The new High School year started today for my teenage daughter, while our neighbor’s college-bound co-ed doesn’t have to hit the books until just after Labor Day. And the Elementary school year is already well underway for my friends’ kids in Chicago.
You know what all this means, right? Parents are trying to figure out what new tech gadgets our kids really need—or in other words, what’s required versus desired—as kids everywhere gear up to go back to school.
WHAT THEY’LL NEED: Laptop/Tablet Hybrids
The main question most parents ask me is whether their kids need a tablet or a laptop. Why worry about one or the other when you can both — without breaking the bank. Lenovo’s Ideapad Miix 310 ($299) is an impressive cross between a laptop and a tablet, for a fraction of the cost of a full-fledged notebook.
With a 10-inch touchscreen display, dual cameras, and the full Windows 10 Home experience built in, it’s got solid tech chops. It’s a hybrid in the truest sense of the word. Students can use the main unit independently of the included detachable keyboard, making it a great on-the-go companion in a pinch and a serious laptop too. Couple all that with battery life that can rock 10 hours of video playback without needing to be refueled and you’ve got a computer with brains and brawn, at a budget price.
The Miix 310 is a fantastic little machine, but for high school seniors and college kids, a little more power never hurts. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 ($749) fits the bill as both a full-fledged portable computer and a handy tablet for on-the-go note-taking. With a big 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM in its standard configuration, it’ll fly through any task your student can throw at it now, and for many years to come.
The 12.3-inch touchscreen is crisp and responsive, and with the built-in stand, included Surface Pen, and optional Type Cover keyboard, it pulls double duty better than any computer before it. It’s great for messaging, web surfing with Microsoft’s new Edge browser, and word processing during the school day. Then, once all the papers and presentations have been conquered, it seamlessly transitions to a high-powered media center, running Netflix and streaming music with ease. It really is the most capable all-in-one laptop replacement around, and it’s more affordable than it’s ever been.
WHAT THEY’LL NEED: Sensible Smartphones
My daughter had an inexpensive, basic cell phone until halfway through her Freshman year of high school. I guess that makes me the mean Mom because on average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central. With the insane number of high-priced smartphones floating, it might feel impossible to find something “cool” that doesn’t also happen to cost $500 or more.
One option I recently discovered is Sony’s Xperia XA ($279). I’m a big fan of its wallet-friendly price tag, not to mention its sleek, no-nonsense aesthetic, with a borderless 5-inch HD touchscreen that oozes awesomeness.
Inside, Sony packed a 64-bit, eight-core processor, high-powered 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, 8-megapixel selfie camera on the front, and microSD storage support for up to 200GB worth of apps, videos, songs, and selfies. It comes in four colors, and it runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with support for all the latest and greatest games (like Pokemon Go!). Two-day battery life will keep your student in-touch even if they forget to do their nightly charging routine.
WHAT THEY’LL NEED: Portable Printer
I keep reading news stories that say students don’t need printers anymore because cloud sharing and USB thumb drives have made them obsolete. That’s malarky. My daughter still has to turn in printed papers and projects nearly every single day. For an inexpensive answer to all kinds of printer-needs, take a look at the HP DeskJet 3700 ($69.99). HP calls it the “world’s smallest all-in-one printer,” and at the size of a shoebox, it is a nice size for a dorm room or desk. It’s also wireless, comes in different colors and lets you print, scan, and copy. HP’s instant ink feature delivers refills to your door step or dorm room too.
WHAT THEY’LL WANT: Backup Storage and Power
There’s nothing worse than having a high-tech gadget fail you simply because you ran out of juice or fell victim to any number of common data bugs. Wattzup has a huge lineup of adorable battery packs ($39.99) that look amazing and perform even better. They come in cute shapes, like emoji’s, ice cream cones and pizza slices, and pack a big 2,600mAh charge to refuel whatever gadget has run low. When it comes to peace of mind for data, you can’t go wrong with Seagate’s Expansion drives (starting at $49.99). They’re compact and durable but can store huge amounts of data — enough to completely backup a computer in the event of total hardware failure. It’s super portable and with the latest USB 3.0 technology, it’s also blazingly fast.
WHAT THEY’LL WANT: Headphones
With professors and teachers barking at them all day, you can bet that a nice pair of headphones will be right at the top of your kids’ back to school wish list. Monster’s Ghostbuster-themed on-ear headphones ($119.95) are eye-catching and built to last, and who doesn’t love that classic Ghostbusters logo? And if earbuds are more what they’re after, Skullcandy’s Smokin’ Buds (starting at $47.99) are built to last, and come in a bunch of different colors and styles — even wireless. The best part is that Skullcandy is right in the middle of its back to school sale, which means up to 20% off your order.
WHAT THEY’LL WANT: Smart Waterbottles
Moving from high-quality headphones to high-tech hydration, Gululu ($99) is part water bottle, part virtual pet. The bottle actually reminds your kids to get their recommended daily water intake by turning it into a fun, simple game. Every time your child takes a sip, the colorful virtual character displayed on the built-in display grows, kind of like those Tamagochi pets that everyone was addicted to years ago. For older kids, the Hydra Smartbottle ($59) is like the Swiss Army knife of water bottles. It’s a 20-ounce water bottle that charges gadgets – can fully recharge an iPhone about 2-and-a-half times, Bluetooth speaker and there’s also multicolor LEDs that turn it into a safety lantern or to add color-changing strobe lights for those impromptu dorm room dance-off’s.
There’s more students will want and need, and this is just the beginning out of our back to school gadget news. Next up, how to tech-out dorms on a dime.