In our best student laptops guide we say that for the vast majority of students the best student laptop available today is the HP Pavilion 14. But that’s not the only logo you’re likely to see in lecture theatres or around campus: Apple’s MacBook Air (M1, 2020) and its predecessors are everywhere. The Apple is more expensive, but it’s also very powerful. Is it worth spending the extra cash? That’s what we’re here to find out.
We’re looking at these computers from the perspective of students, so they need to be capable not just for remote learning but for in-person learning too. We also have dedicated guides to the best laptops overall as well as guides to more specialist systems such gaming laptops and 2-in-1 laptops.
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HP Pavilion 14 vs Apple Macbook Air (M1, 2020): design and screen
We really like HP’s recent design language: they, ahem, think different from some other brands and their laptops have their own distinct personality. The HP Pavilion 14 has a thin, silver-white aluminium casing that looks and feels good, and as you’d expect from the name it has a 14-inch display. That’s a full HD 1,920 x 1080 IPS touchscreen that’s good for long studying sessions as well as Netflix bingeing. Audio is handled by two impressive B&O-tuned speakers.
You know what the MacBook Air looks like: it’s barely changed since its introduction in 2008. The current version is the prettiest yet but a well-overdue redesign is imminent. The Air comes with a 13.3-inch 2,560 x 1,600 display. It isn’t a touch screen but it is very good, with P3 wide colour gamut for more colours and TrueTone for a more natural viewing experience. Apple’s Retina displays are rightly praised for their clarity and this is no exception.
HP Pavilion 14 vs Apple Macbook Air (M1, 2020): specs and performance
The HP is available in various configurations and there are lots of older ones floating around, so make sure you know what spec you're getting. The 14-dv0012na has an Intel Core i3-1115G4 with 8GBB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. It has integrated Intel Iris X graphics, a USB-C port with power delivery and DisplayPort 1.4, 1 HDMI 2.0, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5. There’s also a microSD card reader. It runs Windows 10 home.
The HP’s performance is pretty much what you’d expect from a mid-range laptop at this price: it’s perfectly capable of everyday tasks and only really struggles with the most heavyweight apps. If you’re studying video editing or 3D rendering then it may struggle, but this isn’t going to let you down in Office or a stats package. Battery life is around eight hours of normal use.
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The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) has Apple’s new M1 system, which combines CPU, graphics and memory to deliver exceptional performance. This is as fast as a MacBook Pro in almost every respect, although its fanless design means it does throttle things down to reduce the temperature when you push it really hard. But you’ll find it really hard to push this laptop really hard. This is a serious computer that copes happily with video editing, music production and other heavyweight tasks.
Expansion is limited without hubs: there are two USB-4/Thunderbolt ports, one of which doubles as the charging port. Wi-Fi is 802.11ax, aka Wi-Fi 6, and you can drive an external display of up to 6K resolution. The base spec offers 8GB unified memory and a 256GB SSD.
Battery life is astonishing: up to 18 hours of everyday use.
One word of warning for prospective MacBook purchasers: Windows. M1 Macs don’t run it and therefore can’t run any Windows apps natively: they don’t have boot camp, and virtualisation apps such as Parallels aren’t yet available for M-series Macs.
HP Pavilion 14 vs Apple Macbook Air (M1, 2020): price and verdict
The HP Pavilion 14 in the spec we’ve looked at here has an RRP of £550. The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is £999. Both firms offer educational discounts, but the Apple is still considerably more expensive. However, it's also considerably more powerful, and more desirable too: if you can afford it, you'll love it. This is a MacBook Pro in sheep’s clothing, which is why we recommend it as the best laptop for most people. The HP is good, but the MacBook Air is great.