The best laptops for students in 2019
It's no secret who the Surface Laptop 2 is for. Hint: Microsoft compares its ultraportable to the MacBook Air four times on its product page. Indeed, if you were looking for something similarly thin and light that runs Windows, the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 2 weighs about the same as the Air and is slimmer too, as Microsoft is quick to point out. It also offers a quad-core CPU option, which isn't available on the Air, and the battery life was even longer in our tests -- nearly 16 hours, all told. Add in a comfortable keyboard, responsive trackpad and stylish, not-at-all-Mac-like design and we were hard-pressed to name shortcomings in our review.
When the machine launched, it started at $999 (already cheaper than the Air), but as of this writing the entry-level price is down to $799, with a $300 price cut on every other configuration.
If you're serious about PC gaming, don't worry: We have an entire section of our back-to-school guide for that (plus a couple picks on our desktop list). But we're calling out the ASUS Zenbook S13 here because it doubles as both a gaming laptop and a more mainstream, ultraportable notebook you can use for everything else. Inside the system's scant 2.5-pound frame is a discrete NVIDIA MX150 GPU, a nearly bezel-less 13.9-inch screen and a battery large enough to last 12.5 hours in our standard video playback test. If you're shopping here in the US, you have two options: a basic configuration with a Core i7 processor with 8GB of memory and a 512GB SSD for $1,299 or a variant with 16GB of RAM for $1,399.
It's rare we throw around the word "perfect," but that's precisely how we described the latest version of Dell's XPS 13 ultraportable, which earned an unusually high score of 93 in our review earlier this year. The notebook ($900 and up) has topped "best of" lists since it first came out four years ago, and it has stayed current with fast performance, 12.5-hour battery life and a standard-issue Dolby Vision HDR screen. And for those who have been reading our reviews all these years, Dell finally heeded our feedback and moved the webcam up where it belongs, above the screen. That's right, no more awkward Skype calls focused up your nostrils.
With so many of our boxes checked off, we're left with just a couple nitpicks, including the lack of a full-size SD reader and the fact that some competing machines now offer discrete graphics. Can't have everything, we suppose.