Best student laptops Australia 2020: the best laptops for school or uni

Don’t let your laptop hold you back – get the best gear for graduating.

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(Image credit: Getty)

It's back to school, college and university season, which means plenty of people are looking for the best student laptop of 2020. Well, here you can take the stress and strain out of choosing a great system with T3's guide to the best laptops for students, which covers just about every need and budget imaginable.

The good news is that retailers are keen to shift laptops to students, and will usually offer a host of tempting deals and discounts to get you to part with your cash, so keep your eyes peeled for the best student discounts on laptops while you shop – you just might end up spending less than you budgeted for.

So whether you're heading off to university, picking up your studies at home, or anything in between, our guide is here to help you find the overall best student laptop and narrow down a device that's perfect for you – one that has the features you need at a price that suits.

We hope our student laptop guide proves invaluable for anyone out there shopping for a system that's capable, decent value, and a boon to your productivity.

Be sure to keep checking back regularly, as we'll be constantly updating this list with newer models and updated information, and we'll also include some clutch buying advice to help you narrow down the ideal learning tool.

What is the best student laptop?

If you just want one single recommendation, then our top choice of best student laptop right now is the Dell XPS 13. This system has a powerful 10th Gen. CPU, a quality screen and a great design. The entry level Core i5 unit is also available for slightly less than Apple’s latest MacBook Air offering (if you can live with a 128GB SSD).

Alternatively there's the always-popular Apple MacBook Air to consider, which we’d say is the equal best premium student choice on the market, as well as the Acer Aspire 3 15”, which is a great all-round device that is a lot less expensive than the first two contenders. The Aspire 3 15" performs perfectly well for anyone happy to use Google's Chrome OS rather than Windows 10 or macOS.

For more information about the best student laptops in 2020, then read on, but before we get to the main list, let's cover how to choose the best student laptop for you.

How to choose the best student laptop for you

Today's computers need to be able to do much more than the primitive number-crunchers of old. They need to support a huge range of software, given that several courses have special requirements, as well as the standard office packages.

When it comes to software, Microsoft's Office 365 suite is free for students, and there are also Google's Chromebooks and the associated Google Docs suite to consider as well.

Many students will need their laptops to be able to run HD video lectures without juddering of course, while a set of good speakers always comes in handy when the university day is done. These machines have to be affordable too, given the increased cost of schooling all round the world.

Integrated webcams are important as well, for web lectures and broadcast media-related courses especially in our increasingly online context, but these are now included as standard on every laptop. You'd be hard pushed to find a model without one.

Assuming that a student's main workload is based around the web and document processing, this roundup also allows for the odd use of processor-heavy professional applications on some of the more premium systems.

If you have lots of big data-sets to crunch or your studies require you to to work with graphically intensive software, you might want to check out our best ultrabook or best gaming laptops roundups for a slightly more powerful PC.

Given all that, these are our pick of the best student laptops currently available, ranging from humble typing machines to top-of-the-line ultrabooks capable of both work and play.

The best student laptops you can buy today

The XPS 13 has the latest CPU and an expansive screen to help you speed through your study. 

(Image credit: Dell)

1. Best Premium Student Laptop: Dell XPS 13

Dell’s latest XPS 13 is an expensive ultrabook, but slightly older units are great for students on a tighter budget.

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB-16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080; non-touch) – UHD (3,840 x 2,160; touchscreen)
Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Powerful +Will last beyond uni
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

Dell revises its XPS range frequently and while you're usually forced to pay a premium for the most current XPS units, you can generally grab a good deal on the recently ousted XPS units. Currently Dell’s XPS range has a 10th generation CPU, but while the latest 'New' labeled devices start at AU$3,000, you can pick up an i5/8GB RAM/128GB storage model for AU$1,699 or an i7/8GB/512GB XPS 13 for AU$1,999.

Considering it's a top contender for best ultrabook, savvy students can get this premium unit for a steal by pairing back the optional extras.

When it comes to performance, you won’t be left wanting, thanks to its super slick 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 CPU and though you'll have to dial down the graphics settings, you can even game lightly (Fortnite, Rocket League) with the Intel UHD Graphics GPU.

Dell has concealed the numbering convention it normally uses to identify legacy XPS units, but the way to tell the slightly less expensive 2020 units apart is that they have a traditionally sized 13.3-inch displays, while the newest models get fractionally bigger 13.4-inch screens.

At under AU$2,000 the i7 XPS 13 is an ultrabook powerhouse and will be more than adequate for students who need the best performance for years to come.

The Acer Aspire 3 is the best deal for students on a tight budget. 

(Image credit: Acer)

2. Best Budget Student Laptop: Acer Aspire 3 15”

For those looking for the best value laptop money can buy, the Aspire 3 is the best bang-for-buck deal out there.

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i3-10110U
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 4GB
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080; non-touch)
Storage: 128GB
Reasons to buy
+Good CPU Boost speed+Lightweight+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-Limited to Chrome OS

If you need a laptop, but can’t afford to get the best of the best, there are actually quite a few impressive options at the budget end of the spectrum. Our favourite is the Acer Aspire 3 – while it’s a close call between this unit and Dell’s Inspiron 15 3000, the Aspire 3 offers slightly better boost speed on its Intel variation which should smooth out any spikes in performance to mean you don’t notice it lagging under light workloads.

In addition to better performance, the Aspire 3 15’’ is also 13% lighter than the Dell Inspiron 3000 15 and it comes in at $150 less at some retailers, which is a great deal for anyone that can’t afford to pay extra for unnecessary luxuries.

While the Acer Aspire 3’s CPU offers better performance, it is less efficient and this combines with a smaller 45Wh battery to mean that it won’t last as long as Dell’s offering. If battery life is important to you then Dell’s offering will be a better option on balance, but if you're happy to carry a cable around, the Aspire 3 is the best budget option.

Anyone who prefers macOS, the MacBook Air 2020 is one of the more powerful options for students. 

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple MacBook Air (2020)

The best laptop for any studious Mac user.

Specifications
CPU: 10th Gen. Intel Core i3 - i7 CPU
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch LED 2560x1600 Retina (227 PPI)
Storage: 256GB - 2TB SSD
Connectivity: USB-C (Thunderbolt/ USB 3.1)
Weight: 1.29kg
Reasons to buy
+Thin and Light+Retina display+macOS

Apple has made some adjustments to the MacBook Air lineup, dropping the price for the base-spec model to just AU$1,599 and boosting the internal components to offer both power and portability.

For students, it's hard to do better than the MacBook Air: a beautiful design, the latest version of macOS, and enough oomph to play Minecraft to your heart's desire ⁠— or to do uni work... Both models also feature what Apple describes as an updated ‘Magic’ keyboard, which seeks to fix some of the reliability issues that plagued the previous generations.

Those seeking more power or storage alongside the thin design will be pleased to know that Apple offers a range of upgrades. The AU$1,999 model, for example, doubles the base storage to 512GB.

This leads up to what is perhaps the best perk of all – that Apple offers a 10% discount on the MacBook Air range for students, meaning the entry-level Intel Core i3 model will set you back just AU$1,439.

Microsoft's latest clamshell the Surface 3 13 is an excellent laptop for students who want to keep ahead of the curve. 

(Image credit: Microsoft)

4. Microsoft Surface Laptop 13

Microsoft’s lightweight laptop is perfect for students who need to work on the go.

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core-i5 - I7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.5-inch LED 3:2 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)
Storage: 128GB - 1TB SSD
Connectivity: USB-C (USB 3.1)
Weight: 1.29 kg
Reasons to buy
+Thin and light+Pixelsense display
Reasons to avoid
-512GB+ models expensive

While earlier Surface Laptops have been a little under-powered for anything other than the lightest of workloads, the 2019 Surface Laptop 3 13 manages to balance power and price to be a great solution for students. While Microsoft’s clamshell offering hasn’t come down in price since its launch late last year, the models start at a reasonable AU$1,699 for a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD configuration, which you can get away with if your school or uni uses the Google or Office 365 online suites.

There’s more than enough power in the entry-level Intel Core i5 configuration, but you have the option to upgrade to an Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space for AU$2,649.

For those that need some local space there are models with 512GB or 1TB of onboard storage, but the price point on these more spacious units becomes a little too high to still be good value. We’d suggest you only go for the larger capacity units if you’re happy to pay a premium.

The Surface Laptop 3’s screen is vibrant and the unit is capable of 4 hours and 37 minutes of lifespan under heavy workloads, so you should be able to stretch this to a full study day if you’re just doing web browsing and document processing.

The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 is a great budget laptop with a decent battery life. 

(Image credit: Dell)

5. Dell Inspiron 15 3000

A budget school laptop with a bit more battery life to get you through longer study sessions.

Specifications
CPU: Intel 10th Gen. Core i3 - Core i7 or; AMD A6, A9 CPU
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics; Nvidia GeForce MX230 or; AMD Radeon R4/R5
RAM: 4GB -8GB
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS LCD
Storage: 128GB - 512GB SSD or; 1TB HDD
Reasons to buy
+Good value+Solid battery life

Dell’s latest Inspiron 15 3000s are perfectly positioned for students. The units start with entry level Intel Core i3-1005G1 processors that are powerful enough to run Windows 10 Home S applications and cost less than AU$900. The Windows 10 S interface is basically just a streamlined version of Windows that will only allow you to download applications from the Microsoft Store (similar to the App Store for Mac users), but this optimised interface means you can run a wide range of student software on less powerful systems.

If you want to run a full version of Windows 10 Home you’ll have to look at the Core i5-1035G1 models, which come with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD for under AU$1,000. While this is good value, you can get the Inspiron 15 3000 with a Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB of fast SSD storage for just AU$1,299, which is a lot of power at a pretty amazing price point.

While AMD is beating Intel in desktop CPUs, it’s still catching up in the laptop space. For those willing to swap out a few compatibility options for better raw CPU performance, you can get the Inspiron 15 3000 devices running full Windows 10 and AMD A6 or A9 processors for under AU$800.

Best student laptop Microsoft Surface Go Best laptops for students

If you only need a simple 2-in-1 computing experience, then the Microsoft Surface Go is the student laptop for you.

6. Microsoft Surface Go

A budget 2-in-1 student laptop for lightweight computing

Specifications
CPU: Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 10-inch
Storage: 64GB eMMC / 128GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly portable+2-in-1 laptop / tablet versatility+Top build quality

If you're a student and need a system that handles lightweight computing tasks, can be carried around easily, and will transform into a tablet for entertainment and creative sessions, then the Microsoft Surface Go is an excellent option – especially so if you're shopping on a particularly tight budget.

Indeed, as we said in our Surface Go review, this system definitely delivers on the creativity chops. "The performance of the Surface Pen on the Go was impeccable," we noted, and "responsiveness felt instant and lines appeared smoothly as we sketched – there was no lag at all, which can be a killer for a drawing device."

It ticks all the boxes for one of the best student laptops in 2020 and the versatility of the  Surface Go's form factor really makes it stand out. You've got a choice of configurations to pick from to balance power and price.

HP Envy x360 best student laptop

The HP Envy x360 is a powerful and versatile 2-in-1 student laptop.

(Image credit: HP)

7. HP Envy x360

A classy 2-in-1 student laptop

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2500U quad-core 2-3.6GHz
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX Vega 8
RAM: 8GB DDR4
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD IPS LCD
Storage: 128GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Very versatile form factor+Stylish design+Competitive price

If you like the HP brand but want to spend a little bit more than the Pavillion, the HP Envy x360 might be for you. It manages to marry some decent specs with some very nice looks at a price that's not quite as exorbitant as you might think, looking at it.

With AMD powering the CPU and GPU, this is a laptop that's going to handle most of the tasks you throw at it, besides intensive gaming and video editing – it's perfect for writing up essays, or doing some research on the web, or putting together a budget spreadsheet to work out where all your money is going.

And as this is a 2-in-1, when the working day is over you can flip the HP Envy x360 into tent mode and enjoy some Netflix or YouTube on its bright, crisp 13.3-inch screen. Definitely one for your best student laptops shortlist.

HP has a number of Chromebook contenders that make lightweight web based computing easy and affordable. 

(Image credit: HP)

8. HP Chromebook 14 G5

A super affordable device that’s great for anyone happy to keep to Google’s streamlined OS ecosystem.

Specifications
CPU: Intel Celeron N3350 Processor
GPU: Intel HD Graphics 500
RAM: 4GB
Display: 14" HD LED-backlit (1366 x 768)
Storage: 16GB eMMC
Reasons to buy
+Affordable +Simple to use+Google cloud storage
Reasons to avoid
-Storage space limited

If you can get everything you need done using a Chrome browser, then you might want to reconsider your need to pay for a premium laptop at all. HP’s Chromebook 14 G5 and its Intel Celleron processor doesn’t have a heap of CPU power, but when you are running an OS as streamlined as ChromeOS 64 there’s really no need for anything more.

In the same way that Android applications are smaller and require less processing power than their full PC counterparts, Chrome OS uses far less demanding software versions that mean it requires less power and can run longer. If you only need a simple suite of document processors, a browser and some education software then the Chromebook 14 G5 from HP is the device you’re after.

The Chromebook 14 G5 is less than 2cm thick and weighs just 1.54kg, making it compact enough for any age individual to carry it round in a day pack. It also comes with military grade MIL-STD 810G drop testing and 802.11ac wireless to mean it’s tough enough to keep up with kids and will offer a stable WiFi connection.

Google has plenty of apps on offer, and for most young students, there’s more than enough software available to work effectively, which makes the Chromebook 14 G5 one of our first choices for anyone that can use the streamlined OS.

Lenovo's Thinkbook 14S is a good value offering with plenty of power. 

(Image credit: Lenovo)

9. Lenovo ThinkBook 14s

A little bulkier than premium ultrabooks, but better value for the savvy student.

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 13.3" FHD 250 nits IPS (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Powerful

The ThinkBook 14 is a little thicker than what you get from premium ultrabooks, but if you’re willing to carry around that little extra bulk you can get a lot more for your money.

If you are a student that needs extra processing power, but you don’t have the cash to splurge on one of the more premium devices above, you can get a ThinkBook 14s with an Intel Core i5-10210U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a speedy 256GB PCIe SSD for an RRP of AU$1,487.

Meanwhile, the Core i7 variant with 16GB of RAM is priced by Lenovo at AU$2,089, but we’ve seen it a few hundred dollars cheaper through third party vendors.

In terms of battery life, the ThinkBook 14 managed to last over 11 hours and 15 minutes in 1080p movie playback tests, but the CPU runs at a higher base clock rate than some competitors so for intensive applications it’ll only last around three and a half hours.

Part of the reason the ThinkBook 14’s 45Wh battery lasts so long in media playback is because the Full HD screen is really dull, but at 100% brightness it’s just enough to get you through your study quota.

If money is no object, and you value constant connectivity over powerful components then the Samsung Galaxy Book S is the device for you. 

(Image credit: Samsung)

10. Samsung Galaxy Book S

A lightweight, long-lasting laptop that’ll keep you constantly connected.

Specifications
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx
Graphics: Qualcomm Adreno 680 Extreme
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 13.3" FHD TFT (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Impressively thin design+Long battery life+4G connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-Limited power-limited compatible applications

Samsung is a master in the phone space and when you consider that top end phablets are almost as powerful as entry level laptops, it makes a lot of sense for Samsung to be dipping its toe into the 2-in-1 space.

The main benefit of using a mobile processor like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx is that it's light on power consumption drawing just 7W, which means it doesn’t need any fans for active cooling. This is how Samsung can claim ‘multi-day battery life’ with the 42Wh battery apparently holding enough juice to offer 25 hours of movie playback.

Despite the efficient design, Qualcomm claims performance that approaches 15W Intel U series processors – chips that require an active thermal array. We struggled to benchmark this unit fully since it was running Windows 10 S (which limits applications to what you can get on the Microsoft Store), but based on Geekbench 4 results it basically lines up with the performance of the first Microsoft Surface Laptop from 2016… or the least powerful laptop chips currently available.

If you only plan to use your device for web browsing and watching movies, then the Galaxy Book S's long battery life and option for constant 4G sim-card connectivity might be appealing enough to pay the $1,699 RRP. For this you get a 13.3-inch Full HD screen, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD (with microSD expansion) in a package that’s less than 1.2cm thick and weighs under a kilogram.

Lead image credit: Getty