Acer Aspire One 721
When it comes to slim, compact laptops for studying and working on, the Acer Aspire One 721 is a great choice. It combines some of the better aspects of netbooks - namely, convenience, portability and streamlined dedication - with the more comfortable dimensions of a full-sized laptop.
The extra size is welcome, because it means a larger screen and keyboard that make working on the Aspire One 721 for long periods of time perfectly comfortable. The 11.6-inch LED screen is bright and clear, and won't strain your eyes when you're working in programs with a lot of white space, like word processors.
Lenovo has made an impressive name for itself by producing efficient, reliable laptops that are ideal for working and studying. The no-frills, dedicated design of the G560 is a great example of what Lenovo does so well.
On the outside, this laptop looks like a run-of-the-mill business machine - a far cry from its flashier competitors. However, beneath the slightly clunky exterior lies some excellent technology, showing that when it comes to looks versus functionality, the G560 has its priorities in the right place.
The Intel Pentium P6200 dual-core processor at the heart of this laptop ensures that work applications and more demanding programs like photo editors work smoothly. Although integrated graphics cards are often lacking, the Intel GMA HD card found here is powerful enough for watching high-definition content and doing light video editing.
While back-to-school laptops designed for working and studying on often share similar features and specifications to their rivals, there are some whose features really stand out from the crowd. The Asus X32A is a great example of a laptop with innovative features that differentiate it from the competition.
Yes, it includes the staple basics we've come to expect from these laptops, like a 13.3-inch display, a decent amount of DDR3 RAM (3GB) and a 320GB hard drive. That screen is excellent too, with a high contrast ratio bolstered by LED technology producing sharp images not found on cheaper screens.
A good display is essential for a laptop you'll work or study on for long periods of time, so it's great to see a good one here.
Although it's billed as a notebook, the Samsung NC110 is, for all intents and purposes, a netbook. While netbooks do have advantages, they've recently fallen out of favour because of the rise of tablet PCs. It's therefore no surprise Samsung has omitted the word 'netbook' from its marketing.
However, if you haven't been swayed by the touchscreens of tablets and you want a machine that's smaller than a laptop, a netbook computer is still worth considering. So the Samsung NC110 is a well-built netbook that, while being light and thin, is still sturdy and robust.
However, while the physical build of this computer is superb and results in a device that's incredibly easy to carry around, there are a few software decisions that seem counter-intuitive.
Toshiba Satellite C660-1G3
The Toshiba Satellite C660 certainly stands out from the rest of the laptops in this test. Not just because it's red, but also for its size. It's a lot bulkier than its rivals, and with a weight of 2.3kg it's not particularly portable either.
Buying a laptop bag will help make it easier to carry around, but you can't slip it in your regular bag among study books. The added size of the Toshiba Satellite C660-1G3 does come with some benefits, though.
For a start, it allows for a much bigger keyboard than those found on smaller laptops and netbooks. The C660's keyboard is almost full size and has a number pad to boot. The keyboard is much more comfortable to use than the ones on smaller laptops, and while it might seem like a small consideration, it can make a huge difference for long essays or reports.
Packard Bell EasyNote TS
Packard Bell has come a long way. In the '90s, it had a reputation for making mediocre desktop PCs covered in its logo. Nowadays, after a rebranding and its acquisition by Acer, the company is better known for making dependable laptops.
This impressive reinvention has a lot to do with Acer's involvement - the Taiwanese company is a dab hand at creating portables. All of that pays dividends in the EasyNote TS. This is an accomplished, well-made laptop that's similar in both size and spec to the Toshiba Satellite C660.
As with the Toshiba, the EasyNote TS's size makes it a comfortable machine to work on, with a large keyboard and well-spaced keys. Typing feels as comfy as working with a full-size keyboard. The screen is also large and bright with a good contrast (thanks to the LED technology).
Power isn't everything, especially when it comes to back-to-school laptops. As the Samsung R540 demonstrates, what's important is using what you have to deliver a reliable experience that lets you get on with your work.
The R540 has an Intel Pentium 2.13GHz processor that's never going to compare well against the Core i3s of Packard Bell's EasyNote and Toshiba's C660. However, with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, the lower spec of the processor isn't that much of a problem. The money saved from having a modest chip doesn't just allow for more RAM, the R540 also comes with 500GB of hard drive space - more generous than most laptops in its price range.
HP Pavilion DV6-3112sa
The HP Pavilion DV6-3112sa is another laptop that focuses on power. However, it lacks the slick confidence of the Toshiba C660, or the competence of the Packard Bell EasyNote TS. It's a perfectly good laptop, but it does show powerful components don't automatically make a great machine.
Like the C660, it comes with a first-generation Intel Core i3 processor and 3GB of DDR3 RAM, which can be upgraded to 8GB. The 15.6-inch LED display looks fantastic and, unlike the other laptops here, the HP Pavilion DV6-3112sa comes with a dedicated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5470 graphics card, which gives a massive boost in graphics performance.
High-definition movies and video editing perform much better than on the other laptops, and even recent games run pretty well, albeit with visual effects turned down.
Best laptop for school - the winners
During this test, a number of things stood out. The first was that you don't need to spend a lot of money to get a great laptop that performs well and won't feel like an archaic relic after only a year.
With the exception of the HP Pavilion DV6-3112sa, all these machines cost between £200 and £400, yet almost all performed well, especially the Toshiba Satellite C660-1G3 and the Packard Bell EasyNote TS13-HR-030UK.
The second thing that stood out was the importance of knowing what you want from a back-to-school laptop. Having a clear idea of the tasks you'll need the device to perform when you're working will help you avoid paying for power you won't end up using, or struggling with an underpowered machine.
Depending on your requirements, most of the laptops we tested could be a good purchase - you just need to make the right choice for you.
Toshiba Satellite C660-1G3
The C660 is a fantastic machine with great specifications for an excellent price. It's not the lightest laptop on test, but it's worth carrying the extra weight for a machine that handles most tasks extremely well.
The price tag makes this an excellent choice even if you don't need all the power just for studying - and you can add more RAM later on to extend this laptop's life.
The Asus X32A is a great all-round laptop with some excellent features that more expensive machines leave out. For only £300, you get a solid and dependable laptop that's ideal for use at school, college, university or the office.
It's not all work though - the Asus X32A handles media brilliantly, especially music with its Altec Lansing speakers. Its dual-booting capabilities make it flexible on the go as well.