Whether you’re off to immerse yourself in fluid dynamics or Gide, need a lightweight laptop for lectures or a powerhouse for creative software, or simply want something cheap for late-night coursework, there’s a student laptop here for you. You may also want to take a look at our guide to the best tablets and best Chromebooks as well.
What’s the best student laptop to buy in 2021?
Surprise, surprise, MacBook Air M1 (from £899) is the best laptop for students in our book. It’s what they want and for once, with good reason – this is a stylish, capable machine with a great keyboard and long battery life.
Our pick for the best budget laptop for students is Lenovo’s nifty IdeaPad 5 (from £549). This mid-range laptop puts in the performance with comfortable typing and a light but sturdy design.
And, if you’re looking for a sleek student laptop but don’t want to spend around £1000, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go (£540) is our best MacBook alternative for students. It’s an affordable entry into basic computing and web browsing.
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Apple MacBook Air M1
WIRED Recommends: Apple’s MacBook Air is the ideal companion for campus life
Weight: 1.29kg | Size: 4.1-16mm thick | Battery life: 15 hours | Screen: 13.3-inch 2560×1600 | RAM: 8/16GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD CPU: M1 | OS: MacOS Big Sur
The MacBook Air M1 (from £899) is the ideal option for students: it has the power to handle work assignments, from essay writing and photo work to content creation and video tasks. While the design is yet to get a significant overhaul, this look has stuck around for a reason – it remains one of the most stunning and high-quality laptops around. It’s remarkably thin and the metal unibody soars above many rival manufacturers – including the impressive-in-its-own-right XPS 13.
The star of the show is, undoubtedly, the new Apple M1 chip. The ARM-based processor – following on from a disappointing end to the Intel/Apple era – offers stunningly fast productivity performance, with little slow down to be seen in tasks and multi-tasking being an absolute breeze. The Air manages to achieve this without a fan, meaning you get a whisper-quiet experience every day. All this combined equals an experience made for those long library sessions, with an essay on the go, a music app in the background and a silent laptop that’ll dodge any errant shushing. The lack of a fan does mean sustained performance for more demanding tasks like video and photo editing is limited, but it is still extremely capable of dabbling in both.
ARM processors are known for their added efficiency, so it may have taken many by surprise when Apple touted performance gains – but it delivered. However, there’s still significant progress on the battery life side too – boosting usage time up from around 12 hours on the previous model to around 18 on the new M1-powered offering.
Some may be slightly disappointed with the design staying the same as previous years – especially at such a high price – and those thicker bezels particularly stand out against some rivals. Nevertheless, this feeling will mostly melt away once you have this device in hand and see the crisp Retina display – you’ll quickly realise the MacBook Air remains a luxurious bit of kit.
Also consider: On first look, the Apple MacBook Pro M1 (from £1,152) looks like a bit of an unnecessary extra expenditure for many MacBook fans – with the tremendous air somewhat undercutting it. However, the Pro model gets a boost from a fan – meaning if you expect to work intensively on your MacBook and dabble in more demanding tasks, like editing, it could be worth your cash. You get the benefit of two extra Thunderbolt ports too.
Finally, it’s well worth considering that Apple offers a student discount that’s worth checking out.
Pros: Fanless bliss; blistering performance; great batteryCons: Design stays the same; poor webcam
Weight: 1.11kg | Size: 15.69mm thick | Battery life: Up to 8 hours | Screen: 12.4-inch 1536×1024 | RAM: Up to 8GB | Storage: Up to 256GB SSD CPU: 11th Gen Core i5 | OS: Windows 10 Home S Mode
While the MacBook Air M1 hits so many of the key factors a student should be looking for in a laptop in time for back to school, it isn’t a cheap laptop. For those who don’t want to spend £1,000 but still want slimline ultrabook looks and design, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go (£540) is a great option for a student Windows laptop.
The Surface Laptop Go does feel remarkably like what we might get if Apple ever did venture into cut-price laptop territory – with the pricier Surface Laptop mimicking the MacBook’s metal unibody design and the cheaper Go remixing this to make it more affordable. One of the sacrifices to get this price under £600 is adding a plastic underside to the Surface Laptop Go – however, it really doesn’t lose that much here, using a plastic that’s smooth to the touch and certainly doesn’t feel all that cheap.
For performance, the Surface Laptop Go is made for all your essay-writing and web browsing needs. The combination of an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB RAM is just the ticket for basic productivity tasks, and 256GB SSD storage should do the job if you’re primarily working on the web. However, some may find the storage a tad paltry if you are someone who needs added room for a load of offline documents as well as images and video. You may also want to boost up to the 8GB of RAM version if you’re someone who ventures above 6-8 tabs on the web and like to run 3+ tasks at once.
The display, keyboard and trackpad are all reined in from the more expensive Surface Laptop, to varying degrees. The keyboard on the Laptop Go’s pricier equivalent is one of the best around so we didn’t expect the same at this low price. Nevertheless, it remains strong – with a surprising amount of travel for such a small and thin device. Fatigue will be a rarity – reestablishing this laptop’s essay chops. The trackpad is less good – it remains daily responsive but is not all that clicky. While the display is sub-1080p, which may be a disappointing spec to some but, at this size, it is still a crisp panel and the productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio goes some way to make up for this.
A hidden gem of the Surface Laptop Go is its speakers – they obliterate the competition at this price and many laptops a few hundred pounds more. There isn’t a ton of bass but enough that it’s surprisingly strong given this laptop size and audio remains accurate even at high volumes.
Also consider: If you’d like to up the ante on portability as well as getting the flexibility of a laptop/tablet hybrid, you should consider the Microsoft Surface Go 2 (£398) too. It offers less power and reduced screen size, compared to its laptop sibling, but it’s great for watching video and makes for a surprisingly good productivity tasker when paired with a keyboard cover.
Pros: Stylish student-friendly design; a great keyboard; strong audio capabilities; ideal for essay-writingCons: Base model lacks fingerprint scanner and offers low RAM
Weight: 1.4kg | Size: 19mm thick | Battery life: Up to 12 hours | Screen: 14inch 1080p | RAM: Up to 8GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD | CPU: Up to Ryzen 7 4700U | OS: Windows 10 Home
The is our favourite budget laptop you can buy and, while the current model available is a tad pricier than the best value for money model, you are still getting a strong deal – even at just over £650.
The VivoBook’s student-friendly points get a slight ding due to its rather underwhelming looks but its fairly standard design won’t offend anyone – and you get plenty of function for this lack of form. With a 4th generation Ryzen processor accompanied by 8GB RAM, this is an essay-writing Chrome-browsing. You’ll be able to run Spotify or Netflix comfortably in the background while tracking down those essay sources across upwards of 10-15 tabs in your web browser. Its essay writing chops is only enhanced by a pleasant keyboard, with a good amount of travel – preventing any fatigue as you close in on those last few hundred words.
While the design of the VivoBook 14 won’t bowl you over like the Surface Laptop Go might, it’d be harsh to call it ugly and it certainly tops many rivals. A pop of colour on each of the Black, Blue and Grey models prevents the VivoBook from being a bore. At this price, you aren’t going to get a display that stuns you with its looks but the 1080p panel offers good detail and it gets suitably bright too.
Impressive speakers and a strong port selection complete the top drawer line-up of this reasonably priced device. The VivoBook 14 is an all-rounder that almost none can match at this price.
Also consider: While we recommend the AMD models of the Asus VivoBook 14, these Intel variants are not to be sniffed at. The Asus VivoBook X413 (£540) offers up an 11th Gen Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD storage. For something more flashy, the Asus VivoBook S435EA (£640) features a metal chassis, alongside 32GB Intel Optane storage, a 512GB SSD, 8GB RAM and 11th Gen Core i7 chip.
Pros: Essay-friendly keyboard; productivity performance to spare; good port selectionCons: Uninspiring display; not a head-turner
Weight: 420g (920g w/ cover and keyboard) | Size: 7.35mm thick (18.2mm w/ cover and keyboard) | Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Screen: 10.1-inch 1080p | RAM: Up to 4GB | Storage: 64GB eMCP | CPU: MediaTek P60T | OS: Windows 10 Home S Mode
The is a perfect balance of portability and functionality. It runs right up to the line of being too small for getting work done before gently slotting itself into your bag or rucksack without you noticing. The value is unmatched too, with a case and keyboard included – unlike Microsoft’s Surface line, in which they come as a pricey extra.
Some may still find this screen to be too small for their liking, especially if you are hoping to do plenty of multi-window work. Instead, its size makes the Chromebook Duet a one task at a time machine – its 4GB RAM makes this a requirement too. But, the MediaTek P60T processor, that little amount of RAM and ChromeOS work well enough together to produce decent results. If you have coursework to finish, you’ll have no trouble opening Google Docs and using this device’s surprisingly great, yet slim, keyboard cover to complete your task. If you do need to open a few tabs, you can comfortably run six or seven before noticing any slowdown.
The IdeaPad Chromebook Duet is also extremely friendly to use in its tablet mode – with the keyboard easily slipping off and apps like Netflix allowing offline downloads on ChromeOS. This device seamlessly converts into a tablet that’s ideal for watching videos, swiping through social media and reading your favourite magazines.
While this convertible mostly benefits from its small size, it’s also where flaws seep in. The 4GB RAM does limit multitasking while the 64GB storage is disappointingly small. Nevertheless, the remarkably low price makes up for the few flaws of this Lenovo pocket wonder.
Pros: Unrivalled portability; keyboard and cover included; great in tablet and desktop modeCons: Low storage; low RAM
Weight: 1.4kg | Size: 14.9mm thick | Battery life: Up to 13 hours | Screen: 14-inch 1920×1080 | RAM: 8/16GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD | CPU: Up to AMD Ryzen 7 4800U | OS: Windows 10 Home
Think laptop and you’re likely to think of Apple, Dell or, even, HP. It’s less likely that Lenovo would pop into your head but, with the , it should. While this model may not be as flashy as a Dell XPS 13 (£1,599) or MacBook Air M1, it’s the best bang-for-your-buck device around – with an ultrabook design and impressive performance.
Under the hood, you can spec this ultrabook up to an AMD Ryzen 7 4800U, 16GB RAM and 512GB – whether you go for this top model or a lower spec, all are extremely capable for productivity. You can browse upwards of 15 browser tabs with ease and multi-tasking is a hoot with this thin and reasonably-priced device. There’s really not much missing from this Lenovo that you get with a Dell or Apple ultrabook.
You’ll be surprised by how few compromises have been made with this laptop’s design to keep the price low. You get a metal body on the outside and a decent screen with thin bezels once opened up. Despite its slim profile, the keyboard is great for those long writing sessions, with surprisingly good travel.
The Yoga Slim 7 is dangerously close to being the best ultrabook around but it’s slightly let down by its out-of-date 16:9 display aspect ratio – with 16:10 and 3:2 fast becoming the norm for productivity laptops. The average display struggles to work in brighter lighting conditions too.
Pros: High-end looks and performance; impressively low price; excellent battery life; keyboard with plenty of travelCons: 16:9 display; no Thunderbolt 4; struggles in bright light
Weight: 1.06kg | Size: 13.4mm thick | Battery life: Up to 12 hours | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD/4K | RAM: 8/16GB | Storage: Up to 256GB SSD | CPU: Up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7 | OS: Chrome OS
Chromebooks are getting better across the board, evolving from the cheap designs and low specs of the freshman models. The is everything a ChromeOS device can be – offering a unique build that’s lightweight and, as such, great for lugging from class to class.
It’s hard to look past the priciness of the Pixelbook Go – even if it has been pared back from the original Pixelbook. While there are some premium Chromebook rivals that get up to this £600+ price too, you often get more hard drive space and a more modern processor. Nevertheless, the Pixelbook Go has plenty to make it worth considering, with the hardware being its biggest coup. It feels custom-made for campus life, with a magnesium subtly-curved unibody that’s just over 13mm thick and weighs under 1.1kg. The unique ridged underside of the device makes the Pixelbook Go a laptop that feels great to just carry around then lay down to get working wherever you need.
While the 8th Gen Intel Core processor may feel behind the times now, you aren’t left wanting for performance. Thanks to the low demands of Chrome OS, you can still multitask comfortably – with that 8/16GB RAM – and stretch to more than 10 browser tabs. If you’re expecting to work in Docs, Sheets and other apps in Google Workspace then the Pixelbook Go offers plenty of speed.
Performance and design are key factors and will likely be the first thing you’d notice when using this device but Google’s flagship laptop has a couple of smaller nice touches that have a huge impact too. The keyboard is phenomenal – one of the best you’ll find on any laptop. The amount of travel is Tardis-esque, it just doesn’t make sense given how thin this machine is. There’s a satisfying click to each keypress too. There’s a stellar webcam too – it won’t bother your phone camera but, given the surprisingly poor standard of many laptop webcams today, it is up there with clear and detailed options like the Surface Laptop 4 (£979).
Pros: Sturdy and high-quality build; best-in-class keyboard; great batteryCons: Higher configurations get pricey fast; limited by Chrome OS
Weight: 1.49kg | Size: 15.9mm thick | Battery life: 11 hours | Screen: 14-inch 2160×1440 | RAM: 8/16GB | Storage: 1TB SSD CPU: AMD Ryzen 4600H/Ryzen 7 4800H | OS: Windows 10 Home
The Huawei MateBook 14 (from £579) is the ultrabook for students that never want to worry about performance dips when throwing upwards of 12-15 browser tabs or three different programs at once at a device. The AMD processor under the hood and upwards of 8GB RAM means this device will eat up and spit out your day-to-day uni tasks.
Aside from its stunningly fast and smooth productivity performance, the hardware is designed to work alongside wonderfully. The keyboard is up there with the best around – offering more travel than the likes of the HP Spectre x360 14 and only falling short of the very best like the Razer Book 13 and Surface Laptop. Typing out essays is a dream, while the 3:2 display means reading sources, online articles and reviewing your work is just as good – adding some extra height to the display, making room for more words.
The MateBook 14 may see some students turn away who are looking for a bit more of an all-rounder, as the display isn’t the best for video – offering rather muted colours. While this relatively small device does feel deceptively heavy – meaning it might not be one for those looking for a thin and light to slip in their bag for every lecture and library trip.
Also consider: For high-quality design, more akin to a MacBook or Dell XPS 13, the Huawei MateBook X Pro (£1,399) is a solid option too. The green colour variant, in particular, will certainly grab some eyeballs on campus – being one of the best-looking laptops you can buy right now. The top-drawer Intel processor and high-end design do come at a price, though.
Pros: More power than you’ll need; 3:2 display; responsive and comfortable keyboardCons: A bit heavy; awkward webcam; mediocre screen
Weight: 1.4kg | Size: 19mm thick | Battery life: Up to 10 hours Screen: 14in 1080p | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | CPU: 2.7 GHz AMD Ryzen 3 4300U | OS: Windows 10
The brand-new Lenovo IdeaPad 5 (from £549) steals a march in a busy budget marketplace by combining new components with a surprisingly good sense of style. On the outside, this machine is made from aluminium and plastic, and its body is just 19mm thick and weighs 1.4kg. So it’s easy enough to carry to lectures and robust quality means that it should withstand the rigours of student life. It’s got two USB 3 ports, an SD card slot and a USB-C port – that can be used with a charger too – and the IdeaPad also has a fingerprint reader and HDMI.
At this price, that’s impressive versatility, with the only omissions being faster USB 3.2 ports and Gigabit Ethernet. Lenovo’s famed keyboard quality stands up on this affordable device, too: the buttons don’t have a huge amount of travel, but they’re fast, quiet, soft and comfortable – easily able to handle long typing sessions. The trackpad is fine, if a little rattly, but that’s no surprise at this price.
The IdeaPad deploys the AMD Ryzen 3 4300U processor. It’s got four cores and AMD’s Vega 5 graphics, and it’s paired with 8GB of memory, a 128GB SSD and future-proofed Wi-Fi 6. It’s solid hardware that can easily handle day-to-day computing and multi-tasking, from running Office applications to handling browsers with loads of open tabs.
When compared to equivalent Intel Core i3 chips, it offers twice as much grunt in productivity applications. For gaming, it’ll run casual titles and low-end esports games, like Fortnite, Overwatch and League of Legends. The speakers are fine – they don’t have any bass, but they have enough clarity to handle YouTube and boxset viewing.
The Lenovo’s 57Wh battery lasts around eight hours when working and ten hours when playing video, so it’ll handle a full day of lectures. The biggest issue here is the 14in screen. It’s a Full HD panel with a webcam and a privacy shutter, and it’s bright with decent contrast, but its colours are washed out. For everyday use it’s fine, but that’s it.
If you want to spend a little more, pricier IdeaPad 5 models include Ryzen 5 CPUs (£529), and models are coming with 15.6in screens, and a Flex 2-in-1 option is also on the way.
For all-around campus use, though, this IdeaPad is solid: small and light enough to carry, with a good keyboard, impressive internals and reasonable battery life. It’s a lot of laptop for a low price.
Pros: Easily beats Intel for performance; comfortable, effective keyboard; light and sturdy design Cons: Display slightly washed-out; no Gigabit Ethernet; exterior sometimes gets warm
Weight: 2.3kg | Size: 26mm thick | Battery life: Up to 8 hours Screen: 15.6in 1080p 144Hz | RAM: 8GB/16GB | Storage: 512GB/1TB SSD | CPU: Up to AMD Ryzen 9 4900H | OS: Windows 10
Few companies know how to make a gaming laptop quite like Asus, and its latest notebook delivers a better balance than most people would expect from a gaming notebook – which means it’s the best choice for work and play.
The is underpinned by an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H processor, which has eight cores that support sixteen threads alongside a potential peak Turbo speed of 4.2GHz. Combine that with the excellent Zen 2 architecture and you’ve got a chip that can handle everyday computing, Office tasks, photo-editing and even video work. If you need a laptop for multi-tasking, tough workloads and content creation, the AMD CPU inside this machine is a better option than anything Intel offers at this price.
This version is equipped with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU that’ll play top single-player titles at a solid 60fps and fast-paced esports games at beyond 100fps – ideal for combining with the bright 144Hz display. The specification is rounded out with 8GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. The battery life is surprisingly good: the Asus will handle two hours of gaming and a day of work.
The keyboard is fast and comfortable, and the touchpad is reasonable – even if you’ll want a USB mouse if you’re a keen gamer. It’s easy to pop the base off this machine to upgrade the memory and storage.
At this price, though, there are compromises. The exterior has great build quality, but it’s made from plastic and looks a little dated. You get normal wireless rather than Wi-Fi 6, and there are two USB 3.2 ports – but they don’t use the faster Gen 2 standard – alongside a slower USB 2.0 connection. For USB Type-C ports, there’s just one and it supports DisplayPort, but no Thunderbolt, and no card reader.
The Asus is not particularly svelte either, with a weight of 2.3kg and a thickness of 26mm, although those are not surprising. And, finally, it’s only got mediocre speakers. Even a budget headset would be better.
If you want more graphical power, a £1,299 model deploys an RTX 2060, which has more stream processors and Ray-Tracing alongside the same AMD CPU. The £1,399 option also adds a more powerful Ryzen 9 4900H processor.
For £999, though, this version of the A15 is the pick of the bunch. The AMD CPU offers Intel-beating work ability, the graphics card is a good mainstream option, and the Asus serves up solid build quality, ergonomics and longevity at a reasonable price. It’s impressive and versatile.
Pros: Superb all-round performance; smooth 144Hz display; robust design with good keyboard Cons: Some high-end features missing; heavy and thick exterior; middling speakers
Weight: 1.7kg | Size: 20mm thick | Battery life: Up to 12 hours Screen: 14in 1080p | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB SSD | CPU: Intel Celeron N4000 | OS: Chrome OS
Acer has long made good affordable Chromebooks, and its updated is another fine showcase of Google’s lightweight OS.
ChromeOS will sate many students: Google Docs handles word processing and spreadsheets and can import Word and Excel files, and elsewhere you can use everything else available in the Google Play store. If you’ve used an Android phone you’ll be familiar with this system, and it’s eminently useable if you frequently work in the browser.
Acer’s Chromebook 314 serves up a 14in Full HD touchscreen, and the Intel Celeron N4000 processor and 4GB of memory both deliver smooth performance. There’s 64GB of storage on-board, which is fine for document storage. A £229 version of this machine halves the storage capacity but also ditches the 1080p screen, and we don’t recommend that.
This £299 version has a battery that’ll last a whole day, speakers that can handle YouTube and boxsets, and there’s dual-band wireless, two USB Type-C ports, two full-size USB connectors, an HD webcam and a card reader. On the outside, the aluminium exterior is subtle and smart, the keyboard is crisp, and the touchpad is solid. The 20mm thickness is fine, and the 1.7kg weight is acceptable at this price.
You’ll need to spend more if you want a machine that can handle tougher work – but, at that point, it’s probably worth stepping up to Windows or OS X. But if you need an affordable laptop and you do most of your work in browser-based tools, this dirt-cheap machine is superb.
Pros: Extremely cheap; intuitive, browser-based OS; full HD touchscreen; smart exterior Cons: Limited CPU power; could be lighter; Chrome OS might limit some users
Weight: 1.6kg | Size: 20mm thick | Battery life: Up to 8 hours Screen: 15.6in 1080p | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3250U | OS: Windows 10 Home in S Mode
The offers reasonable and uncomplicated computing for less than £300, so it’s an ideal introduction to the world of laptops for younger children and teens.
Lenovo’s machine looks the part, with metal-effect plastic used throughout, and it offers reasonable build quality – there is a little flex, but the Lenovo is robust enough to survive with a protective sleeve. It’s light, at 1.6kg, and it’s only 20mm thick. In short, it’s smart and well-built for a sub-£300 notebook.
The Lenovo has a soft, comfortable keyboard that will stand up to the rigours of essays and assignments, and the touchpad is good. Around the edges, the HP serves up two USB 3.1 ports, a card slot and an audio jack, and there’s an HD webcam with a privacy shutter and Gigabit Ethernet alongside dual-band wireless. It’s versatile, even if there’s no USB Type-C.
This machine has a Full HD screen, which means plenty of room for web-browsers and word processors. Quality is only mediocre thanks to some middling contrast and washed-out colours, but it’s fine for work and for casual media use. The speakers are similar – tinny but useable.
On the inside, the Lenovo has an AMD Ryzen 3 3250U processor, 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. This hardware won’t win any speed records, but it will handle web browsing, word-processing and other Office tools – so it’s ideal for schoolwork. It’ll handle casual games, too, and the battery will last a full day in the classroom.
The Lenovo certainly isn’t perfect, but issues like the pallid screen and low-end components are not deal-breakers at this price, and this machine fights back with good quality in other areas. The IdeaPad is an affordable, versatile unit that’s suitable for younger users.
Pros: Very affordable; light and good-looking; solid ergonomics and connectivity Cons: Underwhelming screen quality; entry-level components; mediocre speakers