The new school year is rapidly approaching, and that means stocking up on supplies and the latest tech to be ready for class by early next month. Since we’re tracking the latest deals from around the web incessantly over at 9to5Toys, and reviewing the best in tech for your Mac, iOS, and Android devices on 9to5Mac and 9to5Google, we’ve rounded up the team to put together a gift guide with our top picks for gear, supplies, apps and more to get you through the year.
Jeremy: My personal back-to-school recommendations are really straightforward — they’re the four items I would pick for myself if I was about to start classes this fall. The first thing I’d pick up is an Apple MacBook, though the choice would be very difficult, coming down to the new 12″ Retina MacBook (left) or 13.3″ MacBook Pro (center). I personally use the MacBook Pro, which offers more bang for the buck, but lust after the space gray 1.2GHz 12″ MacBook, and would pick it first to lighten a heavy backpack. (Though I used to carry an 11.6″ MacBook Air (right), I wouldn’t buy one today, but that’s because I wouldn’t want a non-Retina screen.)
The best things to pair with that Mac would be a high-capacity, reliable external hard drive, some nice headphones, and better speakers. I exclusively use G-Technology’s G-DRIVE series because of their outstanding reliability, and the best value version is the G-DRIVE USB ($190/4TB). It’s fast, and a perfect way to securely store all your videos, photos, and important personal files without carrying everything around. Fashion is important when choosing on-campus headphones, so I’d grab the current 40% off deal on these Beats Studio Wireless headphones, which have Bluetooth, active noise canceling, and a rechargeable battery — a great deal for only $230. (I bought a pair myself at that price; the gold version is $255.) Last but not least, I’d go with the latest and greatest Bose SoundLink Mini II portable Bluetooth speaker (our review). With a 4.7/5-Star overall review from Amazon customers, it delivers atypically powerful sound for the sub-$200 price, and can be carried anywhere your MacBook goes, or used indoors.
Zac: In considering what to recommend for my back-to-school suggestions, I took a quick look in my own backpack to find a few essential, everyday items worth toting around. My backpack itself is a version of Incase’s Icon Slim Pack with adequate padding for comfort and protection plus lots of pocket space and zippered compartments for stowing essentials.
First up is a screen cleaner of some sort plus a microfiber cloth. MacBooks may not use touchscreen displays for any sort of input, but you wouldn’t know that based on looking at mine after any number of days without wiping it down. The grimy screen issue is never amplified more than when you open your notebook in public, especially in a brightly lit room, compared to everyday casual use at home. I’ve used countless versions of the same basic solution over the years, but my one rule is that the spray is a gel so the clean up job is tidier than throwing a water balloon at your display. The same solution is useful on iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches that resist fingerprints but not entirely. I’m currently using a bottle of Zeiss Clean Screen Gel Spray and have been using the same bottle of Monster ScreenClean for years around the house. A cheap purchase that’ll go a long way.
If you’re toting around a low storage solid state drive MacBook, you’ll likely find it handy to have access to a larger bucket of storage from time to time, and the diligent OS X user will want a Time Machine backup for the road as well. While I keep a multi terabyte hard drive connected to my AirPort Extreme at home for such purposes, my backpack carries a simple Western Digital My Passport Ultra portable external drive for stowing large media files without taking up local storage on my MacBook. The 1TB version I own runs about $80 currently (Reg. $99), but you can spend $16 more and double that to 2TB, or spend about $25 less and get half the storage. Non-titanium color options are available for less if you’re not trying to color match Apple’s Space Gray hardware.
Finally, every good student needs a little portable power whether it’s for charging your iPhone, iPad, or Bluetooth headphones while you’re away from your base. The easily pocketable lipstick style portable battery is definitely something everyone should have in their inventory. $10-$20 gets you the same 3350mAh Anker Astro mini that I use with black at the cheaper end and pink, blue, silver, and gold rounding out the mid and higher price points. Spend a little more like $30-$40 and add a larger, 13000mAh dual USB Anker E4 to the rotation and you’ll have enough juice to keep even a power hungry 12-inch MacBook alive at the same battery level for several more hours. Even with an iPhone 6 Plus, I wouldn’t leave the house with my backpack without a portable battery tucked inside.
My favorite pair of headphones these days is a somewhat unorthodox choice but perfect for kids going back to school. The Bluetooth 4.1 Moto Pulse, available in black and white for $59.99 (or a few bucks less here) are a great balance of super-light and foldable functionality, durability and impressive sound. They are the type of headphones you can wear while working out, working or relaxing and with a mic, you don’t have to switch to take a phone call. At $60 you don’t have to worry about them getting ripped off by your dorm-mate.
Last month, I rounded up the Best Bluetooth speakers released this year and there are a lot of great new ones out there. But for back to school students, you can’t go wrong with the $99.99 UE Roll (reviewed). It’s super portable, waterproof, attaches to just about anything yet it sounds good enough to listen to at your desk. I also comes in a variety of colors pictured above and you can pair it with your friends’. Got a few bucks more? Head over to our review for more options.
I’ve also been using a great iPhone battery case for the last few month. PhoneSuit’s 3000mAh Extended Ultra-Thin Elite Pro Battery Case for iPhone 6 is a very solid iPhone 6 case that protects while serving up a full day of extra battery life. What makes the PhoneSuit unique among many iPhone battery cases is that the battery and LED indicator are touch enabled. You can quickly see your charge status with a touch of your finger and 2 fingers turns on the charging. It is relatively light, rugged and has lasted me a few months already.
Jordan: A must for all students these days is cable organization. You have at least one pair of headphones, a few charging cables and adapters for your smartphone, tablet and or MacBook, and probably a few others for your game controllers and other accessories. That means it won’t be long before your bag becomes a tangled mess if you don’t grab some cable management accessories to keep everything organized.
My approach is threefold: $10 waterproof, roll-up sleeves for organizing cables (and other small items) are perfect for throwing in a bag with all the cables you need for the day or a short trip. You can get a larger one with other compartments if you want room to keep other items, like larger adapters or hard drives, and here’s a gorgeous handmade leather version if you want a pricier option. When at home or in your dorm room, a $20 wall hanging cable organizer holds your larger cables and everything else when not on the go. And lastly, some under $10 velcro cable ties complete the trifecta by giving you the ability to keep cables organized when actually in use.
Using a tablet’s touchscreen on a desk designed for a desktop computer and keyboard can be a bit of a pain, with or without a stand. So that’s at least one excuse to grab one of Sumo Lounge’s superior bean bag chairs that actually put you in a more ideal position for cozying up with a book on your iPad or interacting with its touch screen. The chairs aren’t the bean bags of yesteryear, however, as they use larger foam “beans” that keep their shape and softness indefinitely. And on the top of that, it makes for a great multi-purpose chair for your dorm room or workspace when not studying. It’s the ultimate gamer’s chair or a second bed for friends to crash if you get a large model. Sumo Lounge is making a whole collection of sizes in the USA that range from a $149 one person chair like this, to $500+ models that get as big as 8ft in diameter and 130 pounds. And Sumo Lounge happens to be offering 20% off site wide for back to school.
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