When starting university for the first time it’s pretty fair to say that the one item every student will need above all else is a laptop.
Regardless of subject, that humble laptop will for the next three years become your workstation, your DJ for house parties, your way of keeping in touch with home and, of course, your provider of Netflix when the hangover really sets in.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on one gadget which is why picking the right laptop is absolutely crucial.
Don’t panic though, whether you’re after something that’s cheap, reliable and sturdy or expensive, shiny and top of the range we’ve got you covered.
HP Pavillion 15
The HP Pavilion series have been stoically supporting students for years and this new generation are no different. It has a 15-inch screen so while it’s on the large side the laptop’s plastic case keeps it light enough for carrying between lectures. The Full-HD matte display keeps reflections down to a bare minimum but it comes with the trade-off which is that unless you’re viewing straight on or slightly to the side you’re going to struggle to see anything (not ideal if you’ve got six people on a single bed trying to watch Drag Race together).
The keyboard’s really light and springy which is great if you’re writing large essays and there’s a Numpad thanks to its larger size. The Pavilion has a 2Ghz AMD processor and 4GB RAM which is more than enough for writing, researching and some basic multitasking. There’s only 128GB of storage though, so we’d recommend getting a portable hard-drive if you store a lot of music, pictures or video. Ignore the fact that there’s a Bang & Olufsen logo on the laptop, the speakers are simply OK so we would also recommend getting a portable speaker (like this one) if you want room-filling sound.
Lenovo Yoga 530
The Yoga 530 is a great all-round laptop. It has 14-inch Full-HD touchscreen display that’s squashed into a 13-inch body, meaning you get all the screen in something that’s really portable. The screen is very reflective but it’s bright and wide-angle – perfect for film nights with your mates when crammed into a tiny student dorm. The Yoga also gets points for having a stylish yet sturdy metal body and a screen hinge that folds all the way round, which effectively turns it into a giant tablet – that said, the hinge is almost comically overcomplicated and is just asking for crumbs and lint to get stuck in it, so keep it clean to stop it getting jammed.
The keyboard is a bit tighter than the HP’s floaty keys, but thankfully no more noisy – great for those long hours spent procrastinating in the library. You get a fingerprint reader as standard too, which is great for security, while the Harman Kardon speakers are surprisingly punchy so would be fine for films and TV but if you’re looking to entertain with music we’d recommend a speaker.
If we had to choose between the models we’d recommend the i3 and i5 models which come with 128GB/256GB storage, 4GB/8GB RAM respectively. Both are fine for your everyday work and even some light photo or movie editing.
Microsoft Surface Laptop
The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s answer to the MacBook and if you’re a Windows fan you’re in for a treat. Featuring an ultra-minimalist all-metal design the Surface Laptop has a 13.5-inch Quad HD touchscreen display that’s beautiful to look at. One thing to consider is that it’s very glossy so either be prepared to have it covered in smudges and fingerprint marks or invest in a cleaning cloth.
Surrounding the keyboard is a distinctive Alcantara leather surface that’s spill-resistant so even if you do have an accident it’ll still look great. The keyboard itself has is less ‘clicky’ than most but by being so light to press it still feels great to type on. There’s a range of specifications you can choose from but for affordability we’d recommend getting the Intel i5, 8GB RAM and 256GB hard drive model. These offer enough power for everything short of serious video editing and the price is still the same as Apple’s entry-level products. Finally the speakers are as good as you’ll find on any MacBook Pro so you probably could just about get away with using them for pre-drinks.
Apple iPad Pro 10.5-inch
Apple has spent a long time trying to convince us that the iPad can be a replacement for your laptop – and it can, as long as what you’re looking for isn’t actually a laptop.
The majority of tasks people carry out on their laptops, can be done using the iPad Pro. It can run Microsoft Office’s full suite of programs, it supports Apple Music, Spotify and even has a Mac-style file management system so you can drag and drop files between folders just as you would on your Mac. Its 10.5-inch display might be slightly smaller than the MacBook, but it’s the best display on a tablet, period. It’s smaller, lighter and more portable and, if you invest in a slim keyboard case (such as this one), you can easily write essays. The battery life is excellent and far excels even Apple’s own laptops.
We’re not saying it can replace a laptop - it can’t, however for those of you out there who only need it to do certain tasks it could be a fantastic companion for your three years at university.
Student deal: Not only do you get a discount on the iPad Pro as a student you’ll also get a free pair of PowerBeats3 Wireless worth £149.
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar)
This isn’t the MacBook Pro that Apple would probably like you to buy, but it is the one you should. It has the same portability, incredible build-quality and display, but without the extra cost for a Touch Bar that’s mainly aimed at professionals. The Retina display on the MacBook Pro is superb and while it’s a little reflective the viewing angles are brilliant. It’s not the lightest machine, but it is remarkably thin and incredibly sturdy. One thing to note is that it can get very warm so if you’re putting it on your lap a lot don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The keyboard is very, very shallow but excellent to use, however it does come with a downside: Apple’s unique way of designing the keys means that if you get any debris stuck underneath them they can become unresponsive and it’s almost impossible to get that debris back out. It’s such an issue that Apple’s offering free repairs if it happens so while we can’t say it won’t, at least you won’t have to pay to have it fixed. The speakers on the MacBook Pro are loud and there’s even the merest hint of bass response. This particular model comes with a powerful i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. You can happily edit pictures and video although the small hard drive means you’ll probably need a portable hard-drive for those large media files. Finally the new MacBook Pros don’t use conventional USB ports, instead opting for newer, faster USB-C Thunderbolt ports. They’re incredibly fast for transferring files over but it does mean you’ll need to buy an adaptor for anything that can’t use a USB-C cable (USB, HDMI, Ethernet etc).
Student deal: You can currently buy the MacBook Pro with student discount from Apple and you get a free pair of Beats Solo3 wireless headphones worth £149. This is a very good deal.