Best laptops for university students to suit all budgets

·11-min read
 (Microsoft)
(Microsoft)

Whether it’s cramming for exams or watching lectures online, a laptop is pretty much essential for those heading off to college or university this September.

Perhaps you’re a parent looking for a model to help your teen study at home for their GCSEs, A-Levels, or degree. Or maybe you yourself are setting off for uni next month and need a laptop to keep up with your studies. Either way, finding a laptop that delivers in all areas can be tricky.

The first factor is, of course, price. With fees and textbooks to pay for, some student’s budgets may not stretch to pricier models. Another is functionality, which will depend on the individual student’s needs and the course they’re taking. For example, a graphic design student may prioritise screens with full HD resolution or models that can be switched to a tablet with a digital pen to create digital projects. You’ll also need to decide between operating systems Windows, Chrome and macOS and consider your storage requirements (especially if your course requires you to download lots of software).

The functionality of your laptop will likely impact how heavy it is too; another key consideration if you plan to lug it around between classes. Smaller, lighter laptops are great for students who travel but slightly bulkier models may boast bigger screens, longer battery life, or higher storage capacity. With these factors in mind, we’ve rounded up the best laptops for students, covering every price point and purpose.

HP Pavilion 15-eh0507sa 15.6” Laptop - AMD Ryzen 3, 256 GB, Silver

The HP Pavilion 15 is a great mid-budget student laptop that delivers on lots of different factors, making it an ideal all-rounder and our best buy. It’s admittedly slightly bulkier than some models and doesn’t feel quite as sleek but is still lightweight enough to carry around all day without much effort. Its real selling point is the 15.6-inch display, which delivers really great resolution (Full HD with a 1920 x 1080 resolution) and is perfect for streaming video content.

Set up is smooth and speedy, as is using the touch screen function which is another real selling point of this model. The lack of a 360-degree hinge might be a drawback for some so it’s worth mentioning, although its functionality more than makes up for it. Other things we loved were the full-sized keyboard, fingerprint login, and the clever fast charge (which takes you from 0-50% in 45 minutes). HP also offers student discounts.

Buy now £449.00, Currys

2020 Apple MacBook Air

MacBook Air is certainly on the pricier end of the student laptop market but they lead the way with portability and unlike most super lightweight models, don’t lose out on functionality. The 2020 update offers up to an incredible 18 hours battery life so there’s no need to panic if you leave home without your charger.

What’s more, the impressively powerful Apple M1 processor means you glide from one program to the next with incredibly quick loading speed. The only downside to purchasing a Macbook for the first time is having to figure out a whole new operating system if you’re used to Windows or Chrome but there’s a reason why so many who make the switch never go back.

Students may also be eligible for free Airpods and 20 per cent off Apple care with Apple’s Back to School Discount if purchasing a Macbook. You can also get up to £450 when you trade in your old Macbook.

Buy now £949.00, John Lewis

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

Since the release of the original Microsoft Surface Laptop Go in 2020, hybrid tablet laptops have caused quite a stir in the tech world and are particularly great for students. Microsoft’s latest release comes with all the features you would expect, and a few extras, making this a great purchase for those needing something to use on the go that won’t blow the budget.

For those after something lightweight, it doesn’t get better than this as the whole device weighs a mere 1127g. Alongside its feather light feel, it’s incredibly slim and is generally a lot more compact than other models

The 12.4 inch display is slightly smaller than other models and makes it feel more tablet-like, but is fine if you need it on call for entertainment, light gaming and essay writing.

When it comes to everyday use, this laptop comes close to perfection. It has a vibrant display, colour contrast and higher resolution than similar models, making it perfect for streaming and social media scrolling.

Buy now £529.00, Microsoft

Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro

If there’s one word to describe the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro, it would be sleek- in every which way. Firstly in its design. As well as looking great, this student laptop really is ultra, ultra-slim (just 11.2mm thick) and feels as light as a feather (weighing just 870g).

Despite its frame, it offers up to 21 hours of battery power (yes, you read that right); with nine hours being available after just 30 minutes charge. It uses an 11th Gen Intel Core processor; designed for super-thin laptops and handles multiple screens with super-fast responsiveness and Instant wake (less than one second). Whilst the 1920x1080 HD Screen delivers an incredibly vibrant, crisp picture.

As you’d expect for the almost £1000 price tag, there are lots of other clever features and the synchronicity with other Samsung products is a real selling point for users who already have a Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet. Users can track the location of all Galaxy devices; pair it with a Galaxy Tab S7 to use a second screen feature; share notes across all Samsung devices with Samsung note and use quick share to seamlessly share photos, videos, and files between galaxy devices. Those who have been looking for a laptop that’s super light, super speedy, and has super battery life may have had to change allegiance from Apple as the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro certainly competes.

Buy now £999.00, Samsung

Lenovo 300e Chromebook

A cheaper alternative to a student laptop is usually a Chromebook. A Chromebook brings plenty of pros: they’re inexpensive; usually have decent battery life and storage through the cloud means you don’t need to keep stressing about backing up your hard drive. Our first impression of the Lenovo 300E was just how robust it felt despite its compact 11.6” HD screen. There’s a good reason for this: it might not look super stylish but Lenovo boasts this model is drop-resistant at up to 75cm with its keyboard being water-resistant up to 330mls. You’ll also be able to make the most of the up to ten hours of battery life, a front-facing HD camera for Zoom seminars, and full hinge rotation to be used as a tablet; with the option of touchscreen mode.

Of course, Chromebooks bring a few drawbacks for students; a key consideration is to check that your course doesn’t require certain software that isn’t available on the Google Chrome Stores. Another is they offer much less storage (this one, like most Chromebooks, offers 32GB). Despite this, the Lenovo 300E Chromebook is a great 2-in-1 model and if you’re in the market for a student Chromebook, this is our top pick.

Buy now £249.00, Amazon

Asus Vivobook E510MA

A 15in laptop with 128GB of storage and running Windows (in S mode, but there are ways around this) - this is the ideal machine for a lot of people, especially as it comes in under £250. The screen is 1080p, non-touch but with an LED backlight, and suffers from a brightness of 200 nits, which isn’t going to work well in bright sunlight but is a good size for media watching in a suitably darkened room.

With 4GB of RAM - the absolute minimum we’d recommend - and the popular dual-core Celeron N4020 CPU that boosts to 2.8GHz, this is a machine tailored for office work (a year’s subscription to Office 365 is included), writing, and perhaps a little light image-editing work. There's a good selection of ports to complement the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with some fast USBs (there’s no memory card slot, so storage can be expanded with a flash drive or USB hard drive as needed), a full-size HDMI, and a headphone jack.

A battery life of 14 hours is quoted, which is extremely good at this level, and at 18mm thick and weighing 1.63kg, this is a slim, light choice for students or those looking for a portable writing machine.

Buy now £299.00, Currys

Venturer Challenger 10 Pro 2 in 1 10 inch Tablet

For students on a strict budget, a tablet+keyboard combo can work out much more cost-effective than purchasing a laptop and tablet separately. At not much over a hundred pounds, the Venture Challenger 10 Pro is certainly the cheapest in our roundup but what can it offer?

Well, it’s certainly an incredibly portable student laptop but also quite robust. The 10-inch tablet touchscreen (which detaches swiftly via magnets to be used as a standalone screen) is ideal for students who need to watch revision videos or lecture playbacks at 1280 x 800 resolution.

There are only 32GB of storage but it does have a micro SD slot to allow you to expand this easily enough should you need to. The detachable keyboard is sturdier and easier to use than a lot of flimsy mini keyboards we’ve tried: it’s perfect for responding to emails and typing up course notes but students with long essays to write will most likely tire of it after some time.

Its size and price means it does compromise slightly in two areas: battery life (coming in at six hours) and processing; it lags behind most in our roundup in terms of speed, but we think for students who don’t require the use of lots of software or streaming might still find it useful.

Offering the benefits of a tablet with simple laptop features, we think this one is more suited to younger students.

Buy now £119.99, Argos

Lenovo 14w

At around the £300 mark, the Lenovo 14w is a no-frills student laptop that is a great option for those who with smaller budgets but also don’t want to look for laptop alternatives such as Chromebooks or tablets. In basic black, this device is pretty unassuming but the aluminium shell is a nice change from many plastic models. It’s easily portable and offers a battery life of around ten hours.

The front-facing camera function is easy to use and a really nice touch (although the resolution leaves a little to be desired) and the AMD processor also does a decent job. As you’d expect, for its price point it doesn’t boast a huge amount of storage (coming in at 64 GB) and we found the keyboard a little flimsy but on the whole, it’s still a decent laptop and a great price.

Buy now £329.99, Lenovo

AVITA Pura 14" Laptop - AMD Ryzen 5, 256 GB SSD, Silver

We loved this fun, sleek, lightweight laptop, which weighs in at just 1.35kg and comes in a choice of colours (such as red, rose gold, and silver). At a few hundred pounds less than lots of student laptops, it’s a great buy for anyone looking for a basic laptop that delivers on functionality.

The price does come with a few limitations-such as the 14” inch screen, which isn’t as sharp as some in our roundup, but still manages to do an okay job so long as you’re not buying it purely to watch movies on. Despite its size, it still offers a decent eight-hour battery life and The Ryzen 5 processor means it boots up super quickly in less than twenty seconds.

If you’re looking for a beginner’s student laptop that’s a great price and super lightweight for traveling, this is the one for you.

Buy now £399.00, Currys

Verdict

There are lots of great student laptops on the market so it really depends on your needs. The HP Pavilion is our best buy thanks to it being a great all-rounder but if you can splash out, the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro certainly looks the part and has a whole host of clever features and an impressive battery life which certainly justifies its price tag.