The Best Tech for Back to School

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The month or so just before the semester starts is the perfect time to evaluate what you need and want in terms of clothes, school supplies, and of course, tech. We’ve rounded up a list of tech that will increase productivity and make learning easier and more fun.

Of course, there are the necessities, like a powerful laptop or a pair of good headphones or earbuds, for efficient studying. Then, there are more entertaining tech items—like a Nintendo Switch or a TV  streaming stick—that aren’t necessary for success but go a long way towards making your experience more enjoyable. One could even argue that they are necessary because they can help you unwind and relax in between stressful tests and late-night study sessions, but that might be a stretch.

Regardless, this is an extensive list that will help you start brainstorming what you need for the upcoming semester.

Laptops

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A laptop is pretty much a necessity for college students. They are portable, and perfect for taking with to classes for notetaking, to the library for quiet working, or back home for video streaming or gaming.

  • Apple MacBook Air: For Apple users, there’s no better laptop. The MacBook Air is thin, has a long battery life (up to 18 hours), a 2560 x 1600 resolution, a speedy 256GB SSD, and Apple’s custom M1 chip for excellent performance. If you want more storage, you can spend a little more for the 512GB SSD version.
  • Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5: If you don’t want to spend a lot on a full-on laptop, consider a Chromebook instead. This one from Lenovo has a 1920 x 1080 resolution, a 10th gen Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of DDR4, a 64GB SSD, and up to 10 hours of battery life. If you’ll mainly be using your Chromebook for simple word documents and internet searching, 64GB of storage is plenty. Plus, this is a 2-in-1 Chromebook, meaning you can flip the keyboard back to turn it into a tablet.
  • Lenovo Flex 5 2-in-1: If you like the idea of a 2-in-1 laptop and have a bit more money to spend, this one from Lenovo is awesome. Like the Chromebook above, it has the same 1920 x 1080 resolution and 10-hour battery life, but has a few upgrades, too, such as 16GB of DDR4, a larger 256GB SSD, and an AMD Ryzen 5 GPU. Should you want more storage, there are 1TB and 2TB versions you can buy instead that also come with Windows 10 Pro.

Desktops, Monitors, & Mics

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Although desktops are not as portable as laptops, they’re often a lot more powerful. So if you need a computer that’ll support beefier games or software you need for school, consider investing in a desktop . You’ll also need a monitor for your setup and you can even add a microphone, though it’s certainly not required, especially if your headphones have a built-in mic.

  • HP ENVY: This computer tower is a solid choice and even comes with a wired keyboard and mouse. It has an eight-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, 1TB SATA HD, and 512GB M.2 SSD. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tech. As far as ports go, there’s a USB-C port, four USB-A 3.0 ports, four USB-A 2.0 ports, an HDMI port, and a VGA port.
  • Acer Aspire TC-895-UA92: If you want a slightly more affordable computer tower, try out this one from Acer. It comes with a 10th Gen Intel Core i5, 12GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512GB M.2 SSD, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tech. There’s one USB-C port, five USB-A 3.0 ports, two USB-A 2.0 ports, one Ethernet port, and two HDMI ports.
  • Mac Mini Desktop: You could buy an iMac desktop, but you’ll gain longevity and the ability to choose accessories if you go with a Mac Mini. You can choose between Apple’s in-house M1 processor or an 8th Gen Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor. For RAM, you can choose between 8GB, 16GB, or 64GB; for storage, you can choose between 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or a whopping 2TB. From there, you can choose between three different graphics cards: Apple M1 8-core, Intel HD Graphics 630, or Intel UHD Graphics 630. To finish out your setup with the bare minimum, you’ll also need to grab a monitor, keyboard, and computer mouse.
  • Dell Ultrasharp U2719DX: This monitor has a 27-inch 2560 x 1440 IPS display and a 60Hz refresh rate. You can connect the monitor either by HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.4; there are two USB 3.0 ports as well. This Dell’s Ultrasharp monitor is one of the best you can buy, but if you’re trying to save money, check out the option below.
  • Acer SB220Q: There’s nothing too fancy about this computer monitor, but it’ll stand up well. It has a 21.5-inch 1920 x 1080 IPS display and a 75Hz refresh rate, but there’s only one HDMI 1.4 port and one VGA port.
  • Blue Yeti USB Mic: Easily one of the most famous microphones out there right now, the Blue Yeti mic will make you sound crystal clear. There are three condenser capsules inside that support four different pickup patterns: cardioid, bidirectional, omnidirectional, and stereo. Whether you’re using the mic to record vocals, attend a virtual meeting or game with your friends, the Blue Yeti is an exceptional mic that picks up your voice well and helps cut down on background noise.
  • Blue Snowball iCE USB Mic: This is a smaller, more affordable Blue microphone that delivers crisp audio quality while saving desk space. Similar to the Yeti, the Snowball iCE mic connects to your device via USB 3.0 and is ready to go as soon as it’s plugged in.

Keyboards & Mice

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A good keyboard and computer mouse are necessary to round out a desktop setup, but can also be nice to use with other devices too, like laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

  • Logitech MX Keys: This is a great wireless keyboard that connects via USB, and it’ll work perfectly for most people. It’s compatible with Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android systems. It has a comfortable feel, with spherically carved keys that match the shape of your fingertips and tactile feedback with each key click. It has backlit keys as well, though if you turn off backlighting you can get up to five months between charges; with backlighting turned on, you can get up to ten days.
  • Logitech MK270: If you want a quality wireless keyboard and mouse combo, Logitech’s MK270 is a great deal. It connects via USB and is battery powered with AA batteries for the keyboard and AAA batteries for the mouse. There are eight available hotkeys on the keyboard that you can program to automatically open your most frequently used applications.
  • Razer Viper Ultimate: If you’re a consistent PC gamer, you might consider investing in a gaming mouse. This one from Razer has a 20K DPI optical sensor, and a faster and more responsive feel. It even has eight programmable buttons you can set up through Razer’s Synapse 3 tool. And here’s a bonus: it has an ambidextrous design so it’ll feel great for both left- and right-handed people. For a more affordable gaming mouse, check out Logitech’s G603.

Webcams

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With virtual learning increasing, a webcam is a solid investment. Even if you don’t need a webcam for school, you can still use it to connect with your friends and family from a distance.

  • Logitech C920S HD Pro: With this webcam, you’ll see a 1080p resolution for video calls and video recording. It has built-in HD autofocus and light correction as well as stereo audio with dual microphones to help capture sound crisply. And for privacy, there’s even a lens cover you can flip up and down.
  • Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000: This webcam provides 720p resolution and has a built-in noise-canceling microphone. While it’s not as powerful as the Logitech option above, it’s also about half the price making it great for students on a budget.

Headphones, Earbuds, & Bluetooth Speakers

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Whether your listening device of choice is headphones, earbuds, Bluetooth speakers, or all of the above, a good medium for listening to music is essential for any college student.

  • Sony WH-1000XM4: If you’re the kind of person who can’t focus on homework when there’s outside noise or interruptions, these noise-canceling headphones from Sony are a must. The Dual Noise Sensor tech in these headphones is awesome, and you can use the touch sensor to pause, play, and skip music tracks, control volume, and answer phone calls. These headphones have a battery life of up to 30 hours. There’s no IP rating for these headphones from Sony.
  • Wyze Noise-Cancelling: These headphones from Wyze are a lot more affordable than Sony’s headphones above, but you’ll still get great noise-canceling tech. Wyze’s headphones come with 40dB Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation; there are four microphones and a speedy processor working together to keep outside noise to a minimum. The battery on these can last up to 20 hours. Just like Sony’s headphones, these don’t have an IP rating.
  • Jabra Elite 85t: If you prefer earbuds to headphones, the Jabra Elite 85t are an amazing noise-canceling option. You can adjust your level of ANC to cut out anything you don’t want to hear in the background; or, you can also adjust your HearThrough level to choose what noise you want to let through. On a single charge with ANC turned on, these earbuds will last up to five and a half hours; without ANC turned on, you can get up to 25 hours. These earbuds have an IPX4 rating. Jabra’s Active 75t earbuds are a more affordable, more athletic option with an IP57 rating if you want something to use during workouts.
  • Apple AirPods Pro: If you have an Apple device, the AirPods Pro are a solid pair of earbuds. You’ll have quick access to Siri and the setup is super simple with any Apple device. It comes with three different sizes of silicone tips so you can pick the most comfortable fit. And on top of ANC, these buds also have Adaptive EQ that automatically tunes the music to the unique shape of your ear. The AirPods Pro have an IPX4 rating.
  • Skullcandy Sesh Evo: If you want a good pair of Bluetooth earbuds but don’t want to spend a lot of money, these from Skullcandy are a great pick. They have a 24-hour battery life, an IP55 sweat-, water-, and dust-resistant rating, and even have built-in Tile technology.
  • Wonderboom 2: If you love to listen to music without headphones or earbuds, a Bluetooth speaker is your best bet. This one has a 13-hour battery life and is waterproof and dustproof thanks to its IP67 rating; it’ll even float in the water if you want to take it with you to the pool or the beach! It’s also dirt-resistant and drop-proof so if you’re one who’s typically clumsy with your technology, this speaker will survive almost anything.
  • Anker Soundcore: If you want an affordable Bluetooth speaker, you can’t go wrong with this one from Anker. This speaker provides awesome stereo sound with deep bass; it even has BassUp tech that analyzes low frequencies in a song to intensify the bass as it’s playing. That said, if you have roommates or live in a dorm, it might not be the best pick. It has an impressive 24-hour battery life and a waterproof case with an IPX5 rating.

TVs & Streaming Sticks

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A TV in a dorm or your bedroom at home is a luxury, but it’s super nice to be able to stream video content while using your laptop or smartphone for something else like homework. You can save money and space by choosing a 32-inch TV and pairing it with a streaming stick.

  • Samsung 32-inch QLED TV: This Samsung TV is pricey, but delivers premium quality in a small package. It has a 4K Ultra HD processor with a QLED display that makes colors richer and a 60Hz refresh rate. Plus, it’s a Smart TV that’s packed with your favorite video streaming apps—like Netflix, Hulu, or Prime Video—all ready to download directly to the TV. There are four HDMI ports, one Ethernet port, and two USB 2.0 ports.
  • TCL 32-inch Roku Smart TV: This gem from TCL is a great compact TV that’s about half the price of the Samsung TV above. It comes with a 1080p direct-lit LED display and a 60Hz refresh rate. There are four HDMI ports and one USB port. And it comes with Roku TV already pre-installed on the TV so you can download all your favorite video streaming apps directly through here.
  • Fire TV Stick: If you already have a TV you want to bring to college but it lacks smart functionality, a Fire TV stick is perfect. It can support resolution up to 4K and comes with an Alexa Voice Remote you can use to search for movies, TV shows, and apps with voice commands. You can find all your favorite apps, like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and more. Although it’s fairly inexpensive, you could save even more money and go for the Roku Express stick instead.
  • Chromecast: With a Chromecast dongle attached to your TV via an HDMI port, you can easily cast content from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to your TV. You can cast images, audio, or videos on your TV for everyone to see.

Smartphones

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If your smartphone is still working, it’s not a necessary college expense. But if your phone has been acting up lately and you need a new one, these are some of your best choices right now.

  • Apple iPhone 12: This is the latest iPhone installment; if you don’t want the larger iPhone 12, you could go for the iPhone 12 Mini. For colors, you can choose between white, black, blue, green, purple, and red. Storage options include 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB. If you end up purchasing any MagSafe accessories for your iPhone, consider getting a MagSafe wireless charger. The iPhone 12 has a 60Hz refresh rate, an IP68 water-resistant rating, and a dual 12MP camera setup. For better cameras, check out the iPhone 12 Pro.
  • Samsung Galaxy S21: If you’re a fan of the Samsung Galaxy S series phones, check out the S21 Ultra model. It has an impressive 120Hz refresh rate, an IP68 water resistance rating, and can film videos in 8K. The main rear camera is 12MP, similar to the iPhone above; then, there’s a secondary 64MP rear camera. For colors, you can choose between violet, gray, white, and pink, and there are only two storage options: 128GB and 256GB.
  • Google Pixel 4a: The latest models from Apple and Samsung are great, but they usually come with a pretty high price tag. For a more affordable smartphone that still has a lot of nifty features packed into it, check out the Pixel 4a from Google. It has a 60Hz refresh rate and a 12.2MP camera. Unfortunately, there’s no IP water rating for this smartphone so you’d need to be extra careful with it. And when it comes to customizing the Pixel 4a, there aren’t a lot of options; you can choose between black or blue for the color and there’s only one storage option at 128GB.

Wireless Chargers & Power Strips

Socket strip and connected plugs
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A wireless charging stand for your phone makes it effortless to keep your smartphone and other Qi-certified devices charged. And getting a power strip with surge protection lets you power up multiple devices without worrying about overloading a dorm floor.

  • NANAMI Wireless Charging Stand: This charging stand is compatible with all Qi-enabled devices and can even deliver fast charging to the latest Samsung Galaxy S and iPhone models. It has a built-in safe charging feature that prevents overcharging and overheating, and all you have to do to start charging your device is simply place it in the cradle. If this one doesn’t suit your style, here’s another great wireless charging stand from Belkin. Like the NANAMI option, it can also deliver fast charging to new phone models from Samsung and Apple, but it has a non-slip surface and comes with a slightly longer charging cable.
  • Alestor Power Strip: There’s nothing overly exciting about a power strip, but you’ll be happy you have one. This one has 12 outlets and four USB ports encompassed in a fire-resistant cover that can withstand temperatures up to 1382 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, it has surge protection with a minimum of 2700 Joules of energy absorbing capacity, which will protect your devices if there’s a power outage or the circuit is overloaded.
  • Anker PowerPort Cube: If you want something more compact, this cute little power cube from Anker is perfect. It has three outlets and three USB ports and it’s equipped with overload protection. Though its best feature is easily its size, as it’ll easily fit in your backpack (or tiny dorm room).

Tablets

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Tablets are that perfect middle between smartphones and laptops. If you wanted, you could even get a tablet instead of a laptop and just pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

  • Apple iPad: Lighter than a laptop, the 2020 iPad is easy to transport back and forth to class or the library. There’s an 8MP rear camera and a 1.2MP front camera, so you can take some pretty good pictures if you don’t have your phone with you. It can last up to 10 hours on a single charge and has a beautiful 10.2-inch retina display, perfect for late-night Netflix binging. There’s a 32GB model and a 128GB model to choose from; if you want longevity, it’s worth it to spring for the 128GB model. You can hook it up with a case or a keyboard to give it more functionality.
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite: Even though this is a Lite version of Samsung’s S6 tablet model, it’s still pretty beefy. It has a 10.4-inch display with a 2000 x 1200 TFT pixel resolution and can last up to 12 hours on a single charge. Inside, it has an Exynos 9611 processor, 4GB of RAM, and either 64GB or 128GB of storage, depending on the model you choose. Plus, you can add up to 1TB of extra storage to either model with a microSD. And as with the iPad above, you can add a keyboard and a mouse to make it more like a laptop if you only wanted to buy one or the other.
  • Fire HD 8: Amazon’s tablet is the most affordable option. It has an 8-inch display with a 1280 x 800 resolution. Inside, it has a quad-core 2.0GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64GB of storage depending on which model you go with. You can expand the storage up to 1TB with a microSD. It also comes with 2MP front- and rear-facing cameras. There’s a newer model with a 10-inch display too if you wanted something more comparable to the iPad or the S6 Lite (though it does scoot the price point up a bit).

Smartwatches & Fitness Trackers

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Staying fit while in college is difficult because it’s hard to find the time to dedicate to exercise. A fitness tracker helps you stay healthy throughout the day, though; a smartwatch can do that, too, while simultaneously providing a ton of other useful features.

  • Apple Watch Series 6: If you have an iPhone, an Apple Watch is a great companion piece. This model comes with GPS, a blood oxygen sensor, and uses 5GHz Wi-Fi and a U1 Ultra Wideband chip. You can also take calls and reply to text messages directly from your wrist, as the Series 6 is essentially an extension of your iPhone. It has a battery life of up to 18 hours and is waterproof up to 50 meters.
  • Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: This smartwatch is similar to the Apple Watch above, but for the Samsung ecosystem instead. It’s an extension of your Galaxy smartphone, letting you call, text, stream music, and more via Bluetooth. You can monitor your heart rate, track fitness and sleep patterns, and use the built-in GPS. It’s waterproof up to 50 meters and can go for more than a day on a single charge.
  • Fitbit Inspire 2: For a while, Fitbit was the biggest fitness tracker company out there. Although they have plenty of competitors now, Fitbit is still doing great things and the Inspire 2 model is one of their best. With the Inspire 2, you can track your daily steps, distance walked, sleep score, heart rate, and more. Because it’s not as demanding as a smartwatch, the battery life is a lot longer at up to 10 days between charges. It also has built-in Tile technology so it’s easy to keep track of, and is water-resistant up to 50 meters.
  • Wyze Band: This is the perfect fitness tracker for anyone who wants to save money and wants basic tracking. On top of tracking daily steps, heart rate, and sleeping patterns, you’ll also have access to basic tools like weather, alarm, stopwatch, and reminders. You can have notifications from your phone pop up on the watch screen to easily keep you in the loop without always having to check your phone. Even though it’s a less expensive tracker, you can even use Alexa voice commands with it and control the rest of your smart home if they’re Alexa-enabled devices. And if swimming is your exercise of choice, you’ll be happy to know it’s water-resistant up to 50 meters.

Battery Packs

When you’re a student in college, you might be on the go all day and unable for your devices to slowly charge via a wall plug. Having a charged battery pack on you at all times ensures your devices will stay juiced all day.

  • Anker PowerCore III Elite 26000: This battery pack has a large 25,600mAh cell capacity that’ll keep multiple devices charged a few times over before the battery pack itself needs recharging. Anker boasts that this battery pack can charge an iPhone 11 Pro Max four times and a MacBook Air 2020 one time. A single USB-C port can output 87W of charging power; if you had four devices connected to both USB-C ports and both USB-A ports, the combined charge output is 78W.
  • Anker PowerCore Slim: Yes, this is another battery pack from Anker, but it’s more affordable. The PowerCore Slim model is, as the name implies, slim and easily portable. It has a 10,000mAh cell capacity, which can almost fully charge an 11-inch iPad Pro. There are three different charging modes to take advantage of: an 18W charge through the USB-C port, PowerIQ-enabled charging through the USB-A port, or trickle-charging mode for low-power devices.

Other Fun Tech

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While these items aren’t essential to productive college life, they’re just fun and will help you stay organized and enjoy your downtime a little more.

  • Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook: This is the only notebook you’ll ever need. No, seriously—you can reuse it forever. Inside, there are 42 pages with seven different styles, including lined, dot-grid, task list, weekly planner, objective and key results, monthly calendar, and ideas. Once you’re finished writing everything down, you can scan it and save it to a cloud service of your choosing, like Google Drive, Evernote, OneNote, or iCloud. Then, wipe the pages clean and they’re ready to be used again!
  • Nintendo Switch: This is the perfect gaming console for college life. If you live in a dorm, it doesn’t take up much room and you can take it with you to play in between classes on campus. Plus, there are a ton of multiplayer classics from Nintendo, like Super Mario Party, Mario Tennis Aces, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, that you can play with friends. If you know you’ll only play Nintendo games handheld and won’t connect it to a TV, save some money and get the Switch Lite.
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Even if you’re typically a paper book type of person, having a Kindle while in college is such an awesome thing, especially if you’re living in the dorms and don’t have room for a lot of books. Amazon offers an ad-supported version or a version without ads; for the little bit of extra money, it’s so worth it to get the version without ads. The Kindle Paperwhite is thin and light, which makes it easily portable, and has a 300 ppi glare-free display that makes it look like real paper even when you’re out in the sun. So even though you might not be reading a physical book, at least it’ll look like a physical book. You can choose between an 8GB model and a 32GB model.
  • Fujifilm Instax Mini: There’s nothing more fun than being able to take a picture with your friends and have it print instantly as a cute Polaroid. The mini version comes in pink, black, white, purple, or blue. It even has a built-in macro mode and selfie mirror so you can get the perfect shot and not waste any film.
Sarah Chaney Sarah Chaney
Sarah Chaney is a professional freelance writer for Review Geek, Android Authority, MakeUseOf, and other great websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Creative Writing concentration. Her degree, paired with her almost two years of professionally writing for websites, helps her write content that is engaging, yet informative. She enjoys covering anything Android, video game, or tech related. Read Full Bio »

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