Best laptop for students UK: The BEST laptops for school, college and university in 2017 – Expert Reviews
Laptops are a key requirement for the 21st-century student. Most school, college or university work is done online now, and the days of writing essays by hand are slowly receding into history – Google Docs and Microsoft Word are far more commonplace than pen and paper. Here we’ll run through the best laptops for students, and explain what you need to look out for before splashing out.
READ NEXT: The best laptops to buy in 2017 from £200
Below, you’ll find a handy how-to guide for choosing the best laptop, followed by a list of our top picks for the classroom or lecture hall. Whether you’re looking for a cheap, lightweight laptop, or one that can tackle heavyweight creative applications, you’ll find something that fits the bill.
How to buy the best laptop for school, college or uni
Can’t I just use any old laptop for studying?
There are a couple of pitfalls to be wary of before heading to the shops and buying the cheapest laptop you can find. First, that bargain laptop on sale might look like the perfect solution, but they’re often discounted for a reason. Those laptops may simply have not been very popular, whether that’s due to poor reviews or being left on the shelf in favour of better-specified rivals. Make sure to take a close look at the more recent models: they may offer more up-to-date, faster processors, more RAM or larger hard disks for similar amounts of money. It pays to check the specifications carefully before buying that online or in-store bargain.
How much do I really need to spend?
Depending on your budget, you may want to spend more on a laptop with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) or higher resolution screen. Lower resolution screens (1,366 x 768 and below) are okay if you’re happy to work with one application at a time, but higher resolution screens make it possible to comfortably view two apps or webpages side-by-side, which can come in really handy for research and essay-writing. Text also looks much clearer and more defined on higher-resolution displays, so can help reduce eyestrain.
Do I need a fast processor and loads of RAM?
Processors and RAM aren’t too important if you just want a laptop for working on – after all, even a £200 Chromebook is good enough for Google Docs and searching the internet. However, if your course requires you to use more demanding software for photo or video editing, 3D design, or crunching databases, it’s worth putting money towards a beefier Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. More RAM – upwards of 4GB, for instance – is a good choice, too, as it means you can leave more applications and browser tabs open before your laptop grinds to a halt.
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 Type-C or USB 3 ports, too, 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 can break, or get stolen, so it pays to make sure your coursework doesn’t disappear along with it.
The best laptop for students from £200 to £1,500
1. Dell XPS 13 (2016): The ultimate Windows ultraportable
Price when reviewed: From £1,149
Dell’s latest XPS 13 should be your go-to if your budget (or student loan) can handle it. It’s not cheap, with a starting price of £1,149, but this late 2016 refresh is the best Windows laptop bar none, and there’s no better device to help you through student life. It’s light, fast, gorgeous and the carbon-fibre body is tough enough to survive a few knocks along the way.
It’s got one of the best displays on the market, with a fantastic keyboard for extended typing sessions. Internally it’s all up to date, offering the latest Kaby Lake processors and up to 16GB of RAM. There’s also a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M graphics chip option – just don’t tell the parents.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 (2016) review for more details
2. Microsoft Surface Pro 4: The best Windows hybrid
Price when reviewed: From £749
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 is the ideal laptop for students on the go. The laptop/tablet hybrid design makes it hugely versatile; build quality is nigh-on perfect; and the Type Cover is simply one of the best folio-style keyboards around. Pair all that with a meagre 1.3kg all-in weight (yes, that’s including the tablet, Type Cover and power supply), and you’re onto a winner.
You’d expect performance on a tablet this slim to be the sticking point, but that’s not the case here. The Core i5 model is well up to snuff and outperformed many of its current hybrid rivals in our benchmarks, but if you want to drop the price or boost the performance, you can always choose between Core m3 or Core i7 versions. Battery life is one small hiccup – it lasted a middling 7hrs 40mins in our tests – but dropping the screen brightness and tweaking the power settings will push it closer to the 10-hour mark.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review for more details
3. Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA: A brilliant 11.6in hybrid for £200
Price when reviewed: £200
If you’re looking for a budget option, then Asus’ snappily-named Transformer Book Flip TP200SA is a nippy little performer for £200. It’s not only small, weighing just 1.2Kg, but that 11in touchscreen flips all the way around, which allows you to use it as a tablet.
The Celeron processor delivers rather underwhelming performance, but so long as you don’t expect it to blaze through Photoshop, you shouldn’t have any glaring issues with more basic everyday apps. Despite its smaller chassis, neither the keyboard nor touchpad feel cramped, and are well suited for long typing sessions. Battery life isn’t too bad at 9hrs and 13mins, either.
Read our full Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA review for more details
4. Razer Blade Stealth: A mighty Windows ultraportable
Price when reviewed: From £899
Another premium Windows laptop, Razer’s Blade Stealth is a metal-bodied masterpiece which combines speedy performance with enough grunt for a little light gaming. With a Kaby Lake CPU at the helm, the Stealth is a real contender for the best Windows MacBook Pro equivalent.
That multi-coloured Chroma keyboard isn’t just a pretty face either – it’s gorgeous to type on, and the all-metal chassis should stand up against the rough and tumble of student life. If you don’t want to make the move to Apple’s MacOS, and can’t afford the steep price of the recent MacBooks, you can’t go wrong with Razer’s Blade Stealth.
Read our full Razer Blade Stealth review for more details
5. Dell Inspiron 15 5000: A budget 15.6in laptop to be reckoned with
Price when reviewed: From £379
Dell’s Inspiron lineup is a classic student option. Reasonably inexpensive compared to others on this list, the best Inspirons typically provide a good balance or performance, build quality and value for money, and the latest Inspiron 5000 doesn’t disappoint. The components are all up to date, with the latest Kaby Lake processors, up to 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drives all present and correct. Spend a little more, and you can upgrade to a superior 15.6in Full HD display, too.
Suffice to say, the Inspiron 15 5000 should see you through your student life. Connectivity is spot on, the keyboard and touchpad are pleasant to use, and the starting price of £379 makes it a very attractive option indeed – even the top end model only costs £579.
6. Apple MacBook Air: Not the youngest MacBook, but still worth considering
Price when reviewed: From £849
Chances are, if you’ve popped into a coffee shop near a Student’s Union any time in the last few years, you’ll have seen plenty of these. Apple’s MacBook Air might be well into retirement age, but it remains the go-to for many students for good reason. It’s light, performs well, and build quality is superb. Factor in the great keyboard and touchpad, and the MacBook air is the quintessential student laptop.
Sure, it’s getting a little old, but the MacBook Air still holds up to this day. Its lengthy battery life should see you through the day, and still outlasts many of the latest laptops on the market, while potent performance and speedy SSD storage prove a perfect combo for even the most taxing assignments.
Read our full Apple MacBook Air review for more details
7. Apple MacBook Pro (2016): A stunning laptop in every way, but seriously expensive
Price when reviewed: From £1,449
Apple’s latest MacBook Pro refresh is dauntingly expensive, but it brings with it plenty of enticing new features. For one, there’s that customisable Touch Bar on the top, which is dramatically less gimmicky than it looks. The redesign has seen it emerge slimmer than ever, too – the 15in version now weighs a feathery 1.83kg. And the new, giant-sized touchpad, which occupies a huge proportion of the wrist rest, is superb.
The specifications are well up to scratch, too. Intel’s Skylake processors go hand-in-hand with upgraded SSDs which are capable of the kind of speeds which would embarrass other laptops. The result? The new MacBook Pro continues in the family tradition and fuses power, portability, a stunning display, and great battery life. If you didn’t realise it already, the price hike hasn’t done enough to strike the MacBook Pro off our wish list.
Read our full Apple MacBook Pro review for more details
8. HP Chromebook 13: The best Chromebook there is
Price when reviewed: From £550
HP’s Chromebook 13 is something of a dark horse. As it runs Chrome OS it’s useless to you if your course requires you to run Windows or MacOS applications, but if that’s not a deal-breaker it’s definitely one to consider.
Indeed, if you want a laptop that sports top-flight looks, great build quality and a stunning display, but don’t want to pay four figures for it, this could be your perfect pick.
Granted, the Core m5 processors means that it’s not the fastest, but it’s still the best Chromebook you can buy right now.
It’s light enough to carry around every day, on foot or by bike, and the phenomenal battery life won’t leave you scrabbling for power supply every couple of hours. If you’re comfortable with the ChromeOS way of doing things, the HP Chromebook 13 is a stunner.
Read our full HP Chromebook 13 review for more details