Picking a laptop as a student is a pretty big deal. A lack of funds means the machine is likely going to become your primary work and entertainment device.
As a result, picking the right laptop to meet your needs is of the utmost importance as a student. Fortunately, the quality of affordable laptops has come a long way over the last decade. It’s not uncommon for companies to release great value laptops, like the newly unveiled Lenovo Yoga 530 and Lenovo Yoga 730.
But with so many around, each with complex spec sheets, it’s not always easy to know which is best for your specific needs.
Or if you’re on the market for something a little more premium jump over to our Best Laptop buying guide, which includes a section of machines as well as a few more expensive options, or our Best Gaming Laptop if AAA gaming is more your thing.
*** Note : £1 = $1.36 (correct at time of post)
Acer Swift 1
- 1.1-2.5GHz Intel Pentium N4200
- 4GB memory
- 13.3-inch Full HD display
- Weight: 1.3kg
- Review price: £350
Acer’s Swift lineup brings premium design at a sub-£400 price point. This 1.3kg, 13.3-inch machine is one of the nicest-looking budget laptops available today, and it offers impressive performance elsewhere, too.
The screen, for example, is surprisingly good for the money, packing a Full HD resolution, good viewing angles and a solid user experience overall. Battery life is less than Acer claimed it would be, but with conservative use this laptop should be able to make it through most of a school day.
Since this laptop is powered by a low-power Intel Pentium processor, performance is leisurely. This effectively means you’ll need to balance the programs and browser tabs you have open at once to ensure you don’t overload it. But if you’re already coming from a cheap laptop, this shouldn’t come as much surprise.
Asus VivoBook E200HA – Best cheap laptop for students
- Quad-core Intel Atom processor
- 11.1-inch 1366 x 768-pixel screen
- Weight: 980g
- Review price: £230
This is our new favourite netbook for a few reasons. First, it’s one of the lightest laptops we’ve ever reviewed, but feels robust enough to be slung into any bag without damage. We should know, after all: a member of the TrustedReviews team owns the previous generation of this device, the X205TA, and despite undergoing a huge amount of abuse, it’s still rocking to this day after two years.
Like any budget laptops, there are some compromises. Of course, the biggest is performance: realistically, you’ll only be able to have a few active tabs open at a time when browsing the web before it starts to chug.
If you’re prepared compromise middling performance for 12 hours of battery life, however, the Asus VivoBook E200HA is well worth it.
Acer Chromebook 14
- Thin and light metal design
- Great battery life
- Chrome OS
- Review price: £289
Chromebooks offer an excellent alternative to more expensive Windows laptops, with the only trade-off being a much more simple operating system that’s effectively a glorified web browser.
Since everything from emails to photo editing and writing documents can now be done from within web apps, there isn’t much that you can’t do on a Chromebook that you can do on a Windows machine.
The Acer Chromebook 14 looks near-identical to a MacBook Air, with an aluminium composite body and black chiclet keyboard. It’s slightly bigger, but weighs in at just 1.55kg – which is pretty light for a 14-inch laptop.
It isn’t powerful; its Intel Celeron processor is capable of only lightweight tasks, but with long battery life it’s a great secondary PC for when you’re out on campus or heading into class.
Acer Swift 5
- 1.6GHz Intel Core i5–8250U
- 8GB DDR3 SDRAM
- 256GB SSD
- 14” 1920×1080 IPS display
- 2xUSB 3.0, 1xUSB 3.1 Type–C, 1xHDMI
- Review Price: £899.00
If you’re looking for an affordable, all-round 15-inch laptop, you’ll struggle to do better than the Aspire 5.
Available with a wealth of Intel 8th Gen CPU options, customisable memory, great battery and all-round excellent build quality, the Swift 5 will meet nearly every student’s needs. The keyboard and trackpad are also much better than competing products at this price point, making them an idea choice for people who regularly use their laptop to take notes, or write up essays.
If you have cash to burn and are looking to do light gaming, or photo and video editing, there’s also a MX150 option available, though this will ramp up the price.
The only slight disappointment is its screen, which isn’t that bright and doesn’t have good enough colour gamut coverage for even semi-serious creative work. Though at this price point that’s hardly a surprise.
Samsung Galaxy Book 10.6
- 2-in-1 form factor
- Includes folio keyboard and S-Pen stylus
- Dual-core 1-2.6GHz Intel Core m3-7Y30 processor
- 4GB RAM
- 10.6-inch 1920 x 1280-pixel touch screen
- 64GB storage
- MicroSD card slot
- Weight: 1kg
- Review price: £650
The 10.6-inch Galaxy book is perfect for note-takers who like the tactile feeling of writing with a pen instead of a keyboard. This ultra-lightweight Windows 10 machine comes with both a decent (if cheap-looking) keyboard case and excellent passive stylus. There are no hidden costs here, unlike with higher-end machines such as the Surface Pro.
It’s not the most powerful tablet-cum-laptop around, but the dual-core Core M processor is fine for light web browsing, emails and word processing. Just don’t open too many programs and browser tabs at once and you’ll be fine.
Battery life is good, if not excellent, for a laptop, clocking in at around six hours under test.
Avid multi-taskers should look elsewhere, but a student in the market for a capable note-taking machine should seriously consider the Galaxy Book 10.6.
Microsoft Surface Pro
- Core m3, Core i5 (both fanless) and Core i7 options
- 4-16GB RAM
- 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824-pixel touchscreen display
- Surface Pen
- Review price: £2149
- Starting price: £799 (£719 for students)
Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro retains its crown as the finest premium 2-in-1 tablet on the market right now. And it’s an even better deal for students, with prices starting at just £719 for a basic, Intel Core m3-powered model.
We reviewed one of the top-spec, most powerful Core i7 models, but the cheaper, lesser-equipped models will be perfectly fine for those with light usage demands, who only want to take notes on the excellent touchscreen.
You’ll need to pay extra for the keyboard and stylus additions, which is a trifle mean, Microsoft – but some retailers occasionally sell bundles including one or the other.
Alternatives include the Asus Transformer 3 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Book, which both have their own strengths and weaknesses, but are much cheaper.
Asus VivoBook L403
- 1.1-2.5GHz Intel Pentium N4200
- 4GB RAM
- 14-inch Full HD screen
- Weight: 1.5kg
- Review price: £300
The L403 is a similar offering to the Acer Swift 1, coming equipped with a low-power Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM and an attractive price point. The L403 is a decent mid-sized portable laptop, weighing in at just 1.5kg.
We had a build-quality issue with the keyboard – which we believe was just bad luck – but, nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that when you don’t pay a lot for a laptop, you might run into minor problems.
The screen is a Full HD model, and we weren’t particularly impressed by its viewing angles. But the faults are made up for by the excellent battery life of around nine hours. If you’re going to be in lectures taking notes all day, this is a great companion.
Lenovo Ideapad 510S
- Intel Core i5 or i7 processors
- 8GB RAM
- 128-256GB SSD
- 14-inch Full HD display
- Weight: 1.7kg
- Review price: £450
The Ideapad 510S will soon be replaced by the Ideapad 520S, but there are still plenty of last year’s model on sale. And they’re great.
While the 510S is a bit of a heavyweight at 1.7kg, it manages excellent build quality, good performance (you can pick up a Core i7 model for under £650) and a decent screen, which ticks a lot of boxes.
Battery life is excellent, too, with our battery tests posting a score of 10 hours. A full day of work on the 510S is very possible.
All in all, the 510S is a great mid-range machine for students who need a trusty companion for lectures and need to be able to work from the library – and it’s capable of some media-editing workloads to boot.
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming
- 2.8-3.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
- 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
- 16GB RAM
- 256GB SSD, 1TB hard disk
- 15.6-inch Full HD screen
- Weight: 2.65kg
- Review price: £1099
If you fancy yourself as a gamer and need a machine powerful enough for video editing and photography work, the Inspiron 15 Gaming is a great choice.
We love its powerful processor and great graphics chip for Full HD gaming, and the 256GB SSD is fast enough to keep the system ticking over nicely. Even battery life is excellent.
Our main complaint is the Full HD screen, which isn’t very good. The main problem is viewing angles, which are narrow and leave the screen looking dark and unsaturated. It isn’t a complete deal breaker, though; plus there are models with higher-quality, IPS screens, available. Dell has also said that the cheaper models will eventually all come with better screens, although this hasn’t happened yet.
Of the new breed of sub-£1000 gaming laptops, the Inspiron 15 Gaming is our favourite so far.