Even for those who feel at home with their nose in a textbook, the end of summer break (or Winter recess) is a big bummer. But as much as it's a return to school and schedules, it's an opportunity. This is a fine excuse to invest in some fresh tech to make the coming academia-addled year a little more bearable.
If you're still reliant on a desktop, or if your laptop winces at the sight of a high-definition video lecture, it's time to look into an upgrade. And thankfully if you know where to look, it's possible to get a sleek and impressive notebook without blowing through your savings (or student loans).
We've pored through ourarchives from the past several months and picked the best laptops for school. Our short list spans a variety of budgets that range from power-sipping Chromebooks to help you with that 1,000 page dissertation to more powerful machines that'll do better at a dorm room lan party.
Update: If you're in the market for a durable convertible, the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12 is a compelling device. Designed for business users, the ThinkPad Yoga 12 has a more conservative design, but don't let its buttoned-up looks fool you – the laptop can still do backflips and the screen has a 360-degree hinge to easily convert between a notebook and a tablet, and you can also use the tent and display modes in between. The business-class design also means that it has a more durable build quality than consumer convertible Ultrabooks on the market.
Acer Chromebook 15
The perfect 15.6-inch media device to share with buds
College life and an affordable 15-inch laptop are almost synonymous. While most college students will go with a Windows machine, you might be better off with something that runs Chrome OS. Meet the Acer Chromebook 15, the first cloud-based machine to come packing a 15.6-inch screen and a Broadwell processor.
Not only does this laptop laptop also come as a well equipped and fully capable machine for multi-tasking, it has a positively radiant screen that's perfect for long Netflix binges. Acer has leveraged all it's past experience making Chromebooks to create a solid package, one that jumps over nearly all the hurdles early Chrome OS machines struggled with.
Acer Chromebook 15 C910
If the performance of the Celeron-equipped Acer Chromebook 15 isn't up to snuff, then you may want to consider the more powerful Chromebook 15 C910 ($499.99, £249, AU$620), also from Acer. The C910 model trades in the anemic Celeron processor for a high end Intel Broadwell Core i5 processor, putting it in the same class as this year's Google Chromebook Pixel.
It's the biggest and most powerful Chromebook that's on the market today, but unfortunately, unlike with the Pixel, you won't get a touchscreen with the C910, and the resolution is limited to full HD.
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display
Intel Broadwell and updated graphics deliver even stronger performance
Updated with Intel's latest Broadwell processor, Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display delivers even stronger performance with its integrated Iris Graphics 6100 GPU. On the surface, Apple is keeping the same hardware design, with the exception of the touchpad. The notebook starts at £999 ($1,299, AU$1,690).
On this year's model Apple is using the new Force Touch touchpad, a technology that was borrowed from the 12-inch MacBook. The new, non-mechanical Force Touch trackpad provides tactile feedback and can detect various levels of force.
The haptic feedback simply replicates the feeling of clicking a mechanical trackpad (something it does perfectly – you really feel like you're pressing a real button). For example, you might press to fast-forward a video and press harder to speed it up more.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is an excellent option for students who may need more power than a Chromebook or a MacBook Air without sacrificing portability thanks to its long battery life, relatively light weight, and high resolution display. Students on a budget will be happy to know that they can get started right away as the MacBook Pro with Retina display ships with free copies of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote out of the box as well as iMovie, Photos, and GarageBand for basic, creative projects.
Asus ZenBook UX305
A truly excellent ultrabook at a very agreeable price point
While the Asus UX305 does not necessarily break any new ground in the Ultrabook scene, it's a nearly flawless device, for an extremely affordable price and that in itself is worth high praise.
The ZenBook UX305 is a superbly-built, fully metal machine that's thin, light and very attractive. This lightweight system' also easily handled all my daily tasks whether I was browsing the web, watching video or editing images. What's more, you can get excellent battery life out of the machine considering its 1080p display.
Of course, the most striking thing about the UX305 is that it comes at a $699 or £649 (about AU$902) price. This is a great price for any mobile computing machine, but in this case you're getting a premium, full-metal Ultrabook with an excellent full HD display and a 256GB SSD to boot. While isnt' exactly a shining symbol of innovation in the Ultrabook space, it is the most affordable Ultrabook out today and it won't disappoint you.
13-inch Macbook Air
Still the benchsetter for thin and light laptops in 2015
Apple's ultralight MacBook Air is a thin and impeccably built machine. Despite the laptop's slim, cheese knife-like profile, it packs a capable Core i3 processor and an impressive battery that can last up to 12 hours. With this all-day battery life, it's a laptop that can get you through a whole day of classes as well as some internet browsing and Netflix bingeing.
The MacBook Air is of the most affordable ways of getting into the Apple camp of mobile computing. There plenty of reasons to do so too with free software updates and a bundled copy of iWork. Where as on Windows you have the extra expense of having to buy Microsoft Office.
Asus ROG GL551
One of the best entry-level gaming laptop available
There isn't anything too surprising about the Asus GL551. It checks off all the boxes you'd expect from gaming laptops without breaking the bank. Despite the value-packed price, this laptop isn't lacking in power at all. It performs admirably playing just about any title on medium to high settings.
The Asus GL551 isn't the best looking gaming laptop around, however, it's mostly a joy to use and that's what really matters. The metal keyboard deck and palm rests is a solid platform for gamers to tap and click on well into the wee hours of the night. Plus the notebook comes with a decent set of tweeters. That saves you from having to invest in a headset to hear all of the splashy in-game explosions.
Sadly, our biggest (and only) hangup with the Asus GL551 is its downright awful display for day to day use whether you're gaming or just browsing the web. Save for the display, though, the Asus GL551 is a sweet package for its affordable price and one of the very best affordable gaming laptops currently out today.
Read: Asus GL551 review
Acer Aspire V7
Offering great all-round performance this is ideal for a student
Acer set out to split the difference between a 14-inch gaming machine with a portable Ultrabook machine, and it's struck a good balance with the Aspire V7. It's one of the slimmest 14-inch laptops around, thanks to its Ultrabook-inspired styling. As just barely a gaming laptop rig, the Acer will play games far better than most ultraportable machines that lack dedicated graphics processing.
The Acer Aspire V7's screen was really love at first sight. Whether we were streaming movies or working in Lightroom the colorful display impressed us consistently with its visual fidelity and sharp resolution and great colors working in Photoshop. Acer has put one of the best laptop screens we've ever seen into the Acer Aspire V7, and photographers as well as media junkies alike will love it.
The Aspire V7 also has a surprising amount of gaming power behind it despite its rather middling components. The machine was able to play a handful of modern games including Wolfenstein at 30 fps, and then at 58 fps with some visual tweaks.
Read: Acer Aspire V7 review
Surface Pro 3
Certainly the best laptop/tablet hybrid yet released
This is not only Microsoft's most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.
That said, the Surface Pro 3 (starting at $799, £639, AU$979) is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but isn't close to what Apple's leading laptop and top tablet. And the Type Cover billed as an accessory doesn't help Microsoft's cause – it's quite pricey to boot.
At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that's the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it's far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover. If you're not concerned about a downgraded performance, consider the new Surface 3, which doesn't provide as much kick as the Pro, but is lighter and a lot cheaper.
Read: Surface Pro 3 review
Affordably priced for students
For students who may not need the extra processing power, screen size or cost of the larger Surface Pro 3, we found the Surface 3 to be a very capable machine with its Atom-based processor in our full review. With the same aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 is now more usable as a tablet than its predecessor, and the slate also comes with support for the Surface Pen for those who require inking, drawing or jotting down mathematical formulas and equations in their studies.
The Surface 3 starts at just $499 (£419, or about AU$814), but you'll need to budget for the Type Cover keyboard case and pen as these are optional extras.
Read: Surface 3 review