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Back to school gift guide: The best tech to ensure a successful school year

Back to school season is in full swing. Some students are already back in classrooms, while others are currently preparing for the big day. One crucial aspect of back to school shopping in this day and age is technology. No one wants to start the new year off with outdated and buggy gear.

For that reason, we’ve decided to roundup some of the best technology you can buy for the 2017-2018 school year.

As always, a laptop is essentially a “must have” in college nowadays. My personal choice is Apple’s latest and greatest 13-inch MacBook Pro. While the machine has faced some negative reactions from “pro” users, I find it to be the perfect college machine, packing the best combination of portability and power.

There’s also the 12-inch MacBook which is an excellent choice for most college students, as long as you won’t be doing too many CPU-intensive tasks.

As is the case every year, Apple is currently running its back to school promotion that gets you a discount on the Mac itself, as well as a free pair of Beats headphones, so now is definitely the time to buy if you’re a student considering purchasing a new Mac for school.


Apple’s latest Macs make the jump to USB-C connectivity, which means you might need a few new cables and adapters. Below are a few of my recommendations:

Moving past MacBook Pro dongles, there are a few accessories that I like to use when I’m at a desk with my MacBook Pro. If your desk allows for it, you can’t go wrong adding a standalone monitor to your setup. My recommendation is the Samsung U28E590D 28-inch 4K display, which offers the best bang for your buck at $369.99.

If you aren’t opting for a monitor, a MacBook stand like the Twelve South HiRise will certainly help alleviate some of the neck pain that comes with always looking down at a laptop.

My next recommendation is an iPad. While it’s not necessarily a “must-have,” it’s a nice luxury if you can afford it. I personally have become a huge fan of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro paired with the Apple Pencil. That combination can get pricey very quickly, though.

That’s where Apple’s $329 iPad comes in. Jeff noted the device’s compromises earlier this year, but for the price, it’s nearly impossible to beat. As I said, an iPad isn’t a necessity in school, assuming you have a laptop, but it can act as a powerful combination of productivity and entertainment.

It’s also important to note that the purchase of an iPad Pro with a valid education email will net you a free pair of BeatsX.

If you’re an iPad Pro user, one of my favorite accessories is the Logitech Base Charging Stand. It offers a way to seamlessly dock your iPad and charge via the Smart Connector. It makes it much easier to keep up with charging your iPad Pro and is also excellent when acting as a second screen to your Mac.

One of the most important things you’ll need – especially if you’re a college student – is a decent pair of headphones. My choice of headphones changes almost daily. I’m still a huge fan of the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones, but they’re a bit bulky to be throwing in a backpack day in and day out.

Instead, I’ve recently been using the Jaybird X3 earbuds, as well as Apple’s AirPods. Jaybird’s X3 offer an in-ear design that can be useful for workouts and other cases where AirPods might fall out. They offer solid sound quality and are decent deal at $119.

The Jaybird X3 also offer pretty impressive noise cancellation, which is both good and bad depending on your use case. I use mine daily in libraries, at the gym, and at home, but I’m not a fan of the noise cancellation while walking around campus. It freaks me out not being able to hear my surroundings – whether it be cars, bikers, or just other pedestrians.

That’s where Apple’s AirPods come in. I’ve praised these truly wireless earbuds before and I still think they’re one of the best things Apple has released in years. They can still be a bit hard to find, but they’re well worth the wait in my opinion.

You also can’t go wrong with some mobile power solutions. I’m a fan of Anker’s PowerCore Fusion, which is a hybrid of sorts between a wall charger and portable battery and pretty affordable at $26. Anker’s PowerLine+ cables are also a solid, more durable alternative to Apple’s first-party cables.

Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM Outdoors

Finally, a Bluetooth speaker is also a near necessity. In terms of the best budget option, I’ve recently been using UE’s Wonderboom speaker that’s also waterproof, which is a nice added bonus.

Below are some of the mobile accessories I’ve found to be most useful in college:

If you’re living in an off-campus apartment or house, I highly recommend investing in some sort of security camera. Personally, I installed the Ring Video Doorbell because it doesn’t require an existing doorbell and is incredibly easy to install. I also set up the Ring Stick Up Cam for an added layer of security.

There are some alternatives to Ring’s offerings. One of more popular options is from August, who offers both a Doorbell Cam and a Smart Lock. Meanwhile, Nest offers a popular Outdoor Security Camera.

Another interesting product if you live in a noisy environment, such as a dorm or large apartment complex, is the Nightingale Smart Home Sleep System. This system works by emitting 15 different sounds to mask common indoor and outdoor noises. It’s pricey at $249, but improving your sleep could be worth it.

There are also some less exciting, but practical products you might find yourself needing:

Ultimately, tech plays a crucial role in education nowadays – for better or for worse – but these are some of the products that can help you out the most.

Do you have any recommendations for students when it comes to tech products and accessories? Sound off down in the comments!

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Avatar for Chance Miller Chance Miller

Chance is an editor for the entire 9to5 network and covers the latest Apple news for 9to5Mac.

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