laptops

Tech Review: Student-friendly Laptops for Under £500

September is just around the corner and that means only one thing: a new academic term! For University students, laptops are likely one of the most important pieces of tech they own.

It is worth noting that as with all Chromebooks, it uses the Google Chrome Operating System – not Windows.

Unfortunately, many students are on a budget and may not be able to afford the latest high-end choices on the market. This includes the very popular and incredibly expensive Apple MacBook range.

From writing long essays to conducting research, from Skype calls to Netflix binges, our laptops are valuable. Starting a new University term without a decent working laptop for your studies (e.g. incredibly slow, broken) can suck.

First of all, it can draw out the time it takes to study possibly making you more reluctant to study in the first place. Secondly, it wastes your precious time! University will whizz by, and time spent staring at frozen screens could be better spent hanging out with friends.

Fortunately, most students don’t necessarily need high-end laptops. This, of course, excludes gamers and design students. A mid-range to a budget laptop will take care of your studying, web browsing and streaming needs with ease.

With the average span of a laptop lasting between 3 – 5 years (differing on model and use), investing in the right laptop for your needs is key. iTHINK Magazine have compiled a list of four great laptops for students on a budget – all laptops reviewed are under £500.

Microsoft Surface Go

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The Microsoft Surface Go is a laptop-tablet hybrid perfect for students. It currently retails for around £369 – £379.99. The hybrid features a 1.6GHz Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y, an Intel HD Graphics 615 card, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. The 10 inch touch screen offers a good quality display, decent speakers and is compatible with a Surface pen (sold seperately).

The highlights of this computer include its great price and functionality for simple tasks like web browsing, studying and streaming. The sleek design and build quality are also a plus. Extras wise, the tablet-laptop includes two cameras (an inward 5MP webcam and an 8MP rear camera), a USB-C 3.1 port, a MicroSDXC card reader and a headphone jack.

However, the Go does fall short when it comes to battery life. It will last an estimated 6 hours of use. The processor is also not all that powerful but this is understandable for the price. Frustratingly, essential accessories like the Surface Pen (£99) and the Type Cover (£99) are sold seperately.

With the pen, the Go can be great for note-taking in lectures. It is also worth noting that the keyboard is naturally a bit smaller to fit the display, so although it is functional it may take some getting used to.

In all, the Microsoft Surface Go is a decent option for those wanting a functional and portable tablet-laptop hybrid. While it will do everything many students require, do expect a comprimise in terms of power for price.

Acer Aspire 5

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The Acer Aspire 5 is a mid-range laptop and an excellent all rounder for its budget price. Retailing for around £429.99 upwards, this range actually has a number of different spec options depending on your needs and budget. This review focuses on the A515-51-50Y5, which features 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 8250u CPU, Intel UHD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage.

The 15.6 inch LED screen makes this a large laptop, while the display is adequate it does suffer from brightness issues when outdoors. The design of this laptop is understated, but some may find the body not heavy but too bulky for their tastes. The keyboard is comfortable for typing, although it doesn’t have a backlight. The touchpad is also offcentre which, while usable, may take some getting use to.

The laptop has a range of USB ports, including a USB 3.1 port, an SD card reader, headphone jack, HDMI output and even a disk drive. The Aspire 5 really comes into its own with regard to performance and battery life.

Estimated battery life is around an impressive 8 – 9 hours, although it does take a while to charge completely. This laptop performs extremely well and quietly for the price, naturally it is not been built with gaming in mind.

The Aspire 5 is a great all-rounder for people looking for a mid-range laptop on a budget. It will particularly appeal to students with its long battery life.

Acer Chromebook 14

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At an affordable £180, the Acer Chromebook 14 will definitely appeal to those on a tight budget. It is worth noting that as with all Chromebooks, it uses the Google Chrome Operating System – not Windows. The Acer Chromebook 14 includes a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 CPU, 4GB SDRAM, and 32GB SSD storage.

Notably, the Chromebook 14 only includes two USB 3.0 ports (and HDMI output). As a result, it is incompatible with USB Type-C. The lack of ports could cause issues for those wanting to plug in a mouse etc. As such this is a downside of this device.

The 14-inch screen offers a full HD display. Images seem bright and crisp on-screen. Battery life is also excellent – it will last 8 – 10 hours on average (dependent on use). The body of the device is aesthetically pleasing with a metal casing. There is no touch screen capability, which is, of course, understandable for the price.

This means buyers will have to rely upon the touchpad or connect a mouse via USB – which could be a problem if those ports are already in use.

This device performs basic tasks well, but it is worth noting that Chromebooks are built to do everything online and as such offer little storage space. For simple tasks such as web browsing, word processing, and streaming – the Acer Chromebook 14 will fulfill all of those needs well.

Disappointingly, at present barely any Android apps are compatible with this device. This device is excellent for students on a budget.

Lenovo IdeaPad 330S

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The Lenovo IdeaPad 330S encapsulates a range of affordable and mid-range laptops. The 15.6inch display version includes an AMD Ryzen R3 Processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD and retails for around £400.

However, many versions of these computers exist with a screen size of 14 – inches, varying graphics cards and storage. All of which are more budget concerned mid-range computers.

The IdeaPad 330S offers good connectivity with a range of USB ports including USB-C and two USB 3.0 ports. It also features HDMI output (to stream to your TV) and a card reader. The light grey metal frame of the computer is well built and feels appropriately sturdy. The keyboard and trackpad are comfortable to use.

Battery life is a meager 5 hours, however, performance is pretty good. Those looking for a computer to undertake simple tasks like web browsing and word processing – even casual gaming – will find this laptop easily accommodates their needs. The quality of the display is not the best on the market but this is, after all, a mid-range laptop.

Lenovo has a reputation for build quality and this laptop gets the job done. Students looking for a reliable computer for their studies could do worse than explore the IdeaPad 330S range. 

What should you look for in a laptop?

Investing in a new laptop can be expensive, and so carrying out research is key to finding a laptop that best suits your needs. When you are considering purchasing a laptop, it is important to determine what exactly you will be using the computer for.

Do you need a computer for light tasks such as word processing, emails and streaming? Most decent mid-range laptops should fulfill your needs. Unless that is you plan on using your laptop for gaming or intense design, animation or video editing software.

If portability is a big factor (e.g. taking it to campus every day), then you will likely need to sacrifice screen size for a lightweight device. A tablet-laptop hybrid may be your best bet in this scenario (especially if you are on a tight budget!).

When browsing laptops online it is important to consider size, weight, screen quality, the CPU, RAM, storage, battery life, ease of use and any extra features you may want (e.g. USB Type-C port or a decent webcam).

CPU stands for Central Processing Unit and is integral to the performance of your machine. As a guideline, try to aim for a laptop with at least 8GB RAM, battery life of at least 6 hours and in terms of storage preferably SSD over a harddrive (faster and quieter).

At the end of the day, the best laptop to invest in is one that suits your needs and budget.

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camera-iconImage respects to - Microsoft, Acer and Lenovo.