Best student laptop 2020: An ultrabook for every budget

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

Which is the best student laptop for university?

Students have a particular set of needs when buying a laptop. The best student laptop options don’t need to be mega-powerful, unless you’re on a graphics course, but battery life, portability and an affordable price are all very important features to consider.

We’ve rounded up our picks for the best student laptop, catering for multiple budgets and needs. And 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.

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.

Dell XPS 13

1. Dell XPS 13 (2019)

The best all-round student laptop

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  • 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 13inch laptop chassis, boasts an excellent display, and the battery also performs well.

If you’re seeking 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 laptop up to a compatible monitor, a Type-C USB port and 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.

HP Envy 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, with prices starting at £899, it’s a cheaper alternative to the Dell XPS 13.

This model 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.

Surface Laptop 3 13

3. Surface Laptop 3 13

Microsoft’s ultrabook is available in multiple colours and packs some serious power


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


  • Middling battery life
  • Lack of Thunderbolt 3

The Surface Laptop 3 13 looks an awful lot like Apple’s MacBook Air, but we think Microsoft’s offering is slightly better. Packing Intel’s 10th Generation Ice Lake processor, this is one of the most powerful ultrabooks on the market, and even has the muscle to play casual video games such as Fortnite at Apex Legends, albeit at low graphics settings.

Anyone looking for a bit more personality than silver or black may find Microsoft’s laptops the perfect solution; the Surface Laptop 3 is available in a range of colours, including sandstone, matte black, platinum with Alcantara and cobalt blue with Alcantara.

Only sub-par battery life and the lack of Thunderbolt 3 prevent this laptop from reaching the very top of the list, but if those issues don’t bother you, here’s a near-perfect portable at a very reasonable price.

LG Gram 14Z980

4. LG Gram 14

An extremely light laptop to reduce your rucksack load


  • An ultra-portable machine weighing just 1kg
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • Superb battery life


  • 256GB storage isn’t generous
  • Components a little dated compared to rivals

The LG Gram 14 has a killer feature that separates it from other student laptop options: its weight. Hitting the scales at just under 1kg, this is easily one of the lightest laptops you can buy. Despite this, it still packs a decent performance, stellar battery life and sturdy design, so it feels like absolute magic that LG has managed to cut down the weight to such an extent.

The one major issue with the LG Gram 14, released in 2018, is its 8th Generation Intel Core processor, which is is slightly dated compared to the likes of the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 3. But if you’re planning on using it just for word processing, web browsing and video streaming, then it’s easily powerful enough to keep chugging along without issue.

If you spend most of your day carrying your laptop around the campus, and are following a course where you don’t need video and photo editing capability, the LG Gram is one of the best picks. Your back will thank you.

Apple MacBook Air 2018

5. Apple MacBook Air

The best student laptop for Apple devotees

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  • 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 9-10hrs 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 programme, which gives you money off if you trade in an older Mac, MacBook, or iPad.

Asus ZenBook 14 review

6. Asus ZenBook 14

The ZenBook’s ScreenPad allows for efficient multitasking and shortcuts


  • ScreenPad helps with shortcuts and multitasking
  • Blue and gold design stands out from the pack
  • Dedicated GPU


  • ScreenPad eats into the battery
  • Low colour gamut scores will deter art students

The Asus ZenBook 14 has a unique and quirky feature in that its touchpad can be turned into a touchscreen. Using this, you can access shortcuts for speedier navigation, or even play videos so you can enjoy some entertainment while writing essays.

This ZenBook also features a dedicated graphics card. It’s not powerful enough to play AAA games, but if you like to dabble with Photoshop and play the odd indie game, then this portable is up to the job.

Asus has had to make sacrifices to include so many great features, though, as the ScreenPad affects battery life significantly, and the display isn’t the best for colour accuracy if you’re planning on using it for a course that involves graphics or art. But if you really like the idea of watching YouTube while hammering out your dissertation, look no further.

Surface Go Windows 10

7. 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 it as the equivalent of an Apple iPad Mini 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.

Acer Swift 1 SF114-32

8. 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, though you shouldn’t have any problems if you’re using this laptop strictly for writing and researching. Just don’t expect to be able to binge an entire series on Netflix while you’re off the mains.

Acer Predator Helios 300 07

9. Acer Predator Helios 300

The best student laptop for gaming


  • Solid 1080p gaming ability
  • Versatile Core i5 CPU
  • Excellent screen quality
  • Consistent quality for the price


  • Keyboard could be a little better
  • Exterior is too weak, thick and heavy

Essays and revision are hard work, and if you don’t enjoy your downtime you’re going to end up too stressed to function. A gaming laptop offers a healthy balance between work and play, and the Acer Predator Helios 300 is among the best for offering a 1080p performance at a reasonable price.

A Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics card makes this laptop is capable of playing any video game in Full HD, even some of the latest blockbuster hits. The consequence, though, is that it weighs a mighty 2.4kg, which is double the heft of other options on this list.

If you’re happy to lug around a heavy laptop so you can play all of your Steam library on the go, the Acer Predator Helios 300 is our top recommended pick.

Avita Liber 14

10. Avita Liber 14

The flashiest student laptop around – but it isn’t a top performer


  • Flashy looks
  • Premium design for its price
  • Pleasant keyboard experience
  • Decent display


  • Poor battery life
  • Performance issues above simple tasking

If you’re more bothered about your laptop’s looks than its performance, then the Avita Liber 14 is one of the best picks. It comes with various pattern decals, going above and beyond the colour variety that the Surface Laptop 3 offers. The Liber is also available at a very affordable price, and worth considering if you’re on a tight budget.

However, you sacrifice a lot for this flashy style and low price. With an Intel Core i3-8130U processor, you’ve got one of the weakest performances on this list. It can handle basic workloads, but opening multiple tabs on your browser will cause a bit of a slowdown. Battery life is also poor, so you’re going to have to sit next to a power socket in lectures.

Still, if you’re after style over substance, the Avita Liber 14 is a decent option, especially since it’s available at such a low price.

Don’t overspend

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…

Don’t underspend

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, a huge amount of storage doesn’t even have to be a consideration if your workload mainly comprises essay-writing.

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 makes 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.

Unlike other sites, we thoroughly review everything we recommend, using industry standard tests to evaluate products. We’ll always tell you what we find. We may get a commission if you buy via our price links. Tell us what you think – email the Editor