Back to School Laptops – Our Picks for 2021

School, college or university, wherever you're heading around the world, here's the best laptops!

Returning back to school can be stressful and the last thing you need is a laptop that’s falling apart, smashed to bits or infuriatingly slow. It’s time to upgrade and yes, one of the choices is a little bit of a weird leap, but just stick with us and you’ll get it.

The thing with laptops is that they’re very quickly becoming a homogeneous slab of technology, all doing similar roles or even meeting each other specifications or price-wise that no one really expected. The outliers now appear to be Apple and Google, as the shift from traditional x86 processors (your Intel i7s, etc.) to Arm chips (lighter, but incredibly powerful chips) increases in a bid to be the best “all-day battery” or utilizing the system better than previously capable.

Products at a Glance

Editor's Choice
Best Chromebook
Money is no object

How we choose

So what is the best and how did we choose?

First, we’ve chosen one from each budget range and one specific one that you’ll probably already notice that doesn’t actually fit the bill. The thing is, laptops and tablets are becoming very interchangeable as manufacturers attempt to collide the two. So yes, let’s get into it, shall we?

Our Recommended

Back to School Laptops – Our Picks for 2021

Editor's Choice
PROS

Apple’s support for non-M1 supported programs is great

Will be able to tackle almost any task

Incredibly portable

On Par with the 13″ M1 Pro

Interconnected with other Apple Products

Great Battery Life

CONS

New M1 Chip Not Natively Supported by everything

16GB RAM limit

Only two Thunderbolt 4/USB C Ports, requires dongles

The MacBook Air’s 2020 revision saw a switch from Intel’s CPUs to Apple’s own silicon, bringing with it an incredible battery life and more power than any MacBook Air rightfully should have had crammed into it. Seriously, other than a singular missing core on one of the two versions, the MacBook Air is pretty much on par with the 13″ 2020 MacBook Pro.

The only real issue you might find when buying the MacBook Air M1 is that it’s currently limited to 16GB of RAM, which is only an issue if you planned on doing a massive 3D Render in the blink of an eye. For your day-to-day school work, 8GB should suffice, while 16GB and the Air is perfect for the light creative work you might do at university or in your art, graphics, or (do they still do this one?) Design and Tech class.

You would need to also invest in some dongles, as Apple is still adamant about USB-C only, but then not providing enough USB-C ports to do much of anything with.

They are Thunderbolt 4 equipped though, so if you have the cash, you can absolutely spend it on some wickedly fast storage.

If you’re worried about the shift over from Intel to the M1 and your apps might not work, Apple has been pretty good at ’emulating’ the traditional PC environment with their Rosetta 2 software, which translates how applications built on traditional PC infrastructure (x86) into the M1’s ARM infrastructure, which is slowly becoming the norm across the board. Adobe, Blackmagic, and other creative applications, as well as many productivity apps, have also begun to shift their apps to natively support M1, with massive performance boosts for the MacBook Air, being able to supply a pretty powerful creative machine at a lower cost than the competitors.

We recommended this in our Back to School Recommendations too!

Best Chromebook
PROS

Android Apps and Chrome Extensions

Ideal for day-to-day productivity

Fairly powerful

Great for entertainment after work is done

CONS

Chrome is still very RAM hungry

Tablet side might not get much use

Still limited by ChromeOS

Chromebooks might actually be the one to go for when heading back to school. The issue with Chromebooks is that there are about a half dozen that aren’t worth squat and another dozen that might actually do what you need them to.

Then there’s the creme-de-le-creme, the actual Chromebooks with real-honest-to-God hardware that is not only going to support Chrome’s all-consuming nature and the multiple types of apps you can run via the ChromeOS and Android stores.

The Acer Spin 713 comes with an Intel EVO Core i5, which is essentially running the latest i5 processor available for mobile platforms, while also coming with a hot 8GB of RAM. Compared to our review of the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro, this is more than plenty for the ChromeOS to use and take advantage of.

It also – as the name indicates – spins! Fold it over and you’ve got a full-on tablet to use for drawing, creative apps, and even just watching Netflix. For school purposes, it goes from typing everything up to maybe using a better note-taking app from the Android store, then typing everything up after the lecture or class has finished.

With its specs and unique 2-in-1 tablet/laptop set up, it’s an ideal choice for all sorts of work, and also, with access to Google’s full storefront and applications in non-bastardized ways, it’s probably the easiest way to get work from one side to another without dealing with emails.

Money is no object
PROS

Hefty Specs

Great Screen

Perfect for pretty much all uses

CONS

Hefty price

Distractions abound

RTX Card inside isn't the exact same as a full fat card

No, I’m not going to recommend you a direct gaming laptop with its Fancy lights and slick screen. You’re supposed to be in class. Have you considered that you’re supposed to focus on your work?

So what I can do is recommend you this cracking productivity ultra-book with its RTX3060 and 16GB of RAM, that can do a hefty amount of your creative work if you so need it to and tackle pretty much any task you might have thrown at you during the educational year.

No getting bogged down with laptops that can’t cope with just the burden of more than a few programs open, instead, you can whiz about Windows and do what you need to do, how you intend to do it.

The RTX3060 inside is pretty much the best mid-weight card going at the moment and having that on your side during class is a surefire way to never have to battle with hardware at all.

And yes, play some games if you so wish.

 

For whatever reason, Scan doesn’t stock the 3060 version, but the same applies.

PROS

Cheap

Does what it has to

Google Suite

CONS

Useless if you don't have another computer

Getting a bit old

Now, this is, this is a tough one. Budget no longer just means “laptop from Walmart/Asda for 399”, it’s a whole wider world of genuine pieces of hardware that actually still manage to do the job and don’t shut down under the stress of their operating system just making a new file.

It’s why our best budget option is actually another Chromebook. While nowhere near as capable as the more expensive option, nor as powerful, but the Samsung Chromebook 4 is a cheap, light option that you can get some good stuff done on, especially if it’s limited to schoolwork.

I think this shouldn’t be the only PC you take with you, but it’s ideal for those low on cash or those who are desktop-based and just need something to type on while in class.

PROS

Best tablet for the money

Surprisingly powerful

Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil are game changers

Multiple Apps for all occassions

iCloud

CONS

Accessories are expensive

File management still confusing at first

Requires dedication to Apple

The iPad Air is due an upgrade at some point later this year or sometime next year. You can either hang around and wait or buy one now and just don’t fret. This entire article was written on an iPad Air 4, with the Magic Keyboard and the image above made with the Apple Pencil.

Of course, these accessories do jack up the price on the iPad Air from its nice 549 mark, but, if you’re looking for a computing device that not only has a whole host of different note-taking or word processing applications available – all syncable to the cloud so you can access them anywhere – but is actually now holding its own in the creative space if you happen to need Photoshop, a video editor or to make calls over Zoom or Google Hangouts if we all head into another lockdown due to COVID.

The great thing about it is that once you’re done for the day, taking it off the keyboard to just tap away at some games or something to wind down is fantastic. With its split-screen and upcoming iPadOS 15 launching later this year with new functionality to better yourself during work hours, the iPad is the dark horse in this race.

The great thing about it is that once you’re done for the day, taking it off the keyboard to just tap away at some games or something to wind down is fantastic. With its split-screen and upcoming iPadOS 15 launching later this year with new functionality to better yourself during work hours, the iPad is the dark horse in this race.

Things To Consider

Our Verdict

Editor's Choice

There’s a lot of great choices in the article above, but the MacBook Air with the M1 chip is just too good of a deal. A portable workhorse that not only gives you great battery life but is so well supported by Apple and developers, that some programs are just simply running better on it than older MacBooks.