A student’s laptop – it’s their TV, web browser, gaming system and, occasionally, their word processor too.
In testing ten of the best, we picked the well-priced Asus VivoBook S15 as our best value choice. A huge screen makes it a great TV replacement and a competent workhorse.
Meanwhile, our best overall choice is the eye-wateringly capable Microsoft Surface Book 2 – a tablet, a notebook, a laptop, a games console, and everything in-between. The best laptop for value we tested was the Asus VivoBook S15
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 is category-defying. It’s a laptop that detaches to become a tablet, it can be reattached back to front to become something of a whiteboard and, with pen input support, it’s an ideal note-taking tool, too. Costing as much as £3,000, it’s definitely not a budget option. But if you need an all-rounder, this is the one.
The Asus VivoBook S15 is a fun-looking laptop with tonnes of ports and solid battery life. But what really sets the VivoBook S15 apart is the screen size. Its 15.6-inch widescreen display is perfect for watching Netflix, iPlayer or Prime Video on, with little to no black borders letterboxing your viewing pleasure.
Here's our shortlist, the 10 laptops tested for this round-up.
The shortlist: Best student laptops
1. Microsoft Surface Book 2
Straddling two worlds, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is both a top-tier laptop and a premium tablet. Available with a range of specs, it can service design and film student needs in its most premium configuration, or document editing, web browsing and note-taking science or arts students at a more affordable specification.
2. Lenovo Yoga C930
Our sound champion, the Lenovo C930’s Dolby-tuned speaker bar will impress, with an incredible sound from such a compact machine! Meanwhile, the premium fit and finish, wrap-around design and integrated pen are also really sweet additions to this great looking all-rounder.
3. Razer Blade 15
A stark, commanding design is matched by desktop power, thanks to Nvidia’s GTX 10 graphics and the latest Intel Core i7 processor. There’s also RGB lighting, too, making the Razer Blade 15 a good option for the gamer, design student or video editor
4. Asus VivoBook S15
The Asus VivoBook S15 isn’t the shiniest, prettiest or best-specced laptop on test, but it covers all the bases for most students, has a huge 15-inch screen that makes it a potential TV replacement and also offers decent battery life of around eight hours, too, not to mention a number pad for students who punch in plenty of digits.
5. Microsoft Surface Pro 6
If portability is your priority, the Surface Pro 6 is slicker and more portable than any of the other laptops on test – and that’s because it’s not a laptop per se. A laptop in tablet clothing, it’s powerful, pretty and versatile, though its keyboard folio case and pen are sold separately.
6. Acer Chromebook 514
Students on a budget, listen up – if all you’re looking to do is browse, edit documents and stream shows, you could save a lot of money by picking up the Chromebook 514. Under £300 gets you a killer keyboard, a touch display and seriously good battery life.
7. Huawei MateBook X Pro
A relative newcomer, Huawei has delivered what many are describing as the MacBook of the Windows world in the MateBook X Pro. Combining a stunning touchscreen with a fantastic keyboard and up to 8th Gen Intel power, it offers a combination of portability and screen quality.
8. Asus TUF FX505
If you don’t mind a bit of bulk and want a lot of power for under £1,000, the Asus TUF FX505 is a very capable 15-inch laptop packing more ports and power than the comparably priced competition. This makes it an obvious choice for gamers and design students that can’t quite justify overspending £2,000 on a MacBook Pro.
9. Acer Chromebook Spin 13
The Acer Chromebook Spin 13 is something of a Lenovo C930 ‘lite’. It doesn’t pack Windows 10, or the power of Lenovo’s laptop, but anyone happy using Chrome OS can save a lot of money and get a comparable experience where it counts with the Spin 13. Its 360-degree folding design is brilliant, the pen support and touch input are also well matched with the bright, clear display.
10. Apple MacBook Pro 15
Premium across the board, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is both expensive and capable and is the go-to choice for most design students. The screen is fantastically calibrated, the trackpad is smarter than the rest, – vibrating to give you hints – and the touch bar displays context-sensitive information.
The expert's view
Most laptops are good enough to cover the basics: browsing, document editing, social media scrolling and posting, as well as some streaming when the work is done (or being sidelined).
But students aren’t particularly light users – many are gamers, video editors, coders and designers who need a combination of portability and power only available in higher-end machines.
That’s why we put together a laptop roundup for students, with one eye on performance and the other on value for money.
How we selected the student-friendly laptops to test
With every laptop we tested, we kept a specific student in mind. So film, design and media students, for example, need power and excellent screen quality – areas in which the MacBook Pro and Surface Book 2 shine brightly.
The Surface Book 2 also has an SD card slot, perfect for quick photo and video edits without the need for an adapter. Meanwhile, Apple’s flagship MacBook Pro has a Touch Bar. It's a touchscreen above the keyboard that pulls up context-sensitive shortcuts for the app you’re using. It works really well with video editing software like Premiere Pro.
English, history, philosophy and arts students, meanwhile, would seriously benefit from a laptop that doubles up as a tablet. After all, class handouts are much easier to read in portrait orientation.
The Lenovo Yoga C930 and the Acer Spin 13 are two examples of 2-in-1 devices perfect for reading on. What’s even better about these laptops is they have pens subtly stowed away in their slender bodies, meaning they are also great for annotating notes and handouts.
As for students who game, design software or work with 3D models, loads of horsepower is needed and a Thunderbolt 3 port wouldn’t be a bad shout. This port supports external graphics cards for versatile, upgradable power.
The Razer Blade 15 is a fantastic option for anyone looking for a full-on gaming experience, complete with a keyboard that look like a nightclub, and the brute force to rival most desktop machines. The Huawei MateBook X (2019) also packs a Thunderbolt 3 port in a sleeker body, making it an excellent option for anyone seeking a more demure approach to va-va-voom.
Of course, we also factored in our favourite affordable options.
The Asus VivoBook S15 has a huge screen – perfect for binge-watching sessions in bed. Coupled with a really reasonable price tag and a generous array of ports, it was the obvious choice for anyone in need of a cost-effective, big-screened all-rounder.
For anyone not bound to the idea of a laptop with Windows or Mac OS, the Acer Chromebook 514 packs a touchscreen, great battery life and a seriously good keyboard, despite coming in at less than £300. It uses Google's Chrome OS.
And then you have a couple of fantastically quirky, multi-purpose category straddlers. The Asus TUF FX 505, for example, is a gaming laptop, sure, but it’s surprisingly affordable given its power. It costs under £800, and crams in a whole load of ports, so can be hooked up to a monitor and a wired internet source – no dongles required.
In fact it’s the only laptop in the mix to offer a wired internet port, and it features three USB ports, too – ultimate connectivity for a capable, cost-effective desktop replacement.
As for the Microsoft Surface Pro 6… well, it’s a tablet to all intents and purposes, and is the wild card in our laptop roundup. Mind-bogglingly thin, light, portable and capable, it boasts a recent CPU from Intel, and an optional keyboard folio that’s so good you’ll not be able to resist typing on it.
The Surface Pro’s big touchscreen is pin-sharp, perfect for reading documents on, and if you stump up the extra for an optional Surface Pen you can take endless lecture notes too.
How we tested the laptops
We tested each laptop across a standard set of review criteria – design, connections, screen quality, operating system, versatility, speaker quality, battery life, typing experience, power and value for money. In addition, each laptop has something special about it, so we also considered the intangibles – that feelgood factor when you fire it up.
Going into a bit more detail, 2-in-1 and a traditional laptop designs may be very different, but the fit, finish and attention to detail can still be assessed and compared.
For example, how secure is a hinge mechanism? Is it compact, portable, ergonomic or just a bit awkward to use? And, crucially, how will it handle a student’s on-the-go lifestyle?
Connections are critical. More laptop makers have adopted Apple's "less is more" approach, and anyone who doesn’t want to juggle dongles will seriously enjoy a laptop with enough ports to connect a mouse, keyboard, monitor and more without faff.
As for the screen – is it a touchscreen or not? What’s the quality like, how bright does it get, and can you see it when you’re working outdoors?
There are a huge range of screen sizes and aspect ratios on offer. Some are 16:9 widescreens perfectly formatted to full HD video content. More squat 4:3 displays are better suited to document editing. Then there’s the question of pen input – something many students could really benefit from for note taking on the go.
As for operating systems (OS), Windows 10 is the most common, available at a range of prices. That said, it doesn’t tend to run as smoothly on cheaper machines as Chrome OS does.
Meanwhile, Mac OS, Apple’s software, is mainly available on pricier hardware. It tends to be reliable but isn’t as good as Windows for gaming – and neither is Chrome OS.
We also thoroughly tested out the keyboards, typing a portion of this piece on each of those on-test. From key travel (how much the keys move when you press them) to bite (the tactile feeling you get from pressing a key all the way) and right through to layout – is there a number pad and are the keys cramped? We typed, took notes and typed some more just to make sure we had a handle on how each of them fared.
Graphical performance, specifically for gaming, 3D rendering and video editing was also factored in and weighed up against the laptop’s cost to determine whether or not the machine offers decent value for money.
Student laptop reviews: The test results
First things first – we fired up some tunes to suss out the speaker quality. We played a range of music genres to identify which laptop handled operatic highs and dubstep drops the best, and we also watched movies across all ten, too. Some laptops made spoken word sound warm and inviting, while others left character’s voices coming across a little on the hollow side.
If only all the tests were this easy: the Lenovo Yoga C930 is the clear sound champion. The speaker is ingeniously fitted in the hinge that enables its super-smart wraparound design. This means when using the C930 as a laptop, the sound fires right at you – and what rounded, full sound it is.
The runner-up in this department is the Huawei MateBook X Pro (2019), with an ever-so-slightly flatter, less immersive quality by comparison.
Next up, design versatility. This is where the hybrids edged ahead of the pack.
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 in particular offers a little bit of everything – an excellent laptop and tablet, not to mention sketching and note taking device.
The Surface Pro 6 is also worth an honorable mention, but for any lap typing ‘laptoppers’, the Pro 6’s kickstand can’t compete with traditional folding design seen in the Lenovo’s C930 and the Acer Spin 13. True traditionalists who don’t mind their laptops being a bit more one dimensional would be well served with any of the clamshell machines on test - though the Asus options are the least portable of the pack.
As for typing, if you’re OK with not having a separate number pad, the Huawei MateBook X Pro delivers an incredibly good typing experience in a beautifully compact body. The keyboard is a great height, each chiclet key is well spaced out and provides a reassuring amount of feedback.
Keyboards are subjective, though, so for anyone who prefers a more resistant key press with more bite when depressed, the Surface Book 2 or Lenovo C930 might be the ideal choice. Definitely try before you buy to figure out what’s right for you.
Note takers, take note – the Surface line and the Lenovo C930 are the best when it comes to scribing. On the one hand, the Lenovo C930 has a pen included in the box, which is great. But Microsoft's Surface Pen, sold separately to the Surface Pro 6 and Surface Book 2 is more comfortable to use and more fully-featured.
For students who need raw power, the Razer Blade 15, Surface Book 2 (in its highest-specced configuration) and the Asus TUF FX505 are the clear winners.
The Surface Book 2 is very expensive, though, costing upwards of £2,000 for a version with top tier graphical capabilities. Meanwhile, the Razer Blade 15 can be had for under £1,500 and still offers exceptional power, and while the FX505 may not pack quite as much oomph it copes fine with video editing, Photoshopping, gaming and 3D rendering.
When it comes to battery life the Lenovo Yoga C930 just edges ahead, with in excess of 12 hours of usage time. While most of the laptops on test – other than the gaming-centric models – will easily make it through a full working day or session of back-to-back lectures, the Surface Book 2 actually has two batteries.
One is in the tablet portion, while the other is in the keyboard dock. This means you can use the Surface Book 2 as a tablet while charging up the keyboard portion, then dock it and be good to go for an extra four or five hours. So while Lenovo’s C930 wins in terms of longevity, Microsoft gets the versatility award.
The best student laptop reviewed
Microsoft Surface Book 2, 15-inch, from £1,299
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 is the ultimate people pleaser. Its design is exceptional, its keyboard is excellent, it has a big, bright, sharp screen and a great array of ports, including an SD card slot for photography and design students.
Available in two sizes, 13.5 inch and 15 inch, both consist of two parts – a keyboard and a tablet portion, electronically fused for a seriously secure laptop feel. If you opt for the more expensive model with Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics, you also get a gaming laptop quota of power in the keyboard portion, which makes it excellent for editing video or 3D modelling.
All these excellent ‘on paper’ traits are all well and good, but where the Surface Laptop 2 really comes into its own is in the real world and, indeed, the classroom.
You can wake up in the morning and read the news on your tablet while sipping your coffee, with the laptop portion plugged in and juicing up. Grab your pen and write up your day plan, then dock the tablet onto the keyboard, slide it into your bag and head to the library.
The SD card slot means you probably won’t need a dongle, and it has two full-sized USB ports, so you can use your USB key to transfer lecture notes for a friend.
We can’t think of a single type of student the Surface Book 2 couldn’t help traverse the worlds of study and play. If you’re a content creator, it has the horsepower and screen size, not to mention the portability, to keep up with you.
The keyboard is incredibly comfortable when typing – the keys have a rewarding amount of travel and resistance. Being detachable, the tablet portion is great for reading and writing notes on.
The Surface Book 2 is solid value because you can pick it up in a range of configurations and only pay for what you think you’ll use. It could also save you from having to buy a tablet. Although its entry level configuration, which costs £1,299, isn’t as powerful as much of the cheaper competition, given how many things the Surface Book 2 can do it’s incredibly easy to recommend.
The best value student laptop reviewed:
Asus VivoBook S15, from £549
Fun looking with colourful accents, a huge 15.6-inch widescreen display, a spacious keyboard and loads of ports all come together in the Asus VivoBook S15 to deliver a whole lot of laptop and really good value.
The laptop’s size is its biggest draw for students. With its giant screen, perfectly suited to watching content on, it would make an great TV replacement. Being so wide it’s also got a separate number pad, which is really helpful when entering data – statistics students who’ve tried punching numbers in on a number row, you’ll know what we’re talking about.
Speaking of the keyboard, initially it may feel a little squished given the fact there are so many keys, but within 20 seconds of smashing away we were touch typing with our eyes firmly glued to the screen. After five minutes we were even able to navigate to the number pad without lifting our eyes off our copy. Keys have a comfortable amount of travel and a reassuring resistance.
With no less than three USB ports, a USB-C port, a full-sized HDMI port and a microSD card slot, there are loads of ways to connect the VivoBook to everything from an external monitor through to a mouse and keyboard. And thanks to the card slot you can even boost the laptop’s storage with an inexpensive memory card.
There’s no getting around the fact this isn’t a flagship device, so you don’t get premium metal finishes or touch displays. But the VivoBook S15 still manages to look good for the price, thanks to a brushed metal effect to its plastic casing and colour popping accents.
It isn’t perfect, though – there won’t be enough power for advanced gaming or video editing here. In addition, maximum volume is a little weak for some. Hooking it up to a speaker would be a great shout for cinematic sound. Finally, the screen isn’t as bright as some of the competition, so it won’t be ideal for working in the sunshine.
But when it comes to value and immersion for those movie nights in, the VivoBook S15 covers the basics and more besides.
Comparing the rest on test
If this group test proved anything, it’s that there is a huge amount of choice for students. Traditional laptops like the Huawei MateBook X Pro, for example, look sleek, refined and premium, while smart 2-in-1s like the Surface Book 2 offer a bit more versatility.
Then there are tablets that wrap around themselves to become hybrids and, finally, there are simple tablets with enough smarts to masquerade as laptops – we’re looking at you, Surface Pro 6.
For students who want something traditional, light, powerful, portable and versatile, our favourite clamshell laptop comes from Huawei. The MateBook X Pro’s sleek chassis conceals some of the most powerful hardware on test, suited for design and video editing without weighing you down.
It also has a killer keyboard, which we loved typing on for ages. In fact, the laptop’s one shortcoming in our time with it was the poorly positioned webcam, which captures more of your knuckles than your face when talking and typing simultaneously. Otherwise, this could be the perfect Windows laptop.
For something that looks a bit more ‘grrrr’, but still delivers stacks of power, the Razer Blade 15 is our premium choice for students who game and work with 3D models.
It’s a stark looking hunk of black metal when closed, but open it to illuminate the individually backlit keys. They are programmable. Each key can shine with a different hue in its higher-specced model. This is excellent for gaming, sure, but the feature also makes it a killer laptop for any Adobe Creative Suite-loving design students who want to colour-code their keyboard shortcuts.
Definitely our wildcard, the Surface Pro 6 is not a laptop, but it’s also much more than just a Windows tablet. Its striking 4:3 screen is perfect for showing off photos and editing documents on, and it also has a handy kickstand that makes it look like the most handsome photo frame you’ve ever seen.
The folio keyboard cover – which delivers a truly sensational typing experience – and Surface Pen are sold separately, but those drawbacks aside it’s a stunningly adept study tool with impressive battery life given its size.
If you like the idea of the Surface, but can’t quite commit to such a novel looking workhorse, the Lenovo C930 occupies a neat middle ground. It has wraparound 2-in-1 styling, a pressure sensitive pen stowed away neatly in its upper portion, and fingerprint security.
When you need to markup your lecture notes, you can fold it over to resemble a tablet, flip it into portrait orientation, lay back and get reading and scribbling. If you’re in the mood for making a mind map, fire up OneNote and put that pen to good use in landscape mode.
The screen is heavy on bezels, so it doesn’t look as modern as the Huawei Mate X Pro, but its versatility could give it the edge for a certain type of student.
Looking for pen input without the premium price tag of a Windows laptop? We loved using the Acer Spin 13.
Its killer design is coupled with Chrome OS, Google’s operating system based on the company’s successful web browser. The laptop has the same wraparound design we talked about earlier, so can act as a tablet or a traditional laptop. Its big, spacious screen and high quality keyboard, not to mention great battery life, make it ideal for long bouts of typing on, and it has a pen stowed away in its undercarriage for note taking as well.
Students who need a laptop for design or video editing shouldn’t consider a Chromebook. The Chrome operating system doesn’t have enough app support or power.
That said, for wordsmiths, web browsers and social media fans on a budget, it could be a perfect balance of affordable and capable. The Acer Chromebook 514 is definitely the most affordable laptop in the mix.
It costs just £299 but has a metal body, a big touchscreen and traditional laptop design. It’s great to type on and can seamlessly hand-off document edits across the Google Docs suite of apps. You don’t want to have too many tabs or apps open at once, but if you factor that in when you pick one up it’s a great value buy.
As for Apple’s flagship laptop, the MacBook Pro, it’s still one of the best with its vibrating trackpad, touch bar and beautifully calibrated screen.
An ideal choice for design students and essayists alike, the keyboard is seriously comfortable to type on and the Pro has good battery life. What holds it back in comparison to some of the competition isn’t so much what it can do but what it can’t. While other laptops innovate with touchscreen tech and detachability, the MacBook Pro is very much a traditional laptop, feeling more professional than fun.
Finally, for anyone who isn’t fussed by the idea of a slim, all-metal laptop but wants plenty of ports, really good value and a machine that can handle Devil May Cry 5 – albeit with reduced graphical settings – the Asus TUF FX505 is our ‘affordability meets power’ choice at under £800.
It performs well, and while not sleek, hook it up to a monitor, mouse and keyboard and you’ve got a workhorse, games console and design station desktop replacement that you can occasionally lug around with you.
Any student laptops to avoid?
While we didn’t come across any student laptops we’d suggest you avoid, when you’re deciding on a new laptop – particularly at the budget end – there are some key considerations you should factor in.
Laptops are available in a lot of variants, each with slightly different storage capacities, processor types and even screen resolutions.
Once you identify what you need from your laptop in terms of size, storage, power, and dependant upon your key use-cases, you can find your perfect laptop match.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to watch a lot of stuff screens above 13-inches are ideal, as too are 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratios.
For document editing, 4:3 aspect ratios are that bit more enjoyable to use as they’re slightly taller, you can fit more of your document on the screen.
Storage capacities are also a hot topic. For most people, 128GB or 256GB is plenty for all your favourite apps. Gamers and video editing students, however, might need a bigger buffer – anything from 500GB to 1TB.
Connectivity is a key concern. Some laptops don’t even have any full-sized USB ports, like the MacBook Pro. Expect to use adapter dongles if you want to hook it up to anything external. What you sacrifice in ports, though, you likely make up for with premium design and portability. Port-rich alternatives like the Asus TUF FX505 look comparatively clunky.
Finally, get into a store and try out the options if you can. You’re going to be spending a lot of time working on your chosen laptop, so finding out how it feels in the flesh is a smart move.
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