Buying Guides

The Best Back-to-School Gadgets in 2016

Mihir Patkar 26-08-2016

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 Can Wearable Health Devices Actually Make You Healthier? Despite the number of wearable health devices set to reach 170 million by 2017, there is still no scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. But it's far too soon to give up hope. Read More . You can also try smartwatches since an Apple Watch can make fitness bands obsolete Does Apple Watch Make Your Wearable Activity Tracker Obsolete? "But I thought Apple and Fitbit were working together!" you cry from the back of the room – and that's an understandable misconception. Read More . It comes down to your budget, so here are your best choices.

Apple Watch: The best smartwatch around, especially for iPhone users. Read our review. How The Apple Watch Won Me Over When Apple announced their latest gadget, I wasn't entirely impressed. I ignored the hype, disregarded the reviews, and didn't pre-order one for myself. Obviously, I caved. Read More

Apple Watch 42mm Space Gray Aluminum Black Sport Band Apple Watch 42mm Space Gray Aluminum Black Sport Band Buy Now On Amazon

Huawei Watch: 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.


Huawei Watch Stainless Steel with Black Suture Leather Strap (U.S. Warranty) Huawei Watch Stainless Steel with Black Suture Leather Strap (U.S. Warranty) Buy Now On Amazon $85.98

FitBit Charge HR: All the benefits of Fitbit with a heart-rate monitor.

Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband (Black, Large (6.2 - 7.6 in)) Fitbit Charge HR Wireless Activity Wristband (Black, Large (6.2 - 7.6 in)) Buy Now On Amazon $118.98

The Pebble 2 isn’t out yet, but that might be something worth waiting for as well.


Bluetooth Speakers

Bluetooth speakers are a must-have for any dorm room. They let your gadgets talk to you 7 Ways a Bluetooth Speaker Can Let Your Gadgets Talk to You You've probably seen portable Bluetooth speakers on sale, but never thought of a need for them. Think again: you can use IFTTT to make a simple notification system for your smart home. Read More , 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: The best sound quality, and the best bass from Bluetooth speakers.

JBL Flip 4: It’s compact, but the volume is surprisingly loud. Plus it’s waterproof and works as a speakerphone.


JBL Clip 2: Hang this little buddy in your shower and sing along to your favorite tunes. This lightweight gizmo gives a new meaning to portable speakers.

JBL Clip 2 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Black) JBL Clip 2 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Black) Buy Now On Amazon $45.99

Bluetooth Headphones

Forget about wired headphones — it’s time to cut that cord. You can get some of the best Bluetooth headphones of 2016 The 7 Best Bluetooth Headphones You Can Buy Finding the right pair of Bluetooth headphones isn't easy, so we've compiled a list of the best Bluetooth headphones money can buy. Read More 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: The best value for money deal in Bluetooth headphones. Nothing else comes close.


Jabra Move Wireless Stereo Headphones - Red Jabra Move Wireless Stereo Headphones - Red Buy Now On Amazon

[Over-ear] Bose QuietComfort 35: Active noise cancellation, top-notch sound quality, and incredible battery life, but it comes at a steep cost.

Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series I) Wireless Headphones, Noise Cancelling - Black Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series I) Wireless Headphones, Noise Cancelling - Black Buy Now On Amazon $149.99

[In-ear] Jaybird X2: 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 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Buy a Smart TV What is a smart TV and should you buy one? Here's a detailed look at the biggest drawbacks of modern smart TVs. Read More . All you need is a Chromecast, and you’ll be set. Read our Chromecast review Google Chromecast Review and Giveaway We're giving away a Google Chromecast, so read through our review, then join the competition to win! Read More 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 Thinking of Buying a Chromecast? Buy a Stick PC Instead The Chromecast is a wonderful little gadget. However, it has some issues that could mean it's not the right choice for you. True geeks should consider buying a stick PC instead. Read More . 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 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 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.

Livescribe 3 Smartpen for Android & iOS Tablets and Smartphones Livescribe 3 Smartpen for Android & iOS Tablets and Smartphones Buy Now On Amazon

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, 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.

Ebook Reader

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 The Best Ebook Reader: 7 Models Compared An ebook reader is a must-have item for book lovers. You can carry thousands of books in your pocket and recharge once a month. But what's the best ebook reader out there? Read More to make a decision.

For most students, the Kindle Paperwhite 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 How To Send eBooks, Documents, And Articles To Your Kindle App Or eReader Kindle makes it easy to buy and read eBooks from Amazon. But what if you want to read your own eBooks, documents, or articles on your Kindle? Amazon's Send-to-Kindle has you covered. Read More .

Kindle Paperwhite E-reader (Previous Generation - 7th) - Black, 6" High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers Kindle Paperwhite E-reader (Previous Generation - 7th) - Black, 6" High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi - Includes Special Offers Buy Now On Amazon $74.99

2-in-1 Laptop

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) What Are 2-In-1 Laptops and How to Pick the Best One? 2-in-1 laptops combine the portability of tablets with the ergonomics of a laptop, but are they any good? Is it better to get a tablet and a laptop separately? We explore. Read More . 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 The Best Mini Tablet PC or Convertible Hybrid Tablet sales have been declining. However, one category of tablet continues growing: tablets that transform into laptops when coupled with a keyboard. We call these 2-in-1 tablets. We rounded up the best convertibles around. Read More . For a college student on a budget, the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi is a wise choice, what with its powerful Intel Core M processor Intel Core M: What's so Great About the Processor? The Intel Core M is the most hyped processor in years, and with good reason: it's at the heart of a new revolution in laptops. Read More and 12.5-inch Full HD touchscreen.

Laptop Lock

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 Tools & Techniques For When You Must Leave Your Laptop Alone In Public Ideally we would never leave our laptops from our sight, especially in public. And there are definitely areas like airports and public transit where you should never consider it an option. But since becoming a... Read More , 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 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!

Budget Tablet

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 ASUS ZenPad 10 Z300M Review Android tablets are having a hard time right now. Well, they've always had a hard time. The iPad is difficult to go up against, and now even Google is making their own tablet. Read More 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 Wireless Hard Drives: How They Work & Which Features Matter Wireless hard drives are the future of external storage, but which features and specifications are the most important when shopping for one? Read More . 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.

Related topics: Buying Tips, Gadgets.

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