8 Best Laptops for Students in 2016
Looking for the best laptops for students right now? From cheap and cheerful to high-end machines, we’ve picked out the laptops that should help you stay at the top of your academic game.
8. HP Stream 11
- 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 display
- Free Office 365 Personal subscription
- Excellent speakers and battery life
If you’re on a really tight budget and don’t want a Chromebook, you can’t go wrong with the HP Stream 11. It’s a Windows 8.1 laptop that costs less than $200, which is astonishing. It also comes bundled with a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal worth $59.99 and 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage, where you can stash all of your files and photos.
Unusually for a machine this cheap, it doesn’t look like a piece of slate was used as the Stream’s main design influence. Instead, it comes clad in either bright blue or pink plastic, resulting in a bold, eye-catching look. It’s also slim and light enough to fit easily into any messenger bag or rucksack, and comes with a wide selection of ports.
The only real sticking point is the display, which is a grainy 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 affair. It’s not terrible, but you won’t be able to watch Full HD movies on it. The DTS stereo speakers are nice and loud, however, so music sounds great, and the HP Truevision HD webcam is good enough for Skype video calls.
Performance, powered by a 2.16GHz (2.58GHz with burst) Intel Celeron N2840 processor and 2GB of RAM, is suited to light activities like word processing and browsing the web, but it can handle HD videos too. The battery will typically provide eight hours of mixed use, which should just about get you through a heavy day of lectures.
- 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 screen
- High quality keyboard and trackpad
- 1.3kg, 4GB RAM and 16GB flash storage
It’s not the cheapest on the market, but the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is the best Chromebook available right now. It delivers as a work tool and entertainment laptop, and could be an ideal choice as long as you can get on board with Chrome OS.
Two versions are available – one with a Full HD screen and the other with an HD one. Though it costs $50 extra, we recommend the former. Its 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display is terrific for watching movies on, and feels likes it belongs to a far more expensive laptop. Colors are rich and bright, black levels are impressive, and it’s bright enough to use outside in the sunshine. The Skullcandy-tuned speakers are loud and crisp too.
Since this is a Chromebook, most of your files will be stored online. It comes with 100GB of free cloud storage via Drive, which is like Google’s own version of Microsoft’s Office suite, though you have to be connected to the internet to make full use of it. Crucially, Skype, iTunes and VLC media player are not yet supported by Chrome OS, so make sure you can do without these programs before making your purchase.
An Intel Celeron processor, paired with 4GB of RAM, powers the Full HD model. It handles HD video and general computing tasks really well. Battery life is really impressive, delivering over nine hours of mixed use off a single charge.
This all comes wrapped up in plastic body that’s roughly the same size as that of the 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s attractive in a simple way, but still stands out thanks to the dot pattern on top. The keyboard and track-pad are great to use too.
- 10.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 display
- microSD card slot
- Nine-hour battery life
- Complementary Office 365 subscription
Essentially a smaller, cheaper version of the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 is a great option for students who need a tablet that can serve their basic computing needs. The 10.8-inch display is generous yet practical, and it only weighs 887g with the keyboard attached.
It isn’t the most powerful Windows machine, but it’s versatile, stylish and fun to use. Battery life is excellent and the core features, including the screen, connections and keyboard, are all impressive. Our only criticism is that it’s awkward to use on your lap.
- 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 touchscreen
- Outstanding build quality
- Detachable keyboard base
- Dedicated stylus
The Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid device, and probably the best of its kind. It can function as both a laptop and a tablet, meaning it’s as suited to being used for watching Netflix in bed as it is for jotting down notes in a lecture theater.
With the keyboard attached, it weighs the same as the 11-inch MacBook Air, making it one of the lightest laptops available. General build quality is exemplary, but the smooth, sturdy kickstand is particularly impressive. You can set the Surface Pro 3 at any angle between upright and flat, though it’s not great on the lap because the detachable Type Cover is so thin. However, the keys are well-sized and the trackpad is good. The pressure-sensitive Surface Pen is exceptional, and the way it interacts with OneNote makes it even better.
The screen is a 12-inch, 2,140 x 1,440 offering that’s sharper than what you’ll find on most laptops. It’s bright and delivers rich colours and deep blacks, making it great for watching TV shows and movies on, especially when supplemented by the loud pair of front-facing speakers.
There are loads of different configurations of the Pro 3 available, but you can throw anything you would at an ultrabook at it. Despite its size, screen quality and level of performance, you can still get eight hours of joy before having to head back to the charger.
With the arrival of the Surface Pro 4, keep an eye out for significant price reductions over the summer. The Surface 3, starting at $420, is an even cheaper, but less powerful option.
- 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 IPS screen
- 11-hour battery life
- Generous selection of ports
In terms of value for money, the Asus Zenbook UX305 is one of the best laptops we’ve reviewed. For $650, the level of quality of the build, display and battery life are unparalleled – this would be a super ultrabook for any student, except for keen gamers.
Clad in matte-effect metal (apart from the shiny lid), the Zenbook is a slick-looking beauty that’s just 12.3mm thick at its thickest point and 1.2kg. It’s ultra-portable, yet still packs a generous selection of connections, including three USB 3.0 ports and a full-size SD card reader.
The 13.3-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display is sharp, bright and offers great viewing angles, meaning you’ll be able to hold mini movie screenings without a problem. The matte, anti-reflective finish ensures it remains clear outdoors too. The speakers, which are tuned by Bang and Olufsen, are clear but not the loudest.
The only drawback comes with the low-power Intel Core M-5Y10c processor, which isn’t conducive to speedy performance. It can just about run basic-looking 3D games, but is more suited to word processing, web browsing and watching video. The good thing about this is that the battery can go for well over 10 hours between charges.
- 13-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display
- Tiny bezels
- 11-hour battery life
- Excellent value for money
The Dell XPS 13 2015 is near perfection in portable computing. It’s a stunning laptop, which essentially squeezes a 13-inch screen into the body of a 12-incher. For just $799, it offers style, a great display, an impressively small footprint, brilliant performance and exceptional battery life.
The XPS is one of a handful of Windows laptops to both dominate the MacBook Air and undercut it on price. The only weakness is the keyboard, which is a notch or two below the very best.
- 17-inch, Full HD IPS display
- Intel Core i7-4710HQ processor
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M
- Intel RealSense 3D camera
A powerful all-rounder, the Acer Aspire V Nitro Black Edition VN7-791G is ideal for gaming, picture and video editing, or just watching your favorite TV shows. Unlike most gaming laptops, it’s smart, affordable and practical enough to carry around.
Its biggest strength, of course, is performance. While not the most powerful gaming computer around, it’ll still keep you entertained in those long hours between lectures. What’s more, its 17-inch display is excellent, sound quality is impressive and it also squeezes in a load of bonus features. One of these is the RealSense camera, which can sense depth and track motion.
- 13.3-inch, 1,440 x 900 display
- Exceptional battery life
- Timeless design
The most expensive model on this list, the 13-inch MacBook Air is still supremely popular among students. The cheapest model would normally set you back $849, but you could save yourself up to $159 with an Apple Education discount.
It’s gone largely unchanged since 2013, which is both a good and bad thing. The positive of this is that the design is timeless. The MacBook Air is a stunning laptop that has inspired the look of an entire generation of ultrabooks. The keyboard and trackpad are also excellent.
The flipside of this is that, for such a costly machine, the MacBook Air has a disappointing display. The 13.3-inch display has a resolution of 1,440 x 900, which isn’t particularly sharp. To compound this, black levels are so-so and viewing angle is merely ok. Brightness, however, is impressive, as are the speakers.
Battery life is outstanding too, with the Air outlasting all of its rivals in the field. In our tests, it ran for almost 13 hours, which is incredible. Performance is also good, and it’s well-equipped for day-to-day jobs, though you’ll struggle with high-intensity tasks, like editing video footage.