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Best student laptop 2020: Top 10 student notebooks and convertibles

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

What is the best student laptop?

There are so many different laptops available to buy these days that it can be incredibly difficult to find the perfect option for your needs. For this reason, we’ve assembled a list of the best student laptop picks.

We put a big focus on ultra-portable laptops here, so you 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. And 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 too.

What should you look out for?

Before we get to our Top 10 list of the best student laptops, we wanted to provide you with a short guide that highlights the most important factors to consider when searching for a student laptop:

Operating system: Make sure the OS fits your needs. Chromebooks are cheaper, but are more restrictive than Windows 10 and macOS devices.

Performance: Ensure the processor is fast enough to meet your demands. Check out our Best Intel processor and Best AMD processor guides for more details.

Graphics: If you want to edit video, animate or play games, you’ll need a decent integrated or dedicated GPU. The latter is recommended for high-end workloads.

Ports: Ensure the laptop has all the ports you need, as the likes of USB-A, Ethernet and SD Cards are often omitted. Adapters can be used as workarounds.

2-in-1 designs: Look out for 2-in-1 laptops that can flip into ‘tablet mode’ as they’re useful for taking notes and watching Netflix.

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

1. MacBook Air M1

The best student laptop you can buy

Display: 13in, 2560 x 1600 | CPU: Apple M1 | RAM: 8/16GB
OS: macOS | Storage: Up to 2TB | Weight: 1.29kg

Pros:

  • Speedy performance
  • 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 up to the top of our list thanks to the introduction of Apple’s M1 chip.

This new processor not only offers 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 are 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.

Surface Laptop Go

2. Surface Laptop Go

The best value student laptop you can buy

Display: 12.4in (1536 x 1024) | CPU: 10th Gen Intel | RAM: 4/8GB
OS: Windows 10 | Storage: Up to 256GB | Weight: 1.1kg

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 large Surface Laptop 2, 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 the 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, seeing the base model price tumble down to a very affordable £521.55 price point. This makes the Surface Laptop Go the absolute best value choice for students of all ages.

MagicBook 14

3. Honor MagicBook 14 (2020)

Best value 14-inch student laptop

Display: 14in FHD | CPU: Ryzen 5 3500U | RAM: 8GB
OS: Windows 10 | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 1.4kg

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • Webcam position 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 at 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.

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

4. Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Best budget student laptop, with versatile 2-in-1 form factor

Display: 10.1in FHD | CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T | RAM: 4GB
OS: ChromeOS | Storage: 128GB | Weight: 920g

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.

Surface Laptop 3

5. Surface Laptop 3

Best all-rounder student laptop if you’re happy to pay more

Display: 13.5in (2256 x 1504) | CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core | RAM: 8/16GB
OS: Windows 10 | Storage: Up to 1TB | Weight: From 1.3kg

Pros

  • Classy, ultra-portable design
  • Excellent performance
  • Stunning 3:2 display
  • Fantastic keyboard

Cons

  • Middling battery life
  • Lack of Thunderbolt 3

The Surface Laptop 3 is essentially a larger version of the Laptop Go with a significantly higher resolution display. It’s also arguably the closest Windows laptop to match the MacBook Air M1 at the £999.99 price point.

What’s more, you get a student discount when purchasing through the Microsoft store, taking the starting price down to £899.10. That’s still admittedly pricey, but very good value when you consider the quality of the design and performance.

Before you hit checkout though, it’s worth knowing that the Surface Laptop 4 could arrive as soon as January, with rumours indicating an upgraded performance thanks to Intel Tiger Lake. Keep an eye on Trusted Reviews for more updates.

MacBook Pro 16

6. Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch 

A high-end laptop ideal for creative-focused courses

Display: 16in (3072 x 1920) | CPU: 9th Gen Intel Core | RAM: 16GB
OS: macOS | Storage: Up to 8TB | Weight: 2kg

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 one of the most expensive laptops on this list, and is so only recommended with those that 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 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 another 12 months, it’s likely Apple will launch the MacBook Pro 2021 with significantly improved performance power and battery life.

Acer Swift 3 (2020)

7. Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Top class performance in a budget build

Display: 13in FHD | CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core | RAM: 8GB
OS: Windows 10 | Storage: Up to 1TB | Weight: From 1.1kg

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • iPadOS is great
  • Support for Pencil and Keyboard
  • Bigger 10.2in display

Cons:

  • The display isn’t laminated
  • 32GB starting storage feels low

The Acer Swift 3 provides a performance similar to laptops that cost plus £1000, yet is available at a bargain price point. It’s good to think of this as a cheaper alternative to the Surface Laptop 3, although is admittedly not quite as polished.

There are of course a couple of compromises you have to make here, with a bland design and an underwhelming battery life. But these are minor issues when you’re getting such a competent ultra-portable clamshell laptop running on Windows 10.

What’s more, Acer is offering multiple configuration options, so you can alter the storage, processor speeds and even stuff an optional Nvidia MX350 GPU inside if you fancy engaging in some entry-level Photoshop.

Avita Pura

8. Avita Pura

Best budget Windows laptop

Display: 14in FHD | CPU: Ryzen 5 3500U | RAM: 8GB
OS: Windows 10 S Mode | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 1.2kg

Pros:

  • Decent screen for the price
  • Pleasing typing experience
  • Good port selection
  • Good performance for basic needs

Cons:

  • Poor speakers
  • Chunky bezel
  • Runs on Windows 10 in S Mode
  • More expensive model faces tougher competition

The Avita Pura is one of the cheapest laptops you can buy that still offers a solid productivity performance. It is admittedly running on Windows 10 in S Mode, which is similar to a Chromebook in that it’s restricted to an app store for downloads, but the Pura is still very much capable of doing the basics.

But despite its sub £400 price point, the Avita Pura has a surprisingly good screen, keyboard and performance. That means it should be up for any basic jobs, whether that’s streaming video, writing up essays or scrolling through Twitter.

Other laptops at this price are generally Chromebooks, so if you really can’t stomach ChromeOS the Avita Pura is a superb option for both school and university students.

9. Google PixelBook Go 

Best clamshell Chromebook for students

Display: 13in FHD/4K | CPU: 8th gen Intel Core | RAM: 16GB
OS: ChromeOS | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 1.06kg

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

The Google PixelBook Go is our favourite Chromebook that has the same form factor of a conventional clamshell laptop. 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.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 Best Student laptop

10. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

Best student laptop for gamers

Display: 14in FHD | CPU: Ryzen 9 4900HS | RAM: 16GB
OS: Windows 10 | Storage: 1TB | Weight: 1.7kg

Pros:

  • Incredible CPU performance
  • Great for Full HD gaming
  • Ultra-portable design
  • Impressive battery life

Cons:

  • Lack of RGB lighting
  • No integrated webcam
  • Underwhelming SSD speeds

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is currently our absolute favourite gaming laptop, packing enough power to competently run AAA games in 1080p while remaining light and slim enough to carry in a bag without giving you back strain.

If you’re a university student moving away from home, you’ll probably want a laptop that’s not only great for homework but also excels at entertainment. The Zephyrus G14 is an ideal candidate, especially since it features Ryzen 4000 processors that are insanely quick for productivity tasks.

The biggest issue here is the lack of webcam, so you’ll need to purchase a separate camera in order to take part in Zoom calls with your tutor. But this is arguably a small price to pay when you can start playing Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed to ease the stress of exams.

Comparison Tables

Still not sure which laptop you want to buy? We’ve included a couple of tables below to offer more detailed comparisons between the best student laptop options.

Below you’ll see a summary of all the laptop specs so you can find exactly what you’re looking for:

Display CPU RAM Operating system Weight
1) MacBook Air M1 13-inch,
2560 x 1600
Apple M1 8/16GB macOS 1.29kg
2) Surface Laptop Go 12.4-inch,
1536 x 1024
10th Gen Intel Core 4/8GB Windows 10 1.1kg
3) Honor MagicBook 14 (2020) 14-inch,
1920 x 1080
Up to Ryzen 5 3500U 8GB Windows 10 1.4kg
4) Lenovo Chromebook Duet 10.1-inch,
1920 x 1080
MediaTek Helio P60T 4GB ChromeOS 920g
5) Surface Laptop 3 13.5-inch,
2256 x 1504
10th Gen Intel Core 8/16GB Windows 10 1.3kg
6) Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch 16-inch,
3072 x 1920
9th Gen Intel Core 16GB macOS 2kg
7) Acer Swift 3 (2020) 13-inch,
1920 x 1080
10th Gen Intel Core 8GB Windows 10 1.1kg 
8) Avita Pura 14-inch,
1920 x 1080
Ryzen 5 3500U 8GB Windows 10 S Mode 1.2kg
9) Google PixelBook Go 13-inch,
Full HD / 4K
8th gen Intel Core 16GB Chrome OS 1.1kg
10) Asus ROG Zephyrus G14  14-inch,
1920 x 1080
Ryzen 9 4900HS 16GB Windows 10 1.7kg