Best laptop for students 2020
1. Honor MagicBook 14 – Best Overall
For a first laptop, Honor really has knocked it out of the park. The MagicBook 14 has an unrivalled combination of price, design, features and performance. Frankly, you shouldn’t be able to get a laptop this good for this much money.
Not only does it look nice, but it’s portable and powerful with an AMD processor and Radeon graphics card. Battery life is over 10 hours and the screen is decent, too.
Ports, keyboard and a fingerprint scanner are all boxes that get ticks. Really, apart from the webcam placement, audio is about the only thing that’s not so good.
There is a late 2020 refreshed model with a new AMD chip and 512GB storage if £669 is within budget.
Read our full Honor MagicBook 14 review
2. Lenovo IdeaPad S340 – Best Value
Lenovo offers excellent value for money with the IdeaPad S340, which is easily one of the best budget laptops we’ve ever tested.
Despite the low price, it’s very good looking with solid build quality, too. Furthermore, it’s got a good set of ports, nice keyboard and strong battery life.
There’s enough power for basic tasks at the price we tested but there are other models available if you need more.
As with pretty much all budget laptops, the screen is the lower quality element.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad S340 review
3. HP Envy 13 – Best Premium
Most high-end laptops come in at over a grand but HP offers a premium experience at an affordable price here.
You needn’t always buy the latest model to get what you need and the Envy 13 is proof of this.
It really does just about everything well with a nice build, long battery life, an excellent screen, lots of ports, a nice keyboard and more. Importantly it has a dedicated MX250 graphics card for those with more demanding tasks.
There’s really very little to dislike unless you must have Thunderbolt 3.
Read our full HP Envy 13 (2019) review
4. Apple MacBook Air (M1) – Best Mac
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.
The only reason it’s not higher in this list is the price, with £999 potentially hard to justify if you’re a student.
If you’d prefer, Apple also released an Intel-based MacBook Air in 2020.
Read our full Apple MacBook Air (2020) M1 review
5. LG Gram 16 – Best Big Screen
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 current pricing – from £1,249/US$1,199 – 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.
Read our full LG Gram 16 (2021) review
6. Asus E410 – Best Budget
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.
Read our full Asus E410 review
7. Surface Go 2 – Best Value Hybrid
It’s a tablet but the Surface Go 2 is worth considering if you need something cheap and portable to work on.
For starters, it’s one of the most affordable Windows devices around – that you should consider buying anyway – and has a clever design. Just bear in mind that it doesn’t come bundled with the Type Cover.
The 10.5in screen might be too small for some but makes the Go 2 compact and there’s good battery life, too.
Overall, a good choice for the less demanding user.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Go 2 review
8. iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) – Best Premium Hybrid
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 for a hybrid.
A lot of students will want a tablet as well as a laptop and this can really do both very well.
It’s one of the most powerful tablets you can buy, has plenty of productivity apps available and a decent size screen of high quality. We’ve only reviewed the larger 12.9in model, but you may also want to consider the 11in version for that extra bit of portability.
Furthermore, the Magic Keyboard really does turn it into a laptop-style device – with trackpad and all – plus you might also get a huge amount of benefit from the Apple Pencil, too.
It’s an amazing all-in-one setup if you can afford it.
Read our full iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) review
9. Dell XPS 13 – Best Keyboard
Although the XPS 13 was the best laptop you could buy for many years, things aren’t the same anymore.
It’s still a great laptop but there’s a lot of great rivals out there at the same time.
Holding back are the price, a lack of ports and some thermal issues. But if those don’t bother you too much and you want premium design, build, screen and keyboard then this is a great choice.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 9300 (2020) review
10. LG gram 14 – Best Portability
If you need the lightest laptop possible to travel around with you a lot then the LG gram 14 is perfect.
Despite being a 14in laptop it comes in at under 1kg – a weight that puts the MacBook Air and other rivals to shame.
It doesn’t have a touchscreen or very good speakers but does offer plenty of ports, with an Ethernet adapter provided for when there’s no Wi-Fi.
There’s good power for office tasks and multi-tasking from the Core i7 chip, but this laptop is expensive so drop to the i5 if less power is ok for your usage.
Read our full LG gram 14 (2020) review
Your buying guide for the best student laptops in 2020
Do you need a £1,000 laptop? Will it get broken or worse, stolen? While more expensive laptops will give you better gaming performance, should you really be playing Fortnite for that many hours with those deadlines?
We jest really, students studying courses that require complex software – we’re thinking things like animation or video editing – will need a laptop with some high-end hardware. 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 have 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 things like a better processor such as a Core i7, more memory and 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 memory and storage, 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 numpad? 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.
As well as all the above, you need to pick what operating system you want to use. Your main choices are Windows 10 and macOS and it’s likely you already know which one you prefer.
If not then check whether the software you need to run is compatible and simply whether you like using it. 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.
Find out how we test laptops.
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