Best laptops for students
Even for those who feel at home with their nose in a textbook, the end of summer break (or Winter recess) is a big bummer. But as much as it's a return to school and schedules, it's an opportunity. This is a fine excuse to invest in some fresh tech to make the coming academia-addled year a little more bearable.
If you're still reliant on a desktop, or if your laptop winces at the sight of a high-definition video lecture, it's time to look into an upgrade. And thankfully if you know where to look, it's possible to get a sleek and impressive notebook without blowing through your savings (or student loans).
We've pored through ourarchives from the past several months and picked the best laptops for school. Our short list spans a variety of budgets that range from power-sipping Chromebooks to help you with that 1,000 page dissertation to more powerful machines that'll do better at a dorm room lan party.
Toshiba Chromebook 2
For $329 (about £205, AU$382), the Toshiba Chromebook 2 is a gorgeous and affordable laptop that doesn't have many weaknesses. It comes with more RAM and a full HD 1080p screen, making it a step up from other models in this class, like the Samsung Chromebook 2 and Acer C720.
But potential buyers should note that the Toshiba Chromebook 2 moves the Chromebook category closer towards the territory of an affordable Windows 8.1 laptop. So you might be overpaying if you're not purchasing this laptop specifically for the Google ecosystem.
That being said, the 1080p screen is a huge bonus and the laptop speakers made by Skullcandy are booming. Add it all up and the Toshiba Chromebook 2 might be an ideal streaming system for everything from YouTube and Google Play to Hulu Plus and Netflix.
- Read our Toshiba Chromebook 2 review
Asus ZenBook UX305
While the Asus UX305 does not necessarily break any new ground in the Ultrabook scene, it's a nearly flawless device, for an extremely affordable price and that in itself is worth high praise.
The ZenBook UX305 is a superbly-built, fully metal machine that's thin, light and very attractive. This lightweight system' also easily handled all my daily tasks whether I was browsing the web, watching video or editing images. What's more, you can get excellent battery life out of the machine considering its 1080p display.
Of course, the most striking thing about the UX305 is that it comes at a $699 or £649 (about AU$902) price. This is a great price for any mobile computing machine, but in this case you're getting a premium, full-metal Ultrabook with an excellent full HD display and a 256GB SSD to boot. While isnt' exactly a shining symbol of innovation in the Ultrabook space, it is the most affordable Ultrabook out today and it won't disappoint you.
- Read our Asus ZenBook UX305 review
13-inch Macbook Air
Apple's ultralight MacBook Air is a thin and impeccably built machine. Despite the laptop's slim, cheese knife-like profile, it packs a capable Core i3 processor and an impressive battery that can last up to 12 hours. With this all-day battery life, it's a laptop that can get you through a whole day of classes as well as some internet browsing and Netflix bingeing.
The MacBook Air is of the most affordable ways of getting into the Apple camp of mobile computing. There plenty of reasons to do so too with free software updates and a bundled copy of iWork. Where as on Windows you have the extra expense of having to buy Microsoft Office.
- Read our 13-inch MacBook Air review
Asus ROG GL551
There isn't anything too surprising about the Asus GL551. It checks off all the boxes you'd expect from gaming laptops without breaking the bank. Despite the value-packed price, this laptop isn't lacking in power at all. It performs admirably playing just about any title on medium to high settings.
The Asus GL551 isn't the best looking gaming laptop around, however, it's mostly a joy to use and that's what really matters. The metal keyboard deck and palm rests is a solid platform for gamers to tap and click on well into the wee hours of the night. Plus the notebook comes with a decent set of tweeters. That saves you from having to invest in a headset to hear all of the splashy in-game explosions.
Sadly, our biggest (and only) hangup with the Asus GL551 is its downright awful display for day to day use whether you're gaming or just browsing the web. Save for the display, though, the Asus GL551 is a sweet package for its affordable price and one of the very best affordable gaming laptops currently out today.
- Read our Asus GL551 review
Acer Aspire V7
Acer set out to split the difference between a 14-inch gaming machine with a portable Ultrabook machine, and it's struck a good balance with the Aspire V7. It's one of the slimmest 14-inch laptops around, thanks to its Ultrabook-inspired styling. As just barely a gaming laptop rig, the Acer will play games far better than most ultraportable machines that lack dedicated graphics processing.
The Acer Aspire V7's screen was really love at first sight. Whether we were streaming movies or working in Lightroom the colorful display impressed us consistently with its visual fidelity and sharp resolution and great colors working in Photoshop. Acer has put one of the best laptop screens we've ever seen into the Acer Aspire V7, and photographers as well as media junkies alike will love it.
The Aspire V7 also has a surprising amount of gaming power behind it despite its rather middling components. The machine was able to play a handful of modern games including Wolfenstein at 30 fps, and then at 58 fps with some visual tweaks.
- Read our Acer Aspire V7 review
Surface Pro 3
This is not only Microsoft's most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.
That said, the Surface Pro 3 (starting at $799, £639, AU$979) is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but isn't close to what Apple's leading laptop and top tablet. And the Type Cover billed as an accessory doesn't help Microsoft's cause – it's quite pricey to boot.
At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that's the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it's far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover.
- Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review