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.
View the Apple MacBook Air M1 from £899 on Amazon
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.
View the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 from £549 on Lenovo
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.
View the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go for £540 on Amazon
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Apple MacBook Air M1
WIRED Recommends: Apple’s MacBook Air is the ideal companion for campus life
macbook air m1 laptop
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 battery
Cons: Design stays the same; poor webcam
Price: From £899 | Check price on Amazon | Apple | Argos
Microsoft Surface Laptop GoA cut-price alternative to the MacBook AirMicrosoft Surface Laptop Go
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-writing
Cons: Base model lacks fingerprint scanner and offers low RAM
Price: From £540 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Microsoft
Asus VivoBook M413
A great budget pick with strong performance and comfortable keyboard
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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 Asus VivoBook M413 (£670) 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 selection
Cons: Uninspiring display; not a head-turner
Price: From £670 | Check price on Box | Amazon
Lenovo IdeaPad Chromebook DuetThe best budget convertible you can buy
Image may contain Electronics Pc Computer Laptop Tablet Computer Computer Keyboard Computer Hardware and Hardware
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 Lenovo Ideapad Chromebook Duet (£255) 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 mode
Cons: Low storage; low RAM
Price: From £255 | Check price on Amazon | Currys | Lenovo
Lenovo Yoga Slim 7The best for value-for-moneyBest laptops for students 2021 Apple to Lenovo
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 Yoga Slim 7 (from £599), 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 travel
Cons: 16:9 display; no Thunderbolt 4; struggles in bright light
Price: From £599 | Check price on Amazon | Currys
Google Pixelbook GoStudent-friendly build and amazing keyboardBest laptops for students 2021 Apple to Lenovo
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 Google Pixelbook Go (from £629) 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 battery
Cons: Higher configurations get pricey fast; limited by Chrome OS
Price: From £629 | Check price on Amazon | John Lewis | Argos
Huawei MateBook 14The laptop for students who want bags of horsepowerHuawei MateBook 14 laptop
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 keyboard
Cons: A bit heavy; awkward webcam; mediocre screen
Price: From £599 | Check price on Amazon | Argos | Huawei