To describe your university laptop as an important piece of kit is one heck of an understatement. For the next three years it’ll be your notepad in lectures, your library buddy, your essay-writing companion, a means of communicating with friends and family back home, and perhaps most importantly, your television for binge-watching hours of Netflix when you’re supposed to be doing any one of the others things I’ve just mentioned.
It can be a difficult purchase to research, because every laptop manufacturer on the planet wants to convince you that their machine is perfect for university (and potentially recruit you to their eco-system for years to come). Having tested laptops for years, I can say with some certainty that there’s more weight behind some makers’ claims than others.
But before I get to that, it’s useful to consider what you’re looking for. Weight, I think, is important. Chances are your university laptop is going to be doing quite a bit of traveling back and forth between your home and your university, to the library, to your classes, maybe even on the odd field trip. You don’t want to be carrying an electronic brick around with you all day.
Then there’s price. Given that you’re going to be moving around with your laptop, it’s fair to say it’s more at risk of being lost or stolen than at other times during adult life. Plus, let’s be honest, with the best will in the world university is a messy time; it’s easy to knock over a bottle of Echo Falls and ruin your new piece of tech in one go. In short, you don’t want to pay a fortune.
And that’s fine, because, honestly, paying a fortune for a university laptop really isn’t necessary. Most of what you need to accomplish, like browsing the internet, word-processing, and watching TV, can be accomplished just as easily on a budget notebook or Chromebook device as a top-of-the-range laptop.
Beyond that, it’s the little details you need to look for. Quick-charging will be important if you’ve got a 9am lecture and you’ve forgotten to plug it in overnight. A headphone jack is a must if you end up with a grouchy flatmate who demands silence at 8.30pm every night; and built-in Bluetooth or a decent set of speakers are must if you’re a party animal or even just fancy having friends clustered around your laptop for a movie night.
You might also consider a laptop with a webcam, especially if you’re going to be doing a lot of seminars online due to Covid. (Though an external webcam might be safer.)
Some things I wouldn’t worry too much about are things like processors or storage capacity. Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of gaming or something power-sucking like video-editing, you won’t need a top-of-the-line processor. By the same merit, now that Netflix and Spotify are how most of us consume media, there’s no need for a huge amount of laptop storage simply because you won’t be downloading the big video and music files which would take up a lot of space anymore.
I would also be wary of the brands promising a ‘creative tool’. Unless you’re on a media arts course or something else that will require you to do a lot of heavy-duty photo and video editing, the benefits to you won’t surmount the cost.
Finally, don’t buy a tablet with a keyboard. They might be fine for watching Netflix and a bit of note-taking, but they’re never as comfortable to type on for long periods. Your wrists will hate you when dissertation time comes around.
Anyway, with that rubric in place, I’ve picked out five of my top picks of the best laptops for students out there, starting with my top pick…
1. Honor Magicbook 14
Why we like it: Apple-esque, at a fraction on the price