Best laptop for students 2021
Honor MagicBook 14 - Best Overall
- Great performance
- Premium design
- Solid battery life
- Poor webcam
- No touchscreen
- More expensive than previous models
The Honor MagicBook 14 comfortably ranks among the best laptops you can buy, but it's also our top pick for students.
An impressive combination of powerful internals, premium design and solid battery life make it the student laptop to beat, especially when you consider its relatively affordable starting price.
The MagicBook 14 now comes with a Ryzen 5 4500U chipset, up from Ryzen 5 3500U on its predecessor. Combined with 8GB RAM and a large 512GB SSD, it delivers excellent performance across the board. You also get a full version of Windows 10, with Honor laptops unaffected by ex-parent company Huawei's US trade ban.
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.
Read our full Honor MagicBook 14 (late 2020) review
HP Envy 13 - Best Premium
- Sleek design
- Decent performance
- Great battery life
- Reflective screen
- Poorly positioned speakers
- Fan can get noisy
Most high-end laptops come in at over a grand, but HP proves you don't have to spend that much for a high-end laptop experience.
The latest Envy 13 is an excellent all-rounder, with a premium build, great battery and impressive display, even if the latter does suffer from some glare issues. It's powered by 10th-gen Intel processors, but you also comes with the option for an MX350 graphics card - as you'd expect, performance is excellent.
You also get a nice keyboard and plenty of ports, all within a lightweight 1.3kg body. If you can look beyond the noisy fan and speakers on the underside of the device, there's very little to dislike here.
Read our full HP Envy 13 (2020) review
Apple MacBook Air (M1) - Best Mac
- Stellar performance
- Incredible battery life
- Free software included
- Dated design
- Poor webcam
- Not the cheapest
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
Acer Aspire 5 - Best Value
- All-day battery life
- Great port selection
- Decent keyboard
- Average display
- So-so performance
If your budget doesn't quite stretch that far, the latest Acer Aspire 5 is a great affordable option.
It may only come with an Intel i3-1005G1, but for checking emails, word processing and surfing the web this copes just fine. That's helped by up to 8GB of RAM and a max 512GB SSD.
It ticks plenty of other boxes, too. The Aspire 5 has a Full HD (1080p) display, but still delivers all-day battery life.
It also has a decent keyboard, as well as incredible port selection by modern laptop standards. We're talking 2x USB-A (one with Power Delivery fast charging), USB-C, HDMI, ethernet and 3.5mm headphone jack - no dongles required.
For many students, the Aspire 5 offers everything they're looking for from a new laptop.
Read our full Acer Aspire 5 (A514-52) review
LG Gram 16 - Best Big Screen
- Stunning design
- Superb performance
- Excellent display
- No touchscreen
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 2560x1600 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
Asus E410 - Best Budget
- Great battery life
- Lightweight and portable
- Fast and responsive
- Cheap build
- Dim display
- Annoying NumberPad
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
Surface Go 2 - Best Value Hybrid
- Lightweight and versatile
- Great display
- Solid webcam
- Underwhelming performance
- Type Cover sold separately
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
iPad Pro 12.9in (2021) - Best Premium Hybrid
- Great display
- Impressive battery life
- Excellent cameras
- Superb M1 chip limited by iPadOS
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 as a hybrid.
The iPad Pro has long represented the finest best tablet money can buy, and the M1 chip takes already-excellent performance to the next level. A stunning 12.9in, 120Hz display makes for a delightful viewing experience, while the large battery can make it through a full work day.
Pairing it with Magic Keyboard really does turn the iPad Pro into a laptop-style device - with trackpad and all - plus you might also benefit from the advanced features available with the Apple Pencil.
However, these are both expensive accessories, meaning you can easily pay well over £1,000/US$1,000 overall. That could be a sticking point, especially when iPadOS still lacks Mac-level apps.
Nonetheless, it's an amazing all-in-one setup if you can afford it.
Read our full iPad Pro 12.9in (2021, M1) review
Dell XPS 13 - Best Keyboard
- Excellent keyboard
- Lightweight and portable
- Stunning display
- Limited ports
- Prone to overheating
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
Honor MagicBook Pro - Best Budget Big Screen
- Dedicated graphics card
- Large, attractive screen
- Impressive keyboard
- Outdated processor
- Awkward webcam
- No touchscreen
If you're looking for a larger screen but don't want to pay for one of LG's premium machines, the Honor MagicBook Pro offers everything most people are looking for.
This Intel version ships with a Core i5-10210U processor and discrete Nvidia GeForce MX350 GPU, something you won't find on many laptops at this price point. There's also an AMD version, but that ships with integrated graphics instead.
That 16in display is an attractive 1920x1080 LCD panel with a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, even if there's no touch support. There's also a decent range of ports, fingerprint scanner built into the power button and full version of Windows 10.
Battery life is slightly patchy, although the 65W adapter included in the box helps recover charge relatively quickly. You'll also have to contend with a webcam built into the row of function keys, although these are compromises worth making for many people.
Read our full Honor MagicBook Pro (16in, Intel) review
Your buying guide for the best student laptops in 2021
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.