Hardware Laptops Windows

What are the best laptops for students heading to uni?

best laptops for students

Heading to university? Here are our suggestions for the best laptops for students, based on what you want to do with them and your budget.

Best laptops for students: all-rounders

Dell XPS 15, from £1,199

Dell keeps on cranking out brilliant laptops, with its XPS range garnering more awards than Kendrick Lamar. Our choice for the best all-rounder is the amazing new Dell XPS 15, which has all the power you’ll need for the next three years. Importantly, it’s supported by top-quality components, including a cracking 15.6in screen and lovely keyboard. 

Best laptops for students: budget ultraportables

HP Envy 13, from £850

Considering the price, this is a super little 13in ultraportable. You’re buying highly respectable specs for £850, including an Nvidia GeForce graphics chip for occasional gaming. And unlike the Dell XPS 13 below, it includes old-style USB-A ports rather than just the new USB-C. We’d like the screen to be a fraction brighter, but that’s our only real criticism. Read the full HP Envy 13 review here.

Best laptops for students: MacBooks

Apple MacBook Air, from £798

There are plenty of good reasons to buy a MacBook for students. They’re still trendy enough to carry with pride, so well-built they’ll last three years with ease, and they’re uniformly slim and portable. The 13in MacBook Air is actually heavier than the 12in MacBook, but it’s also cheaper and offers better battery life. And, if you’re staring at a screen all evening, you’ll appreciate that extra inch. The only things that count against it are the ageing components inside; if you want the latest, buy the MacBook instead… or wait until October, when an updated version is rumoured for release.

Best laptops for students: ultraportables

Dell XPS 13, from £1,199

The XPS 13 isn’t actually as stylish as the Envy 13, but makes up for it with a gorgeous edge-to-edge display that will make your Netflix binges that much more enjoyable. In fact, there’s very little we found to criticise about the XPS 13 in our full review: it’s fast, has superb battery life and packs the best collection of ports you’ll find in an ultraportable… so long as you aren’t hooked on old-style USB-A ports.

Best laptops for students: tablets that turn into laptops

Microsoft Surface Pro, from £649 inc keyboard

The Surface Pro is a lovely piece of hardware: with the optional stylus (£99) you can scrawl notes directly onto one of the best screens around, while the magnetically attached Type Cover means you can tap away when you need. Microsoft is currently offering two deals on the Surface Pro: one with a slower m3 and paltry 128GB of storage for £649, another with a Core i5 and 256GB of storage for £999. We would choose the latter if you can, but the first combo is enough if you’re willing to store larger files on an external hard disk. Also check if you can get a 10% discount – details here

Best laptops for students: laptops that turn into tablets

Microsoft Surface Book 2, from £1,149

I liked the Surface Book 2 so much that I bought one for myself, and perhaps for the same reasons it will appeal to students. It’s primarily a laptop – either 13in or 15in – but with a press of a button the screen detaches and it becomes a tablet. That makes it great for making notes in lectures or annotating PDFs/ebooks, but you’ll need to pay another £99 for the stylus. Oh, and in laptop mode it’s great – the keyboard and screen are both a joy to use. Read our full Microsoft Surface Book 2 review here.

Best laptops for students: budget laptops

Asus ZenBook UX410UA, £550

It’s tempting to skimp on a laptop, but this is your computing partner for the next three or four years. You don’t want a shoddy screen or a keyboard that will fall apart after a term’s abuse. It also means you should try and stretch your budget to include 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD (I’d avoid a larger, mechanical hard disk because it will be less reliable). However, I’ve found John Lewis selling the excellent UX410UA for £550 – yes, it only has 4GB of RAM, but it’s possible to upgrade the RAM yourself. Another 4GB only costs £43 from Crucial and, as this video shows, it’s really not too difficult. Read our review of the Asus ZenBook UX410UA here.

Best laptops for students: Chromebooks?

You might have noticed that Chromebooks don’t feature in this list. That’s because we haven’t yet seen one that we’d recommend for the tough life of a university student. This may change: Acer, Dell and Lenovo have all recently announced Chromebooks that could persuade us otherwise. But, if you have to buy right now, we’d stick to Windows laptops or a MacBook.

Related: Is the Surface Laptop really suitable for students?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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