best 15-inch – Dell XPS 15
Dell’s XPS 15 is seriously impressive. It crams a high-end, 15-inch notebook into the form factor of a 14-incher, thanks in no small part to the display. But the latest model really is the best it’s ever been, with a better, larger trackpad, super skinny bezels, a choice of 1080p or 4K displays, and an IR camera for fast, secure logins with Windows Hello.
Inside, you can get up to a 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H CPU, 64GB of RAM, and a 2TB M.2 PCIe SSD, with an option for an NVIDIA GTX 1650 Ti dedicated GPU. It’s not a gaming laptop, but it can certainly do a little gaming if you wish.
This is, without a doubt, the best 15-inch laptop on the planet right now, and it does come at a price. The entry-level model is very reasonable if a little underwhelming on the hardware side, but when you start cranking up the spec sheet, the price naturally goes with it. Still, if you ever considered a MacBook Pro for your college work, this is a perfect alternative.
- 16:10 aspect ratio display
- Gorgeous FHD+ and UHD+ screen options
- Powerful performance
- Top-firing speakers
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Entry model a little underwhelming
Dell XPS 15 9500
Beautiful display options, stellar performance
Larger display, touchpad, and keycaps, as well as beefier internal hardware, make the XPS 15 the 15-inch Ultrabook to beat.
Best for Gamers – ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
As far as a laptop for gamers who also need to get some serious college work done goes, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 ticks all the essential boxes. It looks great, it’s powerful enough to play the latest games, it’s slim and light, and it doesn’t cost a great deal.
The price and performance are both down to predominantly AMD, with the G14 being the poster child for the company’s latest 4000 Series Ryzen laptop processors. The G14 has many options available, from the 6-core Ryzen 5 to the 8-core Ryzen 9, but for most, the sweet spot will be the Ryzen 7 8-core in the middle.
Paired with NVIDIA GPUs, you get some serious horsepower from the G14, all wrapped up in a sleek metal body with a solid keyboard and with an option for a 120Hz display for some high frame-rate gaming. Oh, and on some models, you can customize your design in an LED panel on the lid. Why wouldn’t you?
- 8-core AMD Ryzen CPU
- Up to NVIDIA RTX 2060 graphics
- Optional 120Hz display
- Lots of storage
- Slim and light
- No webcam
- Not every spec option is easily available
Best for Gamers
ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
A good looking, excellent value gaming laptop
This gaming laptop is very college-friendly with a compact, light body that’s easy to tote around all day while cramming enough power inside to play the hottest new titles.
Best Budget – Dell Inspiron 15 5000
The Inspiron 15 5000 is incredibly well equipped for college life while also being extremely affordable. For under $600, you can get either a 10th Gen Intel Core i3 or Core i5, which isn’t bad going, and the delights on the hardware front don’t end there.
Surprisingly you also get PCIe SSD storage included as well, so while it’s an affordable laptop, it still has fast storage for a smooth and snappy Windows experience. It’s also upgradeable, so if the built-in drive fills up, you can easily add more at your leisure. And with SSD prices plummeting in recent times, it’s a handy feature to have.
The 10th Gen Intel Core i3 and Core i5 are robust processors, too, especially at this price point. You’re getting excellent single and multi-core performance and is much better than we’d be seeing in a laptop this affordable even a couple of years ago. It’s well built, too, and ultimately a lot of PC for not a lot of money. Perhaps the only real downside is that it’s pretty big, so you’ll need a fairly sizeable bag and a strong shoulder to carry it to and from class every day.
- 10th Gen Intel processor
- PCIe SSD storage
- Great build quality
- Upgradeable RAM and SSD
- Very affordable
- No touchscreen
- Chunky bezels
Dell Inspiron 15 5000
Excellent performance for a fantastic price
This laptop not only doesn’t cost a lot but comes well equipped and is upgradeable down the line if you outgrow what it comes out of the box with.
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 HP Spectre x360 13t is the best of all worlds, and is the one we’d be packing in our own bag for class.
HP did nail the design of the latest Spectre, and while a taller display would be nice, this striking machine will stand out wherever you go. It’s also incredibly versatile, powerful, and well priced, which is essential since when you’re at college, budget is always something to consider.
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
Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you’ll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
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.