HL Tech: The Best Laptop Computers for College Students in 2016

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Students on laptop

For students entering college, a laptop computer is no longer a luxury. In today's mobile world, students will fare best with a laptop that's small enough for travel, but powerful enough to handle the tasks associated with high-level academics. Two considerations - budget and durability - remain important for consumers to determine which computer will survive four years of dorm life.

The data experts at SpecOut, a consumer tech research site powered by Graphiq, developed a list of the top 25 laptops for students entering college in 2016. To make the list, computers must weigh five pounds or less, have a battery life of six hours or more, a screen size of 15.6 inches or less, at least 128 GB of storage and at least 4 GB of RAM. Every entry on the list is a current model.

Analysts considered different budget considerations and broke the list down into price categories of less than $500, $500 to $800, $800 to $1,100, $1,100 to $1,400 and more than $1,400. It is important to note that a student's major will play a role in his or her choice of laptops. An English major who surfs the web and writes a lot of papers, for example, will have completely different storage, graphics and RAM requirements than an engineering student who runs powerful design software.

In each price category, the laptops are ranked by Smart Rating, a ranking system based on specs, expert ratings and display and dimensions considerations. In the case of a tie, the computers are listed according to price.

#10. Dell Inspiron 11 3000 3147 Mid-Range

Price Category: Less than $500

Smart Rating: 86.23
Price: $449.00
Battery Life in Hours: 8
Screen Size in Inches: 11.6
Ram in GB: 4
Storage in GB: 500
Weight in Pounds: 3.07

Inexpensive compared to the average all-purpose laptop, this Dell is as portable as it is cheap. The detachable two-in-one format enables it to convert into a fully functioning tablet with little more than a snap.

#9. HP Pavilion x360 13t

Price Category: Less than $500

Smart Rating: 89.16
Price: $439.99
Battery Life in Hours: 10
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 4
Storage in GB: 500
Weight in Pounds: 3.77

With a Core i3 engine that is fast enough for most users, the Pavilion x360 13t is notable for its powerful audio and flexible design. The touch-screen feature enables users to closely interact with the operating system.

#8. ASUS Zenbook (UX305CA-EHM1)

Price Category: $500 to $800

Smart Rating: 96.07
Price: $689.00
Battery Life in Hours: 8
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 8
Storage in GB: 256
Weight in Pounds: 2.60

This Zenbook comes with a full HD touch screen that is surprisingly resistant to glare. The speakers are weak but the keyboard and trackpad are cutting edge.

#7. Dell XPS 13 DNCWT5128B

Price Category: $500 to $800

Smart Rating: 99.11
Price: $800.00
Battery Life in Hours: 15
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 4
Storage in GB: 128
Weight in Pounds: 2.60

Fast and portable, this revised XPS 13 has a long battery life and a display so brilliant that it looks bigger than its 11 inches. A direct challenge to the MacBook Air, Computer Shopper called it "perhaps the best all-around Windows laptop you can buy."

#6. HP Spectre x360 (13-4110dx)

Price Category: $800 to $1,100

Smart Rating: 94.54
Price: $998.97
Battery Life in Hours: 12
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 8
Storage in GB: 256
Weight in Pounds: 3.17

With smooth 360-degree hinges, a full 12-hour battery life and a truly impressive display, the Spectre x360 is packaged in a handsome aluminum body. It's not as light as a MacBook Air, but it easily converts to tablet mode.

#5. Apple 13-inch MacBook Air 2015 Base Model

Price Category: $800 to $1,100

Smart Rating: 95.53
Price: $949.00
Battery Life in Hours: 12
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 4
Storage in GB: 128
Weight in Pounds: 2.96

The best MacBook Air available in this price range, the 2015 Base Model is equipped with 8 GB of graphics memory, which equips it for intense gameplay. Its i5 core processor is fast, and it boasts an impressive 12-hour battery life.

#4. Dell XPS 13 Touch

Price Category: $1,100 to $1,400

Smart Rating: 96.00
Price: $1,357.99
Battery Life in Hours: 18
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 8
Storage in GB: 256
Weight in Pounds: 2.90

Surprisingly small, this Dell is wrapped in a sturdy, carbon-fiber body. The laptop boasts a fast dual-core processor, beaming 1800p resolution and a staggering 18-hour battery life.

#3. Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display 2015 Base Model

Price Category: $1,100 to $1,400

Smart Rating: 99.66
Price: $1,179.00
Battery Life in Hours: 10
Screen Size in Inches: 13.3
Ram in GB: 8
Storage in GB: 128
Weight in Pounds: 3.46

The 2015 MacBook Pro saw the arrival of the innovative new Force Touch trackpad, and impressive gains in speed and battery life. The storage is just satisfactory and the design hasn't changed, but the display is truly stunning.

#2. Microsoft Surface Book

Price Category: $1,400+

Smart Rating: 95.84
Price: $1,499.00
Battery Life in Hours: 12
Screen Size in Inches: 13.5
Ram in GB: 8
Storage in GB: 128
Weight in Pounds: 3.34

With a lightning-fast, 2.4-gigahertz dual-core processor, an impressive 12-hour battery life and a detachable hybrid tablet, the Surface Book is ergonomic and powerful. It comes with a satisfactory 8 GB of RAM, but can be upgraded to a full 16 GB.

#1. Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display 2015 Flagship

Price Category: $1,400+

Smart Rating: 100.00
Price: $2,289.00
Battery Life in Hours: 9
Screen Size in Inches: 15.4
Ram in GB: 16
Storage in GB: 512
Weight in Pounds: 4.49

With a blazing-fast hard drive, a strong nine-hour battery life and 220 pixels per inch, this big, 15.4-inch MacBook Pro works hard to justify its price tag. For gamers, however, the graphics may not be worth the investment.

Learn More About These Laptops

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