A new year at college or school can stress out anyone. Arm yourself with the right tech gear to make your life easier, so that you can spend more time learning and making friends, rather than struggling with silly everyday things.
You’ll undoubtedly need a long list of items, so we highlighted some of the must-buys that every back-to-school goer needs to get the new year started on the right note.
Best Wearable Exercise Devices
No matter how busy your college schedule gets, you need to make time for your health. You can try wearable fitness trackers, but remember, these depend on how you implement them. You can also try smartwatches since an Apple Watch can make fitness bands obsolete. It comes down to your budget, so here are your best choices.
Huawei Watch ($249): You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a real wristwatch and not an Android smartwatch. And yet it packs everything the Apple Watch does.
FitBit Charge HR ($124): All the benefits of Fitbit with a heart-rate monitor.
The Pebble 2 isn’t out yet, but that might be something worth waiting for as well.
Bluetooth speakers are a must-have for any dorm room. They let your gadgets talk to you, and of course, you can listen to your favorite music or take hands-free calls whenever you want. Depending on your budget, you can go for quality audio, a balance between audio and utility, or a cheap but efficient set of speakers.
Bose Soundlink Mini 2 ($199): The best sound quality, and the best bass from Bluetooth speakers.
JBL Flip 3 ($82): It’s compact, but the volume is surprisingly loud. Plus it’s waterproof and works as a speakerphone.
JBL Clip 2 ($49): Hang this little buddy in your shower and sing along to your favorite tunes. This lightweight gizmo gives a new meaning to portable speakers.
Forget about wired headphones — it’s time to cut that cord. You can get some of the best Bluetooth headphones of 2016 for less than 40 bucks. They work with any phone or laptop, and some of them even have a wire slot in case they run out of battery.
[On-ear] Jabra Move ($70): The best value for money deal in Bluetooth headphones. Nothing else comes close.
[Over-ear] Bose QuietComfort 35 ($349): Active noise cancellation, top-notch sound quality, and incredible battery life, but it comes at a steep cost.
[In-ear] Jaybird X2 ($113): Ideal for runners and anyone who wants to carry their headphones in their pocket, not their bag.
Chromecast or Stick PC
While televisions are cheaper than ever, they can get even less expensive. A nice trick is to buy an old model that comes without smart features. Nope, you don’t need a smart TV in 2016. All you need is a Chromecast ($30), and you’ll be set. Read our Chromecast review to find out why it’s the best little gizmo around.
In fact, if you can stretch your budget a bit, get a Stick PC instead of a Chromecast. It’s a better way to make your TV smart, especially considering you get a full desktop operating system and the ability to turn it into a media server if need be. And unlike a Chromecast, it’ll work with those Bluetooth headphones you just bought so you can watch in peace at night.
Digital Voice Recorder and Note Taker
You will want to record some of the lectures you attend because taking notes isn’t the only way to capture your professor’s teachings. The Wirecutter recommends the Sony ICD UX553 ($77) for the right balance between cost and performance. It records stereo audio, has a solid display, and receives power from AAA batteries as well as USB.
The LiveScribe Smartpen 3 ($139) is also a neat tool for the job. It looks like a regular pen, but it packs some smart technology inside. It also records audio clearly whenever you write something, so you get the highlights without missing anything. Plus, it sends your notes to its digital app, which converts the audio into text.
Just remember, before you record a lecture, get your professor’s permission to do so. Not everyone is okay with it.
Just stop looking at options, buy the Texas Instruments’ TI 84 Plus ($88), and be done with it. Nothing is going to come close, nothing at all. Even though it’s over a decade old, most schools and colleges recommend this as a must-have item.
No, your smartphone or tablet isn’t the best option. The Washington Post wrote an homage as to why the TI 84 Plus holds a monopoly on classrooms. If you study any subject requiring a calculator, this is what you need.
You’ll be doing a lot of reading in school, so you might want to grab yourself a good ebook reader. The Kindles obviously top the recommendation list here, but you can check out our comparison of seven popular e-readers to make a decision.
For most students, the Kindle Paperwhite ($120) is going to hit the sweet spot in balancing performance and features. You’ll also find plenty of highlights from other users to make it easy to take notes. And remember, you can send any ebook, document, or article to your Kindle.
If you’re buying a new laptop for the school year, it’s time to go for a 2-in-1 hybrid (not a convertible). That’s a laptop with a detachable screen, which acts like a tablet. Sure, it runs Windows, but these devices have finally become good enough for you to justify buying one of them instead of a separate laptop and tablet.
We have a variety of options in our recently updated list of the best mini PC tablets or hybrids in 2016. For a college student on a budget, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi ($499) is a wise choice, what with its powerful Intel Core M processor and 12.5-inch Full HD touchscreen.
Remote-wiping software can keep your laptop data safe, but not stop your laptop itself from being stolen. For that, you will need tools to lock your laptop down, especially a security cable. Most laptops use a Kensington lock, but some models have different locks, so look that up before you buy.
LaptopMag has several recommendations, but the simple Kensington Combination Lock ($20) stood out for its simplicity and price. It’s basically like a bicycle lock, so you need to tether it down to a secure and sturdy object like a table. Otherwise, both things will get stolen!
If you already have a laptop, you might still want a cheap tablet for purposes like browsing, reading comics, watching movies, social networking, and playing games. Naturally, you don’t want to spend too much. The best budget tablet at the moment is the Asus Zenpad 10. The Zenpad 10 comes with two different processor versions: MediaTek or Intel.
Even though it costs just ~$160, it punches well above its weight. The 10-inch screen is bright and lovely, the performance is good enough for all of the above tablet tasks, and you can expect about 7 hours of continuous screen time. Read our full review for more.
Portable Hard Drive
At this point, buying a portable hard drive isn’t just about backing up your computer’s data. You want that external drive to be extra data storage for your laptop, your smartphone, your tablet, and whatever else. It’s time to go for wireless hard drives. Don’t think about buying a wired one any more.
The best of the lot is the Seagate Wireless Plus as it has a better battery life than others in its class and works smoothly with iPads, Android smartphones, Windows devices, and Macs. You can get storage up to 500GB for $95, 1TB for $140, and 2TB for $180.
What’s In Your Shopping List?
Apart from these items, what other gadgets and gizmos have you added to your shopping list for the new school year? Did we miss any back-to-school gadgets? Do you have any fresh, smart home products that you’re looking forward to seeing? Tell us what we missed in the comments below.