By now, you probably have back-to-school on the mind. What essential tech will you, or your school-aged child, need? Where can you get the best deals? And what are some of the tech items you might not think about that are worth getting? This guide will walk you through it all.
At the top of the list of "essential tech" is a laptop. If you don't already have one, or are in need of an upgrade, here are some suggestions.
The new Apple MacBook Pro isn't cheap - it'll run you at least $2,399 for the 13" model - but for post-secondary students, or those who need something for intense multitasking, graphics-heavy work, or more, and aren't restricted by a tight budget, it is a worthwhile investment. The updated Apple MacBook Pro comes in 13" and 15" sizes, with the Touch Bar feature 8th-generation Intel Core processors, 6-core (15") and quad-core (13"), facilitating faster loading, and the ability to run more apps simultaneously. There's also a True Tone display, improved third-generation keyboard for quieter typing, Radeon Pro graphics, large Force Touch trackpad, Touch Bar and Touch ID, stereo speakers, quiet Apple-designed cooling system, and Thunderbolt 3 for data transfer, charging and connecting up to two 5K displays or four external GPUs. It comes with an up to a 2TB SSD on the 13" model and up to a 4TB SSD on the 15", the Apple T2 chip, and "Hey Siri." Update it with macOS Mojave to enjoy additional benefits.
Consider that Apple does offer special Apple Education Pricing for students and their parents, as well as teachers and staff. Apple is also offering a deal for students whereby they receive a free pair of Beats headphones with the purchase of a Mac or iPad Pro. Additionally, students can trade-in an old Mac, iPad, iPhone, or Apple Watch for credit toward a newer version.
If you aren't in the Apple universe, there are plenty of other laptop options that are suitable for students, like the Asus VivoBook 15 (S530), which weighs just 4 lbs., and includes an ErgoLift hinge that lifts the keyboard by 3.5-degrees for easier typing and improves cooling; and comes in bold colour options like red, green, and yellow.
The Asus ZenBook S (UX391), which sells for about $2,000, is even lighter at just 2.2 lbs., has the same hinge, and will last through the school day with a 13.5-hour battery life, and the ability to charge up to 60% in just 49 minutes. It comes in blue or rose gold, with the latest Intel Core processors.
Make use of the new ScreenPad feature in the Asus ZenBook Pro 15 (UX580), which allows you to change functions in different applications by using your trackpad, create your own shortcuts to frequently-used programs, and have dual displays so you can multitask (or work on your report while also keeping up with social media!)
If you're looking for a 2-in-1 that can work as both a laptop and a tablet, there's the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (starts at $2,000) which is lightweight and functional; or the more affordable Dell Inspiron 7000 2-in-1, which sells starting at $1,400.
HP's new ProBook x360 440 G1, part of the growing convertible computing camp that can be used in a variety of modes, including traditional laptop, tented, or folded back in tablet format. Powered by Windows 10, and sporting long battery life that will last through a school day, it has an 8th-gen Intel Core processor, and works with the optional HP Active Pen. Use it with a cable that supports docking via USB-C for desktop set-ups. It has built-in security from HP, including BIOSphere Gen4, plus commercial-grade durability.
The 1.15 lb., 8.3mm thin Microsoft Surface Go has a 10" high-resolution PixelSense Display that supports Surface Pen for note taking, drawing, and computer-aided design. In portrait mode, the screen can render a page to the scale of most school textbooks, and in landscape mode, it can render pages side-by-side to mimic the feel of holding a paperback book. Powered by the 7th generation Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y and with a fanless design, it offers up to nine hours of battery, and can run Office apps. High precision tuning and Windows Precision Trackpad supports five-point multi-finger gestures; or connect the Surface Mobile Mouse. A built-in kickstand extends to 165 degrees, and secure facial recognition sign-in is via a Windows Hello camera. Charge and dock using the Surface Connect port; there's also USB-C 3.1 for data, video, and charging, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader for storage expansion. It starts at $529
A smartphone is another essential piece of technology that no student can live without.
The Asus ZenFone 5Z comes with a dual-camera system, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 mobile platform and artificial intelligence (AI) engine, and more.
For kids looking for an alternative to an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device, there's the LG G7 ThinQ smartphone ($1,050 outright), which has an amply-sized 6.1" bright display, dust- and water-resistant design, 8MP front camera and 16MP lenses on the back, including one in a super wide angle configuration. Great features for students include a side button that launches Google Assistant for queries, such as checking on your class schedules; and a Second Screen for simple multi-tasking.
For students on a strict budget, the Asus ZenFone Live (L1) is an affordable option at an MSRP of just $149. It's also a good one for students who will be travelling from school in one province or country to home in another at least a few times per year, because it can accommodate two 4G LTE SIM cards, so they can get a local plan in both places. It has a 5.5" FullView screen, 3,000mAh battery that can run for up to 29 hours per charge, and can be unlocked using your face for added security.
Another budget-conscious option is the new Alcatel 1, which comes loaded with Android Oreo (Go edition) that features access to Google apps like Google Go, Google Maps Go, and Gmail Go. The Google Play Store suggests third-party apps tailor-made for Go edition devices, including Facebook Lite, Skype Lite, and more. You get twice the available storage out of the box, freeing up space to do more with the built-in storage. A microSD slot can accommodate an additional up to 32GB of expandable memory. It comes with a custom-built FullView 18:9 display in a 5" screen and slim 4.4" form factor. Finished with soft suede, it has smooth curves, and comes with a 5MP rear camera with flash and 5MP front camera with flash for snapping selfies. It's selling through Bell, Koodo, Telus, Lucky Mobile, and Virgin Mobile; PC Mobile and SaskTel later this year, and starts at $90.Smartphones for back to school are as much a personal choice as knowing what features you need and how much you are willing to pay. Two new phones that come equipped with a stylus for handwriting onscreen accurately and more, should be considered not just phones but tools for school.
The Samsung Galaxy Note9, prohibitively expensive starting at $550 with plan or $1,299 outright, is a tier one phone in design, material, and function. It comes with 128GB storage, 4,000 mAh battery, best of class cameras, and of course a newly designed S Pen with remote control functions. It mimics professional pen and tablets but in a smaller 6.4" bright AMOLED very sharp 514 ppi screen with 4,000 pressure points. That captures the individual nuance of handwriting, drawing or painting. You can quickly jot a note with S Pen in screen off mode or make lecture notations on class handout documents, including PDF and Word. Handwritten notes can be saved, searched or converted to text.
The much improved LG Q Stylo with a 6.2" Arc glass curve screen is free with plan or $460 outright. It also allows you to write while in screen off mode as well as onscreen, and capture documents on the 2,160 x 1,080 pixels 386 ppi screen. It may not have some of the more advanced features of the Note9 stylus, like remote control operation. But it is the digital equivalent of a pocket paper notebook running on Android 8.1, with a 3,300 mAh battery and at a much lower price.
Of course you will need a backpack to carry all your gear. Staples is a good place to start for that. They have a wide selection of backpacks, from basic colours to fun and bold prints including floral designs, bohemian, Moroccan prints, denic, geometric shapes, and more. There's also the Tasty line, featuring treats like pineapple, avocado, and more; ones with animal prints, including sloth, sharks, and flamingos; and galaxy-print ones.
Students need their devices to be powered up 24/7, whether it's for class, during study sessions, or for downtime entertainment. Wireless chargers like the Belkin 10W Boost Up Wireless Charging products can help keep them powered up overnight, or at your desk, Both the Boost Up Wireless Charging Stand ($90) and the Boost Up Wireless Charging Pad ($80) offer charging for Qi-enabled devices, delivering 7.5-watt optimal charging for iPhone X, iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus; up to 9 watts for Samsung devices; and up to 10 watts for all other Qi-enabled devices from brands like LG and Sony. The chargers are engineered to minimize interference and protect the phone's functionality while charging. Each comes in multiple colour options, with a five-foot AC adapter.
In a sea of device chargers, the Rabbit Charger Duo (US$49.95) stands out with smart design and features. It mounts semi-permanently on a standard duplex outlet replacing its cover, freeing one outlet for other uses. It features a 28-inch variable retractable cable, with swappable micro-USB and USB-C charging tips and the ability to charge two devices at once. With a maximum output of 3 amps, you can also charge Xbox controllers, headphones, an Amazon Echo, portable charging banks, and many more devices. An optional iPhone Lightning tip will please Apple lovers. The retractable cord system eliminates the issues of having multiple, messy charging cables cluttering up a countertop or floor when not in use. An ambient light can turn on and off via a simple touchscreen.
For something more portable, than you can use on-the-go, consider a power bank from brands like mophie, with a large enough capacity to charge multiple devices, or rechage your phone or tablet multiple times over to get you through the day.
With a good pair of wireless earbuds, kids can enjoy some personal music during downtime, and keep in touch with family and friends while they are heading from class to class. The Jabra Elite 65e (MSRP $250) employ a neckband design, and offer both active and passive noise cancellation. When connected to a compatible smartphone, they work with the Alexa, Siri, and Google smart assistants, so students can ask where there next class is, or get a reminder of when that report is due, or the date of the final exam. They can also have messages read back to them. The battery lasts for up to eight hours when using ANC, or 13 hours when ANC is turned off - more than enough to last a full school day before needing a recharge.
The ERL Wireless Sports Earbuds Bluetooth Earphones ($50) are sweat- and splash-proof, rich sounding, affordable, and compact. You get 3.5 hours of music play with one charge, and 40 more hours via the battery case. In partnership with MIT, ERL drivers utilize graphene coated diaphragms that vibrate to generate precision sound with ultra high fidelity.
For students still living at home, or in shared housing, Internet access is a must. You probably already have Internet at home, but is the connection robust enough to meet everyones' needs, and all of the devices that will be connected to it?
One option to consider is the Linksys EA8300 Max-Stream AC2200 tri-band Wi-Fi router ($249), which is ideal for handling lots of simultaneous connections. It features smart connect band steering that will intelligently choose the best radio band for every device to optimize the performance of the network. Control it from your smartphone using the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app, and customize settings to your likings.
For the budget-minded students who are living in smaller single-floor school lodgings, the TP-Link Archer Wireless C2300 Dual-Band Router ($150) can handle all your wireless data traffic, including 4K streaming and gaming. It features the latest 802.11 AC standard, Range Boost technology to cover every nook and cranny, as well as NitroQAM technology, which boosts connection speeds by up to 25%. Parental controls with URL blocking comes handy if you use this at home with younger kids, as does Guest Network, ensuring guests have secure Wi-Fi access at home or office.
Multi-story homes stuck with slow Internet service can flood all their rooms with fast mesh-based Wi-Fi technology from Linksys. It consists of two or three wirelessly connected small pod modems placed throughout a home, usually one per floor, with options for more. They work as a group, but appear as one Wi-Fi source on your phone or laptop, and smartly figure out the best wireless connection anywhere. Linksys offers two Mesh-based price point models: the Tri-Band Velop Wireless AC6600 MU-MIMO Mesh Whole Home Wi-Fi System (WHW0303-CA) - 3 Pack $650; and for less demanding but just as effective Dual-Band Linksys Velop AC3900 Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi System (WHW0103-CA) - 3 Pack for $360.
In terms of affordable Internet, consider alternative providers like TekSavvy, which offers DSl service packages from $20-$35/mo. You can get unlimited Internet - perfect for streaming - with speeds of up to 50 Mbps for $30/mo. for 12 months.
No, we haven't yet moved to a fully paperless society. Which means students still need to submit reports in paper form, making a printer an essential purchase. The Epson EcoTank line is my favourite, because while they are more expensive than others, you won't have to worry about replacing ink cartridges all the time. Instead, they have in reservoirs that need only be refilled every two years (yes, that's right!) and come with a two-year supply in the box. That will easily get a student through an entire school year, and potentially even a full four years of university, depending on how much they print.
Another option worth considering if you want a more affordable entry price point is the mighty Epson Expression Premium XP-6000 ($150), a do-it-all home printer. It uses an additional black photo ink cartridge for brilliant deep colour photo printing with sharper text thanks to its higher 5,760 x 1,440 optimized dpi resolution. A dedicated CD/DVD disc printer, 15 second "4x6"colour printing, two sided printing, wireless, USB and memory slots, and more will not disappoint.