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These laptops for students get a gold star

Dell XPS 13 features a super-slim 2-mm webcam

Dell XPS 13 features a super-slim 2-mm webcam to fit into the thin screen bezel. Credit: CNET/Sarah Tew/CNET

School's starting, making this one of the best times of the year to shop for a new laptop. This foundational academic tool is likely to be one of a student's most significant investments. And that makes it well worth spending the time to seek out the best deal possible. These four laptops are among CNET's top choices to get your favorite student back into the academic swing.

The following CNET staff contributed to this story: section editor Dan Ackerman and senior editors Justin Jaffe and Laura K. Cucullu. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit cnet.com.

Dell XPS 13

CNET rating (out of 5)

4.5 stars out of 5 (outstanding)

THE GOOD Dell has fixed this laptop's only remaining serious flaw by designing a super-slim 2-mm webcam to fit into the thin screen bezel. Optional colors look great, and so does the 4K touchscreen. It has an excellent keyboard and decent battery life for a 4K laptop.

THE BAD The entry-level configuration, while well-priced, cuts too many corners. The woven texture on the wrist rest isn’t a neat touch.

THE COST $999.99 to $2,499.11

BOTTOM LINE There’s much to love about this 13-inch slim powerhouse.

HP Chromebook x2

CNET rating (out of 5)

4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

THE GOOD The compelling design makes it simple to shift from laptop to tablet and back. Stylus and keyboard are included. The touchscreen looks good and is responsive. It has two cameras and great speakers. Battery life is respectable.

THE BAD Integrated storage is limited to a measly 32 gigabytes and the keyboard is a bit mushy.

THE COST $434.99 to $449.11

BOTTOM LINE Effective design, peppy performance and a fine display at a killer price.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

CNET rating (out of 5)

4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

THE GOOD The new quad-core processors pay off in big performance gains. The black color option looks cool. It still has the best kickstand and keyboard for Windows tablets.

THE BAD Be ready to shell out extra for the keyboard cover, stylus and even for the new matte black design.

THE COST $1239.99 to $1,299.99

BOTTOM LINE There aren’t radical design changes, but the performance jump makes it viable as a mainstream performance laptop replacement.

Apple MacBook Air

CNET rating (out of 5)

4 stars out of 5 (excellent)

THE GOOD The MacBook is now smaller and lighter, with a better display, faster processors and a bigger touchpad. The MacOS experience and all-day battery are still big selling points.

THE BAD The starting price has shot up significantly, despite sticking with dual-core CPUs. The shallow butterfly keyboard and limited ports feel dated.

THE COST $949.99 to $1,199.99

BOTTOM LINE MacBook Air's long overdue makeover adds welcome additions like a high-resolution screen and Touch ID.

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