10 best laptops for students
12th Feb 2014 | 14:00
Budget laptops to take to college or uni
Becoming a full-time student is expensive - all those student loans, tuition fees, and flights to Thailand to discover who you are don't come cheap.
Regardless of the money you'll save in haircuts, times are tough, indeed. But choosing a decent portable PC to lug from lecture - to pub - to lecture halls and, hopefully, last the duration of your course is something we can help you with. So we've scoured our peerless laptop reviews to find 10 of the best laptops for students.
As we know scholars aren't renowned for being flush with cash, we mainly picked the cheap laptops. we've also added a few that have a little more graphic power should your course tutor offer extra credit for live action documentaries with your history papers or your lecturer demand exploding real-time 3D pie charts with every marketing assignment.
Acer C720 Chromebook - £199
Chromebooks are great for chucking in a backpack for lectures. They are fast, maintenance-free, light and, if you leave the backpack on the bus, cheap to replace. The Acer C720 uses a 1.40GHZ Celeron processor and, like all Chromebooks, boots up quickly and will get you on the web or writing notes in seconds. That's their main sell, though, and they aren't going to be for every student.
There are so many caveats with Chromebooks that it's worth reading our Chromebook guide before buying one. The main one being that you're limited to Google products and Chrome Store web apps that run in the browser.
On-board storage is also small, in this case - 16GB, but you're meant to store everything in the cloud. Additionally, printing is also a bit of an issue - you'll need to use a printer that supports the Google Cloud Print protocol, which could see you having to buy a new printer as well. In theory, you can edit images, but we'd suggest giving video editing a miss.
If you can afford it, you might want consider using the Acer 720 as a really lightweight research and note-taking device. You'll be able to save everything to the cloud for easy access on your main machine back at your dorm.
HP Chromebook 11 - £229
The HP Chromebook 11 is surprisingly well built for the price. Its ARM processor is powerful enough to do the things you'd expect of a Chromebook: web surfing and writing essays, checking email and amusing yourself on YouTube during a tiresome lecture. However, like the Acer 720 above, you'll need to decide whether a Chromebook and its Chrome OS will work for your studies.
The 16GB SSD is fast, but not enough to store all your offline work, but as long as you can connect via Wi-Fi you'll have access to 100GB of cloud storage on Google Drive for free for two years.
We found the keyboard was up to the task and responsive while the 11-inch 1,366 x 768 IPS screen is decent quality considering the price. The HP Chromebook 11's one key failing is battery life. We managed five hours, which is less than the full day of work we expect from a Chromebook.
Beyond its limitations by design, this is a stylish, affordable and fast little laptop that will be great for the basics, but, depending on your course, may not be enough for your needs.
Lenovo G500s - £300
The number of plain-looking Lenovo portables available at this price range is a little overwhelming, but they do make good student laptops. This G500s is an updated G505 and sports an Intel Pentium 2020M running at 2.4GHz. Coupled with the 8GB of RAM, this means the Lenovo G500s handles Windows 8 smoothly and will be fast enough for general day to day studies.
It is, however, lacking a good keyboard. Keys have very little feedback and making sure that every keystroke registers isn't likely to be appealing at deadline time.
As with many laptops at this price, the integrated Intel HD graphics can handle video playback smoothly, but its not for serious gaming. Viewing angles are limited on the 15.6-inch TFT screen, which maxes out at 1,366 x 768 and supplies an overall decent but unexciting display.
In terms of connectivity, it hits all the requirements with two USB 3.0 ports, built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and a DVD writer and, a large 1TB hard drive.
The Lenovo G500s isn't the most portable at 2.5kg or the best suited to lots of typing with its subpar keyboard, but it is a solid and good value laptop with most of the features you'll need.
Asus Transformer Book T100 - £329
A lightweight portable that can be both laptop and tablet while still running Windows 8.1 is an impressive feat, even more so when it allows for stats like 11 hours of battery life and a weight of 2.4lbs (with keyboard attached).
The 10.1-inch Asus Transformer Book T100 achieves this through its 1.33GHz Atom Z3740 processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage. As you might expect, the processor won't cope with image and video editing very well, but there's a enough power available to do basic tasks, such as surfing the web and streaming YouTube videos. There's also a MicroSD for expanding storage as well as 1TB of free Sky Drive space for a year.
The keyboard, when attached, is smaller than normal, which makes it more suitable for light word processing, which does put it at odds with the free copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Student Edition it comes with.
The IPS screen has a max resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, which isn't surprising at this price, but it's not as crisp as a full-HD display.
The cramped keyboard of the Asus Transformer Book T100may be a dealbreaker for uni work, but it's worth trying it out for yourself at this price.
HP Pavilion 15 - £370
This is a reliable, budget laptop that runs Windows 8. It uses a bargain processor, the AMD A4-500 running at 1.5GHz, and it's for everyday computing, which is good as that covers most things a student might need for their course. If you decide to use it for anything that requires serious processing power, like video editing, you'll be in for a long wait.
The rest of the specs are solid: 4GB of RAM, 750GB hard drive and a DVD+RW drive. In fact, the overall feel of the laptop is snappy and responsive, and pushing the Pavilion 15 as hard as it can go still garnered almost five and half hours of battery life, which is incredible.
The 15.6-inch TN display isn't much to shout about though; it runs at 1,366x768 native resolution, which means you won't be able to watch true HD video, except through the HDMI port connected to an external monitor. The keyboard is also comfortable enough, but the keys aren't very responsive.
This is a straightforward laptop but on a tight budget this little machine, with its pleasing metallic red finish, is certainly worth considering.
Asus V550CA - £370
The Asus V550CA is classed as a mid-range laptop with touchscreen, and as such is more than capable for day to day studies. Windows 8 is pre-installed, and the model we reviewed had an Intel Core i7-3537U running at 2.50GHz, which doesn't exactly make it slow, but is a generation behind the current Haswell chips.
It also packs 6GB of RAM, which is fine for most uses but performance may become noticeably slower during taxing tasks, such as photo or video editing. This is unfortunate as it you'd have plenty of space for big files - the Asus V550CA comes with a 1TB hard drive.
The 1,366 x 785 resolution from the 15.6-inch TFT screen is poor at this price. It basically lets the integrated Intel HD Graphics off the hook. If you we hoping to pay a bit more to be able to play more than casual games then you'd be disappointed. There's also no optical drive.
The Asus V550CA offers a slim, light, brushed aluminium design, which is let down by a low resolution screen, but it would be a reliable study laptop.
HP Pavilion TouchSmart Sleekbook 15 - £410
It may be a Sleekbook by name, and by design it's a glossy number, but its ultrabook appearance belies its weight of 2.1kg.
This is little heavy for lugging around all day, but it does offer some excellent value for money. For instance, we found the 15.6-inch TFT touchscreen vibrant while the 10-point touchscreen offered good responsiveness.
Windows 8 also runs well on the AMD A4-4355M 1.9GHz processor, bolstered by 8GB of RAM and capacious 1TB of storage. Overall, this specification will cope easily with studies (unless you're writing a dissertation on Bitcoins), but it's not equipped for serious video editing or playing 3D games. It also has no optical drive, which is becoming a more common omission.
Its attempts at good value continue with an excellent keyboard and a decent trackpad, which will make bashing out assignments far less of a chore. There's also good connectivity, including two USB 3.0 ports and HDMI for connecting to an external monitor back in your room.
Crucially, there's enough power efficiency in the design to offer five to seven hours of battery life. This is more of a desktop replacement than a light, portable laptop, but it's a fast, responsive and good-looking laptop at an affordable price.
Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch - £450
When Lenovo updated its IdeaPad U410, it added 'Touch' to the end of its name, which although a responsive and good feature isn't the standout one. No, it turns out to be the graphics. The Nvidia GeForce GL710M is capable of some impressive gaming results.
This gaming focus most likely lead to the compromise on the 14-inch screen too, which is a TFT with a max resolution 1,366 x 768. Generally, the display was quite reflective and a tad on the dull side, but it does squeeze the most from the graphics, for instance, we saw a very respectable 52 frames per second in Bioshock Infinite at High settings.
The rest of the core specs are generally good, the Intel Core i5-3337U will handle all the essay work, spreadsheets and pie charts you can throw at it, but it isn't for high-load tasks. The keyboard offers good feedback when typing, but is on the small side. The Core i5 also tends to hit battery life, which, as we expected, ran out after just over two and half hours.
Thanks to the 8GB of RAM, a generous 1TB hard drive with a 24GB SSD for fast booting the IdeaPad U410 Touch offers a responsive and fast Windows 8 experience.
Lenovo IdeaPad Z500 Touch - £450
Another Lenovo, but this time we have a 15.6-inch touchscreen laptop that's been carefully specified for gaming… oh, and will be good for your studies, too.
The models start with a Core i5-3230M, but for an extra £100 you can add a Core i7-3632QM running at 2.2GHz, which together with the 8GB of RAM yields a nippy Windows 8 experience. This isn't the latest Haswell generation of chips from Intel, but it's essentially your power issues dealt with for any typical college work you might do.
As we've noted previously a resolution of 1,366 x 768 on a 15.6-inch screen won't offer full HD or a sparkling screen, but it is clever move in gaming terms. It enables the Nvidia GeForce GT 740M discrete graphics to run games like Bioshock Infinite at 35 frames per second at medium settings. The laptop also comes with a 1TB hard drive as well as an optical drive.
Better graphical performance does have its downsides. The Z500 managed three hours of 720p video playback, which isn't a great result. It's also heavy at 2.7kg. If, however, you want laptop that will be great for your studies and your gaming habit, you'll just have to accept its failings.
Lenovo Yoga 11S - £570
The Lenovo Yoga 11S is a handy 11.6-inch hybrid laptop. It's quite a chilled out model from a company that's known more for its corporate machines.
The hardware specs are still business-like, which isn't a bad thing as you get a Core i7 processor, 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM. We'd have preferred a more recent Haswell processor, but unless you like to relax with some serious gaming, it will be fast enough for your college work.
It's quite a versatile portable, too: bend the screen back on its solid hinge and it becomes a Windows 8 tablet for a quick surf during a study break; Flip the screen back to make a stand and it's great for watching TV or movies in bed.
The 11.6-inch touchscreen isn't going to support full HD at a maximum 1,366 x 768 resolution, but at least you'll get through two 90-minute episodes of Sherlock before you need to find the charger. If you prefer writing in bed, however, there's the full QWERTY keyboard, which is small but comfortable enough.
Overall, the Lenovo Yoga 11S is a light and perfectly sized laptop for lugging between lectures, it's only real omission is the lack of USB 3.0 ports, which is a puzzling oversight.