Best student laptops 2021: Top laptops for home learning, school, college or university

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(Pocket-lint) - Now more than ever, a good laptop is an essential tool for students at college, university or school.

It can be tricky to narrow down the best laptop for your needs, though, so we've gathered up what we think are some of the best options available today. Our list covers everything from budget-friendly to performance-oriented machines, in order to suit a wide range of students.

If you know you'll be needing a lot of extra horsepower for your course, you might consider checking out our guide on the best laptops available, or perhaps even the best gaming laptops, which are especially suited to game designers, animators, video editors and the like.

Likewise, if you'll only need something for basic tasks like web browsing and word processing, it might make more sense to dive into the best Chromebooks.

For our student selections, we've prioritised portability, looks and all-around performance, as well as affordability and robustness. Let's explore further.


What is the best student laptop? Currently, our top recommendation is the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7. However, we also advise checking out the Apple MacBook Air (2020), Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, Dell XPS 13 and Asus Vivobook 14


Our Top Pick: Best Student Laptop

Pocket-lint

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Lenovo Yoga Slim 7

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For

  • Incredible battery life
  • Great bang for your buck
  • Solid performance

Against

  • Webcam could be better
  • No thunderbolt connectivity

From our extensive testing, we think the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 is one of the best laptops you can buy for under four figures. It has everything a student could ask for and doesn't cost nearly as much as high-end favourites like the MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13.

Lenovo suggests you'll receive more than 17 hours of battery life on this model, and our testing matched and even outlasted this. It's truly an all-day battery, making it a wonderful study companion.

The build is mostly aluminium and features a great glass trackpad and solid keyboard. It's no slouch in the performance category, either, with the Ryzen 7 7400U model we tested managing Ultra settings on Skyrim at 1080p. That's for when you're finished studying, of course.

Student laptops we also recommend

While the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 is a fantastic all rounder, it's not necessarily the right laptop for every student. That's why we've also selected the following laptops for you to also consider. 

Pocket-lint

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Apple MacBook Air (2020)

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For

  • Superfast performance
  • Superb build quality
  • Beautiful display

Against

  • Large bezels look a bit old fashioned
  • The maximum memory option is 16GB

It's no secret that Apple makes some of the best laptop hardware money can buy, and the MacBook Air is no exception. Thanks to Apple's own M1 chip, performance has seen a significant boost over previous Air models, and battery life is much improved, too.

The MacBook Air is Apple's slim and lightweight offering, perfect for chucking in your bag when you need to traverse across campus all day. It's a fanless design, as well, which means you'll never have to hear an annoying fan spinning up when you're trying to work.

Obviously, being a MacBook, the Air runs macOS instead of Windows. It's down to personal preference which works best for you. If you're on board with the operating system, then the MacBook Air (2020) is a no-brainer.

Pocket-lint

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

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For

  • Really great keyboard and trackpad
  • Premium aluminium or optional fabric finish
  • Excellent speakers

Against

  • Pricey upgrades
  • Display contrast could be better

If you like the style of Apple's MacBook models but don't fancy buying into its whole ecosystem, we dare say Microsoft's Surface Laptop 4 might be right up your street. 

It's plain to see that Microsoft took some inspiration from the MacBook lineup when designing its Surface Laptops, but that's not to say it didn't add some flair of its own. The Surface Laptop is available in four lovely colour options, and can even be outfitted with a soft-touch 'Alcantara' lining.

We recommend the AMD Ryzen option for the best performance, but it can be configured with Intel processors, too. It's got an incredibly high level of fit-and-finish, long battery life, great speakers and a superb keyboard and trackpad. Definitely a great choice for your scholastic journey.

Pocket-lint

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Dell XPS 13

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For

  • Gorgeous display with thin bezels
  • Fantastic aluminium and carbon fibre construction
  • Great full-size keyboard

Against

  • Very pricey
  • Lacks full-size ports due to thinness

If the price tag doesn't put you off, then the Dell XPS 13 is the undisputed king of ultraportable Windows machines. It's incredibly thin and lightweight but remains strong and sturdy thanks to a unique carbon fibre composite construction.

The first thing you'll notice is that the XPS 13 has some of the thinnest bezels on the market, so it packs a huge amount of screen into a very small chassis. It's super easy to carry around and maintains enough screen real-estate to handle the most savage of assignments.

Despite its small size, the XPS 13 squeezes in a full-size keyboard that's a dream to type on. It's got great battery life and plenty of processing power, the only real downside is you'll need dongles as it lacks full-size ports.

Asus

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Asus Vivobook 14

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For

  • Very cheap
  • 1080p display with metal lid
  • Bundled with Office 365

Against

  • Intel Pentium processor is pretty weak
  • Only 64GB storage

If the other options on this list are too pricey, the Asus Vivobook 14 is a compelling option on the budget end of the spectrum.

Despite its cheap asking price, you still get some surprising features, like a durable metal lid and a thin and light design that looks like it belongs on a much pricier laptop. The machine often comes bundled with Office 365, too, allowing you to get to work straight away.

The downsides here are the processor, which will be sufficient for basic tasks like word processing and browsing the web, but won't be able to handle more demanding workloads. The in-built storage is very limiting, as well, at just 64GB, but it's worth noting that Asus includes 500GB free cloud storage.

Other products we considered

When trying to figure out what we believe to be the best student laptops on the market, we spent hours running all sorts of applications and using the devices in a range of situations. We consider a number of factors when it comes to recommending devices - and also when a new device enters our top five selections. It's not all judged on our testing, either - we also try to factor in consumer reviews, brand quality and value.

In all of our roundups, there are also many products we test that don't make the final cut. Since they may be the right fit for some people, however, we've listed them below.

How to choose a student laptop

Choosing a new laptop can be a daunting task, especially when you have a million other things on your mind as you're about to head off to university. To make it easier, here are a few things to think about before making your decision.

What work will you need to do?

Being a student can mean almost anything in terms of computer requirements. For the majority of students, you will likely just need a machine that can handle word processing, slideshow presentations and web browsing. The good news is that pretty much any laptop can handle these tasks - it's what they're for, after all. If this will be the case for you, you can likely save some money with a Chromebook and might want to check out our Best Chromebook guide to see those options.

For maximum compatibility though, you'll want to stick with a Windows or macOS machine like the ones we've outlined here.

If your degree is more computer-intensive, you will likely know it. Things like video editing, animation and game design require a lot more horsepower. You will want to go for a higher-end processor, more RAM and maybe even a higher resolution display.

Where will you be working?

It's no good having a laptop if it's too heavy to take anywhere. That's why we've selected the best thin and lightweight options to allow you to roam about campus without feeling like you're carrying a sack of potatoes.

If you're on a course that will see you spending a lot of time outdoors, you'll want to pay particular attention to the battery life of your laptop. There's nothing more frustrating than running out of juice when you're a long way from an outlet.

How much can you spend?

The sky is the limit when it comes to spending on laptops, so it's important to know that you're getting the right machine for the job.

All the processing power in the world is no good if it breaks the second you knock it, so we've placed a high value on build quality. Similarly, it's important to make sure you're not overspending on fancy chassis that can barely stream a youtube video.

As with most things in life, it's all about finding the balance. Hopefully, with these things in mind and some of our suggested models, you'll be much closer to finding the perfect match.

More about this story

Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.

Buying a laptop is a big investment, so we've used all the options on this list extensively to see how they hold up in the real world. We've tested real-world performance in productivity apps, rather than just benchmarking, and given you all the data you need to help with your buying decisions.

Of course, pricing is a big factor, as is build quality, reliability and battery life. Being sufficiently portable, too, can make a laptop easier to fit into your lifestyle.

As with any roundup, it's not possible to deliver a list that works for every type of user, but we lean on the experiences and opinions of the wider Pocket-lint team - as well as thoroughly assessing the areas above - in order to do our best in this regard.

What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are needless spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each gaming laptop is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity. Rest assured all the things on this list have been fully tested.

Writing by Luke Baker. Editing by Conor Allison. Originally published on 15 August 2019.

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