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Best student laptop: Top 10 notebooks for Back 2 School

Trusted Reviews reveals the key things to look out for, how much you should spend and where to find discounts when you’re searching for the best student laptop

Introduction

Looking for the best student laptop for school or university? Then you’re in the right place, as we’ve rounded up the best portables that offer bargain value.

We put a big focus on ultra-portable laptops here, so you won’t struggle lugging your new machine between lecture halls, but also ensured there’s enough performance power to whizz through research and word documents.

Knowing the limitations of a student loan, we also made sure the majority of the laptops on the list are priced under £1000, while also including options cheaper than £500 for those who don’t want to approach their overdraft.

Without further ado, here’s out Top 10 list of the best student laptop options currently available.

How we test

Learn more about how we test laptops

Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life. 

These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks, such as how well it runs the most frequently used apps. 

We also make sure to use every laptop we review as our primary device for at least a week to ensure our review is as accurate as possible.

MacBook Air (M1)

The best student laptop you can buy
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Pros

  • It’s so fast thanks to M1
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Strong app support
  • Great keyboard

Cons

  • Poor webcam
  • Same design as before
  • Poorly positioned (and only two) USB ports

The MacBook Air has shot right to the top of our Best Student Laptop list thanks to the introduction of Apple’s M1 chip.

This new processor not only offers the fastest CPU speeds you can find in an ultra-portable laptop, but also excels at graphics-based workloads such as 4K video editing, animation and game design. Improved battery life performance is the cherry on top for the MacBook Air, making this one of the most capable and versatile laptops currently available.

We’re disappointed that Apple hasn’t refreshed the design, but it’s still a good looking laptop. The biggest issue is the underwhelming webcam quality, especially since Zoom calls are so common now. But if you can ignore those slight blemishes, this is absolutely the best student laptop for the majority, as long as you’re happy using macOS instead of Windows.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Air M1 review

Surface Laptop Go

The best value Windows laptop you can buy
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Pros

  • Incredible value
  • Small and classy design
  • Excellent performance
  • Comfortable keyboard

Cons

  • Low-resolution display
  • No keyboard backlight
  • No fingerprint scanner on base configuration

The Surface Laptop Go is the ideal laptop for students who can’t justify spending around £1000. Microsoft is offering this dinky 12.4-inch laptop at a cheaper price than the larger Surface Laptop 4, and it represents fantastic value considering the top-notice performance and comfortable keyboard.

There are a few compromises you’ll have to accept though, including the low-resolution display and lack of a keyboard backlight, but it’s easy to overlook such issues if you’re looking something that prioritises productivity, whether that’s bashing out essays or browsing the web for research. Students on media-savvy courses will need to look elsewhere though, as it lacks a decent GPU performance.

The biggest boon here though, is that Microsoft offers a student discount on their online store. This makes the Surface Laptop Go the absolute best value choice for students of all ages.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Surface Laptop Go review

Acer Chromebook Spin 513

Best value Chromebook for students
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Pros

  • Super-light and portable design
  • Sharp display with decent colours
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Whisper-quiet performance

Cons

  • Flat speakers
  • Mediocre performance
  • No keyboard backlight

The Acer Chromebook Spin 513 isn’t one of the most powerful laptops on this list, but it’s available at a very affordable price and can do the basics very well.

You’re restricted to ChromeOS here, so it may not be ideal if you need to download lots of obscure files and programs for university, but its Snapdragon 7c processor is easily fast enough for the most common work apps, as well as for entertainment with the likes of Netflix and Spotify.

It’s foldable design also gifts its superb versatility, while its plus 13-hour battery life will help it to power through the longest lecture hall session. If you want a laptop for under £400, this is our top recommendation.

Reviewer: Reece Bithrey
Full review: Acer Chromebook Spin 513 review

Lenovo Yoga Slim 7

Best mid-range student laptop
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Pros

  • Great value price
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Speedy performance
  • Nice Full HD screen

Cons

  • Basic design
  • No Thunderbolt
  • No fingerprint scanner on select models

The Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 is a good compromise if you want something more powerful than the Surface Laptop Go, but don’t fancy spending a grand. Featuring AMD’s Ryzen 4000 processor, the Slim 7 can power through productivity tasks with ease, making it a good choice for students who keep multiple web browser tabs open simultaneously.

The Ryzen processor also ensures a lengthy battery life, as the laptop lasted 14 hours and 39 minutes on a single charge during our benchmark tests. This means you won’t need to worry about being in reach of a power supply when taking the laptop to a lecture hall or library.

The Slim 7 does unfortunately miss out on a few noticeable features such as Thunderbolt and a fingerprint scanner (on select models) for hassle-free logins, but they’re minor omissions when you can get this excellent laptop for a few hundred quid less than a MacBook Air.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 review

Honor MagicBook 14 (2020)

Most affordable AMD laptop
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Pros

  • Student-friendly premium style
  • Superb value
  • Pleasant typing experience
  • More than capable productivity performance

Cons

  • Webcam positioned on keyboard
  • Below average display

The Honor MagicBook 14 (2020) was the best value Windows laptop around until the Surface Laptop Go turned up. The arrival of Microsoft’s small laptop has dulled the appeal of the MagicBook to some extent, but it’s still a worthy buy.

The biggest benefit of the MagicBook 14 over the Go is the bigger display and Full HD resolution, making it a better option for Netflix and YouTube video content. Plus, Honor can go toe to toe with Microsoft for performance and keyboard quality, so it really is a tight contest between the two.

So what’s the catch? The pop-up camera is unfortunately located below the display, giving the classroom a good look up your nostrils on Zoom. But if you’re willing to ignore that flaw, this is still a fantastic value student laptop worth considering. And if you fancy an even bigger 16-inch screen, you’ve also got the option of the Honor MagicBook Pro at a slightly more expensive price.

Reviewer: Adam Speight
Full review: Honor MagicBook 14 (2020) review

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Best student tablet with clip-on keyboard
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Pros

  • Very affordable price
  • Bundled keyboard offers versatility
  • Superb screen for video content
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Lack of headphone jack
  • Poor speaker quality
  • Keyboard is uncomfortably small

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is arguably more of a tablet than a laptop, but since it comes bundled with a magnetic clip-on keyboard, you’re able to easily turn it into a makeshift clamshell when you need to get some work done.

This is arguably a better option for school students rather than those attending university, as you’ll want a better keyboard and performance when tackling a 10,000 word dissertation, but the Duet’s versality makes it a great option if you like the idea of watching Netflix and YouTube in bed.

The lack of headphone jack is a major issue here for those who haven’t made the move over to Bluetooth buds. Alternative options include the iPad 7 and the Surface Go 2, although you’ll have to buy the attachable keyboard separately which pushes the prices up considerably.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Lenovo Chromebook Duet review

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

A high-end laptop ideal for creative-focused courses
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Pros

  • Incredibly powerful
  • Bigger display still looks stunning
  • Scissor keyboard a huge improvement
  • More stylish with smaller bezel

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Stingy port offering
  • Lack of Wi-Fi 6

The Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch is easily the most expensive laptop on this list, and is therefore only recommended to those who require a powerful performance. The MacBook Pro packs a high-end processor and GPU, helping it to excel at the likes of photo and video editing. 

Such power is wasted if you’re only going to be browsing the web and typing out essays, so make sure you really do need the extra grunt before purchasing. Even if money is no issue, the extra power means the laptop is lumbered with extra heft, making it more difficult to lug around.

It’s also worth remembering that Apple is in the process of adding Apple Silicon to its entire Mac range. If you can wait a few months more, it’s likely Apple will launch the MacBook Pro 2021 with significantly improved performance power and battery life.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Air M1 review

Acer Chromebook 314

The best budget student laptop
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Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Sturdy construction
  • Good port selection
  • Fantastic battery life

Cons

  • Flat colours and dim display
  • No touchscreen
  • ChromeOS could provide some limitations

The Acer Chromebook 314 is the cheapest laptop on this list, and for good reason. With Intel’s Celeron N4000 chip under the hood, it doesn’t offer a fantastic performance, with noticeable slowdown for simple tasks such as browsing the web. Still, it’s just about snappy enough for us to recommend this laptop for day-to-day tasks and video streaming.

It has a basic clamshell design with no 2-in-1 hinge or touchscreen and its rather hefty at 1.7kg, but it’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a traditional laptop design as this price point.

Its fantastic 13-hour battery life is the laptop’s best attribute, comfortably getting you through a school day without a recharge. Is it a flashy or powerful laptop? Nope. But it’s still one of the best options available if you’re on a tight budget.

Reviewer: Reece Bithrey
Full review: Acer Chromebook 314 review

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2021)

Best gaming laptop for students
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Pros

  • Excellent CPU and GPU performance
  • Very portable design for a gaming laptop
  • Quad HD screen option now available
  • Great battery life compared to rivals

Cons

  • No webcam
  • Mediocre Quad HD performanc
  • Lack of RGB keyboard lighting

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2021) is currently one of the best gaming laptops you can buy, and it’s also a good option for students with its lightweight build and decent 6-hour battery life for day-to-day work.

This is admittedly far more expensive than most of the other laptops on this list, but it’s a good option if you’re a gaming who’s going to university and doesn’t fancy buying a PS5 or Xbox Series X.

Aside from its gaming prowess, it has almost everything you need for school work, with a great keyboard, lovely screen and speedy CPU performance. It does lack a webcam however, so you’ll need to buy an external one to join in on classroom Zoom calls.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Asus ROG Xephyrus G14 (2021) review

Google Pixelbook Go

Best premium Chromebook for students
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Pros

  • Fantastic keyboard
  • Attractive, understated look
  • Impressive battery life
  • Android apps on Chrome can be useful (even if buggy)

Cons

  • Can get far too expensive if you upgrade the specs
  • No fingerprint scanner/facial unlock
  • Have to get the top model if you want a 4K screen

The Google PixelBook Go is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy. It excels at all the basics, with the keyboard, performance and high-end design all proving impressive in our review.

Our biggest issue with the laptop is that it’s pretty expensive compared to other Chromebooks, especially if you opt for high-end configurations with fingerprint scanning, facial unlock and a 4K resolution display.

When the total spend starts approaching £1000, it probably makes more sense to go for the less restrictive Windows or macOS operating systems instead. But if you’re happy with the streamlined ChromeOS approach, the PixelBook Go is as good as it gets.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: Google Pixelbook Go review

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FAQs

What should a student look for in a laptop?

A good keyboard, long battery life and snappy performance are all key things to consider when purchasing a student laptop. You’ll also want to make sure it isn’t too heavy, with 1.3kg and under being an ideal heft. Screen quality is worth thinking about if you plan on using the laptop for Netflix and YouTube.

Do students need a laptop with a GPU?

A dedicated GPU is only worth considering if your a creative/design student who who will be doing lots of video editing, 3D modelling or animation. Gamers will also benefit from a powerful GPU. But be warned, a GPU will crank up the price, make the laptop heavier and shorten the battery life, so only get a laptop with one if its essential.

How much RAM does a student laptop need?

Honestly, most people will be fine with 4GB RAM, but for a speedy performance, we suggest aiming for 8GB and over if possible.

Specs compared

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Trusted Reviews test data

PCMark 10
Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core
3DMark Time Spy
CrystalDiskMark Read speed
CrystalMarkDisk Write Speed
Brightness
Black level
Contrast
White Visual Colour Temperature
sRGB
Adobe RGB
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PCMark Battery (office)
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Borderlands 3 frame rate (Quad HD)
Borderlands 3 frame rate (Full HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Quad HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Full HD)
Dirt Rally (Quad HD)
Dirt Rally (Full HD)

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Founded in 2004, Trusted Reviews exists to give our readers thorough, unbiased and independent advice on what to buy.

Today, we have 9 million users a month around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

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