What’s the best student laptop?
It’s very easy to spend the bulk of your summer holiday searching for the best student laptop ahead of the next year of school, college, or university, especially around back to school time.
In order to give you more time to relax, we’ve made the student laptop hunt far easier by compiling a list of our top recommendations, while also making sure to cater for every budget.
Here’s a quick summary of our recommendations, or you can read on for our full view:
- Best all-rounder: Dell XPS 13
- Best alternative: HP Envy 13
- Best for Apple users: MacBook Air
- Best for price and performance: Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14
- Best tablet for students: Microsoft Surface Go
- Best for under £500: Acer Swift 1
- Best for under £400: Acer Chromebook 514
- Best for robustness: Dell Chromebook 3100
- Best for entertainment: Acer Nitro 5
Of course, it’s not as simple as picking out the very best student laptop. Each laptop suits different needs. A design student would be better off spending a little more on a convertible with a stylus and discrete graphics card (dGPU), for example, while someone studying mathematics or literature – or anyone who just needs to bash out essays, with maybe the odd Netflix session afterwards – won’t need a laptop quite as powerful.
There’s plenty of powerful ultrabooks including the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell XPS 13 but there’s also the Microsoft Surface Go which can be used as both a tablet and a laptop when combined with the Type Cover keyboard.
Below you’ll find our definitive list of the best student laptop across different budgets and needs.
1. Dell XPS 13 (2019)
The best all-round student laptop
- Quality design and display
- Improved performance and battery life
- Webcam moved back to top
- Huge range of configurations
- Still no full-sized SD card reader or USB port
- SSD slow at saving data
- Screen not ideal for artists
Starting at £999, the Dell XPS 13 is at the higher end of the price spectrum for students, but it’s got a Trusted Reviews Recommended accolade for a 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 good battery performance.
If you’re after a daily driver that’s going to last three years on campus and won’t weigh much or take up much bag space to boot, the Dell XPS 13 is ideal.
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 does bung a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter in the box.
On the downside, read and write speeds of the review sample we tested 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
- High-quality touchscreen display
- Excellent colour space coverage
- Nicely priced
- Average battery life
- No Thunderbolt 3
The HP Envy 13 is an excellent laptop. Starting at £899, it represents a cheaper alternative to the Dell XPS 13.
Offering a gentle typing experience, and a design which lifts the keyboard deck up off of the desk – better allowing warm air to escape the system – the HP Envy 13 is ideal for hammering away at essays.
The excellent screen, which covers a good chunk of the standard RGB (sRGB) colour space, coupled with the dedicated Nvidia MX250 graphics processor, means it’s well suited to light photo work, too.
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, you can lock the HP Envy 13 with a fingerprint scanner, for extra security.
While overall performance is very good, battery life is average, so make sure you take your mains adapter with you everywhere.
- Read our full HP Envy 13 review
3. Apple MacBook Air
The best student laptop for Apple devotees
- A classic design, refreshed for 2018
- Lightweight, premium-feel body
- Retina Display screen
- Pro features for a lower price
- Only has two USB-C ports
The latest Apple MacBook Air models represent a good choice for students after a lightweight and portable Mac machine for essay writing, research and photo editing, and the TouchID fingerprint scanner means that your laptop, and your work, can be safely and securely locked.
Disk read and write speeds are very good, meaning you can save and load files quickly. While you’re limited by 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, hard drives and still draw power. Depending on the facilities available at your place of study, you won’t always have to lug your charger with you.
On average, the battery will give you between 9-10 hours a day – more than enough for your average lecture and seminar schedule. The stereo speakers provide excellent audio experience, so whether you’re listening back 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, mind, so take advantage of all and any offers of 0% finance, and Apple’s student discount trade-in program, which sees you getting 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
- Great build quality
- Good display
- Excellent battery
- Nice, eye-catching design
- Chrome OS app support is still limited
- Speakers are not optimally positioned
At £650, the Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 7000 2-in-1 is very well priced, and unlike a lot of Chromebooks which feature plastic bodies, is fashioned from durable metal.
With its Full HD display giving you maximum brightness of above 300 nits, you’ll be able to easily work in a number of lighting conditions without developing eye strain, and the underlit keyboard means you’ll be able to easily work at night and in the library without having to hunt for the right keys.
Google’s Chrome OS is ideally suited for students who will primarily be writing essays, as you get streamlined access to free office tools – Google Docs and Google Sheets – without ever having to have to fork out for subscription fees, like you do with Microsoft Office 365.
You also get an EMR-type stylus 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 means you can easily work in the library, lecture halls, wherever
- Extremely portable
- Kickstand offers versatility
- Upgrading to Windows 10 gives users plenty of freedom
- Pricey considering the Type Cover isn’t bundled in
- Low-powered performance
- Outdated design
The Microsoft Surface Go isn’t really a laptop. Instead, this is essentially a tablet which can turned into a 2-in-1 portable with the Type Cover keyboard dock, which is sold separately – think an Apple iPad Mini, but for Windows 10 users.
Speaking of Windows, the Surface Go comes with Windows S installed – a scaled down version of Microsoft’s operating system – which has the simplicity and layout of an Apple or Android tablet, but consequently locks the system down so you’re only able to download certified apps from the Microsoft Store.
If you’d rather more freedom, Microsoft offers the option to upgrade to full-fat Windows 10 – and it doesn’t drastically impact performance or battery life after doing so.
The Surface Go isn’t a powerhouse portable, but if you’re a student who just wants a device for jotting down notes, writing up essays (if you buy the Type Cover), surfing the web and streaming video content, then this a solid choice.
- Read our full Microsoft Surface Go review
6. Acer Swift 1 (2019)
This budget Windows 10 laptop costs under £500
- Nice price
- More than enough ports
- Ideal for light PC work
- Below average battery life
- Viewing angles and max brightness are not great
The latest Acer Swift 1 model from the 2019 range (SF114-32) is priced in the £300-£450 region and, while not a cutting-edge powerhouse, is capable enough for basic PC work. It’s therefore a good choice for students on a budget, who are primarily after a laptop for smashing out essays on.
While the Acer Swift 1 is close to Chromebook prices, it comes with the full 64-bit version of Windows 10 Home installed, and therefore features support for a wider range of apps than what you’d be able to get on Chrome OS.
As well as the obvious Microsoft Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), you can make use of Slack, Photoshop Elements, install web browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox, Opera, or Vivendi, if you’d rather use something else besides Google Chrome.
Be warned that battery life is not fantastic here, though if you’re strictly using this for writing and researching, you should be fine. Just don’t expect to be able to binge through an entire series on Netflix while off of the mains.
- Read our full Acer Swift 1 review
7. Acer Chromebook 514
The best student laptop under £400
- Good value for money
- Slim and light
- Metal chassis
- Display quality isn’t great
- Performance can grind to a halt if overloaded
- Some apps like Spotify won’t work
If you’re not willing to spend more than £400 on a laptop, and you only need a device for taking notes and bashing out essays, then a Chromebook is your best bet. The Acer Chromebook 514 is one of the best value options you can buy.
Its metal chassis and large offering of ports make this device feel like a proper laptop, and it’s a massive contrast to the plastic Chromebooks you find on store shelves. Of course, the middling Intel Celeron N3350 processor is way off the pace of more expensive portables on this list, with the Acer Chromebook struggling to cope with multiple apps and browser tabs simultaneously.
But with 15GB of Google Drive storage bundled for free (which can be upgraded 100GB if you pay £1.59 per month) this Chromebook is a bargain buy for students of any age who only need a machine for web surfing and word processing.
- 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
- Screen is small and low res
- Keyboard could be better
The Dell Chromebook 3100 2-in-1 isn’t the most powerful or flashy laptop, but it is near indestructible, which is ideal for younger students users who need 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 lunch time won’t be the end for this rugged device.
There has to be a compromise for such a toughened design though, and the Dell Chromebook’s performance is only really capable of basic document editing and web browsing. The touch screen will no sure 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 eight-hour battery life is satisfyingly lengthy enough to endure a whole school day, so 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
- Good selection of ports
- Can run the likes of Fortnite and Apex easily
- Great value for money
- Keyboard layout is a little cramped
- Screen quality and brightness is sub-par
The 2019 Acer Nitro 5 is more a gaming laptop than a portable aimed at essay-bashing students. That said, students heading off 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.
While there are far more powerful gaming laptops on the market, the Acer Nitro 5 can be bought for under £1000, with the cheapest model costing £850.
There are drawbacks in picking the Acer Nitro 5 as your study buddy though. At 2.7kg, this is a relatively heavy beast, so you likely won’t want to be lugging it to lectures every day.
The display is a bit on the dull side too. Colours aren’t accurate enough to please design and art students either – although an external monitor can solve that issue.
If you’re willing to make those compromises, then the Acer Nitro 5 is a fantastic versatile machine that offers you the capability 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 going to be 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. On the flip side…
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 to a crawl in your second year, it means you’ll have to buy a new one. As such, that £200 device isn’t as good value as a £500 laptop that lasts you to the completion of your degree.
A decent student laptop isn’t just a laptop, it’s an investment. It’s 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 drive up price
Generally speaking, what pushes up laptop prices more than anything is internal storage. If you need a laptop primarily for writing, why bother spending more on something with a 512GB or 1TB drive when a 256GB will do?
Given that programs such as Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs let you store your documents in the cloud, huge amounts of storage shouldn’t even be a consideration for pure essay-writing.
On the other hand, if you’re doing photo and video editing, you should consider investing in a external hard drive. This will allow you to back up your legacy projects and make room for new work. Just in case anything goes horribly wrong, it’s a good idea to back up your work anyway – 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 can’t emphasise this enough; back up your work.
Take advantage of student deals and finance options
If you’ve found the ideal laptop, but it 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, note 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 to buy available right now.