August is almost over, and it’s possible that many students have already made their way back to campus or will do so in the coming weeks. And if the recent trends are anything to go by, tech is now more ingrained into our school lives than ever before. Having just finished college, I know the importance of its role. I’d also add that some products from this guide are items I wouldn’t think are essential, but it was only true until I started going to class, as they did bring tremendous value.
Pocketnow’s back-to-school guide tries to capture the essence of cost-effective, useful add-ons while covering some of the best laptops, phones, audio products, and accessories to consider adding to your daily carry and help you through the academic year.
Best Back to School Laptops
Based on this article’s introduction, computers are essential at most levels of education, be it low-power devices like Chromebooks or decked-out computers for when you need that fast rendering time. Nevertheless, with how much one can accomplish with these devices, picking the right one to use daily is essential. To help make your decision easier, check out what we think are the best options currently.
Lenovo’s Yoga 6 Gen 7 or Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 are devices that can serve as the perfect daily carry laptops if you’re looking for a light and portable Windows machine. On the other hand, the M1 MacBook Air is the one to get if you’re looking for a MacBook. For that matter, the latest M2 MacBook Air is worth picking up if you’re willing to fork over the extra cash for the redesigned chassis, slightly larger display, a better webcam, and an additional USB-C port.
And if your usage doesn’t need Windows or macOS, you should consider getting a Chromebook. The platform isn’t heavy on hardware and grants access to an array of Android applications, which often work well with larger screens. And my groups in college often used Google Docs or Slides to write reports or create presentations, both services that work flawlessly within ChromeOS.
Now, as a tech writer out of college, I spend more time within a browser than a dedicated application, and I know that ChromeOS will easily handle such tasks. My Legion Y540 has only seen its graphics card in action when I turn away from Chrome to play games.
I think the Acer Spin 713 Chromebook — a previous-generation product — combines excellent hardware with the simple nature of this platform and is the one to pick up. But if you’d like to save money, devices like the Ryzen 3 powered Acer Spin 714 or a ChromeOS 2-in-1 like Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 3 are also great buys.
Lenovo Yoga 6 Gen 7
With its redesigned thin and light chassis, Lenovo Yoga 6 Gen 7 is a great laptop for students who want to use the convertible form factor to its advantage. The device ships with AMD’s Ryzen 5 5500U or Ryzen 7 5700U chipset, which will keep it snappy and responsive with multiple browser tabs active while productivity apps like PowerPoint and Excel are running in the background. Other advantages of this laptop are its 16:10 display, port selection, and the availability of several cool-looking colors.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2
No Frills Attached
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 is the alternative to the Yoga 6 in case you’re looking for a no-frills notebook that gets the basics right. It has a smaller than normal 12.4-inch touchscreen display, but this might be an advantage for some users. It ships with Intel’s 11th Gen processors and features upgrades to its webcam, speaker setup, and microphones which are all bound to be a part of any student’s daily use.
Apple MacBook Air M1
Value for Money
If you’re willing to spend a little more cash on decking out your college machine, the M1 MacBook Air, launched in 2020, is an excellent device for light tasks due to the efficiency its chipset provides. If you’re part of a course or a grade where written work is your primary use case, the device will likely work for a couple of days before you’ll need to plug in for a charge. And if you want to get a little intensive, the M1 chipset will be able to churn out performance to crunch some code or render videos.
Apple MacBook Air M2
2022 saw the introduction of the M2 processor and a new generation of MacBook Air, a device that improves upon its stellar predecessor. The changes with this generation bring the device’s design in line with the new MacBook Pro 14 and 16-inch and give it improved hardware in the form of a new webcam, display, and battery life. Compared to the previous generation, it’s the device to pick in case you want to future-proof your purchase a little more or see yourself using the extra horsepower.
Lenovo Legion 5i
High Tier Performance
Rounding out our list is the Lenovo Legion 5i, a gaming laptop ideal for students running demanding software throughout their stint in college. It has high-performance Intel 12th Gen processors and up to an Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU. When combined, the internals will ensure no number of iterations in coding environments or mesh renders in CAD software will be a hassle.
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is on the expensive side of the spectrum for ChromeOS-based devices but is worth considering for its combination of premium features which are likely to be available at a discount due to the device’s time on the market.
Best Back to School Phones
To make sure you have an option to pick from the three most prominent pricing levels, we’ve included the Google Pixel 6a, the OnePlus 10T, and the Apple iPhone 13 in this list, as these devices come with unique advantages that make them worth considering.
The Google Pixel 6a is a mid-range device that boasts a powerful camera that will help capture those moments in life with high-level clarity and post-processing that won’t disappoint. And for the ones who always want to experience the latest software, it’s one of the few devices that are first in line to provide access.
Suppose you want more performance from your phone while keeping costs low. In that case, the OnePlus 10T slots itself in at $650 with the latest Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, which provides impeccable performance with excellent efficiency. Headline-grabbing features, like its 150W — 125W in North America — will boost it from 0 to 100% in about 20 minutes, which is a huge advantage for students that are always on the move.
And to round out the choices, we have the Apple iPhone 13. It has the compact yet powerful iPhone 13 mini and the larger iPhone 13, but we will focus on the latter for this segment. At $799, it is the most expensive of the three, but with the newer generation around the corner, there’s a chance you’ll find many attractive carrier deals for this phone right now. It combines the best features presented by the Pixel 6a and the OnePlus 10T — camera, software, and performance — that ensure it will not disappoint.
Note: There’s also the smaller iPhone 13 mini to consider at $699, in case you want a compact phone.
Google Pixel 6a
Great for $449
The Google Pixel 6a comes with features that make it a great option to consider if battery life, camera performance, and long-term use are priorities. The device doesn’t have a high refresh rate display, wireless charging, and other premium elements like a glass back, but it does enough by housing Google’s flagship Tensor and a stellar camera for the price.
If your phone usage might require a little more heavy lifting, like the demands made by intensive games, the OnePlus 10T — an affordable flagship — comes with the efficient yet powerful Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 bundled with 16GB of RAM, a 4800 mAh battery, and 150W fast charging that will handle the job just fine.
Apple iPhone 13
One of the Best!
The iPhone 13 is the default smartphone to get if you want to buy a flagship phone. Its combination of hardware and software is unmatched, and with the next generation around the corner, this lineup is available with carrier offers. The phone will remain fast and fluid as you continue to use it over the years, with software updates continually bringing new features to the fore. And if invested in the ecosystem, you will notice an added convenience layer.
Best Back to School Audio Devices
Coming to audio devices, when on campus or in your dorm, there will be a lot happening around you, which means finding peace can be a task. Thus we think getting a set of noise-canceling audio products will be one of the best moves to make!
Realme Buds Air 2 — arguably one of the best earbuds — is an inexpensive option that plays well with both iPhones and Android devices; they’ll even seamlessly connect to your laptop if you wish. It provides ANC that can deal with sounds up to 25db and battery life that will keep it going for four hours before you’ll need to let them charge.
AirPods Pro is the premium option to buy if you have an iPhone and other ecosystem-based products like an Apple Watch, MacBook, or iPad. If you’re on the Android side of things or prefer better audio quality, we’d recommend picking up the more expensive Sony WF-1000XM4.
The WH-1000XM4 on this list is a high-end product that you might want to consider if you prefer the overhead form factor or want the advantage of Bluetooth Multipoint. And JBL Flip 6 is the Bluetooth speaker to have in your dorm room to make sure you have something for everyone to listen to music on!
I started with a pair of Realme Buds Air 2 and added the Sony WH-1000XM4 to my collection towards the end of my studies, and the difference these products made was significant. Even in the library, the Buds Air 2 provided an additional degree of separation that helped me focus better. And when I was back in my room, the earbuds or headphones — with some music playing — helped me detach myself from the TV or chatter outside.
Apple AirPods Pro
Integration plus Isolation
Apple’s AirPods Pro is a great set of earbuds to pair with your iPhone to gain access to noise-canceling that’ll filter out the outside world while letting you stay with its ambient features if required. And while not the gold standard for audio quality, it is better than par. Its integration with other Apple hardware is also a key selling point to keep in mind.
Realme Buds Air 2
Noise-canceling on a Budget
Realme Buds Air 2 is a great pair of budget earphones with a sound signature that will not disappoint. The earbuds are rated to last 4 hours with ANC active, with the case providing an additional five charges. Its compatibility with both iOS and Android platforms is also a huge plus.
Overhead & Noise-canceling
If the in-ear form factor isn’t your cup of tea, we recommend picking up the Sony WH-1000XM4 for its top-notch noise canceling capability, comfort, and audio quality. It works well with devices from all manufacturers, features a variety of smart assistants, and has Bluetooth Multipoint. While the headphones sound great, access to a fleshed-out EQ system also improves the user experience.
JBL Flip 6
JBL Flip 6 is an inexpensive Bluetooth-enabled speaker to pick for a dorm room. It comes with the ability to pair multiple units together at once. It has an IP rating, and these features will allow you to make the most of Flip 6 outdoors or indoors, as you can use it without worrying about damage and improve the overall audio experience.
To close this buying guide, we’ve listed below some accessories that will come in handy to manage your data and any of the devices you buy for school. First up is Anker’s 735 Adapter, which is worth the investment as keeping all the tech you own powered and ready to go can be hard to manage. And then, we suggest buying a USB drive to help piggyback your data between devices. There will be days when you might work on hardware that doesn’t belong to you, and although connected by the strings of cloud platforms and email, the services have their limitations. And a USB drive can help overcome most of them.
Anker 735 Charger
Anker’s 735 GaN charger sports three ports, two USB-C and one USB-A. The combination will allow you to charge any device in your collection conveniently. The presence of a USB-A port is convenient if the OEM sends out a charging cable with that end. And for whenever you want to head out on a trip, the collapsible prongs make it easy to pack.
Stylish & Effective
The Spigen ArcField is a gadget that’s convenient to have on your bedside or desk to make it easy to juice up devices without the hassle of looking for the right cable and connecting it to your phone. It offers a maximum of 10W charging for Samsung phones, 7.5W for iPhones, and 5W for other Qi-compatible devices. While slower than other modern standards, it is an inexpensive option that works.
SanDisk 256GB Ultra Dual Drive USB
And rounding off this list is the SanDisk 256GB Ultra Dual Drive. This storage device is compact and adds convenience with its USB-C and USB-A connectors. It supports USB 3.1 Gen 1 and, according to Sandisk’s internal testing, reads data at 150 MB per second.
What do you think of our Back-to-School buying guide, and do you have any suggestions you’d have liked to see on this list? Let us know with a comment below.