The key characteristics for student laptops used to centre on price, and the cheapest laptop as somehow always deemed adequate. But this hasn't been the case for some time, since cloud services, streaming media, content creation and gaming became a fixture of student life.
Once you recognise that you'll need some kind of processing power to live your best student life, the choices expand quite a bit to include even the latest Apple Macbook Air and Dell's XPS 15, considered a premium business laptop.
Of course, you still need to focus on portability, build quality and battery life, but quality screens and cool styling now enter the equation too.
Best laptops for students at a glance
- MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
- Microsoft Surface Go 2
- Dell XPS 15 (2020)
- Acer Swift 3 (2020)
- Huawei Matebook D15
- Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1
- Asus E410
- Acer Spin 1 SP111-33
- Dell Inspiron 3593
Apple topped the previous year off with a bang, rolling out their much-talked about M1 silicon chip that’s so far been a real game-changer. And, the first laptop to receive it is the company’s thinnest and lightest, putting it on the list of the most exciting Apple laptops of recent years. With this new chip, the MacBook Air is better than ever, touting excellent performance alongside its brilliant battery life – without raising the price to keep it (fairly) affordable still. It’s not going to be the cheapest option for students, but for those who have a slightly bigger budget, this is the best student laptop to get.
Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Microsoft’s devices are known for their higher price tags, which is why the Surface Go line proves popular with the more budget-conscious crowd. It’s Microsoft’s best affordable premium tablet, and the follow up, Surface Go 2, continues that tradition with its reasonable price and premium design. It even runs the full Windows 10 operating system, so it’s even more capable than other tablets out there as far as what applications it can run. Unfortunately, as with the original, it suffers from the same curse of being underpowered, especially at the base configuration. However, it does offer a slight bump in performance over its predecessor. If you’re looking for the best student laptops, this one’s certainly a great contender.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Go 2
The Dell XPS 15 might be a bit pricey for regular students, but it’s easily one of the best laptops for students in the creative field. Combining staggering power in a stylish thin and light chassis, this laptop doesn’t hold back when it comes to internals and features that improve your computing experience overall, whether you’re a film student or a graphic design one. Among those amazing features are a gorgeous bright display with 500 nits of brightness, an extremely comfortable keyboard, impressive speakers, and a terrific trackpad. We’re not saying that this laptop is perfect, but our coveted 5 out of 5 rating should speak for itself.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 15
The most popular Ultrabooks out there can cost a fortune – you have to pay for that thin and light form factor, after all. Not with the Acer Swift 3 (2020). This is the Ultrabook for the masses, thanks to its low asking price for that lightweight design, decent battery life and brand new specs that deliver when it comes to multitasking. It’s definitely got all the makings of the best student laptop – including that smart design one could mistake for a MacBook Pro.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3 (2020)
Huawei is still breaking into the laptop market in South Africa, which might explain how this well-appointed ultrabook ends up with a very competitive price.
It cuts a striking figure in its smoky all-aluminium body shell with strong lines and weighs a respectable 1.5kg. We find the full-size 15-inch screen a big winner where most competitors have 14-inch, or smaller, screens. Under the hood there's a battery-friendly AMD Ryzen 5 CPU which compares with Intel's i3, backed up with a generous 8GB of RAM, so you can expect to handle all productivity apps with ease. There's a full set of useful ports too, including HDMI Out to connect a full-size monitor. The feet on the underside are quite pronounced which comes in handy for keeping your machine out of the inevitable coffee, Red Bull or beer spills on the cafeteria counter.
We're slightly disappointed that you're limited to the stock AMD graphics here because, while AMD's Vega 8 chips are perfectly good for general work, they will limit your gaming to older or more basic titles.
Read the full review: Huawei Matebook D15
The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 is a versatile 2-in-1 with a lot going for it under the hood. This premium laptop is more than just about its premium design; it also has high-end internals to compete with the likes of the more powerful Dell XPS 13. Rounding that out is a 4K display, and a clever stylus slot that makes us wonder whether they actually beat Microsoft to the idea. Granted, the display is a bit of a battery drain, and the speakers impressive, but this is still among the best student laptops out there.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1
It's no powerhouse of processing power but instead uses the battery-friendly Intel Celeron processor to handle all the basics, from word processing to email to social media, with ease. The lightweight plastic body shell feels surprisingly sturdy and durable, and the low weight -just 1.3kg- makes it easy to lug this everywhere you go, across campus and beyond. We also like the compact and lightweight power supply, something often overlooked which adds to bulk and weight.
At this price there are some compromises obviously: the 14-inch screen could be brighter and 4GB of RAM is minimal, but we don't find either of those a deal breaker. Instead we find the E410 a very well thought out entry-level laptop with 128GB SDD drive, the latest Wi-Fi 6 and very decent build quality for a fantastic price of R5000 (£228).
Read the full review: Asus E410
With its entry-level Celeron processor it's underpowered for editing complex multimedia or playing any modern games, but it's more than up to the task of working on large, complex documents, playing music and videos and organising your social media. It's also light, compact, and tough so it's perfect for lugging around all day in your backpack. The tiny 11-inch screen means you should budget for a full-size monitor add-on but, obviously, you're trading off screen size and processing power against the low price.
At first glance this certainly looks like a very basic PC. It's also a good bit larger than anything else on this list with a conspicuously all-plastic body with noticeable flex in the lid and on the keyboard deck. Closer inspection reveals an old-school DVD drive, quite an exotic sight these days.
Under the hood though, things are a little different. It's running Intel's latest i5 processor and comes with optional Nvidia MX350 graphics. This combination gives your PC a decent amount of horsepower for processing multimedia and particularly for gaming. Thanks to its bigger footprint there's also room for three USB ports, one USB-C, HDMI Out and a proper LAN port too.
Weighing around 2kg it's one of the less portable models on our list, but it will be perfectly suited to a student who needs a modest but very reliable laptop, and with enough processing power to last a few years.