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Best laptop for high school students in 2021

Whether you need Windows, Chrome or MacOS, there are budget-friendly laptops here to help you through the upcoming school year.

It seems like remote learning, even part-time, is here to stay and a good laptop is important for getting through the school year. This list highlights the best laptop for high school students in need of reliable, everyday performance and long battery life but in sizes that can fit into an average backpack and at prices below $1,000. 

When shopping for a student laptop, my recommendation is to buy directly from the manufacturer or from a familiar, trusted retailer for the best prices and return or exchange policies. If you're shopping on sites like Amazon or Walmart with third-party sellers, check to see if the laptop is being shipped and sold by the site. For more specific shopping help, you'll want to check out our buying advice on getting the best cheap laptops.

Also read: Best laptop under $500 of 2021 in stock from HP, Lenovo, Acer and more

It's worth noting, too, that if your school uses Google Classroom, it does not mean you need a Chromebook. (Here are the differences between a laptop and a Chromebook.) Also, if your high schooler is doing their schoolwork from home, you may want to add on some peripherals like a wireless mouse or keyboard as well as an inexpensive external monitor so they're more comfortable and have a larger display to see their work.  

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The IdeaPad Flex 5 14 is a 14-inch two-in-one Windows laptop, letting you use it as a regular laptop as well as a tablet or tented for presentations. It also works well with the display in stand mode with the keyboard facing down on a desk or table so you can attach a keyboard and mouse to give you more of a desktop experience. 

It comes with either an 11th-gen Intel Core processor or the AMD Ryzen 5 5000U processors. However, the Intel version is currently unavailable. Frankly, though, the AMD is the better deal; you can currently get it for just under $500 from Lenovo. Either way, you're getting a well-built machine for the money that should last your student several years. 

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This is our go-to recommendation for those in search of a MacOS laptop for everyday basic use. The MacBook Air was updated in the first half of 2020 with new Intel processors and, most importantly, a new keyboard. However, in November, Apple announced its new homegrown M1 processors would be replacing Intel's CPUs in the Air. Using Apple's M1, the company promises an operating system with better performance and longer battery life -- up to 18 hours. The Intel-based models will still be around, though, and regardless of which chip is running the Air, you're getting a great little Mac laptop starting at $999. Also, if you want to save a little cash, check Apple's refurbished stock. The products are in like-new condition, right down to the packaging, and include a one-year warranty. Read more about the new M1-based MacBook Air.

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If you're tired of using your school-issued Chromebook with its small 11.6-inch display, this HP Chromebook is the way to go. It's roughly 0.75 inches wider than a premium 13.3-inch model, but that extra width makes it easier to work in two side-by-side windows. The two-in-one design means you can use it as a tablet (though it's a bit heavy to use handheld). You can also tent it, connect an external keyboard and mouse and use it as a small all-in-one computer. 

The Core i3 processor and 8GB of memory kept this HP Chromebook running smoothly even with a couple dozen tabs open and streaming video in the background. And this Chromebook laptop has a long battery life to boot, lasting 10 hours and 40 minutes in our tests. 

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A remarkable deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop -- less than 3 pounds -- for a machine that can be found for less than $700.

In addition to this Acer Swift, we're also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display but it's been tough to find regularly since the start of the pandemic. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $400, but can go up to $711 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.

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For those who care more about getting a student laptop with portability than screen size, the 13.3-inch Envy x360 hits the mark. HP shaved a lot of the body off this two-in-one laptop. That makes it more comfortable to use as a tablet and small enough to easily fit on a school desk. Its operating system also delivers good performance and battery life for its price. However, unless your student stores everything to the cloud, you may want to configure it with more storage than the base 128GB SSD storage.

The 13.3-inch version's availability comes and goes, though. If you don't mind a larger display (which could make getting your work done easier), you can get it in a 15.6-inch size starting at $700. 

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Tired of trying to work on documents or spreadsheets on a small widescreen display? The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 uses one of Acer's bright VertiView displays, a 13.5-inch 2,256x1,504-pixel touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. As the name implies, it gives you more vertical room to work, but it still has the width of a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 ratio. Between that and its battery life, which lasted nearly 13 hours in our tests, you'll be able to get more work done in a day -- and it's still thin and light enough for an everyday carry. 

The latest version of this Chromebook is the first to receive Intel's Evo verification, which means you'll be getting the best possible mobile experience with this model. It's also the first with Thunderbolt 4 support, which lets you connect to multiple external displays as well as providing fast data speeds and networking. Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.

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Want more graphics power for gaming or content creation? Dell streamlined its G-series gaming laptops, going from three models down to just one -- and it's all for the best. There's just one chassis available with a variety of configurations with an 11th-gen Intel processor or AMD Ryzen 5000 H-series processor. All of the processors can be paired with up to a 6GB Nvidia RTX 3060, 8GB or 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage. They're basically a more budget-friendly version of those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. Due to availability issues, the prices are unfortunately unstable but do normally start below $1,000.

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