Your buying guide for the best student laptops in 2020
Picking a laptop for sixth form, university or other forms of study is not easy. There's no one laptop that rules them all as which one is right for you depends on various factors. It's a tricky decision but we've rounded up the best laptops for students to help you find something.
There are a few things to consider when buying a student laptop so read our buying advice before pulling the trigger. We've ranked them, but the right one for you could be anywhere in the list.
How much should I spend?
Do you need a £1,000 laptop? Will it get broken or worse, stolen? While more expensive laptops will give you better gaming performance, should you really be playing Fortnite for that many hours with those deadlines?
We jest really, students studying courses that require complex software - we're thinking things like animation or video editing - will need a laptop with some high-end hardware. You don't want to be waiting around forever for things to render when you have a deadline.
However, those who simply just need to write word documents and browse the internet can spend a lot less and still have a laptop that's perfectly good.
Since there's a wide range of needs out there depending on your circumstances, we've included a real mix of devices to choose from here including Chromebooks.
They might not technically be laptops but we've also included a couple of tablets since with the help of a keyboard case and/or stylus, they could be a much better solution for some students.
Most laptops are 13in and really this has been the sweetspot between size and portability for a long time. However, you can get smaller or larger displays depending on what you need to do.
Bear in mind that cheaper laptops will come with a lower-grade display which is likely to be on the dim side and not very crisp either. It's just one of the compromises, so if you need to do something like photo editing then splashing a bit more cash will be well worth your while.
You get what you pay for when it comes to laptops, so a model closer to £1,000 is going to have things like a better processor such as a Core i7, more memory and storage. It might even have a dedicated graphics card. All of this will come in handy if you're doing more complex tasks.
Cheaper options may come with a lower-power Intel Pentium chip. They will also have a lot less memory and storage, so make sure it will be up to the job first.
Keyboard and trackpad
Not all keyboard and trackpads are made equal. MacBook trackpads are best in class, but you pay for the privilege, while what type of keyboard you prefer is quite a personal thing.
Do you want a lot of travel on your keys, or something flatter and slim? Do you need a full size keyboard with a numpad? Sacrificing that will allow you to get a more compact design handy for toting round campus.
Everyone wants great battery life from a laptop. After all, no piece of tech is very useful if it dies half way through your day of lectures.
There's no pattern to which laptops have the best battery life as more expensive ones may use the power up on fancy components. Meanwhile, a budget laptop might scrimp on the size of the battery to keep costs down.
Click through to the full reviews of the laptops we recommend to read about the battery life.
Ports and drives
It might not seem important now, but think carefully about what ports you will need. Many modern laptops come with hardly any ports and they are often USB-C.
This means you can't just plug in an old-school USB flash drive or HDMI cable without getting an adapter (or dongle). Since cheaper laptops are chunkier, they typically have more space for full-size ports and this could be a real boon.
Also remember that laptops don't come with a CD/DVD drive any more, so if you need one an external drive is a must.
As well as all the above, you need to pick what operating system you want to use. You're main choices are Windows 10 and macOS and it's likely you already know which one you prefer.
If not then check whether the software you need to run is compatible and simply whether you like using it. Try a friends or play with some in a physical store if you need to.
There are other options such as ChromeOS which is extremly easy to use, but does require an internet connection for full functionality. The tablets we've included are also intuative, but again, make sure they will be able to run the apps you need first.
Best laptop for students 2020
- Reviewed on: 17 July 2019
It might not look any different from the previous model, but the Envy 13 is still a firm favourite at Tech Advisor towers. Yet again, HP is offering outstanding value for money here.
Even the cheapest model has decent specs including an Nvidia MX250 graphics card where many rivals are using the older MX150 or simply integrated graphics. It's also got something quite rare these days in the form of a humble microSD cards slot.
There might not be Thunderbolt 3 support but that shouldn't be too much of a big deal for most users. HP has importantly improved the trackpad, battery life and the screen is much better than last year's model too.
If you want a premium laptop at a reasonable price without scrimping on specs, then the Envy 13 is the one.
Read our HP Envy 13 (2019) review.
2. HP 250 G7
- Reviewed on: 30 August 2019
It has a distinctly plain design and so so build quality but that's typically the case with any budget laptop.
What's important here is that you get a set of core specs that is highly unusual at this price. Namely a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. This means performance can match that of much more expensive laptops and the 350 G7 is capable of tackling more demanding tasks.
Battery life is decent, too but the poor screen stops it scoring any higher.
Read our HP 250 G7 review.
- Reviewed on: 12 July 2019
The 2019 XPS 13 is much more about refinement than innovation but easily remains one the best 13in laptop around.
Webcam placement aside, the combination of a small form factor, incredibly impressive aesthetics and engineering and the option of a powerful Core i7 or cheaper i3 processor make it an ideal companion for almost anyone.
This isn't a gaming laptop, as the on-board graphics are unimpressive, and if you need GPU grunt for things like video editing then there are similarly priced, or even cheaper, rivals that have dedicated graphics cards if you need it..
Last year's model also remains an excellent buy too if you're looking for a slightly more budget option.
Read our Dell XPS 13 9380 (2019) review.
- Reviewed on: 16 August 2019
There's a lot to like about the Acer Aspire 3 including it's simple yet nice design including fairly slim bezels, decent selection of ports and a dedicated numpad.
We're more impressed by the specs and performance on offer here at this price. A speedy Core i5 processor means it can keep up with much more expensive laptops in some tasks. There's also a huge 1TB of storage if you have a lot of files to keep on this laptop.
In order to smash it out the park, we'd like a brighter screen that has a higher resolution and longer batter life than six hours
Read our Acer Aspire 3 (A315-54) review.
- Reviewed on: 5 October 2018
If you want a new Windows laptop you should seriously consider the Surface Go. It's more portable and lightweight than the Surface Pro and thanks to its size you can actually use it on your lap.
We recommend the more expensive version with 8GB RAM but if you are a light user than the base model is fine for email, word processing and Netflix. The build quality is excellent but you will have to pay for the not-included Type Cover.
Overall the Surface Go is a triumph and a genuine option over similarly priced, cumbersome laptops.
Read our Microsoft Surface Go review.
- Reviewed on: 22 April 2019
The iPad Air is a fast machine with a large and well-specced screen, long battery life and attractive (if old-fashioned) design - the old familiar Home button and particularly the headphone port will be seen as plus points by many. The front-facing camera provides high-quality FaceTime video and selfies, and while the rear camera is less impressive this is a sensible area for a mid-size tablet to cut costs.
Talking of which, £479/$499 (for the perfectly adequate base storage allocation) is good value for all the goodies just mentioned. Those on a tight budget should choose the iPad 9.7in, and a Pro model is probably better for a creative professional, but for most people this is now the best iPad on the market.
Read our Apple iPad Air (2019) review.
- Reviewed on: 3 January 2018
The rugged construction of the C213 will definitely appeal to those who intend to either give this to a child or want to use it themselves in harsher conditions. Having an easy to repair modular design is a welcome feature in these days of soldered laptop components.
It’s a tough machine that also offers decent performance at a price that, while higher than some Chromebooks (and regular laptops), is still acceptable. The only real drawback is the average display, which does seem a slight misstep in the now HD world.
Read our Asus Chromebook Flip C213NA review.
- Reviewed on: 3 October 2019
The Surface Laptop 3 is now here to replace this model, but we're not convinced it's worth spending extra on.
Microsoft hasn't changed a huge amount so you'll be splashing on on a collection of small upgrades. They do make for a better laptop but while the Surface Laptop 2 is available at a much cheaper price, we recommend getting a better value deal.
The main reason would be to get the larger 15in size, but the 13in model will be more popular anyway we imagine. The Surface Laptop 2 remains an excellent choice for design, features and performance.
Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review.
- Reviewed on: 13 August 2019
The MacBook Air remains a good choice for a portable laptop that's powerful enough to do various tasks. Our disappointment comes from how similar it is to last year's model and the fact the power is actually slightly down on the 2018 Air.
It's still something of a classic in the world of laptops but is just a little bit samey. It now comes with an improved keyboard, although it's still not perfect, and True Tone screen technology.
It might be a little cheaper than before but Windows rivals are still often better value.
Read our Apple MacBook Air (2019) review.
- Reviewed on: 5 July 2019
The Lenovo V330 by no means the perfect budget laptop but is a great option for those looking for power and performance rather than style and design.
This might be an unsightly laptop on the whole, but it has surprisingly good AMD components including a dedicated graphics card. In our benchmarks it even outperformed laptops costing over £1,000. It's also portable and has good connectivity.
However, it flounders when it comes to the display which is seriously lacking in brightness and this doesn't even appear to help battery life which is short to say the least.
Read our Lenovo V330-14ARR review.