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Best Laptops for Students 2017: 9 laptops for light work and media production

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The best laptops for students aren't always the best laptops for everybody. We've rounded up the machines we think school and university students will get the best use from.

The world of laptops is full of variety, and picking one single machine to cover the variety of activities a student gets up to is certainly a tough ask. Take a look at our top 10 tips to follow when buying a laptop, then look at our list of top choices below

We also have a more general Best Laptop buying guide, with a larger variety of machines and a few more expensive options. Gaming more your thing? Check out our Best Gaming Laptop guide for some proper gaming beasts.

Whether you're on a course that requires you to work on 3D graphics, videos or photography, or you just want a bargain basement machine to sling into your bag as you dash out of halls on your way to a Monday morning lecture, there are tonnes of great deals out there just waiting to be snaffled.

While this guide covers laptops, it's worth remembering that if you already have a desktop PC or will only be making sparse notes, you might not even need a proper laptop to get what you need done. For example, consider the Google Pixel C, a tiny, lightweight Android tablet with a keyboard dock that you can take with you everywhere without even thinking about it. Got a bit more cash, perhaps one of the new iPad Pros is more your thing? Even the Lenovo Yoga Book, which is certainly of niche appeal, might be your best bet.

Best Under £200

Key features:
  • 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 display
  • Free Office 365 Personal subscription
  • Excellent speakers and battery life
If you’re on a really tight budget and don’t want a Chromebook, you can’t go wrong with the HP Stream 11. It’s a Windows 8.1 laptop that costs less than £200, which is astonishing. It also comes bundled with a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal worth £59.99 and 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage, where you can stash all of your files and photos.
 
Unusually for a machine this cheap, it doesn’t look like a piece of slate was used as the Stream’s main design influence. Instead, it comes clad in either bright blue or pink plastic, resulting in a bold, eye-catching look. It’s also slim and light enough to fit easily into any messenger bag or rucksack, and comes with a wide selection of ports.
 
The only real sticking point is the display, which is a grainy 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 affair. It’s not terrible, but you won’t be able to watch Full HD movies on it. The DTS stereo speakers are nice and loud, however, so music sounds great, and the HP Truevision HD webcam is good enough for Skype video calls.
 
Performance, powered by a 2.16GHz (2.58GHz with burst) Intel Celeron N2840 processor and 2GB of RAM, is suited to light activities like word processing and browsing the web, but it can handle HD videos too. The battery will typically provide eight hours of mixed use, which should just about get you through a heavy day of lectures.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £171 | Amazon.com from $179.99
 
At time of review the HP Stream 11 was available for £179.99 / $199.99.

Related: Best cheap laptop deals UK
Acer Chromebook 14
Key features
  • Thin and light metal design
  • Great battery life
  • Chrome OS

Chromebooks offer an excellent alternative to more expensive Windows laptops, with the only trade-off being a much more simple operating system that is effectively a glorified web browser.


Since everything from emails to photo edition and writing documents can now be done from with web apps, there’s not an awful lot you can’t do in some way on a Chromebook that you can do on a Windows machine.


The Acer Chromebook 14 looks almost exactly like a MacBook Air, with an aluminium composite body and black chiclet keyboard. It’s slightly bigger but still weighs just 1.55kg, which is pretty light for a 14-inch laptop.


It’s not powerful; its Intel Celeron processor is only capable of lightweight tasks, but with long battery life it’s a great secondary PC for when you’re out on campus or heading into class.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £289 | Amazon.com from $269

At the time of review the Acer Chromebook 14 was available for £289.
Acer Swift 3
Key features:
  • Thin, all metal design
  • Good battery life
  • SSD included

The student appeal of the Swift 3 is down to its great performance and light weight. This 14-inch machine weighs in at 1.5kg, which is easily light enough to sling into a bag. There's a choice of specifications starting at just £500 for a Core i3 model, with our best pick being the dual-core Core i5 and 256GB SSD for £650.

Battery life is solid at over seven hours, and the Full HD screen is good for the money, although not good enough for proper video or photo editing due to its lack of colour coverage. 

For the money, there's not a lot better than the Swift 3.

At the time of review the Swift 3 was priced at £650.

HP Pavilion 15-au072sa
Key features:
  • Dual-core Intel Core i3 processor
  • 15-inch display
  • Decent battery life


The HP Pavilion 15 earned itself a fairly modest score in our review, but it’s still a decent laptop for those with light usage demands. Its big screen and relatively powerful Intel Core i3-6100U processor make browsing and word processing work nice and easy.


It even looks good, with a lovely white design that stands out amongst the many black laptop slabs you’ll see around.


We weren’t blown away by the speed of the hard disk or the quality of the screen, but this is the sort of laptop that gradually gets cheaper and cheaper over time, so it is well worth a look.


At the time of review the HP Pavilion 15-AU072sa was available for £399.

Best Cheap Hybrid

Key features:
  • 10.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 display
  • microSD card slot
  • Nine-hour battery life
  • Complementary Office 365 subscription
Essentially a smaller, cheaper version of the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 is a great option for students who need a tablet that can serve their basic computing needs. The 10.8-inch display is generous yet practical, and it only weighs 887g with the keyboard attached.

It isn’t the most powerful Windows machine, but it’s versatile, stylish and fun to use. Battery life is excellent and the core features, including the screen, connections and keyboard, are all impressive. Our only criticism is that it’s awkward to use on your lap.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £339.99 | Amazon.com from $387

At time of review the Surface 3 was available for £575.
Asus ZenBook UX310UA
Key features:
  • Dual-core Intel Core i7-6500U
  • 256GB SSD and 500GB hard disk
  • 13.3-inch 3,200x1,800-pixel screen
  • 1.45kg

One of the best-value ultraportables around, the Asus ZenBook UX310UA is a great choice for students who want a machine that’s both light and powerful.


It’s relatively light at 1.45kg and manages working battery life of around 6 hours at relatively low brightness.


Performance is great, too. That sprightly SSD works nicely with the Core i7 processor to make Full HD video editing smooth, and it also handles photo editing easily.


There are several models available starting at £550. The best overall compromise is probably the £650 Core i5-powered machine that’ll still manage decent multimedia performance.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £799  | Amazon.com from $815

At the time of review the Asus ZenBook UX310UA was available for £800.
HP Pavilion Gamer 15-ak008na
Key features:
  • Great graphics and processing performance
  • Quality-feeling design
  • Make sure you pick a model with an SSD

For students who also want a machine capable of gaming but don't want to spend more than £800, HP has you covered with the Pavilion 15 Gaming. It's a fairly basic laptop that stands out from the crowd with a black and green design.

It's chunky, for sure, but amidst that heft you also get some very powerful components. Depending on the specification you choose, you'll get either quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, and all models come with Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M GPUs capable of playing most games at Medium settings.

Battery life might not be stunning, and the hard disk in our review model was desperately slow, but if you pick a specification with an SSD you're getting a good-value laptop with loads of power.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £799 | Amazon.com from $929
 
At time of review the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 was available for £800.

Asus N552VW 5

Key features:

  • Powerful processing and graphics performance
  • Ultra HD screen
  • SSD and HDD combination

It may not be much to look at, but the Asus N552VW is an excellent laptop for students who work in demanding multimedia courses that require the use of 3D graphics and video editing. What's more, the dedicated graphics card on this machine will be more than powerful enough for Full HD gaming when the work eases off (or your procrastinating).

What's more, its Ultra HD screen means those on photography courses will be well served. Battery life isn't great, so this isn't a laptop for taking off campus. With that said, it'll last as long as your average lecture so if you prefer to take notes on your laptop, it'll do just fine.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £899 | Amazon.com from $1,499

At time of review the Asus N552VW was available for £979.

dourscot

September 5, 2013, 9:51 am

You have to be kidding.

Most students want a relatively cheap machine that won't kill their bank account if it gets stolen. A selection of £1,000 machines and a token Chromebook completely misses the mark.

Eric Sutton

September 11, 2013, 9:09 pm

Have to agree with dourscot, the selection is not for students, and the only one affordable is the Chromebook, problem with that machine is the lack of windows and Microsoft office, students need these tools, while google drive/docs is good for everyday common use write a letter, do a simple spreadsheet, it wont meet the benchmark for a university students needs. This review needs to go back to the drawing board and look at machines that are around the £200 to £400 mark with there needs took into account.

andyvan

September 12, 2013, 6:30 am

Thanks for your comments. We totally agree and we will be adding some cheaper models very shortly. We're testing them now.

gazzman

September 24, 2013, 11:55 am

just use zoo office or microsoft outlook on a chromebook if docs not for you.

Woohoo

October 17, 2013, 9:32 am

My daughter's needs at university are not governed by weight - she wanted a big clear screen, and leaves the laptop in her room, not carries it around. She also wanted a dvd drive to watch dvd box sets in down time. Seems to me you can't lump all students together for a suitable laptop - her brother has completely different student needs .... get some students to do some reviews for you!

alex stuart

November 5, 2013, 10:54 am

Your daughter needs a desktop then; a laptop should be portable and weight is an important part of that.

Randomiser

November 28, 2013, 10:24 am

If she is anything like my daughter she needs a laptop. It has to go back and forward between university and home every term and occasional weekends, so it needs to be transportable. Plus she watches DVDs and does lots of work curled up on her bed or a sofa and wants a computer she can use in that position.

Randomiser

November 28, 2013, 10:34 am

So if this is a group of best laptops, where is the list? Frankly, sites that make me work through every page of a group review rather than presenting the list with links on page one are pain in the posterior and a waste of time. I usually resolve to avoid them as much as possible in future.

Smoosh

January 6, 2014, 5:11 pm

These aren't all suitable for students - not all courses are identical (mine requires me to run programmes like AutoCAD and Google Sketch-Up), these aren't as easily run as Microsoft Office, and why are the majority of the laptops listed approximately £1,000? Surely that's too much money to be paying if you're a student or a student's parent?

IDK MAN 1000 is worth it

January 10, 2014, 9:22 pm

I agree and disagree. I agree that all courses aren't the same but the price mark at around 1000 seems pretty good. You pay for things like portability, battery life and an SSD for fast boot-up times.

When you factor in the key essentials, enough processing power and ram to browse, open big PDFs and run the latest MS Office or Open Office, we're looking at an entry level ultra-book.

It's worth paying 1000~ for something that will run well for 8 hours+

Having a machine that instantly boots up is also very beneficial, having an SSD instead of a hybrid or HD means that your laptop boots up instantly in a lecture.

Also - How long will a student own this machine? One year? Two years?

So many decisions.

Chuck

January 25, 2014, 6:42 am

Most of these laptops are either to expensive or just not powerful enough. As a student, what I look for in a laptop are:

Brands - Lenovo, samsung, asus, sony (for sound)
Processor - Intel core i5 3rd gen or higher or amd a8 or better
Bluetooth connectivity ( for my beats )
Battery - Atleast 5 hours of battery life (six cell batteries or better)
Screen size - 15 inches or more
Storage - 500gb HDD or more
Memory - 8 gb of ram or higher
Price range - ${ 400..600 } (roughly 300 - 400 pounds)

Last but not least, don't be afraid to buy refurbished laptops. Before you buy, make sure you find a website where people who have bought that same laptop have left some reviews. Remember to use Ebay!

Gary

February 6, 2014, 6:47 pm

I agree....just give us the list with pros and cons

xDiiThy@GamerzElite

March 12, 2014, 5:25 am

What laptop do u prefer

Chuck

March 12, 2014, 4:55 pm

I prefer a laptop that meets all the requirements I need from a laptop. Right now I have a Lenovo G510. 1Tb HDD, Intel core i5 4th gen, 8 GB ram. Price: ~$500. Although it is a bit bulky, but I don't mind because I usually don't carry it around anyway.

anonymous

March 12, 2014, 8:33 pm

Currently, I own a Toshiba Satellite E55t. 500GB HDD, i5-4200U Haswell 1.6ghz, 4 gb ram, touchscreen 1366x768. It is one of the lighter 15 inch laptops at 4.7 pounds. I got it for $799 in a tablet bundle at bestbuy. the included tablet is a toshiba encore 32gb which has an intel processor and runs win8.1. the laptop alone would cost $629.

MDodgen

March 26, 2014, 7:37 pm

I wish that I had that option for the bundle I could have easily used both this last quarter. happen to know if they're still running this special and if so where?

OMG UR DEAD

April 8, 2014, 11:32 am

I really want a laptop that is good for Minecraft and is cheap. Any suggestions?

Lai H.

April 9, 2014, 4:14 am

Thanks for the list. Even I'm not a student lol

OMG UR DEAD

April 9, 2014, 10:14 am

Ok Thanks!

Daniela Menendez

May 21, 2014, 12:01 am

I want a laptop that sounds great for music and has a long battery life. Some suggestions? Thank you!

liseetsa

June 14, 2014, 10:45 pm

Don't ever buy a sony! My Vaio case started cracking within weeks and is literally taped together. I have a new Dell but still use the Sony for backup. It hasn't been abused in anyway-- just the cheapest plastic case that cracked when I opened it, cracked somewhere else when I lifted it up--crazy. Too many other nice laptops out there to risk it falling apart on your desk. I cannot imagine if I traveled with it?

i <3 Haters

July 14, 2014, 9:17 am

u kidding right? just re-read what you wrote. you'll never find such laptop with 300-400 price range, this is amusing.
If you do however, and I am wrong, then do post here your brand and model, I am very curious

i <3 Haters

July 14, 2014, 9:24 am

As a student, I can advise MacBook Pro 13-15" (2010 and above, non retina, i5-i7, 250-500GB, 2.33-2.66 GHz) that will cost you 400-500 pounds if you find good deal. it is perfect , just PERFECT for everything that students do. You can install full Microsoft Office (paid for free from torrents) you can use any software that universities will require (most of them also have web-versions, so no problem) and you can also install Windows 7 (8 not sure) via BootCamp or Parallels.
I can tell you long stories why Mac is better than PC but let's leave this.
Mac for university = perfection

Jason

July 15, 2014, 10:00 pm

I know nothing about laptops but I am looking for one for college. I saw one in the costco ad:
$499.99
intel core i5 processor
8gb memory
1tb hard drive
dvd-rw
wireless-n
Dell Inspiron 3000 15.6" Laptop

Arka

July 25, 2014, 1:39 pm

asus x552cl even has a graphics card

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