With this selection of the best laptops for students, you’ll only have yourself to blame if you miss that all-important deadline
If you’re learning remotely during the third national lockdown, it’s important to equip yourself with the best student laptop your budget allows for.
Primary and secondary schools are closed to most pupils until mid-February, while university students won’t return to campuses until the end of January at the earliest. That means that millions of students will be undertaking their studies from home, making a decent laptop an absolute necessity.
Sub-par technology can significantly impede your learning and work output, but fear not, we’re here to help. We’ve tested a huge range of different laptops and compiled a list of those we deem best suited for life as a student.
If you require guidance as to what to look for, we’ve put together a comprehensive buying guide detailing the important features to be aware of when buying your laptop for school, college or university.
Below that, you’ll find short reviews of every device we consider worthy of your consideration, including information about where to buy them and a breakdown of all their key specifications. Whether you’re in the market for something lightweight, versatile or something that’ll pack a punch performance-wise, we’ve got an option for you. There’s a laptop to suit everyone’s needs and, importantly, budget. Read on to find your perfect studying companion.
Well-heeled students would do well to consider Microsoft’s sleek Surface Pro 7 tablet when considering which laptop to buy, especially as it’s currently £269 off. Add the Type Cover keyboard and the Surface Pen and you have the complete creative workstation.AmazonWas £1,169Now £899Buy Now
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx-powered Galaxy Book S is currently heavily discounted if you buy it directly from Samsung. With 4G connectivity, top-notch battery life and superb speakers, it’s a fine choice for any student willing to accept the software limitations of its ARM chip.SamsungWas £999Now £849Buy Now
Best laptops for students: At a glance
- Dell XPS 13 (2020): The best laptop for students with large budgets | Buy now
- Honor MagicBook Pro: The most powerful sub-£1000 laptop | Buy now
- Apple MacBook Air: The iconic student laptop | Buy now
- Acer Swift 3 (2020): Portable, speedy and keenly priced | Buy now
- Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: Microsoft’s most portable laptop yet | Buy now
How to choose the best laptop for school, college or university
Can’t I just use any old laptop for studying?
There are a couple of pitfalls to be wary of before heading to the shops and buying the cheapest laptop you can find. First, bargain laptops on sale might look like the perfect solution, but they’re often discounted for a reason. Those laptops may simply have not been very popular, whether that’s due to poor reviews or being left on the shelf in favour of better-specified rivals. Make sure to take a close look at the more recent models: they may offer more up-to-date, faster processors, more RAM or larger hard disks for similar amounts of money. It pays to check the specifications carefully before buying that online or in-store bargain.
READ NEXT: Best Apple and Android tablets
Do I need a fast processor and loads of RAM?
Processors and RAM aren’t too important if you just want a laptop for working on – after all, even a £200 Chromebook is good enough for Google Docs and searching the internet. However, if your course requires you to use more demanding software for photo or video editing, 3D design, or crunching databases, it’s worth putting money towards a beefier Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. More RAM – upwards of 4GB, for instance – is a good choice, too, as it means you can leave more applications and browser tabs open before your laptop grinds to a halt.
READ NEXT: Best external hard drives
What else do I need to look out for?
If you can try out a laptop before buying, then do so. Everyone has a different idea about what constitutes a comfy, usable keyboard or touchpad, and while we pay close attention to those aspects in our reviews, it’s well worth trying it out for yourself. Equally, what some people might consider a heavy, bulky laptop might be entirely manageable by other people’s standards.
Similarly, it’s worth keeping an eye out for USB-C or USB 3 ports as they add a little future-proofing and introduce the capacity for faster file transfers – which is handy if you want to be able to back up your data to external drives.
Talking of which, it’s well worth leaving some room in your budget for a good quality external USB hard drive, or just making sure to use a cloud storage service to keep your documents backed up. Even the best laptop can be damaged, lost or stolen so it pays to make sure your coursework doesn’t disappear along with it.
The best laptops for students
1. Honor MagicBook 14: Unbeatable value for money
Price: £550 | Buy now from Honor
For a company making its debut in laptop production, Honor’s first try is nothing short of remarkable. The all-metal MagicBook 14 is nigh-on as slim and lightweight as some of the most exotic laptops on the market yet it costs hundreds of pounds less.
Frankly, it’s unbelievably good for the money. You get a Full HD 1080p display that’s sharp and punchy. Performance is very impressive, courtesy of an AMD Ryzen 3500U CPU and 8GB of RAM. Storage is a generous 256GB and you get a speedy PCIe NVMe SSD, too. Even battery life is up to scratch: the MagicBook lasted as long in our tests as many of its pricier rivals.
The popup webcam isn’t the best with its awkward up-your-nose camera angle but we’re prepared to cut this laptop some slack when the rest is so darned impressive.
Read our Honor MagicBook 14 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 2.1GHz AMD Ryzen 3500U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.38kg
2. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: Compact and capable
Price: £699 | Buy now from Amazon
The Surface Laptop Go is Microsoft’s lightest laptop yet at just 1.11kg and is a great choice if you’re after an ultraportable device boasting delightful design. Build quality is excellent and the 12.4in display is highly impressive, with great viewing angles, admirable sRGB colour accuracy and decent maximum brightness.
The fingerprint reader and Windows Hello compatible webcam make logging in both fast and secure, while the device boots rapidly and is perfectly capable of handling day-to-day tasks with minimal fuss. We’ve linked to the mid-range, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD version as we feel that it offers the best balance between specs and cost for students but if you can live with less storage space and RAM, the budget model can be bought directly from Microsoft for just £549.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 128GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,536 x 1,024px; Weight: 1.11kg
Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop Go review for more details
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go Ultra-Thin 12.4” Touchscreen Laptop (Sandstone) – Intel 10th Gen Quad Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Windows 10 Home in S Mode, 2020 Edition
3. Huawei MateBook D 15: Big screen, low price
Price: £529 | Buy now from Huawei
For this price, the MateBook D 15 (2020) is nothing short of stunning value for money. Built in the same factories as the Honor MagicBook 14, the MateBook D 15 offers similar levels of performance and build, with a bigger screen for the same amount of money.
It’s powered, like the MagicBook, by a Ryzen 5 3500U CPU, ensuring speed beyond its price tag, and it comes with 8GB of RAM and a capacious 256GB hard disk. It doesn’t have a touchscreen and the image quality of its 15.6in IPS screen isn’t the best we’ve ever seen but we’ve seen a lot worse at this price. It’s a stunning laptop for any student who wants a little extra screen real estate.
And for a limited time, Huawei is throwing a free Bluetooth mouse and backpack in with the laptop, making it an even more appealing prospect than ever.
Read our Huawei MateBook D 15 (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Quad-core 2.1GHz AMD Ryzen 5 3500U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.5kg
4. M1 Apple MacBook Air (2020): The iconic student laptop, now better than ever
Price: £999 |Buy now from Amazon
In a surprising turn of events, Apple released two new iterations of the MacBook Air in 2020. The first saw the iconic ultraportable updated to house Intel’s tenth-gen processors (Core i3, i5 and i7 models are all available), while the old keyboard was replaced by Apple’s new “MagicKeyboard” complete with improved travel and damping to each key.
However, it was the second iteration that really pushed the series forward, thanks to the incorporation of Apple’s very own M1 processor and it’s that version we’ve linked here. In his review of the M1 MacBook Air, our Head of Reviews, Jon Bray, described it as “the ultraportable laptop to beat” thanks to it being “stunningly fast, quiet as a mouse and reasonably priced” while also delivering excellent battery life of close to 15 hours.
Simply put, this is the best MacBook for students, bar none, and right up there with the best sub-£1,000 laptops we’ve ever seen.
Read our M1 Apple MacBook Air (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core Apple M1; RAM: 8GB ; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen resolution: 2,560 x 1,600; Weight: 1.29kg
5. Dell XPS 13 (2020): The best laptop for students with large budgets
Price: £1,549 | Buy now from Amazon
The Dell XPS 13 (2020) may be out of the price range of many students, but for those that can afford it, it’s as good as ultraportable laptops get. Like its predecessors, the 2020 model boasts a stunning design, excellent display and top-notch battery life of over 10 hours.
We reviewed a model with a 10th-generation Intel Core i7-1065G7 processor and 16GB of RAM and it proved to be a speedy performer, with impressive read and write speeds in addition to decent graphical performance. Weighing just 1.2kg, the Dell XPS 13 is ludicrously light and its Full HD+ screen is a delight to work on. Brightness reaches a peak at 600cd/m², which is extremely bright by most standards, making it a great choice for putting the finishing touches to an essay while sitting in the garden.
If you’re a student lucky enough to have over £1,500 to spend on a laptop, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more complete package than the Dell XPS 13 (2020).
Read our Dell XPS 13 (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 1.3-3.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7; RAM: 16GB; Storage: 512GB; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,200; Weight: 1.2kg
Dell New XPS 13 9300 13inch FHD Laptop, Intel Core i7-1065G7 (10th Gen), 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Windows 10 Home, 2020 Model ,Silver
6. Honor MagicBook Pro: A super-powerful sub-£1000 laptop
Price: £850 | Buy now from Honor
Like the Honor MagicBook 14 at the top of this list, Honor’s new 16in offering represents astonishing value, demonstrating power to match (and in many cases, outstrip) far more expensive laptops. Its aluminium chassis is well-made and looks smart, while its speakers deliver rich audio that belies the reasonable asking price. Colour accuracy is spot-on and although the 1080p display isn’t super sharp, it covers a very respectable 98% of the sRGB colour gamut.
But without doubt, the standout feature is the performance of its AMD Ryzen 5 processor. The CPU – backed up by 16GB RAM – left the likes of the Dell XPS 15, 17in Razer Blade Pro and LG Gram 17 in its dust during our 4K media benchmark tests. The 512GB SSD proved extremely nippy too, achieving quicker read and write speeds than any laptop we’ve tested over the past year with the exception of the £2,479 Apple MacBook Pro (2019).
For the month of November, Honor is offering a free gift with every purchase of the MagicBook Pro. Those ordering before 30 November can claim either an Honor mouse, backpack, Bluetooth earphones or smart wristband, so there’s no better time to pick up what is a highly impressive, reasonably priced laptop.
Read our hands-on Honor MagicBook Pro review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Hexa-core 3GHz AMD Ryzen 5 4600H; RAM: 16GB; Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px; Weight: 1.7kg
7. Microsoft Surface Go 2: A pint-sized premium 2-in-1 laptop
Price: From £399 | Buy now from Microsoft
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a gorgeous tablet capable of functioning as an ultraportable laptop when paired with Microsoft’s Type Cover keyboard, which sadly needs to be bought separately. Cheaper configurations house an Intel Pentium 4425Y processor while the pricier models house an Intel Core M3-8100Y CPU. We tested the latter, backed up by 8GB RAM, and it proved a noticeable step up in performance from the original Surface Go, handling simple tasks effectively, although it still lacks the power to tackle arduous operations.
The FHD display, on the other hand, has no such limitations. It’s half an inch larger than its predecessor, is bright enough to comfortably work outside, covers over 97% of the sRGB colour gamut and sports exceptional colour accuracy. The in-built webcam is equally impressive, with exceptional image quality, highly effective auto-exposure and the ability to record video in 1080p at 30fps. On top of the great screen and webcam, microphone and speaker quality are top-notch, too. All of these smaller details make the Surface Go 2 ideal for attending virtual lectures and seminars or simply catching up with your family over Zoom while away at uni.
Read our Microsoft Surface Go 2 review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Intel Pentium 4425Y/Intel Core M3-8100Y; RAM: 4GB/8GB; Storage: 64GB eMMC/128GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080p; Weight: 540g
8. Samsung Galaxy Book S: Best student laptop with Windows for ARM
Price: £999 | Buy now from Samsung
The Samsung Galaxy Book S is a beautifully designed Windows laptop that’s ideal for students seeking portability and internet connectivity wherever they are. We tested the model powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx ARM processor, which proved capable of handling everyday student tasks effectively and has an outstanding battery life of over 14 hours. There’s also an Intel Core i5 version available, which is likely to be a bit snappier but won’t have the same staying power.
Both include a 4G modem, weigh less than 1kg and are available in two attractive colour schemes: “earthy gold” and “mercury grey”. The 13.3in FHD touchscreen display is sharp, bright and vivid and covers a very respectable 94% of the sRGB colour gamut. Also impressive are the speakers, which are particularly well-suited to voice and video calls.
If you’re after exceptional battery life, the ARM version of the Samsung Galaxy Book S can’t be beaten for the price. If you’re not quite ready to convert to Windows on ARM but, like us, love the design of the Galaxy Book S, then you’ll want to check out the Intel Core i5 model instead.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Book S review for more details
Key specs – Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080;Weight: 0.96kg
9. Acer Swift 3 SF314-57 (2020): Portable, speedy and keenly priced
Price: £799 | Buy now from Laptops Direct
The Acer Swift 3 (2020) is a sensible choice for students wanting an affordable laptop that strikes a nice balance between power and portability. With an Intel Core i7 processor backed up by 8GB of RAM, the Swift 3 performed snappily during day-to-day use, powering on quickly and handling numerous Chrome tabs being open with aplomb.
Build quality is excellent given the Swift 3’s price, as is its FHD IPS display. The screen covers a highly respectable 93.7% of the sRGB colour gamut and is colour accurate, too, with a Delta E score of 1.74 (Delta E 1 is the smallest colour difference the human eye is able to perceive).
The Swift 3 isn’t without its drawbacks: battery life clocked in at just over six hours during our in-house test, so you’ll need to make sure you bring your charger with you if you’re planning a long haul in the library. If you can look past that and the odd humming noise the laptop emits, you’ll be getting a very competent, well-made machine for a competitive price. And if you’re willing to sacrifice display quality to save yourself some cash, it’s worth checking out the cheaper AMD Ryzen 5 CPU variant.
Read our Acer Swift 3 (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Processor: 1.3-3.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 512GB; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.19kg