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The best laptops for high school students in 2020

Hunting down the best laptop for your money can be a real pain. Buying for yourself is one thing: You and you alone must suffer from your decision. But when you’re on the market hunting down the best laptops for high school students, making the wrong decision will produce an endless flow of complaints. It’s too slow. It’s too heavy. It won’t run my programs. Painful, we know, so we’re here to save you from the horrors.

As parents, we know exactly what you need to buy. Don’t jump on Amazon and buy a cheap laptop originally released in 2012. There are plenty of modern options sporting the same price tag. Most of what you’ll find below are based on Intel’s latest eighth-generation processors, and screens ranging from 13.3 inches and larger. Our pick, the Acer Aspire 5, won’t break the bank but it offers plenty of durability and performance that will keep a high school student up to date on homework.

The best laptops for high school at a glance

Best laptop for high school: Acer Aspire 5 NX-HDGAA-002

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It packs plenty of power into a chassis that’s durable and light enough to carry back and forth from school — without breaking the bank.

Who’s it for: Any student who wants a large, Full HD display for getting their homework done and wants the option of some faster graphics.

What we thought of the Acer Aspire 5 NX-HDGAA-002:

If you’re looking for an all-around great laptop for your high school student, but don’t want to beg the bank for a loan, Acer’s Aspire 5 models fit the bill. This particular version offers a powerful array of features including an Intel Core i5 8th-gen processor, 8GB of RAM, and a sizable 512GB SSD that makes it difficult t0 run out of space. The display is a well-designed HD panel, and the battery can last for up to 9.5 hours. At 4.2 pounds, it’s also pleasantly lightweight for all these specs, and easy to tote from class to class as necessary.

The model also has a more advanced Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU than you’d usually find in an Aspire 5. Yes, we know, that makes it an entry-level gaming laptop capable of running popular games like Fortnite, which might not be your preference, but that GPU will also speed up creative apps that support it, streaming services for teaching, interact guides, and so on. So it’s not all just fun and games.

Note that the latest version of this Aspire 5 model also includes a USB-C port, as well as HDMI, USB 3.1, and USB 2.0 ports. Some customizable storage options, GPU, and other factors are available on Acer’s website if you want to adjust the price, but make sure you check availability to see if the model is available for purchase.

Read our Acer Aspire 5 review

Best Chromebook for high school: Acer Chromebook Spin 15

Acer Chromebook 15 Spin Review

Why should you buy this: Your student needs an affordable Chromebook with a large display — and you’d like it to be able to flip around for some Netflix binging as a reward for hard work.

Who it’s for: Any student who needs a large screen to handle their Chrome OS chores — on a budget.

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook Spin 15:

The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is the only 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 we’re aware of that has a 15.6-inch Full HD display. That makes it something of a standout, and we think it adds some nice flexibility for any student who wants to flip their display around for watching Netflix… er, we mean, for reading an ebook. Your student won’t be using this as a tablet in the crook of an arm — it’s way to heavy for that — but it works well when sitting on a flat surface.

And that 15.6-inch display ensures that homework won’t feel cramped when two windows are funning side-by-side. The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 allows you all the room you need to multitask without being too massive. Meanwhile, the dual-core Intel Pentium N4200 and 4GB of RAM will provide plenty of multi-core performance and memory for multitasking without experiencing lag.

The Chromebook Spin 15 has a decent keyboard and touchpad, and it can run for a good portion of a school day thanks to a sizable battery. Audio quality isn’t the best (but your student will likely be using headphones anyway, and the look is a bit outdated.  But if size and power are what your student needs in a Chrome OS laptop, then Acer’s Chromebook Spin 15 is your best bet.

Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 15 review

Best budget laptop for high school: HP Chromebook 14

HP Chromebook 14 AMD

Why you should buy this: It’s a more affordable laptop that still provides HP’s durable design with everything a high school student needs.

Who’s it for: Buyers who want to keep the tech costs down when outfitting their high-schooler, but don’t want to sacrifice too much quality.

What we thought of the HP Chromebook 14:

You can find this Chromebook for around $250, but it still has what it takes to keep up with today’s busy school day. That includes a 14-inch HD touchscreen, an Intel Celeron processor with up to 2.4GHz of speed, 4GB of RAM, and even a USB-C outlet for the latest charging and data transfer.

Keep in mind this model does have the limitations of a Chromeboook, so there’s no optical drive and only 32GB of memory onboard. An external hard drive is a good partner for this laptop, though you can also take advantage of the free 100GB of online storage that Google affords all Chromebooks. It also has access to a number of Android apps to improve functionality.

Best premium laptop for high school: Asus Zenbook 13 UX333

Why you should buy this: It offers an excellent combination of value, performance, and durability.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a laptop that they can rely on for great performance but won’t break the bank.

What we thought of the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:

Check out out a few of our “best-of” lists and you’ll find the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 figuring prominently. Not coincidentally, for example, we list it as the best laptop for college, based on its great performance, good looks, solid build quality, and great price.

The bottom line is this: the ZenBook 13 UX333 really should cost more than its $850 retail price. It has a fast Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD for that price, making it a solid performer for just about anything a high school student might need. It’s also tested to MIL-STD-810G military standards for durability, meaning it can take a beating. And it’s also great looking in its blue and gold color scheme with iconic Asus concentric swirl on the lid.

Amazingly, the ZenBook 13 UX333 also sports a display that’s way better than the price, with great contrast and the kind of colors you’ll normally find on the typical premium laptop display. Really, you can’t go wrong with this laptop, and it even packs all of that — including its 13.3-inch Full HD display — into a very small chassis thanks to some tiny bezels.

Other goodies packing into the laptop include 801.11ac wireless networking, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a USB-C hub. The laptop measures just 0.55 inches thin and weighs 2.7 pounds, making it an easily portable device for any high school student.

Read our review of the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333

How We Test

Laptop testing begins on a visual level. We look at the overall quality, how the screen connects to the base, the spacing of the keys, the sturdiness of the chassis (shell), and more. We walk around with the unit in our hands to determine its portability: is it extremely heavy? How well does it withstand bumps? You know, the fun, easy, visual stuff.

Of course, looks aren’t everything. We use specific software to test the processor, graphics, storage read/write speed, and battery life. Benchmarking can be a long process – especially when you’re trying to kill a battery that promises an uptime of over 20 hours. We test graphics chips with PC games to assess resolution and render quality.

We also make sure the screens deliver as promised. We use a tool that measures the screen brightness and assesses whether display colors are correct. We also measure the contrast ratio level. We use a video loop to see how long the battery can last. This video loop allows us to test frame rendering and audio quality from the laptop’s speakers.

Ultimately, our evaluation stems from both software-generated numbers, and our hands-on personal opinion. We also ask ourselves whether we would choose these laptops for our own children.

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