Looking to take notes in lectures, research online and get your coursework polished off? These laptops go straight to the top of the class
Using the right tool for the right job is crucial when studying, meaning there’s never a bad time to invest in the best laptop for students you can afford.
Demand for student laptops has surged during the global pandemic, with students of all ages needing reliable devices to use both at home and in the classroom.
We’ve tested a huge range of laptops and this article documents those we deem best suited for student life.
Your age, the level at which you’re studying and your budget will determine which student laptop is right for you, so we’ve also included a buying guide detailing the key things to consider when buying a laptop for school, college or university.
Whether you’re in the market for something lightweight and versatile or something that will pack a punch performance-wise, we’ve got an option for you. There’s a student laptop to suit everyone’s needs and, importantly, budget. Read on to find your perfect studying companion.
How to choose the best laptop for school, college or university
How much should I spend on a student laptop?
Depending on what your studies involve and whether you plan on using your laptop for play as well as work, you can spend anywhere between a couple of hundred and a couple of thousand pounds on a student laptop.
However, if you want a device that will last you a number of years and has the capability to support a spot of light gaming, we recommend spending between £500 and £1,000. In this price bracket, you will find laptops that offer impressive performance coupled with attractive build quality.
READ NEXT: The best school bags
Do I need a fast processor and loads of RAM?
Processors and RAM aren’t too important if you just want a laptop for writing essays on – even a cheap Chromebook is good enough for Google Docs and searching the internet.
However, if your studies require the use of more demanding software for photo or video editing, 3D design, or crunching databases, it’s worth putting money towards a more powerful CPU. Intel’s Core i5 and i7 processors are a solid choice – especially if you go for the newer 11th, 12th and 13th generation versions. Meanwhile, AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Ryzen range of processors often rival Intel’s in terms of performance, but come with a smaller price tag, while Apple’s M1 and M2 processors can give some Core i7 CPUs a run for their money. Even the cheapest M1 MacBook Air is a highly capable study and research machine.
More RAM is always welcome, as it means you can leave more applications and browser tabs open before your laptop grinds to a halt. You should look for a laptop with at least 8GB RAM, and 16GB is even better if your budget allows it.
How much storage do I need?
This will be determined by how you plan on using your student laptop. If you’re going to be saving lots of documents locally and plan on downloading numerous applications, you will find storage gets eaten up pretty quickly. A laptop with 256GB of storage will suffice for most students but 512GB is a safer bet if you don’t want to have to uninstall and delete things a year or two after buying your new device.
It’s important to look at the type of storage a laptop has in addition to how much of it you’re getting. A student laptop with a proper SSD (solid-state drive) is preferable to one with a cheaper eMMC flash drive.
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 the number of USB-C or USB 3 ports. The faster USB 3.2 Gen 2 versions are worth paying extra for if you need extra storage or backup through a fast external drive, and you will also have more options for connecting monitors and other devices.
It’s well worth leaving some room in your budget for a good external USB hard drive or SSD, or just making sure to use a cloud storage service like OneDrive or Google Drive to keep your documents backed up. Even the best laptop for students can be damaged, lost or stolen so it pays to make sure your coursework doesn’t disappear along with it.
How we test laptops for students
At Expert Reviews, we have decades of experience reviewing laptops so we intuitively tell a good laptop from a bad one. However, we still need to be sure we’re being as unbiased as possible in our assessments and to do that we run every single laptop we’re sent through a series of benchmark tests.
We test performance with a combination of in-house benchmarking software, third party benchmarking tools and games tests. We also measure a laptop’s screen using a colorimeter and the DisplayCAL software. And we test storage speed, too, recording sequential transfer speeds.
Of course, no suite of laptop benchmarks would be complete without some kind of battery life assessment, and we test this by playing a video on loop and seeing how long it takes to run the battery flat from 100%. We also ensure we actually use every laptop to write on, watch video, browse the web, carry out video calls and more.
READ NEXT: Best external hard drives
The best laptops for students in 2023
1. M1 Apple MacBook Air (2020): Best MacBook for students
Price when reviewed: £849 | Check price at John Lewis 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, 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 laptops we’ve ever seen.
Read our M1 Apple MacBook Air (2020) review
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core Apple M1; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen size: 13.3in; Screen resolution: 2,560 x 1,600; Weight: 1.29kg
2. Dell XPS 13 9310: Best Windows laptop for students
Price when reviewed: £1,599 | Check price at AmazonThe latest XPS 13 houses 11th-gen Intel silicon and is a solid step up from its tenth-gen predecessor when it comes to performance and battery life. It remains one of the best looking laptops around, too, with a compact, sleek build characterised by an attractive aluminium chassis and carbon fibre interior.
Its keyboard is one of the best we’ve tested as well, thanks to a smart layout and keystrokes that feel just right when typing. If your studies require a lot of essay writing, you will find the XPS 13 a dream to work on.
There are various display options available but we reviewed a unit featuring an FHD non-touchscreen. The 16:10 aspect ratio is more pleasant to work on than a 16:9 display, peak brightness of 566cd/m2 enables you to work comfortably on the laptop while outside and both sRGB colour coverage and accuracy are excellent.
It may not be on quite the same level as Apple’s MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, but if you’re in search of a premium Windows laptop to use while studying, there aren’t many better than the Dell XPS 13 9310.
Read our Dell XPS 13 9310 review
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7 or i7-1185G7; RAM: 8/16/32GB; Storage: 512GB/1TB SSD; Screen size: 13.3in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080, 3,456 x 2,160 or 3,840 x 2,400; Weight: 1.2kg
3. HP Pavilion 14: Best-value touchscreen laptop for students
Price when reviewed: From £550 | Check price at HPThis attractive notebook from HP surprised and delighted our reviewer with its inclusion of appealing features rarely found at such an affordable price, namely a fully touch-enabled FHD display and a fingerprint scanner for quick and easy signing-in.
But the Pavilion 14 has a few other strings to its bow, too. Its Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers are among the best we’ve ever heard from a semi-budget laptop, build quality is good and battery life of eight hours is enough for pretty much any student’s needs.
The lack of a keyboard backlight is a little disappointing and if you’re looking for a vibrant, colour-accurate display, you will find better options elsewhere. However, as a value-for-money package, the HP Pavilion 14 is hard to beat. It’s lightweight, looks great and offers little luxuries like a touchscreen while delivering solid performance across the board.
Read our HP Pavilion 14 review
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i3-1115G4, i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7; RAM: 8/16GB; Storage: 256/512GB SSD; Screen size: 14in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.4kg
4. Acer Swift 3 (NX.ABNEK.00A): Best budget compact laptop
Price when reviewed: £800 | Check price at AcerIf what you want out of a laptop is a good screen and good battery life combined with low weight and low price then the latest Acer Swift 3 is the machine for you. It has a well made aluminium chassis, weighs just 1.2kg and is small enough to slip into even the most petite of backpacks, plus its 13.5in 1,920 x 1,080 panel is bright, sharp and colourful.
Acer hasn’t scrimped on the internal specification, either. The Swift 3’s 11th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU may not be quite the latest thing but it does the job; there’s also a decent 8GB of RAM and a pretty quick 512GB SSD for storage. Connectivity is generous (2x USB-A, 1x Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, 1x HDMI 2.1) and the keyboard comes with a nice bright backlight. There also a fingerprint reader to add some biometric security into the mix.
With decent battery life – In our video run-down test, the Swift lasted nearly 11-and-a-half hours, which is impressive – and fast charging this is a fantastic compact laptop at a very reasonable price. The only criticism we can make is that the RAM is soldered to the motherboard and can’t be upgraded.
Read our full Acer Swift 3 review
Key specs – Processor: 4-core Intel Core-i5 1135G7; Display size: 14in; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 512GB SSD; Display resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; GPU: Intel Iris XE; Refresh rate: 65Hz; Weight: 1.2kg
5. Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2021): Best Chromebook for students
Price when reviewed: £700 | Check price at Amazon The latest version of Acer’s excellent Chromebook convertible still looks and feels like a premium laptop despite costing a whole lot less. It combines a superb, high-resolution, square 3:2 aspect ratio screen with a flexible 2-in-1 design and an updated specification built around Intel’s 11th generation Core i3 and Core i5 processors. Even the base-level version with an Intel Core i3-1115G4 is faster than the Core i5 Chromebooks we reviewed last year, handling multiple apps and heaps of browser tabs with ease.
With around nine hours of battery life you can just about scrape through a day of lectures and learning and everything else is exceptionally good, with great colour reproduction from the screen, rich audio, a fine webcam and a keyboard that’s a pleasure to type on. Add advanced connectivity, complete with Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6, and you’ve got a laptop that will last throughout your studies, and then some.
Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i3-1115G4; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen size: 13.5in; Screen resolution: 2,256 x 1,504; Weight: 1.4kg
6. Acer Chromebook Vero 514: Best student Chromebook for performance
Price when reviewed: £530 | Check price at John Lewis The Chromebook Vero 514 is one of the most eco-friendly laptops around. The chassis is made from 30% post-consumer recycled plastics, and even the keyboard keycaps, speakers and touchpad use recycled materials.
However, its real selling point is that you get excellent usability and superb specs at a keen price. All the models use 12th generation Intel Core processors, and while the Core i7-1255U version comes in at £800, the Core i5-1235U version is a steal for £100 less, while the Core i3-1215U variant is one of the fastest Chromebooks you can buy for around £500.
These are tough, well-built Chromebooks with keyboards and touchpads that are comfortably above average. The screen could be brighter, but it’s crisp with accurate colours and fine in most conditions.
The Vero 514 isn’t the sleekest or most exciting student laptop, but it’s solid, dependable and brilliant value, with extra features like fast Wi-Fi 6E wireless networking to give it some extra future-proofing.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1235U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen size: 14in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.4kg
7. Acer Chromebook Spin 513: Best low-cost Chromebook for students
Price when reviewed: £350 | Check price at John Lewis If money’s tight – and it usually is for students – this low-cost Chromebook is a seriously strong option. It’s a 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook with a 13.3in Full HD screen, and it’s slim and light enough to tackle even the toughest day on campus. Yet it can be yours for under £400.
The trick is that it uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7c chipset; one of the first specifically designed by the smartphone chip giant for powering laptop and desktop computers. The Spin 513 is no computing powerhouse, but it’s fast enough for taking notes, writing coursework, editing photos, and doing research on the Web, and it will run for over ten hours without a top-up.
You can use it as a massive tablet or put it in tent mode for a Netflix binge, and you still get an effective keyboard and touchpad. And while the screen isn’t the brightest, it’s not the anaemic, low-contrast horror you might expect for the money. As long as you’re happy running Web-based or Android apps, this is a cracking laptop at a price most can afford.
Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 513 review
Key specs – Processor: Qualcomm 7c; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB eMMC; Screen size: 13.3in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.29kg
8. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2: Best budget Windows laptop
Price when reviewed: From £529 | Check price at Microsoft The original Microsoft Surface Laptop Go occupied this slot on the list for years, but now there’s a new contender: the Go 2. It won’t set the world on fire as an update, but Microsoft has made just enough changes to make it the best cheap Windows laptop for students.
First, it looks stunning: the lid and keyboard are crafted from matte-finish aluminium, while it weighs an ultraportable 1.1kg. That makes it ideal for carrying to lectures. Open the smooth hinge and you will be greeted by a keyboard that’s satisfying to use and a 12.4in, 1,536 x 1,024 touchscreen display that’s crisp and accurate.
Inside, you’re getting more than enough performance grunt for studying, writing and even photo-editing tasks. It won’t conk out halfway through the day, either, with a battery life of 9hrs 36mins in our video-rundown test. That’s over two hours longer than the first Laptop Go.
In short, there’s very little not to like about the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2. Yes, it could have more ports (you’re only getting one USB-C and USB-A), but this is an exceptional and affordable main machine that won’t let you down.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen size: 12.4in; Screen resolution: 1,536 x 1,024; Weight: 1.1kg
9. Acer Swift 5 (2021): A Windows laptop to rival the MacBook Air
Price when reviewed: £1,000 | Check price at John LewisIf you’ve got a grand to spend on a student laptop, our first recommendation would be the MacBook Air above. But if you’re not a fan of macOS and want to stick with Windows, the new Acer Swift 5 is an excellent choice.
The entry-level model we tested houses an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics and a 512GB SSD and performed well across our various performance and benchmarking tests. The Swift 5 remained cool and ran quietly throughout those tests, which is always reassuring, and battery life clocked in at a very respectable 11hrs 15mins.
With connection ports aplenty, a colourful, vibrant touchscreen display and weighing a mere 1kg, the Acer Swift 5 is a highly capable, ultraportable laptop that you won’t regret spending a chunk of your student loan on.
Read our Acer Swift 5 (2021) review
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7 RAM: 8GB; Storage: 512GB SSD; Screen size: 14in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080p; Weight: 1.05kg
10. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5in: Best Microsoft laptop for students
Price when reviewed: £620 | Check price at Amazon Much like its third-generation predecessor, the Surface Laptop 4 is a high-quality ultraportable laptop. It’s wonderfully light, looks great and its 13.5in touchscreen is superb. The 2,256 x 1504 resolution display is limited to covering the sRGB colour gamut but does so very capably, covering over 95% of it with excellent accuracy. Peak brightness is high enough to ensure readability in most conditions, although the screen’s glossy finish does catch reflections, which is important to remember if you plan on studying outdoors.
There are both AMD and Intel-powered models available, but the base specification houses an AMD Ryzen 5 4860U processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. We tested a model with very similar specs (the review unit housed 16GB RAM and isn’t available in the UK) and the Surface Laptop 4 actually outperformed the M1 MacBook Air in our in-house 4K media benchmark test. However, its graphical credentials are less impressive and battery life falls short of other attractive student laptops such as the Dell XPS 13, Samsung Galaxy Book Pro and aforementioned MacBook Air.
Although it can’t quite overhaul the M1 MacBook Air as the best value ultraportable student laptop on the market, the Surface Laptop 4 is a device any student would happy to own and use as their day-to-day work machine.
Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review
Key specs – Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 4680U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB; Screen size: 13.5in; Screen resolution: 2,256 x 1,504; Weight: 1.27kg