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Best laptop for students UK 2021: Fast, reliable student laptops for school, college and university - plus Black Friday discounts

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In search of top-of-the-class tech? These are the best laptops for students available

The academic year is well underway but 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'll 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.

Enjoy a Black Friday discount on the Huawei MateBook D15 (2021)

Amazon has knocked a whopping £251 off the price of the MateBook D15 (2021) as part of its Black Friday sales event. The laptop received our Recommended award at its RRP of £750; at this low price it's a no-brainer.
Amazon
Was £750
Now £499

HUGE Black Friday savings on the Surface Laptop Go

The Surface Laptop Go is Microsoft's cheapest laptop and the 128GB SSD storage model is down to its lowest-ever price of £499, which is a saving of £200 on RRP. There are also deals on the 64GB and 256GB SSD storage models, with discounts of £74 and £220 available, respectively.
Amazon
Was £700
Now £499

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is now just £339

There may be a new Surface Go on the scene, but the last-generation model is still a great tablet-cum-laptop. The Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y-powered 128GB SSD version has never been cheaper thanks to a hefty Black Friday discount that means you can pick one up for just £339.
Amazon
Was £449
Now £339

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.

If you're on a tight budget or buying a laptop for your child to use for schoolwork, we recommend checking out our list of the best cheap laptops and the best laptops for kids.

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'll 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, while AMD's Ryzen range of processors often rival Intel's in terms of performance but come with a smaller price tag.

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 4GB RAM, though we'd encourage you to go for one with 8GB RAM 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'll find storage gets eaten up pretty quickly. A laptop with 128GB of storage will suffice for most students but 256GB 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 as they're faster than mechanical hard disks and eMMC flash storage.

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 for students can be damaged, lost or stolen so it pays to make sure your coursework doesn’t disappear along with it.

READ NEXT: Best external hard drives

Best laptop for students: At a glance


The best laptops for students

1. M1 Apple MacBook Air (2020): The best MacBook for students

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, 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 for more details

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: The best Windows laptop for students

Price: From £1,099 | Buy now from Dell

The 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'll 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 for details

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

Buy now from Dell


3. HP Pavilion 14: The best-value touchscreen laptop for students

Price: From £549 | Buy now from Currys

This 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'll 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 for details

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: 1.41kg

Buy now from Currys


4. Acer Chromebook Spin 713: The best Chromebook for students

Price: £599 | Buy now from Currys

The Acer Spin 713 looks, feels and performs like a high-end Chromebook but doesn't come with the premium price tag, making it our Chromebook of choice for budget-conscious students. The model recommended here houses a tenth-gen Intel Core i3 processor, which isn't the fastest around but performs admirably. Unless you've got loads of Chrome tabs open or are running multiple demanding apps you won't notice any slowdown or hear a peep from the laptop's cooling fans.

Battery life clocks in at over 12 hours so will get you through a whole day of studying, but the Spin 713's standout feature is its 3:2 aspect ratio display. It works brilliantly with the Chrome OS' desktop scaling, covers close to 100% of the sRGB colour gamut with decent accuracy and image quality is superb. The only downside to the display is how reflective it is so you'll want to make sure you sit in the dimmest corner of the library possible!

Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i3-10110U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 128GB SSD; Screen size: 13.5in; Screen resolution: 2,256 x 1,504; Weight: 1.5kg

Buy now from Currys


5. Huawei MateBook D15 (2021): Competency and value in a compact package

Price: £649 | Buy now from Huawei

The latest iteration of the Huawei MateBook D15 is a no-frills laptop that's competent, well made and good value for money. The 11th-gen Intel Core i5 processor powering it returned the highest score of any Core i5 laptop we've reviewed in our in-house 4K media benchmark test and although it lacks a discrete graphics chip, the D15 achieved reasonable framerates while gaming, too.

Battery life has improved by over an hour from the AMD Ryzen 5 model we reviewed in 2020 but the rest of the package remains very similar. Build quality is impressive - the chassis is made from a rigid aluminium alloy - and the device is still eminently portable at just 1.56kg. Three USB-A ports, a USB-C port, HDMI port and 3.5mm audio jack provide plenty of connection options and the keyboard is both spacious and quiet to type on. The D15's keyboard lacks a backlight, however, and the brightness, sRGB coverage and colour accuracy of the display are rather disappointing.

Despite those issues, the Huawei MateBook D15's pros far outweigh its cons. If you're after a 15.6in laptop to use while studying, the D15 offers a great combination of performance, portability and price.

Read our Huawei MateBook D15 (2021) review for more details

Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 512GB SSD; Screen size: 15.6in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.56kg


6. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: The most affordable Microsoft laptop for students

Price: From £549 | 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 a 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 fast and secure, while the device boots rapidly and handles 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. 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 size: 12.4in; Screen resolution: 1,536 x 1,024; Weight: 1.11kg

Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop Go review for more details


7. Acer Swift 5 (2021): A Windows laptop to rival the MacBook Air

Price: £899 | Buy now from Amazon

If 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 for details

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


8. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5in: The best Microsoft laptop for students

Price: From £979 | Buy now from 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 for details

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


9. LG Gram 17: The best large-screen laptop for students

Price: From £1,099 | Buy now from Amazon

If your studies require the use of a large screen you won't find a better-equipped laptop than the LG Gram 17. It's powered by 11th-generation Intel silicon and delivers speedy performance coupled with impressive battery life.

At just 1.35kg, it's the lightest laptop of its size and the keyboard feels good to type on, plus there's a number pad too, which is a welcome inclusion. The 17in display is the star of the show, however, covering 99% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut with excellent accuracy. The 16:10 aspect ratio makes the screen a joy to work on and a polarising layer helps readability outdoors despite the screen's glossy finish.

If you're after a laptop that works brilliantly as both a mobile workstation and desktop replacement, the LG Gram 17 is pretty much the perfect solution - just make sure you've got a bag big enough to carry it around. Should the 17in model be a tad too large for your requirements, the Gram 16 offers a very similar experience in a more compact package.

Read our full LG Gram 17 (2021) review for details

Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7; RAM: 8 or 16GB; Storage: 512GB or 1TB SSD; Screen size: 17in; Screen resolution: 2,560 x 1,600; Weight: 1.35kg


10. Microsoft Surface Go 2: A pint-sized premium 2-in-1 laptop

Price: From £359 | 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 size: 10.5in; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 540g

Buy now from Microsoft