If you're shopping for a new laptop for school or college, cost will probably be at the forefront of your mind, but great value doesn't mean tolerating poor performance or shabby stylings.
Manufacturers are coming to realize that everyone values a well-designed device, and there's now a great selection of laptops that are powerful enough for any project, and so well designed that any student would feel proud to carry one between classes.
Here, we've picked out the very best laptops and convertibles that strike the perfect balance of speed, price and aesthetics. Looks aren't everything, but why not have them if you can?
1. Microsoft Surface Laptop
Stylish and tough - Microsoft's answer to the MacBook
CPU: Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Intel HD 620 Graphics | RAM: 4GB-8GB | Screen: 13.5-inch (2256 x 1504) PixelSense display | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s answer to the MacBook – a super sleek device that’s part computer, part status symbol. Its aluminium shell (available in Platinum, Burgundy and Graphite Gold) is sleek yet durable, its screen is superb and its responsive keyboard makes typing a joy.
The base model is powerful enough for everyday needs, but if you need a little more power you can upgrade to a higher spec hardware configuration for an extra fee.
The Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S as standard, which means you can only install apps from the Microsoft Store. Don’t worry, though – if you need other software, you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free, then use whichever programs you like.
2. Asus C300
Impressive performance in a candy-coloured shell
CPU: 2.16GHz dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 13.3-inch 16:9 HD (1,366 x 768) | Storage: 32GB SSD
Great-looking laptops don’t have to be expensive. A Chromebook is a great option for school and college if your work mainly involves writing essays and browsing the web. The Asus C300 is a superb example of the type – light, beautifully designed, and available in fun primary colours (plus a more sedate black). Its battery life is outstanding, so you won’t be hunting around for a plug socket in the middle of class, and its display is superb for the price.
Chromebooks can only run apps from the Chrome Store and Google Play, so design students who need Photoshop will want to give it a miss, but for anyone else the Asus C300 is a real bargain.
3. HP Spectre x360
A super-sleek convertible that's perfect for carrying between classes
CPU: 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-8550U | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) touch panel (WLED, IPS) | Storage: 256GB SSD
For students who need a more powerful portable, the HP Spectre x360 is a great choice. This 2-in-1 looks stunning whether you’re using it in laptop or tablet mode, and is amazingly thin and light.
It comes with a stylus (the HP Pen), which makes working on its 13.3-inch touchscreen a breeze – particularly for sketching and taking notes. There's a generous SSD for keeping your work secure, and it’s even powerful enough for a few gaming sessions between classes.
That extra oomph will cost you a little more than a lower-powered laptop, but might be worth it for more demanding classes.
4. Dell XPS 13
One of the best laptops around today, but style doesn't come cheap
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 4k (3840 x 2160) | Storage: 256GB-1TB SSD
If a student loan is burning a hole in your pocket, the Dell XPS 13 is one of the best laptops you can buy right now. No Smarties-coloured chassis here – this is a serious piece of kit with grown-up style to match.
Its impressive hardware spec mean it'll easy handle any project – even heavy graphics and CAD work – and you can boost it even further with optional extras.
The XPS 13's chassis is just 3.4mm thick, making it one of the leanest devices you can slide into a satchel, and it's available in two stunning colour schemes: silver on black, and rose gold on alpine white.
It's a serious investment, but this is a laptop that will serve you well for years to come – and it looks simply stunning.
5. Apple MacBook Air (2017)
Apple's trademark style with a student-friendly price tag
CPU: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (1440 x 900) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display | Storage: 256GB – 512GB flash storage
It might not be the latest model, but the 13in MacBook Air would be just right for slipping into a student’s backpack, and the company’s logo will carry more than a little cachet on campus.
The MacBook Air comes in a wide range of different configurations, so you can pick the hardware that best suits your needs and your budget. Even the most basic model features an Intel Core 15 processor, 8GB RAM and up to 512GB storage – not bad for such an affordable laptop, and you can always beef up the capacity by keeping some of your work in the cloud.
- Check out our list of the best laptops of 2018