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The best student laptops in Australia for 2021: the top back to school options

best student laptops
(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Whether you're a student looking for a new laptop, or a parent looking to kit their kid out with the tech they need for their studies, there are plenty of challenges to overcome in the vast sea of solid options.

One of the major considerations, for both student and parent alike, is to find a laptop that doesn't cost the planet, but simply finding the cheapest available machine isn't likely to be a worthwhile investment either way. 

Thankfully, here at TechRadar, we get to review a vast majority of the laptops that hit shelves, and in doing so we get a great idea of the products that are worth their asking price – particularly when it comes to paying for features and specs that actually matter.

With that said, below are our recommendations on the best value laptops for students, no matter your budget and needs, we'll have a laptop to meet the demands of your study (and wallet).

Best student laptops in Australia 2021 at a glance

  1. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
  2. Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020)
  3. Microsoft Surface Go 2
  4. Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook
  5. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
  6. HP Chromebook 14
  7. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)
  8. Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
  9. Dell XPS 15 (2020)
  10. Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Best student laptops in Australia 2021

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Best laptop for students with a flexible budget

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 7-core – 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+macOS Big Sur is fast and responsive+Battery life is great+Silent in use
Reasons to avoid
-Fanless design could impact performance

Apple topped 2020 off with a bang, rolling out their much-talked about M1 silicon chip that’s so far been a real game-changer. And, the first laptop to receive it is the company’s thinnest and lightest, putting it on the list of the most exciting Apple laptops of recent years. With this new chip, the MacBook Air is better than ever, touting excellent performance alongside its brilliant battery life – without raising the price to keep it (fairly) affordable still. It’s not going to be the cheapest option for students, but it is by far the best value and worth the extra investment on a unit that will stay relevant for years to come.

Read the full review: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Dell XPS 13 9310

(Image credit: Dell)

2. Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020)

Return of the king

Specifications
CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 13.4-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 4K (3840 x 2160)
Storage: 512GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous design+Big CPU and GPU boost+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

This is the second XPS 13 that Dell has released this year (also known as the 9310, being more recent than the 9300 launched earlier in 2020), and thankfully it does a lot more to offer excellent value for Aussies than its predecessor. This 'New XPS 13' packs in the 11th-gen Intel Core processors as well as as the superbly impressive Iris Xe integrated GPU – an upgrade that almost doubles its graphical prowess. This means that, not only is the XPS 13 9310 a great option for study and everyday use with its gorgeous, sleek design and powerful innards, but it's now viable for casual gamers. It's also sporting the upgraded 'Infinity Edge' display which dramatically reduces bezels and the overall size of the unit. There's no doubt this is the best Windows laptop on the market, and while (like the MacBook Air above) it isn't the most affordable machine on offer, its a worthwhile investment for students looking to game as well. With that said, stay savvy and keep an eye out for sales, as you can get the base model as low as AU$1,400 if you're fine with the i5/8GB/256GB configuration.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 (Late 2020) review

Microsoft Surface Go 2

(Image credit: Microsoft)

3. Microsoft Surface Go 2

Premium design, more affordable price

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core m3 – Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4425Y
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 10.5” 1920 x 1280 (220 PPI) PixelSense Display
Storage: 64GB eMMC – 128GB SSD
Connectivity: IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.0, Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 LTE Modem
Reasons to buy
+Premium design+Affordable+Can run full Windows 10
Reasons to avoid
-No Touch Cover or stylus included-Base model's specs are weak

Microsoft’s devices are known for their higher price tags, which is why the Surface Go line proves popular with the more budget-conscious crowd. It’s Microsoft’s best affordable premium tablet, and the follow up, Surface Go 2, continues that tradition with its reasonable price and premium design. It even runs the full Windows 10 operating system, so it’s even more capable than other tablets out there as far as what applications it can run. Unfortunately, as with the original, it suffers from the same curse of being underpowered, especially at the base configuration. However, it does offer a slight bump in performance over its predecessor. If you’re looking for the best student laptops and the above two options are way out of your price bracket, then this is one of the best affordable options.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Ideapad Duet Chromebook

The Ideapad Duet Chromebook is the best deal for students on a tight budget.  (Image credit: Lenovo)

4. Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

Lenovo’s latest Chromebook is showing Windows 10S what it should look like.

Specifications
CPU: MediaTek P60T
Graphics: Mali-G72
RAM: 4GB
Screen: 10.1-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,200; touch) 240PPI
Storage: 128GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+Price+Chrome OS is great+Decent battery
Reasons to avoid
-4GB RAM low-Storage slow-Keyboard a little cumbersome

While the hardware is not quite as suave as Microsoft's competing affordable products, Lenovo's IdeaPad Duet Chromebook is even more affordable and includes a whole lot of value in its tiny cost. Chief among them is Chrome OS, which we find to be a richer experience when using a lightweight 2-in-1 (particularly compared with Windows 10S), especially if you're already in on G Suite apps like Gmail and co.

The Duet's 10.1-inch display has a 1920x1200 resolution and looks decently vibrant and bright, while the keypad isn't quite as nice as the likes of the Surface Go 2, it's fine to type on and is particularly decent for the price. Internally, it's certainly not the most powerful unit on the market, but with a battery that lasts almost 8 hours in straight 1080p movie playback, this is a perfect portable machine for those that aren't looking to put the unit through its paces and are happy with mostly browsing and the like.

Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook

Surface Laptop Go

(Image credit: Microsoft)

5. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

A powerful new Go device in the Surface range that is competitively priced.

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5-1035G1
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 12.45-inch (1,536 x 1,024; touch)
Storage: 128GB
Battery: 41Wh (4h16min 1080p movie playback) (6h53min PCMark 10 Home Office)
Reasons to buy
+Professional performance+Very portable+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Entry storage space limited

In launching the Surface Laptop Go, Microsoft is making sure every gap in its market of laptops is full, and we're truly glad that this particularly hole is plugged. It hits that sweet spot between affordability, svelte and premium design, and performance. 

Its 12.4-inch touchscreen display is gorgeous, the unit itself is super compact at 1.11kg, and while all models ship with the streamlined Windows 10S operating system, they're all capable of handling the full Windows 10 Home if you'd like to upgrade. If you're not sold on the 2-in-1 design of the Suface Go 2 above that leans a little heavier towards the realm of tablets, the Laptop Go is the best Microsoft solution on a budget.

Read the full review: Microsoft Laptop Go

HP Chromebook 14

(Image credit: HP)

6. HP Chromebook 14

A well-balanced Chromebook

Specifications
CPU: AMD A4 – A6, Intel Celeron N3350 – N3450
Graphics: AMD Radeon R4 – R5, Intel HD Graphics 500
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 14-inch diagonal HD (1366x768) SVA anti-glare – FHD (1920x1080) IPS BrightView
Storage: 16GB – 64GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+Excellent keyboard and trackpad+Chrome OS is responsive+Crisp, vivid screen
Reasons to avoid
-Average battery life

The HP Chromebook 14 may not be as powerful as other Chromebooks, but this tiny laptop has a few aces up its sleeves, helping it secure a well-deserved spot on our best laptops for students list. Those aces include striking a good balance between ample screen space and portability, as well as a surprisingly excellent keyboard, a decent trackpad, a vivid display, and of course a very low price.

Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Apple’s little MacBook Pro gets a big refresh

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 LED-backlit Retina display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm
Reasons to buy
+Huge battery life+Great performance+Can run iOS apps
Reasons to avoid
-Still lacks ports-Expensive for students

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) may not have gotten a massive design overhaul, but what it lacks in that department, it makes up for big time in performance and battery life. Thanks to Apple’s groundbreaking M1 chip, the new MacBook Pro 13-inch delivers excellent performance and exceptional battery life. Its performance is so impressive, in fact, that it can easily handle 4K - and even 8K - videos, which is great news for film students. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that keeps things small and lightweight, this is one of the best student laptops money can buy, but it's a fair bit of money.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

Amazon Black Friday deals

(Image credit: Microsoft)

8. Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

The best laptop by Microsoft

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i5 - i7 / AMD Ryzen 5 / AMD Ryzen 7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics / AMD Radeon Vega 9 / AMD Radeon RX Vega 11
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) / 15-inch PixelSense (2,496 x 1,664)
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Excellent battery life+Choice of Intel or AMD CPU
Reasons to avoid
-No Thunderbolt 3 option-Too few ports for its size

With the third version of the Surface Laptop 3, Microsoft has made its best laptop yet. While it's not a huge leap over its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 3 does improve on almost every aspect. 

Best of all, with the 15-inch version you now get a choice of either Intel or AMD hardware. Previously, only Intel tech was included. Elsewhere, the Surface Laptop 3 continues the Surface Laptop's reputation for being a stunningly designed laptop. 

These are some of the most desirable laptops in the world that don't have a logo of an apple on them, with a new aluminum body that gives it a premium feel, while protecting it from knocks and drops. There are still a few niggles, like the continued lack of ports, but in general this is one of the best laptops in the world right now.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Dell XPS 15

(Image credit: Dell)

9. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

All-powerful laptop for creative students

Specifications
CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
RAM: 8GB – 64GB
Screen: 15.6" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 15.6" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit Display
Storage : 256GB – 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe
Reasons to buy
+Amazing speakers+Beautiful display+Comfy keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-GTX 1650 Ti is a little weak

The Dell XPS 15 might be a bit pricey for regular students, but it’s easily one of the best laptops for students in the creative field. Combining staggering power in a stylish thin and light chassis, this laptop doesn’t hold back when it comes to internals and features that improve your computing experience overall, whether you’re a film student or a graphic design one. Among those amazing features are a gorgeous bright display with 500 nits of brightness, an extremely comfortable keyboard, impressive speakers, and a terrific trackpad. We’re not saying that this laptop is perfect, but our coveted 5 out of 5 rating should speak for itself.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15

Acer Swift 3 2020

(Image credit: Acer)

10. Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Punches above its ultralight-weight

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3500 – 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G4
GPU: AMD Radeon shared memory – Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Display: 14" Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 – 13.5" (2256 x 1504) 3:2, IPS
Reasons to buy
+Highly portable+Excellent multitasker+Very affordable for an Ultrabook
Reasons to avoid
-Speakers are "meh"-Not great for gaming

The most popular Ultrabooks out there can cost a fortune – you have to pay for that thin and light form factor, after all. Not with the Acer Swift 3 (2020). This is the Ultrabook for the masses, thanks to its low asking price for that lightweight design, decent battery life and brand new specs that deliver when it comes to multitasking. It’s definitely got all the makings of the best student laptop – including that smart design one could mistake for a MacBook Pro.

Read the full review: Acer Swift 3 (2020)

Thinking of insuring your laptop?

While your laptop's portable nature increases its convenience and flexibility, it also means it's at greater risk of becoming lost, damaged or stolen. In Australia, you can often protect against those scenarios (even outside the home) by adding 'personal effects' insurance to your contents insurance. To find out more, check out our sister site Mozo and compare contents insurance offers.

Harry Domanski
Harry is an Australian Journalist for TechRadar with an ear to the ground for future tech, and the other in front of a vintage amplifier. He likes stories told in charming ways, and content consumed through massive screens. He also likes to get his hands dirty with the ethics of the tech.