The first day of school won’t start till late summer for most college-bound students, but when it comes to back-to-school prep, you can never be too early, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
A laptop alone is not enough; today's students need a full array of tech products, from external monitors that make it easier to write papers at their desks to portable chargers that can juice their gear on the go. To help you shop, check out our list of essential and affordable back-to-school tech gear.
Keep your gadgets charged and protected with the TYLT Energi Pro Backpack with built-in charging hub. Available in black ($99.98, 10,400 mAh battery) or gray ($149.99, 20,100 mAh battery), the backpack features a weather-resistant, polyester exterior with RFID shielding to protect you from potential hackers. Its main feature is its built-in battery, which has both USB and USB Type-C ports for compatibility with almost any device. Thanks to the backpack’s hidden cable management, you can recharge your device no matter what pocket it's in.
The M510 is our favorite sub-$20 mouse, due to its comfortable grip and customizable side buttons. The sleek mouse has a dedicated slot for its receiver and it can be turned on/off to preserve its two AA batteries. Power users can also use Logitech’s SetPoint software to further customize the feel of the M510.
There’s a reason the 2.7-pound Asus ZenBook UX330UA is our top laptop for college students. It gives you solid performance in a lightweight design at a price that’s affordable. The laptop scored a strong 7,182 on our Geekbench 4 test and it lasted for over 10 hours on our battery test, which means it’ll take you from your afternoon class to your evening Netflix binge without the need for a recharge. This configuration packs a 13.3-inch, 1080p LCD, 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
For those times you can’t print from your college campus, the Canon TS6020 All-In-One Inkjet Printer offers more than enough machine for your needs. The compact printer can copy, scan, print business cards and even churn out beautiful photos on glossy paper. It uses a five-ink system to deliver the most vivid prints possible, and it even offers fast two-sided printing.
An external battery charger is a must for any student, and no gadget can save you from the red bar of death like the 20,100 mAh Jackery Titan. It features dual 5V/3.4A fast-charging ports that can identify your device and charge it at its highest speed. Its aluminum exterior helps it blend in with your other gadgets. And it also comes with a micro USB cable.
A 13-inch screen may be fine when you’re in class, but when it comes to productivity, you’ll want something considerably larger. The Pavilion 22cwa offers 21.5 inches of screen real estate along with 1080p resolution and a speedy 7ms response time. It offers both HDMI and VGA connectivity, and costs comfortably under $100. For even better multitasking, buy two and use a USB docking station to create a dual-monitor setup.
Budget tablets are a dime a dozen these days, but the 2017 Amazon Fire HD 8 is in a league of its own. The no-frills tablet features a quad-core 1.3GHz processor, 1.5GB of RAM and an impressive 11-hour battery. It also features Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, so you can play your favorite music, receive news updates or control other smart-home gadgets direct from your tablet.
At just $49, Amazon Prime Student is an absolute steal. You get all of the major perks of a regular Prime account, such as free two-day shipping and unlimited access to Amazon’s movie and music services, but at half the price. Plus, you get a six-month trial period, instead of 30 days. Discounts on video game pre-orders only sweeten the deal for cash-strapped students.
Many of today’s ultra-slim laptops can be stingy when it comes to ports. (We’re looking at you, Apple). That’s where the Satechi Type-C USB 3-in-1 Combo Hub comes in. It connects to a single USB Type-C port and expands it with three USB Type-A 3.1 ports, an SD card slot and a microSD card slot. The stylish hub is available in Gunmetal, Gold or Silver.
Even when it's "safe" in your dorm room, your computer is a target for thieves. The Kensington Combination Lock is equivalent to having a bike chain for your laptop. It consists of a combination lock with over 10,000 possible combinations and a cord, which you wrap around a secure item. Connect the lock to your laptop’s locking port and you’re secured. Just make sure to connect it to something that cannot be easily moved or stolen.
Plugable’s UD-3900 dock stands ready to connect your PC to a multiple monitors and a variety of peripherals over a single USB port. It supports dual, full-HD monitors via HDMI and DVI ports, and also packs four USB ports, an Ethernet jack and a USB Type-B port. On its front side you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports and headphone and microphone jacks. There’s no 4K support, but at this price we’re not one to complain.
Whether you need more storage space for media files or you want to share large projects with your classmates, you’ll need a USB hard drive. This Mac- and PC- friendly drive combines good looks with great performance. At 0.36 pounds, it’s also one of the lighter drives around. In our hands-on tests, the 1TB drive was able to hit speeds of 101.12 MBps and write speeds of 90.35 MBps. It’s available in red, blue or black, and features rubber feet that help elevate and secure the drive on whatever surface it’s placed.
If you’re looking for a USB headset that you can wear over extended periods, look no further than the ClearChat Comfort H390. Thick padding on the headband and earcups ensures a comfy fit, whereas built-in noise-cancelling tech lets you chat without ambient noise dominating your conversation. That kind of sound quality is important when you're taking job or internship interviews over Skype.
The Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 is an outstanding replacement for your laptop’s integrated webcam. It takes sharp photos and videos, which makes it ideal for streaming on Twitch or Skyping with your parents back home. The 1080p camera offers a 78-degree field of vision, which is more than enough to squeeze a second person into a frame. At $60.46, it’s simply the best webcam upgrade you can give your laptop.
Give your laptop the kind of connectivity you need with this no-frills Sabrent USB 3.0 Hub. It gives your system an extra four USB ports, each with a corresponding power switch and an LED status light. Currently under $10, it’s one of the cheapest, yet most significant, upgrades you can give your notebook.