The Best Tech Products for Back-to-School of 2019By Rachel Murphy, August 06, 2019
It’s that time of year again: Back-to-school season is almost here. You probably already know the basic school supplies your little one or teen needs for the year ahead, but what about the non-traditional necessities that aren’t on the classroom supply list? Whether your kid is heading off to college or still in grade school, we’ve rounded up the best tech that your student needs as they head into a new school year like our favorite laptop for students, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA (available at Amazon).
(Will your student be living on campus this fall semester? Check out 10 smart home products for your dorm room that are actually worth it.)
With the use of smartboards and other digital learning applications, going back to the classroom means more than just buying glue sticks and No. 2 pencils nowadays. If you’ve got a kid going to college, then a laptop with storage and robust battery life is a must. For the kids still in grade school, a tablet to play educational games on can help reinforce what they’ve learned during the school day. However, it’s important to make sure you’re buying quality products, and that’s where we come in. We’ve done all of the testing for you and have compiled our top picks for the best tech products for back to school.
Yootech X2Best Charging Stand
After a long day on campus, your student’s phone battery is probably close to empty. If they're headed back out for after school events, they can quickly charge their phone using our favorite wireless charging stand. It can power a device in under three hours. Of the 14 wireless chargers we tested, the Yootech X2 Wireless Charging Stand offered the best combination of fast charging and versatility. And, the cost won’t break the bank while you’re paying for other back-to-school essentials.
During our tests, the X2 charged a Samsung Note 8 in just over 2.5 hours and Apple’s iPhone XS in just under three hours. Its dual charging coils makes it possible to charge a smartphone in either landscape or portrait orientation, without any loss in charging power. Plus, its small footprint means that it won’t take up much space in a dorm room. Missing, however, is a USB charger, so you’ll have to consider this additional cost as part of the X2’s total purchase price if you don’t have one already.
JLab Audio Epic Sport Wireless
JLab Audio Epic Sport WirelessBest Wireless Headphones
Looking for a pair of earbuds to rock around campus? The JLab Audio Epic Sport earbuds is our top pick for the best wireless headphones. The JLab Audio Epic Sport earbuds are billed as an "upgrade" to the popular JLab Audio Epic2 Bluetooth Wireless headphones, despite typically selling for about the same price.
The Epic Sport comes with JLab's signature bendable ear hooks, multiple ear tip sizes, and three types of cush fins to help the buds stay in place while you’re walking from class to class. The audio can still sound a bit tinny and lacking in bass, especially if the fit isn't perfect, but JLab Audio has really gone the extra mile by building in three "sound profiles": one that augments vocals and bass, one that has a flat profile with no extra enhancements (best for those looking for studio-like audio), and one that boosts the bass notes.
With an IP66 rating (able to withstand both dust and "powerful water jets"), the Epic Sport should be able to withstand rigorous workouts during after school sports activities. Another high point is the satisfyingly long battery life which, in our experience, clocks in at over 12 hours. The skinny wires may make it easy to break the headphones, so be sure to pack up these earbuds in their case when not in use.
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CABest Laptops for Students
It's pricier than your average Chromebook, but if you're hunting for a sophisticated-looking machine for your student to do their schoolwork on, then you can't get much better than this. It looks and feels like a premium machine without the premium price tag.
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, is a pure productivity machine—and the best laptop for students. It's easily fast enough to handle simple tasks like streaming Netflix or surfing the web and is surprisingly zippy for a Chromebook.
The Flip feels genuinely well-built, too. The aluminum body is slim and lightweight but doesn't bow under pressure. The convertible hinge design also lets you rotate the lid all the way around so you can use it as a tablet, making it easier to share information in a classroom setting. (P.S. If you’re looking for a case to carry your new machine in, take a look at our recommendations for the best laptop sleeves.)
Amazon Echo (2nd Generation)
Amazon Echo (2nd Generation)Best Amazon Echo Smart Speaker
Need a hands-free way for your child to easily keep track of their class schedule? The Amazon Echo is our recommendation for the best Echo smart speaker. The device is full of more than 80,000 Alexa skills like calendar management and reminders that can help you stay on task this semester. Have a younger kid in the home? Alexa can help with homework, play games, and set timers. While every Echo device has access to the same Alexa skills and features, we found the second-generation Echo offers the best blend of quality performance and value.
It's got great sound quality, so your kids can listen to music while they study. And, it has an auxiliary input and Bluetooth if they want to connect it to a larger speaker. The Echo also uses far-field voice recognition so Alexa can hear you even if you're in the next room.
At the time of publication, the “Charcoal” color was unavailable, but the “Sandstone” color is in stock. Although there’s a newer version available, the Echo (2nd generation) is still a great option that will save you money.
RavPower Turbo Series
RavPower Turbo SeriesBest USB Battery Pack
My phone battery is always draining faster than I’d prefer throughout the day, which is why a powerful and portable phone charger is a must for those afternoons when your student’s mobile battery is almost empty. Our favorite USB battery pack is the RavPower Turbo Series 20100mAh because it offers the best combination of flexibility, capacity, and affordability. This one is good for your busy student to carry in their backpack or car because it can hold several smartphone charges before needing to gas up again. The charger also did well powering up a Nintendo Switch and MacBook Pro (but very slowly).
Although the pack’s capacity makes it heftier than some of the smaller battery packs we tested (don’t worry, it won’t weigh down your backpack), the 13.4-ounce RavPower Turbo Series is slim enough to slide into your purse or bag without taking up too much depth. There are two USB ports (one of which offers Quick Charge support) and a USB Type-C port, giving it an edge over its closest competitors. At around $50 on Amazon, the RavPower Turbo Series is affordably priced for students, especially given its size and versatility.
Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition
Where To Buy$129.99 Amazon Buy
Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids EditionBest Tablets for Kids
If you have younger kids returning to the classroom this fall, check out our top choice for the best tablets for kids. It’s easy to set up, simple to use, passed our drop test and comes with so many pre-installed apps and videos it would take some time for your child to grow tired of it.
The best thing about the Fire tablet is how stocked it is with easily accessible, ad-free, and fun content. Each Fire tablet comes with one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited. It provides access to more than 13,000 apps, games, videos, books and other content from PBS Kids, Disney, and more. Oh, and the Fire comes with robust parental controls that allow you to limit your child's screen time and what he or she can play. There’s also an added educational layer in the Fire tablet. You can require your child to log a set number of minutes using educational apps before moving on to videos or games.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo ClassicBest Instant Camera
The first day of school—no matter what ages your kids are—is a big milestone for many parents. I make my daughter take pictures on the front porch on the first and last days of school each year, but the photos usually just end up stored away on my phone, rarely to be looked at again. This year, consider capturing your special back-to-school moments using a film camera like our favorite instant camera, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic.
It’s a great camera to send your older child off to college with, too, so they can take pictures with friends. The 900 is the most full-featured Fujifilm instant photo camera right now. The only drawback to this model is that it costs significantly more than what most people might want to spend. Its $180 MSRP is rarely what it costs at retail, but it's still quite a bit more than the $60-$100 that seems to be the sweet spot for most people.
HP Chromebook 11-v031nr
HP Chromebook 11-v031nrBest Laptop Under $200
Looking for a more affordable laptop option for back-to-school time? Check out The HP Chromebook 11-v031nr. It’s our favorite laptop for under $200 and is adequate in the best sense of the word. What do we mean? Well, it has what your child needs when it comes to schoolwork, and nothing else. The portable computer clocks in at around 2.5 pounds, so it won’t weigh down your backpack.
This HP Chromebook has a clear and fairly bright 11.6-inch,1,368 by 768-pixel display. The keyboard is large and comfortable to type on, and the touchpad is large and responsive, recognizing left (one finger) and right (two-finger) mouse clicks without issues. The battery life is pretty good, lasting an impressive 9 hours and 34 minutes on our browsing battery test. One downside is limited storage space, but you can add more by plugging in a micro SD card.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018)
Where To Buy$149.99 Amazon Buy
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018)Best Kindle
Students can enjoy reading on the 10th Generation Kindle Paperwhite. Not only is it the latest version of Amazon’s most popular Kindle, but it’s also our selection for the best Kindle you can get. Its waterproof design and Audible audiobook functionality set it apart from previous versions. Since it’s Audible-ready, users can switch from e-book to audiobook, provided they have an Audible account. But, since there isn’t a headphone jack or external speakers, you’ll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones to connect to the Paperwhite.
The newest Paperwhite features a 6-inch, 300-ppi e-ink display with a built-in light and 24 levels of brightness, which we found to be robust enough for even the brightest, sunniest settings. The battery life lasts well over a week, too, and there’s plenty of storage space for your student.
Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Kids Headphones
Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Kids HeadphonesBest Headphones for Kids
When my daughter entered kindergarten last year, a pair of headphones was one of the items on her school supply list. I picked up a cheap pair, but I wish I’d known about the Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Kids Headphones. Out of the nine child-friendly headphones our editors tested, we think that the Puro Sound Labs are the best headphones for kids.
These are a bit pricier than our previous favorite—the Puro BT2200—but they offer a killer new feature: noise cancellation. Though it may seem like a luxury feature for many children, it's an awesome addition for kids who have sensory issues. For other children, the noise-cancellation helps reduce the urge to crank the volume to the absolute max.
Though volume-limiting headphones are critical for protecting your child's hearing, the recommended max of 85dBA simply isn't very loud. These headphones help solve that by further cutting down ambient noise. Headphones that cost around $100 (or higher) can be pricey for younger kids who are likely to forget them somewhere (or simply break them), but for an older kid wanting nicer headphones, these are worth the investment.
Roku Ultra (2017)
Roku Ultra (2017)Best Media Streaming Device
For the college-bound kid, no dorm room would be complete without a way to stream Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and your child’s other favorite networks. The Roku Ultra is our favorite streaming device because it supports 4K content and HDR at up to 60 frames per second, comes with Roku’s most advanced remote, and has a button on the box will force your remote to make a noise (because inevitably it will get lost under the bed or behind the desk).
The remote is still the easiest to use of all the major players, and it now features power/volume buttons that work with your college student’s TV. The remote is perfectly sized, can be operated via voice control, has buttons to quickly access popular services, and even includes a headphone jack so you can plug in headphones and listen to what you’re streaming wirelessly—perfect for late-night binge sessions after a full day of classes.
Eufy Robovac 11S
Eufy Robovac 11SBest Robot Vacuum
This robot vacuum has dual purposes for parents and students. If your son or daughter is going off to college this fall, help them keep their space clean with our favorite robot vacuum for the money, the Eufy Robovac 11S. The Robovac can also be a lifesaver for caregivers and parents who need help keeping their home tidy during the busy back-to-school season.
During our testing, the 11S picked up around 11.6 grams of dirt per run, more than what most iRobot models manage. During operation, the 11S is quiet, rarely making enough noise to interrupt a conversation or a midnight study sesh. The combination of good dirt pickup and quiet operation make the 11S one of our favorite robot vacuums.
Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt
Schlage Encode Smart WiFi DeadboltBest Smart Lock
If your teen will be coming home to an empty house after school, our favorite smart lock is going to be a lifesaver if he or she ever loses the house key. The Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt is a solid, easy-to-use smart lock that works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Ring, Amazon Key, and Schlage Home. Unlike most other smart locks, the Schlage Encode has WiFi built into the lock itself. That means that, even without a hub, Encode can connect to the internet, voice assistants, and your phone when you’re away from home.
The device can store and remember up to 100 permanent, temporary, and recurring passcodes. So, you can set a specific code just for your student to use after school. Or, if your college-aged kid is coming home for the weekend, you can set a code for they can use as they come and go.
Anker Soundcore 2
Anker Soundcore 2Best Portable Speaker Under $50
A Bluetooth speaker like the Anker Soundcore 2 will likely be one of your student’s favorite back-to-school tech items. It’s our favorite portable Bluetooth speaker under $50 because it’s basic, straightforward, useful, and comes in a variety of colors. It features a sturdy rectangular design with big, easy-to-push buttons and a very tightly sealed set of inputs for USB charging and a 3.5 input.
During testing, our editors noted that the SoundCore 2 is portable and fairly lightweight, and it has less tinniness in its trebles than a lot of portable Bluetooth speakers and more bass presence. Between the low price point and the wide array of colors, it's a very clear value pick as far as portable speakers for students go.
Apple Watch Series 4
Apple Watch Series 4Best Smartwatch
The Apple Watch Series 4 smartwatch is our top recommendation for the best smartwatches right now. We tested the 40mm with GPS and GPS/LTE version and it does almost everything better than every other smartwatch we’ve come across. Many free apps can help your older child stay active, study, track sleep, order food, check transit schedules, and more.
The minimalist watch keeps a note of all smartphone notifications, makes phone calls, and sends text messages. Your student will enjoy listening to music, podcasts, and maybe even previously-recorded classroom lectures without needing their cell phone (provided the watch is outfitted with GPS/LTE).