Going back to school won't be the same for every student, but what doesn't change is the importance of returning to your desk (or Zoom room) with the right tech. Laptops, tablets, backpacks and storage drives are some of the gadgets that students (or parents) should invest in as they enter a new term. This year, given the shift to remote learning, gadgets like webcams and mice are more important than ever.
Combing through products can be a frustrating, time-intensive process. Don't worry though, we've done the hard work for you with our category best pages. In this guide, I'll highlight the top products in each category and direct you to our broader rankings, so you can buy the perfect gadget for your needs. Below is a list of the best back-to-school gadgets for everyone, whether you're a parent buying for an elementary school student or are a teenager getting ready for college.
Dell XPS 13
The perennial top pick for Windows 10 (and soon Windows 11) users, the Dell XPS 13 is the ultimate ultraportable laptop. Its gorgeous aluminum chassis will attract the attention of your peers, and it's portable enough to easily slip into a handbag or backpack. The edge-to-edge bezels, a design trend championed by the XPS years ago, draw your eyes toward the 13.4-inch display and helps in reducing the chassis' footprint.
Speaking of the display, the 13.4-inch, 1080p panel on our test unit was bright and vivid, so you can enjoy watching Netflix in your dorm after a long day of studying (right?!). Performance is excellent thanks to the latest 11th Gen Intel CPUs, and the graphics are good enough for lightweight gaming (but a gaming laptop or eGPU is recommended for gamers). Also, the keyboard is comfy so you can bang out a lengthy report while in a library without needing an external one. Limited port selection is a major drawback of the XPS 13, so consider buying a USB-C hub for your peripherals (and a hardwired Ethernet connection).
- Honorable mention: MacBook Air
- Honorable mention (gaming): Asus ROG Zephyrus M16
- Honorable mention (best under $1,000): HP Envy 13
Apple iPad Air
You don't need to be an iPhone or Mac owner to enjoy the iPad Air, which is undisputedly the best consumer tablet on the market. It has a sleek design with thin bezels, fast performance from its A14 Bionic processor, and a large 10.9-inch display that is great for viewing videos or movies. Moreover, the Air can be paired with the Magic Keyboard so you can write reports, do online lessons or chat with the friends and family you're missing while in college.
Better yet, the iPad Air has a nifty fingerprint sensor and the 10.5 hours of battery life with USB-C charging means you won't be reaching for the cord very often. The Air is even great for blasting tunes in your dorm as the speakers sound better than you would expect from a tablet. There are a few things to consider when buying the iPad Air, such as the cost of accessories and additional storage (consider the 10-inch iPad if these put the Air out of your price range), but if you have the extra cash, the iPad Air is as good as it gets.
See our best tablets page for more options!
Herschel Supply Co. Pop Quiz
Like a fresh pair of Converse or Ray-Bans, the Herschel Supply Co. backpack has a timeless design that you or your child won't grow out of. It's classy and simple without being showoff-ish. Also, thousands of positive reviews attest to its durability and the waterproof zippers ensure your papers don't get soggy on the way back from class. What I like most about the Herschel Supply backpack is the range of colors available, which lets you flaunt your personality.
See our best laptop backpacks page for more options!
- Honorable mention: eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack
Bose Noise Cancelling 700
It might not seem as obvious as the others, but having noise-canceling headphones is a must in college. Blocking out a chatting group in the library, your roommate as you read, or chatter in a cafe, is essential when you're trying to stay focused on your coursework. The Bose 700 is your solution. It's expensive, yes, but you get fantastic balanced sound and an extremely comfortable fit thanks to the cushy, leatherette ear pads. I've listened to these for hours on end without any fatigue. Better yet, the Bose 700 has excellent mics so friends or family can hear you clearly — no need to remove the headphones and use your phone. And about the price — while they retail for $400, you can often find them for $300.
See our best wireless headphones page for more options!
- Honorable mention: Sony WH-1000XM4
Logitech MX Master 3
Released in 2019, the Logitech MX Master 3 remains to be the best mouse for productivity and creativity to this day. It’s a fantastic candidate for a reliable, catch-all daily driver, and whether you’re using Photoshop, Premier or Microsoft Office, the MX Master 3’s ergonomic design ensures comfort over longer periods of work. While you won’t see the MX Master 3 topping any lists as the best gaming mouse, it remains entirely serviceable in all but the most ultra-competitive of games thanks to its comfort and accuracy.
In terms of price-to-performance, the MX Master 3 is a safe investment. It’s a true all-rounder that doesn’t compromise on its core functionality as a productivity workhorse.
See our full Logitech MX Master 3 review.
- Honorable mention: SteelSeries Rival 3
Logitech HD Webcam C920
Cheap? Yes. Sharp? Yes. Actually available to buy? It is! The Logitech HD Webcam C920 is the best webcam, and rather regrettably, has been for the past decade or so! Yes, there are 4K webcams, but those aren't worth the extra cost. Instead, spend about $70 on the tried-and-true C920. I've personally been using the webcam on my XPS 15 (an older model with a nosecam) for the past 3 years, and the picture quality is a massive upgrade from any integrated webcam on the market.
See our best webcams page for more options!
- Honorable mention: Razer Kiyo
Dell DA300 6-in-1 USB-C Hub
Tiny, easy to pack in the smallest compartment of your backpack (like the Herschel), and filled with ports, the Dell DA300 6-in-1 USB-C Hub satisfies all connectivity needs. Despite weighing less than 3 ounces, the DA300 has an HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA input, Ethernet, USB-C and USB-A. It interfaces with a USB-C port, so you can plug it into any modern laptop (XPS 13, MacBook Air, Envy 13, etc) and instantly expand your I/O options. The hub is somewhat pricey, but well worth the investment.
See our best USB-C hubs page for more options!
- Honorable Mention: Plugable USB-C 7-in-1 Hub
Samsung T7 Portable SSD
Buying a laptop with a large storage drive means you can store more documents, photos, apps and games. However, storage upgrades are costly, and sometimes, you want to keep your sensitive data backed up. That's where the Samsung T7 Portable SSD comes in. It's small, fast and durable. More specifically, it provides 1,050 MB/S transfer rates and boasts thermal protection against overheating. It has a shock-resistant chassis that can withstand a 6-foot drop and the vibrant colors mean you can customize it to your personality. Oh, and the SSD is backed by Samsung's three-year warranty. Just keep in mind, your laptop needs a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port.
See our best external SSDs page for more options!
- Honorable mention: SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable SSD
Stay in the know with Laptop Mag
Get our in-depth reviews, helpful tips, great deals, and the biggest news stories delivered to your inbox.
Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.