Picking a student laptop is a tricky task, as the specs you’ll need will vary depending on what course (or courses) you’re taking. A design student would be better off investing a little more in a convertible with a stylus and dGPU, for example, while a student of mathematics or literature – or anyone who just needs something to write essays on and maybe the odd Netflix marathon – doesn’t need something quite as powerful. Here to help make sure you get the laptop that’s right for you, we’ve created a definitive list of the best laptops for students across every budget.
Available in a host of configurations, the Microsoft Surface Pro is our pick for the best overall student laptop. That remains true of even its lowest spec model. It's a shame you have to buy the keyboard and stylus separately, but these can often be found as part of bundle offers. £619.00
best overall student laptop
Available in a host of configurations, the Microsoft Surface Pro is our pick for the best overall student laptop. That remains true of even its lowest spec model. It's a shame you have to buy the keyboard and stylus separately, but these can often be found as part of bundle offers.
If you’re a lucky student with cash to burn Microsoft’s Surface Pro is the best overall package you can get. To add an extra level of allure Microsoft also offers some pretty decent student discounts on at its webstore. Additionally, Apple runs a Back to School promotion for its hardware, including the recently-announced MacBook Pro 2018 range, which sees you getting a discount on AppleCare support and insurance, giving you a degree of protection for the duration of your course.
If you’re on a tighter budget and just need something for taking notes and streaming TV in the evening then the Asus VivoBook E200HA is the best value student laptop around.
We’ve recently reviewed the Acer Chromebook Spin 11 and will soon be posting a review of the Chromebook R13 – these hits the shelves just in time for the new semester, are inexpensive and might be ideal for students who just need something to hammer out multiple essays (and watch a bit of Netflix) on.
How we test
We run every laptop through a series of benchmarks to test its CPU, graphics and SSD speeds. If it’s a laptop aimed at students studying design, or creative topics then we test its screen using a colorimeter and DispCalGUI. We then run a battery test by synthetically looping 10 minutes of web browsing and five minutes of video playback until it runs out of juice.
From there, we use the laptop as its intended user would: if it’s a convertible with a touchscreen and digital stylus we’ll see how it handles digital painting and photo touch up work, for example. Using this data, we then gauge its overall performance against its price before giving it a final score.
Related: Best laptops
Microsoft Surface Pro
- Best battery life on a Windows convertible
- Robust performance
- Most sensitive Surface Pen to date
- Full-fat Windows 10 is great for creatives
- Very expensive
- Not a huge upgrade over the Surface Pro 4
Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro retains its crown as the finest premium 2-in-1 tablet on the market right now. And it’s an even better deal for students, with prices starting at just £719 for a basic, Intel Core m3-powered model.
We reviewed one of the top-spec, most powerful Core i7 models, but the cheaper, lesser-equipped models will be perfectly fine for those with light usage demands, who only want to take notes on the excellent touchscreen.
You’ll need to pay extra for the keyboard and stylus additions, which is a trifle mean, Microsoft – but some retailers occasionally sell bundles including one or the other.
Asus VivoBook E200HA
- Super cheap
- Attractive design
- Slim and light
- Good keyboard
- Screen is fairly basic
- A little slow
- Small amount of storage
This is our new favourite netbook for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the lightest laptops we’ve ever reviewed, but feels robust enough to be slung into any bag without damage. We should know, after all: a member of the Trusted Reviews team owns the previous generation of this device, the X205TA, and despite undergoing a huge amount of abuse, it’s still rocking to this day after two years.
Like any budget laptops, there are some compromises. Of course, the biggest is performance: realistically, you’ll only be able to have a few active tabs open at a time when browsing the web before it starts to chug.
If you’re prepared compromise middling performance for 12 hours of battery life, however, the Asus VivoBook E200HA is well worth it.
MacBook Pro 13
- Best-in-class Retina display
- High quality build and design
- Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Cramped and uncomfortable keyboard
- Touchpad depresses awkwardly
- Port options are Thunderbolt, buy an adapter, or go home
While MacBooks are priced beyond your typical student’s budget, Apple does run a discount programme, which sees you able to shave hundreds off of the initial price. You can also opt to pay for everything in instalments on finance at 0% interest over 12 months, and get up to 20% off of Apple Care insurance, if you want to take that.
While the upfront costs are high, your purchase is a long-term investment. For your cash, you’ll be getting a device that will more than see you through three to four years of a BA or a BSc, and, if you’re doing an arts or photography course, it’s worth considering that the displays of the 2018 MacBook Pros are among the most accurate we’ve seen, colour reproduction-wise, covering the entire sRGB gamut and 98.9% of the DCI-P3 gamut. You’re unlikely to get as clear a look at your photos on a laptop.
Acer Swift 1
- Stylish, all-metal body
- Decent screen
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Battery life doesn’t meet claims
- So-so performance
Acer’s Swift lineup brings premium design at a sub-£400 price point. The 1.3kg, 13.3-inch Acer Swift 1 is one of the nicest-looking budget laptops available today, and it offers impressive performance elsewhere, too.
The screen, for example, is surprisingly good for the money, packing a Full HD resolution, good viewing angles and a solid user experience overall. Battery life is less than Acer claimed it would be, but with conservative use this laptop should be able to make it through most of a school day.
Since this laptop is powered by a low-power Intel Pentium processor, performance is leisurely. This effectively means you’ll need to balance the programs and browser tabs you have open at once to ensure you don’t overload it. But if you’re already coming from a cheap laptop, this shouldn’t come as much surprise.
- Great value
- Good build quality
- Long battery life
- 2GB of RAM is barely enough
- Ultra-cheap screen
- Full HD screen option is expensive
Chromebooks offer an excellent alternative to more expensive Windows laptops, with the only trade-off being a much more simple operating system that’s effectively a glorified web browser.
Since everything from emails to photo editing and writing documents can now be done from within web apps, there isn’t much that you can’t do on a Chromebook that you can do on a Windows machine.
The Acer Chromebook 14 looks near-identical to a MacBook Air, with an aluminium composite body and black chiclet keyboard. It’s slightly bigger, but weighs in at just 1.55kg – which is pretty light for a 14-inch laptop.
It isn’t powerful; its Intel Celeron processor is capable of only lightweight tasks, but with long battery life it’s a great secondary PC for when you’re out on campus or heading into class.
Samsung Galaxy Book 10.6
- Ultra-portable design
- Excellent stylus for note-taking
- Decent keyboard
- Good screen
- Middling performance
- Mediocre battery life
The 10.6-inch Galaxy book is perfect for note-takers who like the tactile feeling of writing with a pen instead of a keyboard. This ultra-lightweight Windows 10 machine comes with both a decent (if cheap-looking) keyboard case and excellent passive stylus. There are no hidden costs here, unlike with higher-end machines such as the Surface Pro.
It’s not the most powerful tablet-cum-laptop around, but the dual-core Core M processor is fine for light web browsing, emails and word processing. Just don’t open too many programs and browser tabs at once and you’ll be fine.
Battery life is good, if not excellent, for a laptop, clocking in at around six hours under test.
Avid multi-taskers should look elsewhere, but a student in the market for a capable note-taking machine should seriously consider the Galaxy Book 10.6.
Asus VivoBook L403
- Attractive build
- All-day battery life
- Full HD screen
- Shakey build quality
- So-so performance
- Pallid screen
The Asus VivoBook L403 is a similar offering to the Acer Swift 1, coming equipped with a low-power Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM and an attractive price point. The L403 is a decent mid-sized portable laptop, weighing in at just 1.5kg.
We had a build-quality issue with the keyboard – which we believe was just bad luck – but, nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that when you don’t pay a lot for a laptop, you might run into minor problems.
The screen is a Full HD model, and we weren’t particularly impressed by its viewing angles. But the faults are made up for by the excellent battery life of around nine hours. If you’re going to be in lectures taking notes all day, this is a great companion.
Lenovo Ideapad 510S
- Smart design with metal interior
- Good quality screen
- Decent performance and great battery life
- Touchpad not quite up with the best
- Heavy for a 14-inch laptop
- Small SSD on Core i3 model
The Ideapad 510S will soon be replaced by the Ideapad 520S, but there are still plenty of last year’s model on sale. And they’re great.
While the 510S is a bit of a heavyweight at 1.7kg, it manages excellent build quality, good performance (you can pick up a Core i7 model for under £650) and a decent screen, which ticks a lot of boxes.
Battery life is excellent, too, with our battery tests posting a score of 10 hours. A full day of work on the 510S is very possible.
All in all, the 510S is a great mid-range machine for students who need a trusty companion for lectures and need to be able to work from the library – and it’s capable of some media-editing workloads to boot.
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming
- Superb processing performance
- Capable Full HD gaming machine
- Great battery life
- Poor screen
If you fancy yourself as a gamer and need a machine powerful enough for video editing and photography work, the Inspiron 15 Gaming is a great choice.
We love its powerful processor and great graphics chip for Full HD gaming, and the 256GB SSD is fast enough to keep the system ticking over nicely. Even battery life is excellent.
Our main complaint is the Full HD screen, which isn’t very good. The main problem is viewing angles, which are narrow and leave the screen looking dark and unsaturated. It isn’t a complete deal breaker, though; plus there are models with higher-quality, IPS screens, available. Dell has also said that the cheaper models will eventually all come with better screens, although this hasn’t happened yet.
Of the new breed of sub-£1000 gaming laptops, the Inspiron 15 Gaming is our favourite so far.
Those are our top picks of the best laptops for students. If you want to know more about what to look out for when buying a student laptop then read on.
Student laptop buying guide
Laptops aren’t the simple machines they once were. Nowadays you have a choice of multiple sizes and varying convertible designs. Before parting with your cash you should always think which type will best meet your specific needs. Below you can see a list of the biggest types you’ll normally experience.
Tradition clamshell laptops – These are traditional laptops with a simple screen attached to a physical keyboard. These days some will have touch screens but generally these are the simplest machines you can get. They’re also generally the cheapest machines you can get running Windows 10.
Chromebooks – Chromebooks usually have the same form factor as a traditional laptop but run Google’s super lightweight Chrome OS. The OS doesn’t let you install apps outside of the Chrome and Play Stores, but if you generally use Google services and are happy using these marketplaces and web apps they’re more than good enough for taking notes, browsing the internet and streaming video.
Yoga-style convertibles – These devices look like traditional laptops but feature innovative 360 hinges that let you convert them into a tablet by folding the screen round. They sometimes come with optional digital styluses which make them a solid choice for people that like to scribble notes or students studying creative, or design topics.
2-in-1s – These are devices with similar designs to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. They’re tablets that can be converted into laptops using attachable keyboard covers. Most come with, or have optional, digital styluses which makes them great for art and design students.