Which is the best student laptop?
Are you fed up with spending too much of your summer holiday searching for the best student laptop? It’s a task that can take up an inordinate amount of spare time ahead of your next school, college, or university year, especially around back to school time.
To make the hunt for the perfect student laptop that much easier, we’ve compiled our list of top recommendations, which caters to every budget and will leave you with more time to kick back and relax.
To make it even easier to see our top recommendations, we’ve provided a quick summary below. Alternatively, read on for our full reviews and check out our comprehensive best laptop guide.
- Best all-rounder: Dell XPS 13
- Best alternative: HP Envy 13
- Best tablet for students: Microsoft Surface Go
- Best for price and performance: Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14
- Best for under £500: Acer Swift 1
- Best for under £400: Acer Chromebook 514
- Best for Apple users: MacBook Air
- Best for robustness: Dell Chromebook 3100
- Best for entertainment: Acer Nitro 5
Of course, it’s not just as simple as picking out the very best student laptop, as each laptop will cater to a specific set of needs. Design students, for example, would be wise to invest slightly more to get a convertible with a stylus and discrete graphics card (dGPU), while people studying literature or mathematics – or anyone who just needs to bash out essays, with maybe the odd Netflix session afterwards – won’t need a laptop that’s quite as powerful.
There is a wide range of powerful ultrabooks, including the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13, but there’s also the Microsoft Surface Go, which can be combined with the Type Cover keyboard so you can use it as both a laptop and a tablet.
You’ll find our definitive list of the best student laptops below. It encompasses a wide variety of different budgets and needs, and you can also explore our guide to the best budget laptops for £500.
1. Dell XPS 13 (2019)
The best all-round student laptop
- Huge range of configurations
- Improved performance and battery life
- Quality design and display
- Webcam moved back to top
- SSD slow at saving data
- Screen not ideal for artists
- Still no full-sized SD card reader or USB port
With prices starting at £999, the Dell XPS 13 is at the higher end of the price spectrum for students, but it was awarded its Trusted Reviews Recommended accolade for good reason – pound for pound, it offers some of the best performance we’ve ever seen packed into a 13-inch laptop chassis, boasts an excellent display, and the battery also performs well.
If you’re after a lightweight daily driver that will last you throughout your time on campus and won’t take up much bag space, the Dell XPS 13 is a perfect choice.
In terms of connectivity, there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, so you can hook this up to a compatible monitor, a Type-C USB port, a microSD card slot, as well as a 3.5mm jack for headphones and speakers. While there’s no old-school Type-A USB port here, Dell has included a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter in the box.
On the negative side, the review sample’s read and write speeds were not fantastic and the display is not suitable for anyone studying photography or digital art. Other than that, the Dell XPS 13 tops our list for best student laptops.
- Read our full Dell XPS 13 review
2. HP Envy 13
A cheaper alternative to the Dell XPS 13
- Excellent colour space coverage
- High-quality touchscreen display
- Nicely priced
- No Thunderbolt 3
- Average battery life
The HP Envy 13 is an excellent laptop and represents a cheaper alternative to the Dell XPS 13, with prices starting at £899.
The HP Envy 13 is the ideal choice for essay writing. Its design elevates the keyboard deck above the desk, to allow warm air to escape the system more effectively, and incorporates a gentle typing experience.
It’s well suited to light photo work, too, featuring an excellent screen, which covers a good chunk of the standard RGB (sRGB) colour space, coupled with the dedicated Nvidia MX250 graphics processor.
In terms of ports and connections, there is one Type-C USB port that supports Power Delivery, DisplayPort 1.2, and something called HP Sleep and Charge, so you can keep any phones charged up while you’re transferring photos and files to and from the HP Envy 13. There’s also a Type-C USB-to-HDMI adapter in the box, and you get two Type-A USB 3.1 ports, a mains adapter, and a 3.5mm jack for headphones. Finally, for added security, you can lock the HP Envy 13 with a fingerprint scanner.
While overall performance is very good, battery life is just average, so keep your mains adapter close by.
- Read our full HP Envy 13 review
3. Apple MacBook Air
The best student laptop for Apple devotees
- Pro features for a lower price
- Lightweight, premium-feel body
- A classic design, refreshed for 2018
- Retina Display screen
- Only has two USB-C ports
A good choice for students looking for a portable, lightweight Mac for research, photo editing and essay writing, the latest Apple MacBook Air features the TouchID fingerprint scanner, meaning that both your work and your laptop can be safely and securely locked.
It offers very good disk read and write speeds, enabling you to quickly save and load files. Although it has just two Type-C USB ports, both of these feature Thunderbolt 3 technology, so you can connect your MacBook Air to monitors, external graphics cards and hard drives, and still draw power. Depending on what facilities are on offer where you’re studying, you may not always have to lug your charger with you.
On average, the battery will give you 9-10 hrs a day, which should be more than enough for the average lecture and seminar schedule. The stereo speakers offer an excellent audio experience so, whether you’re listening to a lo-fi study playlist or a recording of your lecture while you write up your notes, you’ll be able to hear everything clearly and cleanly.
MacBook Airs are expensive, however, so take advantage of all and any 0% finance offers, and Apple’s student discount trade-in program, which gives you money off if you trade in an older Mac, MacBook, or iPad.
- Read our full Apple MacBook Air review
4. Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 7000 2-in-1
This premium Chromebook hits the price and performance sweet spot for students
- Good display
- Excellent battery
- Great build quality
- Nice, eye-catching design
- Speakers are not optimally positioned
- Chrome OS app support is still limited
The Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 7000 2-in-1 is very well priced at £650, and is fashioned from durable metal, unlike a lot of plastic-bodied Chromebooks.
Its Full HD display will give you maximum brightness of over 300 nits, so you’ll easily be able to work in a range of lighting conditions without straining your eyes. If you’re working late or have to pull an all-nighter, the underlit keyboard makes working at night easier and means you don’t have to hunt for the right keys.
Google’s Chrome OS is ideally suited for students who primarily use their laptop for writing essays, as it offers streamlined access to free office tools – Google Docs and Google Sheets – without having to shell out for subscription fees, as you would with Microsoft Office 365.
An EMR-type stylus is included and, as the Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 7000 2-in-1 can be folded up into a tablet, you can use it to jot down notes or do some quick sketching.
- Read our full Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 7000 2-in-1 review
5. Microsoft Surface Go
This versatile tablet-laptop hybrid makes it easy to work anywhere, from the library to the lecture hall
- Upgrading to Windows 10 gives users plenty of freedom
- Extremely portable
- Kickstand offers versatility
- Outdated design
- Pricey considering the Type Cover isn’t bundled in
- Low-powered performance
The Microsoft Surface Go isn’t really a laptop. It is essentially a tablet, which, using the Type Cover keyboard dock (sold separately), can be turned into a 2-in-1 portable – think of an Apple iPad Mini but for Windows 10 users.
Speaking of Windows, the Surface Go comes installed with Windows S – a scaled down version of Microsoft’s operating system – that has the simplicity and layout of an Android or Apple tablet but consequently locks the system down so you’re only able to download certified apps from the Microsoft Store.
If you’d prefer a little more freedom, Microsoft offers an option to upgrade to full-fat Windows 10 – with no drastic impact on battery life or performance.
The Surface Go isn’t a powerhouse portable, but this a solid choice if you’re a student on the look-out for a laptop you can use to write essays (if you buy the Type Cover), jot down notes, stream video content and surf the web.
- Read our full Microsoft Surface Go review
6. Acer Swift 1 (2019)
This budget Windows 10 laptop costs less than £500
- Ideal for light PC work
- Nice price
- More than enough ports
- Viewing angles and max brightness are not great
- Below average battery life
Priced in the region of £300-£450, the latest Acer Swift 1 model from the 2019 range (SF114-32) isn’t a cutting-edge powerhouse but is capable enough for basic PC work. It’s therefore a good choice for students on a budget, who are primarily after a laptop to use for essay writing.
Although its prices compare to that of the Chromebook, the Acer Swift 1 comes with the full 64-bit version of Windows 10 Home installed. This means it features support for a wider range of apps than you’d be able to get on Chrome OS.
As well as the obvious Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), you can make use of Slack and Photoshop Elements, and install web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Opera, or Vivendi, if you’d rather use an alternative to Google Chrome.
We should point out, however, that battery life is not fantastic here, though you shouldn’t have any problems if you’re strictly using this laptop for writing and researching. Just don’t expect to be able to binge an entire series on Netflix while you’re off the mains.
- Read our full Acer Swift 1 review
7. Acer Chromebook 514
The best student laptop for less than £400
- Slim and light
- Good value for money
- Metal chassis
- Performance can grind to a halt if overloaded
- Display quality isn’t great
- Some apps like Spotify won’t work
If you don’t want to spend over £400 and are just looking for a laptop for taking notes and essay writing, a Chromebook is your best bet. The Acer Chromebook 514 is one of the best-value options you can buy.
With its metal chassis and large range of ports, this device feels like a proper laptop, and it contrasts massively with the plastic Chromebooks you’ll find on store shelves. Of course, the mid-range Intel Celeron N3350 processor is way off the pace of this list’s more expensive portables, and the Acer Chromebook struggles to cope with multiple apps and browser tabs simultaneously.
However, with 15GB of Google Drive storage bundled for free (with an upgrade to 100GB available if you are willing to pay £1.59 per month), this Chromebook is a bargain buy for any students seeking a device for word processing or web surfing.
- Read our full Acer Chromebook 514 review
8 Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1
The most robust and damage-resistant student laptop
- Virtually indestructible
- 360 hinge design
- OK battery life
- Keyboard could be better
- Screen is small and low res
The Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1 isn’t the flashiest or most powerful laptop we’ve tested, but it is nearly indestructible. This makes it perfect for younger students and anyone who needs something that will withstand general classroom wear and tear.
Dell claims this convertible Chromebook meets US military standards, so it can survive 5000 micro-drops and 30-inch falls onto steel – you’ll want to sign your children up to the Avengers team if they manage to break this open with their bare hands. A splash-resistant keyboard also means this rugged device won’t meet its end come break or lunch time.
This level of toughened design doesn’t come without compromise, of course, and the Dell Chromebook’s performance is only really capable of basic document editing and web browsing. The touchscreen will no doubt delight kids, but the resolution is disappointingly low at 1366 x 768, lower than the now-typical Full HD resolution, so YouTube videos will not look great.
Finally, the 8hr battery life is pleasingly long enough that this device will last a whole school day, and your children won’t be able to use a forgotten charger as an excuse for late homework.
- Read our full Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1 review
9. Acer Nitro 5 (2019)
An affordable gaming laptop that’s ideal ideal for students
- Great value for money
- Good selection of ports
- Can run the likes of Fortnite and Apex easily
- Screen quality and brightness is sub-par
- Keyboard layout is a little cramped
The 2019 Acer Nitro 5 is more of a gaming laptop than a portable aimed at essay-bashing students. That said, students heading to university who don’t have the space to bring along their games console will get a lot out of the Acer Nitro 5 – it will not only play the likes of Apex Legends and Fortnite, but also has the processing power to blitz through essays, spreadsheets and even basic photo editing work.
There are definitely far more powerful gaming laptops available, but you can pick up the Acer Nitro 5 for under £1000, with the cheapest model costing £850.
There are drawbacks if you choose the Acer Nitro 5 as your study buddy, though. At 2.7kg, this is a relatively heavy beast, so it’s more than likely that you won’t want to lug it back and forth to lectures every day.
The display is also a bit on the dull side, and the colours won’t be accurate enough to please design and art students – although you can solve that issue with an external monitor.
The Acer Nitro 5 is a fantastic, versatile machine if you’re willing to make these compromises, and offers you the ability to switch straight to PUBG once you’ve hit a wall with your dissertation.
- Read our full Acer Nitro 5 review
Buying a student laptop – Top tips
Just because it’s got a £1000 price tag doesn’t mean it’s amazing. Also, if you’re not studying Computer Assisted Design, photography, game design – and you’ll mainly be spending hours writing essays – you can make do with something a lot less powerful and save yourself hundreds. The counter to this is, of course…
Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. If you buy a £200 student laptop in your first year, only for it to break or slow down to a crawl once you’re in your second year, you’ll have to buy a new one. That £200 device isn’t as good value as a £500 laptop that lasts you all the way thought your course.
A decent student laptop is more than just an essential device, it’s also an investment. This is something that you’ll hopefully have with you for three to four years. It’s going to be your main companion device, and you’ll want it to make that journey with you.
Internal hard drives push up price
In general terms, internal storage is the key factor that pushes up laptop prices. If the main reason you need a laptop is for writing, it makes the most sense to look for something with a 256GB drive, rather than spending more on a device with 512GB or 1TB.
Given that you can store your documents in the cloud with programs such as Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs, huge amounts of storage doesn’t even have to be a consideration for pure essay-writing.
However, if you’re going to be doing a lot of photo and video editing, you should consider investing in an external hard drive. This will allow you to back up your legacy projects and make room for new work. It’s a good idea to back up your work anyway, just in case anything goes horribly wrong – trust us, you don’t want to be freaking out at the last minute because you dropped your laptop down the library steps and lost your final-year project. We really can’t emphasise this enough: back up your work.
Take advantage of finance options and student deals
If your ideal laptop has a price tag that’s making you feel faint, then you’ll be pleased to learn that retailers such as Currys PC World and John Lewis offer finance options that can help you spread payments over several months.
Whether or not that’s an option, it’s worth noting that Apple has also historically offered higher education discounts – something it now does in the UK via Unidays, which also offers discounts on Dell hardware.
Also check out our laptop deals page to find discounted laptops available to buy right now.