While there are plenty of laptops to choose from on the market, not all of them meet the right balance of affordability and performance that's needed for a student laptop.
We mention this balance because, the cheapest laptops available won't cut the mustard for performance, especially if you need to do any creative work or other media manipulation.
On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of powerful laptops that wind up super expensive due to premium features that the average student won't necessarily need.
In our ongoing pursuit to review the latest and greatest laptops, we've come across a good selection of machines that meet this balance perfectly, and below we've listed the top options to consider, making sure to take into account a variety of budget and performance needs.
Best student laptops in New Zealand 2023 at a glance
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- Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
- Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2
- Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook
- Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)
- Microsoft Surface Go 3
- HP Chromebook 14
- Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 OLED Chromebook
- Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)
- Acer Chromebook Spin 311
- Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook
Best student laptops in New Zealand 2023
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 our full Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review
The original Surface Laptop Go was an impressive budget-conscious device and the Surface Laptop Go 2 has made some major improvements to make it even better. It keeps the 12.4-inch PixelSense display, and offers a similar compact and ultralight profile, but has updated the processor, keyboard and storage options. The new processor is 15-30 percent faster and the Gen 3 PCIe storage offers read and write speeds over 3000/1500 MB/s respectively. The device also offers a full work day battery lifespan, a fingerprint reader, and solid audio and web-conferencing capabilities.
Full review still to come.
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 our full Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook review
The Apple tax may put a good chunk of the company’s portables out of reach for most students, but the newest MacBook Air, which is available now for pre-order and should start shipping out next month, is still within reach.
This updated version of Apple’s most accessible laptop takes everything that made the M1 model such an improvement over the Intel models up a notch. Performance is snappy even when we used it to do some 4K video editing. And, that gorgeous screen is just a little bit bigger at 13.6 inches as well as 100 nits brighter than the traditional 13.3-inch size of previous models. Though we’re not a fan of that notch that’s been added at the top of the screen. Even with that slightly bigger screen size though, the new Air is lighter and physically smaller.
Apple also brought back MagSafe charging and added in a few more colors, though they’re a bit muted compared to what we expected. For those willing to stretch their budget, this laptop will serve them well, possibly even beyond college.
Read our full Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review
The Surface Go 3 uses the same 10.5-inch PixelSense display with a 3 by 2 1920x1080 pixel resolution touchscreen display as its predecessor. This screen has a 400 nit typical brightness with a 1:1500 contrast ratio and 10-point capacitive touch, so you don’t really need much more in terms of visual quality or usability than what’s already on offer.
It’s also got pretty much the same RAM options and while the Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y is technically a new processor released in 2021, it's built from the same components as the Intel Core m3-8100Y that were on the most expensive Surface Go 2s. The only significant difference then is that there’s no longer an LTE option, which if we think about it, was an unnecessary premium feature that those looking for a budget 2-in-1 can easily live without.
While the new processor offers 20 to 40 percent performance improvements on CPU heavy tasks, it takes a pretty big hit in GPU performance dropping by up to 78 percent of the previous generation.
The Surface Go 3 runs on Windows 11 S Home, which should offer faster performance, but a reduced set of available applications. This is still a solid option, the competition has just developed quickly around it.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Go 3 review
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 our full HP Chromebook 14 review
The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 OLED Chromebook isn’t just among the best laptops for students. It’s one of the best Chromebooks on the market. Impressive in both performance and battery life, it also comes in an incredibly portable form. That brilliant combination of longevity and portability makes it ideal for lugging around campus, taking to student council meetings, and unwinding in bed post-schoolwork.
That battery life is so phenomenal, in fact, that it lasted us 16 hours and 20 minutes during our movie loop test. Of course, that fancy new OLED display is worth mentioning as well. It might sound like a premium feature for students, but considering this Chromebook’s affordable price tag, we’d recommend you splurge away. Meanwhile, the detachable keyboard, although still flimsy due to its removable design, is more spacious now, we’ve found. It’s much more comfortable to use now for typing up those school reports. Every student from high school to college will love this notebook.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook review
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 our full Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review
If versatility is a top priority, then look no further than the Acer Chromebook Spin 311. This all-rounder has all the makings of a great student laptop, from its good battery life to its robust build and solid usability. However, the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 takes it further with its impressive levels of versatility, thanks to its abundance of ports considering its size, 2-in-1 design, portable size and excellent touchscreen display. It also boasts a keyboard and a touchpad that are not only reliable, but also satisfying to use. That’s a rare thing in a machine at this price point. It's worth noting this machine isn't sold locally in New Zealand, but there are plenty of ways to buy it from the US or importers without raising its cost all too much.
Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 311 review
The Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook lands straight in our best student laptops list due to the fact that it is one of the most powerful Chromebooks money can buy in 2021. While you're going to pay extra for this kind of horsepower, especially if you want some of the best features that come with the high-end models, it's well worth it if you're looking for a future proof Chromebook that's going to last you for years to come – four years of college at the very least. As a 2-in-1 device, it's got the flexibility that many other Chromebooks lack, and the screen on this thing is stunning. Best of all, it comes packing the new AMD 3000C-series processors – starting with an Athlon 3150C and scaling up to a Ryzen 7 3700C – and this means you'll get more processing power out of this Chromebook than many of it's competitors.
Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook review