Summer is winding down (sorry, but someone had to say it), and that means the annual back-to-school shopping frenzy is starting. This now goes beyond the new clothes and the traditional handful of pens and pencils, to increasingly must-have tech.
The effect is being felt at all levels, from the Chromebooks that are found in many primary and secondary school classrooms to the smartphones that virtually every student carries.
Not sure what technology, gadgets and gizmos your student needs for fall? From primary school to college and university, we’ve put together a list of must-have tech for 2018.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Laptop
While most schools still offer computer labs, it’s pretty much expected from an early age that kids will have access to a laptop for doing assignments and homework.
Chromebooks have proven extremely popular in K12 education, thanks to their low cost (many are $250 or less), compact size, use of free Google apps and security. For more demanding tasks and the ability to run popular software like Photoshop, a more powerful Windows or Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Mac laptop becomes the better choice. Keep factors like portability and battery life in mind, especially if the laptop will be used at school.
For a student in high school or college, it’s best to check with the administration before making a purchase — they may have specific requirements for Windows or Mac laptops.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Backup Solution
“The dog ate my homework” doesn’t cut it in the digital age. There’s nothing worse than being nine pages into a 10-page essay and having a dead hard drive or even an accidental deletion result in the file evaporating.
A backup solution is essential for students. Having their data safely saved in the cloud or on an external drive can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a grades disaster.
Many popular online data storage plans also come with extras that are really handy for students. For example, Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Office 365 Personal subscription comes with 1TB of OneDrive online data storage with ransomware recovery, plus collaboration and sharing features and Microsoft Office.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Streaming Media Subscriptions
Many students are voracious consumers of media, especially music and video.
That makes streaming media subscriptions a back-to-school must-have. Streaming music services like Apple Music offer student discounts that make the price even more affordable.
Streaming video services are a lot cheaper than going to the movies (or paying for cable) and can be watched on virtually any connected device with a screen, making them student-friendly. You could give a student your Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) password, but make sure that won’t exceed the number of simultaneous streams your account supports or you could find yourself stuck waiting for them to stop a marathon binge-watching session.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: USB Thumb Drive
One of the most useful high-tech gadgets for students is also one of the cheapest: a USB thumb drive.
While USB-C is starting to upset the status quo (at least in the Mac world), a standard USB thumb drive is often the easiest way to move files from one computer to another.
Online submission of an assignment keeps failing? Put it on a thumb drive and hand it to the teacher. “Sneaker-net” lives… and a thumb drive is also handy for emergency back-up of critical files.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Smart Speaker
A smart speaker like an Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo may sound like an extravagance, but it covers several key student needs.
First, there’s streaming music. We’ve already established that students like their music. An Echo may not sound incredible –you can upgrade to something like Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Home Max if audio quality is really important– but it’s definitely better than the little speakers on a laptop or smartphone. They get an integrated voice-command digital assistant instead of having to “Google” everything.
For college students, owning an Amazon Echo or Google Home also means free phone calls home.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Studying or focusing on an assignment can be tough if the environment is noisy. Whether at home, in a dorm or riding a bus to classes, students are often trying to focus when there’s a racket in the background.
Noise-cancelling headphones can work wonders in these situations.
Students can play their favorite music while the headphones actively block all the ambient noise, minimizing distractions.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Portable Power Bank
With a big reliance on mobile devices, including smartphones and wireless headphones, things can get dicey when a late night means a battery that’s running low.
That makes a portable power bank a must-have. These are inexpensive and compact devices that incorporate a battery so a smartphone or other mobile device can be recharged without needing an electrical outlet. I reviewed one last week that fits in a backpack or purse, has the capacity to charge an iPhone 8 twice and even has Lightning and Micro USB cables built in, plus an emergency flashlight. It was $30.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Wireless Printer
Many assignments are submitted electronically these days, but the era of the printed essay isn’t over yet. Primary and high school students are also frequently called on to put together presentations and projects that include images and graphics.
A printer is pretty much a must-have for students. Inkjet is more popular than laser because the initial purchase cost tends to be lower and inkjet printers do a great job of printing photos. Go with wireless so the printer can be placed out of the way and printing can be done directly from laptops or even smartphones. And choose a multifunction version with a built-in scanner — it can be used as a photocopier.
If you’re worried about the cost of replacement ink, I tested one of Canon’s “Megatank” printers and it should take care of ink anxiety. It costs more upfront, but comes with ink tanks that have the equivalent of 30 refill cartridges, so overall savings are considerable. A student could probably complete a graduate degree without ever having to buy ink with one of these.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Amazon Prime Membership
One membership can actually check off several of the must-haves on this list: Amazon Prime.
An Amazon Prime membership includes free two-day shipping and even free same-day delivery in some cities. That should make shopping a little easier. But it also includes extras like free access to portions of Amazon’s video and music streaming services.
Even better, Amazon offers a pretty good deal on a student Amazon Prime membership. Students with a .edu e-mail address get a six-month free trial, with a monthly fee of $6.49 after that (or $59/year), and still get all the Amazon Prime benefits.
Must-Have Tech for Back to School: Smartphone
Finally, if there’s one device that every student wants, it’s a smartphone. And there’s a pretty good case to be made for a smartphone being essential, even for high school students.
A smartphone is connectivity central for most students. It’s the device they use to text, e-mail, chat and interact on social media. It’s also a mobile gaming device, and the host for streaming music and video.
From an educational perspective, a smartphone camera can be used to snap pictures of whiteboards and record lectures. And apps turn it into everything from a calculator to a calendar tracking their schedule to a mini computer where Word documents can be edited from virtually anywhere.
It’s hard to go wrong with any of the current flagship devices, but a big choice has to be made first between iOS (iPhone) and Android (everyone else) — that’s going to impact which apps students have access to.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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