What can I get for my back-to-school student?
It's that time of year when students are gearing up for their return to school. These days, gearing up doesn't just mean textbooks and pencils. Your budding academic is going to want some of the best tech available to enhance their student life — both in the lecture hall and in the dorms.
Best option: Dell XPS 13
The ideal laptop for a college student is compact enough to fit comfortably on one of those side table dealies found in older lecture halls, but still reliably powerful for everything that college life throws their way.
Enter the Dell XPS 13, a 13-inch laptop with a decent amount of power under the hood and a brilliant display. We're talking a Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB solid-state drive, and a battery Dell says will last up to 18 hours on a full charge. This won't be enough for heavy video editing or top-end gaming, but it will be more than serviceable for most students to get through a full day. And then there's that sweet InfinityEdge display that goes edge-to-edge, maximizing every possible inch of the display.
It's so good, we gave it a Windows Central Choice Award.
See at Dell
Budget option: Acer Chromebook 14
If you're student is looking for a reliable budget laptop for the upcoming school year, you should seriously consider getting an Acer Chromebook.
The Acer Chromebook 14 is a well-built machine, especially for a budget laptop. Featuring an all-aluminum body and a simple yet well-executed design that includes the 1080p LCD screen with a semi-reflective covering for better shared viewing, two USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI port, your student won't be embarrassed when they take it out in a study group or lecture hall filled with MacBooks. Hardware-wise, this Chromebook is powered by an Intel Celeron 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory — no SD card support is an issue, but one easily mitigated with efficient use of cloud storage or an external hard drive.
Chromebooks run on Chrome OS, which is still something of a work in progress but still fully capable to handle the workload of a typical college student, along with some basic entertainment in the downtime — gamers ought to look elsewhere.
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Noble Security Wedge Profile XPS 13 Lock Kit
It's every student's nightmare: you step away from your computer for only a minute in a busy study hall and when you turn back around, your laptop is gone. All those important lecture notes and ongoing assignments gone — but at least you backed up the most important stuff somewhere safe… right?
Either way, you just can't trust people not to jack your shit. That's why if you get your student a Dell XPS 13, you should definitely also get something to keep it safe and secure. The Dell XPS 13 wedge lock kit from Noble Locks gives you added peace of mind that your laptop will never walk away on you. It's quick to click into the locking port built into the laptop's top-right corner, and lets you use the loop-ended galvanized steel cable to tether the XPS 13 to something secure as you work.
It's also perfect for shared dorms. Your student might trust their roommate, but their friends... maybe not so much.
See at Dell
WD My Passport Ultra
These days, an external hard drive is as essential for students as a backpack or textbooks; every student needs to know that all their most important digital files and projects are backed up and secure in case something horrible happens.
Western Digital is one of the most trusted names in external drives, and their My Passport line is a reliable and convenient option. We recommend getting 1TB model, since that will give your student more than enough space to backup everything on their laptop, their notes and project — with some space remaining for their favorite movies and TV shows to bring along with them wherever they go.
It connects via USB 3.0 for quick file transferring and is preloaded to work out of the box with any PC running Windows 10 or earlier, but can also be easily reformatted to work with a Mac with the included software. With a three-year limited warranty, My Passport is durable and portable, so your student can confidently keep it in a bag pocket without worry.
See at Amazon
Best option: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
If your student says they definitely need a tablet this year, you can't go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. It's a capable tablet they will love to use for school or play, and will last them a long time. While it comes with Lollipop 5.0 out of the box, it's upgradeable to Marshmallow 6.0.
Watching videos or playing games on the Super AMOLED 8-inch display is pretty glorious, and powered by a Quad 1.9GHz + Quad 1.3GHz octacore processor and 3GB of RAM, your student will be able to run multiple apps at the same time.
Your student can easily take it with them to their classes without having to worry that it will run out of charge with a battery life of up to 8 hours on a single charge. It also has a microSD card slot so that your student can expand the built-in 32GB to over 200GB of storage space, perfect for taking all their music, movies and TV shows wherever they go.
See at Amazon
Budget option: Fire HD 6
If size actually doesn't matter to your student, you really can't beat the value of a Fire HD 6. Amazon's 6-inch tablet is pretty capable considering it's well under $100.
Featuring an HD display with 252 pixels per inch, the screen may be small but it sure looks sharp. That means it will work as a fantastic e-book reader, as one would expect. It also comes with 16GB of storage (an 8GB model is also available) as well as free cloud storage for all your Amazon content and photos taken with your Fire device.
And let's talk about that Amazon content for a minute. Beyond e-books, with which Amazon built their e-reader authority on, there are tons of apps and games available in the Amazon Underground app store, and of course there's easy access to all the content on Amazon Prime Video and Music streaming services.
If you're looking to get the absolute best value for your money, the Amazon Fire HD 6 is great value for a budget tablet.
See at Amazon
Best Option: Samsung Galaxy S7
If your student needs a new phone for the school year, your best option is the Samsung Galaxy S7. Heading into the second half of 2016, the Galaxy S7 has cemented itself atop AC's best phones of 2016. And it's pretty clear to see why.
Samsung decided to build on the stylish unibody design they introduced with the Galaxy S6 by adding a microSD slot, a bigger battery and making the whole package water and dust resistant. It's a powerful phone with an industry-leading camera.
If you're still not convinced, just check out our full review. It's also compatible with the Samsung Gear VR, which is currently your best modest-budget option for checking out VR today.
See at Amazon
Budget Pick: Moto G4 Plus
If you're looking for a good balance between quality and cost, you can't go wrong with the Moto G4 Plus. It's the best budget phone you can buy for around $249.
This 5.5-inch phone is all-round great, sporting a camera far better than its price tag would suggest, with and a battery that should provide more than enough juice to get your student through their busiest days. It comes with Android 6.0.1 out of the box, and has all the cool Moto gestures, like a twist of the wrist to launch the camera, or a karate chop to fire up the flashlight.
With the ideal balance of function and style at a very reasonable price, it's definitely worthy of your consideration.
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Anker Powercore 10000
With how busy college life can be, your student might not have the time to stand around tethered to the wall waiting for their phone to charge. That's where a quality battery pack comes in real handy.
The Anker Powercore 10000 holds 10000 mAh of power, which Anker claims will charge most phones at least three times or a tablet at least once. Thanks to Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 technology, it should charge a compatible phone up to 80% in around 35 minutes, so your student can get on with their day without worrying about their phone's battery life. And best of all, the Powercore 10000 is smaller than a deck of cards making it incredibly portable — it fits perfectly into a pants pocket or bag. Also small? The price, starting at $30.
If your student is worried about the charger overcharging their phone or causing damage they can rest easy; the Power Core 10000 has surge protection and temperature control to keep both your device and your student safe when the phone is charging.
See at Amazon
Dorm Room TV
Vizio E-Series E32-D1
No dorm room would be complete without a TV. But gone are the days of crowding around a small tube TV playing Mario Kart 64 with your floor friends (although I'm sure that person would be the hipster king or queen of their college with such a setup).
Smart TVs are becoming a must-own device these days, when you consider the trend of younger generations cutting cable and streaming their news and entertainment from the Internet.
We're recommending the Vizio E-Series 32-inch Smart for a number of reasons. For starters, it comes loaded with apps such as Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, and more, so your student can kick back and relax in style after class. The size is about right for a dorm at 32-inches, so it should fit nicely on a modest desk or shelving unit. And the cost will makes it an affordable yet cherished back-to-school gift for any student heading off to college.
See at Amazon
Best option: UE Boom 2
There's a reason why this little speaker is called BOOM — it's going to knock the ears off whoever's listening.
Its 360-degree design allows it to deliver sound to an entire room even when it's sitting right in the middle. Users can't stop raving about the quality of sound that comes from a speaker about the size of an energy drink can.
The speaker is Bluetooth-enabled and your student can stay connected up to 100 feet away. Not to mention up to eight people can connect their devices to the speaker, meaning their friends can all share DJ duties. A 15-hour rechargeable battery will keep the party going late into the night and will still have some juice the next morning when your student catches up on recorded lectures.
A companion app regularly delivers updates and even entirely new features to the speaker, and because it's waterproof and shockproof, it won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Check out this awesome speaker that starts at about $180.
See at Amazon
Budget option: UE Roll
What looks like a pincushion and delivers amazing 360-degree sound? The UE ROLL Bluetooth speaker! Your student will be able to carry this speaker around campus in their pocket or attached to their bike or backpack using the marine-grade bungee cord. How cool is that?
Current users love this speaker because of its waterproofing, durability, and sound. Even though it's so small, it delivers deep bass and clean treble that can be heard inside and outside. The battery lasts for up to nine hours, and your student can wander up to 65 feet away and still remain in Bluetooth range.
The speaker doubles as an alarm clock thanks to the companion app, so your student won't be late for class ever again. Want to give a portable speaker with amazing sound that won't break the bank? Check out the UE ROLL — it starts at about $70.
See at Amazon
If your student is complaining their dorm TV lacks the functionality of their neighbor's smart TV, there's no need to drop serious coin on a new TV. Just get them a Chromecast.
Don't let the small package fool you: Google's Chromecast is an incredibly handy accessory that turns any TV with an HDMI port and access to a WiFi network into a smart TV. With a Chromecast, your student will be able to stream their favourite movies, TV shows, YouTube, play music — even casual party games! Seriously, there are a lot of really cool apps that are compatible with Chromecast (even if someone has an iPhone).
Set up is dead simple, and it's portable enough that your student can bring it along with them wherever they go. Anyone with a phone and Wi-Fi access is able to connect up to the Chromecast, allowing for collaborative playlists of party jams, or a convenient way of sharing hilarious YouTube videos without everyone crowding around a laptop screen.
Ready for more good news? It's also dirt cheap at under $40. Thanks, Google!
See at Google
Best Option: Bose QC25
Give your student the gift of amazing Bluetooth audio with the Bose QuietComfort 25 over-ear headphones.
Bose is the premiere name for quality audio, and its QuietComfort 25 headphones are top of the class. Designed to be lightweight and comfortable enough to wear all day, your student is sure to get hours of enjoyment from the crystal clear sound we've all come expect from Bose.
And with superb noise cancellation, your student deal with a noisy roommate, or just to turn off the sounds of the outside world for awhile — extremely helpful when they're hitting the books in a noisy study hall, or deep into binge watching their favorite show on Netflix for the umpteenth time. If your student would prefer a Bluetooth option for headphones, there's the wireless Bose QC35s, which will set you back an additional $100 while offer the same outstanding sound quality without the hassle of dealing with wires.
See at Amazon
Budget Option: AmazonBasics OnEar Headphones
Don't be fooled by AmazonBasics headphones' $15 price tag — these are quality headphones. They fit on your student's ear, but the soft padding and lightweight construction ensure they stay comfortable over extended periods. Although they aren't equipped with active noise-canceling tech, the on-ear design does a lot block out sound.
Users have reported that the bass is deep and clear, and the treble is crisp and full. Your student is going to love listening to their favorite music on the go or in the dorm, and when they're finished listening the headphones can be folded flat for easy storage.
The 47-inch cable fits any 3.5mm jack and is more than long enough to not have the headphones ripped off your head when moving around. Want to surprise your student with rich sound for a cheap price? Check out AmazonBasics lightweight headphones.
See at Amazon
Best Option: Huawei Watch
If your student is as fashion-conscious as they are tech-obsessed, get them the supremely stylish Huawei Watch. Launched in 2015, it was the Chinese tech giant's first entry into the smartwatch space and a conscious effort of choosing form over function.
The circular watch face is designed to look exactly like a traditional watch, and from a glance with the right watch face, the Huawei Watch will look like a stylish, chronograph watch on its 42mm diameter screen. Combined with the included black leather strap, what you get is a very fashionable piece of wearable technology.
Speaking of technology, the Huawei Watch is no slouch there. Running on a basic Android Wear platform, it has 512MB of memory and 4GB of internal storage so your student can store and keep their favourite music with them at all times and enjoy via a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones. Once paired to your student's phone, they'll be able to recieve all the important texts and notifications at a glance, so they can stay focused on their work.
Check our our full review from back in 2015 for more on why this is the best smartwatch for heading back to school.
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Budget Option: Samsung Gear S2
Samsung did a lot of things right when they updated their smartwatch offering in 2015 with the Samsung Gear S2. Featuring a novel rotating bezel for navigating through menus, a nice bright screen, and a battery big enough to get your student through a busy day the Gear S2 is a capable piece of wearable technology.
On the software side of things, as we mentioned in our full review, Samsung has thrown a lot of features into the Gear S2 that might make things feel a bit bloated or clunky at times, but key features such as S Voice are just so damn cool and useful that your student will surely find their rhythm using it on a daily basis. They'll be able to easily manage notifications from their favourite apps while on the go, so they can stay organized and in the loop while jetting between classes.
A sleek, minimalist design paired with a flexible elastomer band out of the box gives the Gear S2 a sporty look and feel, which can ideal if your student is more active. If they're not too thrilled with the default strap, it's quick and easy to swap one out for a different band to add a splash of personality or classic style to this essential accessory.
See at Amazon
Ikea Micke desk
Dorm rooms are small, but your student is still going to need to cut out a quiet space for them to study and store all their things. For those reasons, Ikea's Micke desk is an ideal candidate to send out with your student as they head off to college.
As with most Ikea furniture it's intelligently designed to keep cords organized and out of sight, while also providing a built-in drawer for some added dorm storage. Plus, it's reasonably cheap and available in a classy black-brown or modern-chic white.
Some assembly definitely required.
See at Ikea
Every student needs a reliable bag for carrying all their textbooks and supplies, along with a laptop, tablet, and any other tech or accessories they carry on a daily basis around campus. What's more, you want it to be comfortable to wear and look really cool.
The Booq Daybag checks off all those boxes. This deceivingly compact bag opens right up and provides enough space to hold a 16-inch laptop, along with your student's texbooks, binders of notes, and whatever else they might need during the day. With a bevy of pockets inside and out, comfortable shoulder straps, soft back padding, and a high-quality handle it's both comfortable and convenient to carry around throughout the day.
Side pockets remain flush, or can expand out to accommodate a water bottle or umbrella. Speaking of rain, the zippers are also waterproof, meaning your bag might get a little wet, but your valuables inside will remain protected and dry.
Starting at $90 and available in four colors, the Booq Daybag is a perfectly stylish and functional option for your student.
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