Whichever stage of education you’re at, owning a reliable laptop has arguably never been more important. Many school lessons, university lectures and even exams have been handled remotely during the pandemic, with at least some activities likely to stay online for the foreseeable future.
But a laptop is also crucial for independent work, be it writing up an essay or revising for a test. However, the wealth of choice on offer makes it difficult to know which device to go for.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every student; what someone needs from a laptop is highly dependent on what they’re studying and how they plan to spend their free time.
With that in mind, we’ve aimed to include a range of options in this chart to suit different types of students. There should be something here for everyone, but don’t be concerned if your favourite device is lower on the list – we can recommend all these devices for students.
Most are on the more affordable end of the market, but if some are out of your price range it’s worth checking out our best budget laptop chart. Conversely, if money is no object, you might want to consider our pick of the very best laptops on the market.
As you might imagine, there are plenty of things to consider when buying a student laptop. It’s worth reading our buying advice at the bottom of the page before you pull the trigger.
Best laptops for students in 2022
1. Apple MacBook Air (M1) – Best Overall
Incredible battery life
Free software included
Not the cheapest
The move to Apple’s own M1 chip represents arguably the biggest change for the MacBook Air since it first launched, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The new Air offers truly incredible performance within a thin and light body, with the M1 chip also significantly boosting battery life compared to the Intel version.
A largely unchanged design means a lot about the new MacBook Air will be familiar if you’ve tried a recent model, although the recently-introduced Magic Keyboard is a big upgrade over the earlier butterfly keys.
It’s also easy to forget how much value Apple adds by including a pretty comprehensive suite of applications – this may avoid the need to spend any more money on software.
It serves as yet more proof that Huawei is acing its laptops, offering a great balance between price and performance. The latter is helped by Intel’s 11th-gen chips under the hood, which excel across almost all everyday productivity tasks.
Of course, having an excellent 14in display helps, complete with a 90Hz refresh rate. Huawei has maintained slim bezels but managed to move the webcam back above the display, even if it’s still only 720p.
Other highlights include all-day battery, an excellent keyboard and plenty of ports, something that’s often lacking on modern laptops. The key sticking point for students could be price, but it’s definitely worth considering if your budget can stretch this far.
If you’re looking for some extra screen real estate but don’t want to compromise on a thin and light design, the latest LG Gram is a great option.
The highlight here is a stunning 16in 2560×1600 display, with tiny bezels making for an immersive viewing experience. Everyday performance is also excellent, thanks to Intel’s latest Tiger Lake processors and 8 or 16GB of RAM. There’s a healthy port selection, too, alongside an 80Wh battery and fingerprint sensor built into the power button.
The high asking price is the only reason it’s not higher in this list. If you’re a student with cash to splash, it’s a stunning bit of kit, although you might want to also consider the five-star LG Gram 17.
The premium Zenbook range isn’t something you’d usually associated with students, but the latest Zenbook 14 deserves to be included. It’s a little more expensive than some of the other entries in this list, but that extra cost is justified.
Undoubtedly the highlight is a 14in, 4K OLED display, although cheaper models use LED instead. It’s one part of a stunning design, which includes loads of ports but stays at 1.35kg. Performace from Intel’s latest CPUs is impressive – most students don’t need the extra power of a discrete GPU – while battery life is another key strength.
If you can look beyond the underwhelming number pad built into the trackpad and are willing to spend four figures, it’s definitely worth considering.
The MateBook E is built for productivity and portability, making it a great option for students.
At just 790g case-free, it’s light enough to throw into a bag and take to lectures. But having the Smart Magnetic keyboard included in the cost is a big plus, and transforms the device into a genuine laptop replacement.
The 12.6in OLED display is a real highlight, while solid speakers and great cameras make it a well-rounded device. Performance across web browsing, word processing and multitasking is excellent, too.
However, battery life is a big let-down, so you won’t want to be far from a charger for long. The fingerprint scanner is poor too, while you’ll need an adapter for connecting anything more than a single USB-C device.
But if you can look beyond these compromises, the MateBook E is a compelling option for students that offers good value for money.
If you’re looking for a budget laptop that will still get the job done, Asus’ E410 is a great option.
The Intel Celeron N4020 doesn’t sound great on paper, but it delivers solid all-round performance that’s capable of handling the basics. There’s also excellent battery life, with Asus’ 12-hour claims holding up well in real-world usage – a full working day is well within reach. At just 1.3kg, it’s also extremely portable.
You also get solid 14in Full HD+ display, although it doesn’t get particularly bright. The numberpad built into the touchpad is more annoying than useful, while the unusual rear design isn’t to everyone’s tastes.
Still, these compromises are more than acceptable when you consider its affordable price.
Ok, so it’s technically a tablet but Apple has done such a good job with the iPad Pro over the last few years that it’s actually a great choice as a hybrid.
The iPad Pro has long represented the finest best tablet money can buy, and the M1 chip takes already-excellent performance to the next level. A stunning 12.9in, 120Hz display makes for a delightful viewing experience, while the large battery can make it through a full work day.
Pairing it with Magic Keyboard really does turn the iPad Pro into a laptop-style device – with trackpad and all – plus you might also benefit from the advanced features available with the Apple Pencil.
However, these are both expensive accessories, meaning you can easily pay well over £1,000/US$1,000 overall. That could be a sticking point, especially when iPadOS still lacks Mac-level apps.
Nonetheless, it’s an amazing all-in-one setup if you can afford it.
Despite being incredibly lightweight at just 1.05kg, the Acer Swift 5 still packs a punch.
You can choose between Core i5 or i7 variants of Intel’s latest 11th-gen chips, alongside the option for a discrete Nvidia GPU. Acer has still managed to include a Full HD LCD display, as well as a 720p webcam and generous port selection (albeit without ethernet).
Elsewhere, solid battery life comfortably provides a full day’s usage, while there’s also Thunderbolt 4 support for fast data transfer. The Swift 5 can get noisy, and the speakers aren’t great, but it performs well in pretty much every other area.
The Surface Laptop Go is pitched directly to students, and it’s a solid option at every stage of education.
Microsoft’s classic Surface Laptop design is retained at this more affordable price point, with slim bezels giving the impression of a much more high-end device. That extends to performance on the top-spec Core i5 model, but might not be the case on cheaper variants.
The Laptop Go’s keyboard is one of the best you’ll find anywhere, while the thin and light design makes it very portable. It’s missing backlit keys and battery life is underwhelming, but it’s definitely worth considering if you don’t value the Surface Laptop Go 2‘s upgrades.
Your buying guide for the best student laptops in 2022
Do you really need a £1,000 laptop? Will it get broken, or worse, stolen? While more expensive laptops will get you better gaming performance, that probably isn’t a priority if you’re focusing on coursework and exams.
Powerful devices may still be necessary if you’re studying a course that requires complex software – think animation or video editing. In these scenarios, you don’t want to be waiting around forever for things to render when you have a deadline.
However, those who simply just need to write word documents and browse the internet can spend a lot less and still find a laptop that’s perfectly good.
Since there’s a wide range of needs out there depending on your circumstances, we’ve included a real mix of devices to choose from here, including Chromebooks.
They might not technically be laptops but we’ve also included a couple of tablets since, with the help of a keyboard case and/or stylus, they could be a much better solution for some students.
Most laptops are 13in and really this has been the sweet spot between size and portability for a long time. However, you can get smaller or larger displays depending on what you need to do.
Bear in mind that cheaper laptops will come with a lower-grade display which is likely to be on the dim side and not very crisp either. It’s just one of the compromises, so if you need to do something like photo editing then splashing a bit more cash will be well worth your while.
You get what you pay for when it comes to laptops, so a model closer to £1,000 is going to have a more powerful processor (likely Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7), more RAM and plenty of SSD storage. It might even have a dedicated graphics card. All of this will come in handy if you’re doing more complex tasks.
Cheaper options may come with a lower-power Intel Pentium chip. They will also have a lot less RAM and may not include an SSD, so make sure it will be up to the job first.
Keyboard and trackpad
Not all keyboard and trackpads are made equal. MacBook trackpads are best in class, but you pay for the privilege, while what type of keyboard you prefer is quite a personal thing.
Do you want a lot of travel on your keys, or something flatter and slim? Do you need a full-size keyboard with a numberpad? Sacrificing that will allow you to get a more compact design handy for toting round campus.
Everyone wants great battery life from a laptop. After all, no piece of tech is very useful if it dies halfway through your day of lectures.
There’s no pattern to which laptops have the best battery life as more expensive ones may use the power up on fancy components. Meanwhile, a budget laptop might scrimp on the size of the battery to keep costs down.
Click through to the full reviews of the laptops we recommend to read about the battery life.
Ports and drives
It might not seem important now but think carefully about what ports you will need. Many modern laptops come with hardly any ports and they are often USB-C.
This means you can’t just plug in an old-school USB flash drive or HDMI cable without getting an adapter (or dongle). Since cheaper laptops are chunkier, they typically have more space for full-size ports and this could be a real boon.
Also, remember that laptops don’t come with a CD/DVD drive any more, so if you need one an external drive is a must.
There’s a big new operating system in town, but any device you buy won’t need to run it out of the box. Most devices with Windows 10 pre-installed are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 11, including all the options in this chart.
However, that’s not your only choice when it comes to software. You may prefer macOS, especially if you already own an iPhone or iPad.
If you’re not sure which will best suit your needs, it’s worth seeing if the software you need is compatible and if it feels intuitive. Try a friend’s or play with some in a physical store if you need to.
There are other options such as ChromeOS which is extremely easy to use, but does require an internet connection for full functionality. The tablets we’ve included are also intuitive, but again, make sure they will be able to run the apps you need first.
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