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Back to school tech guide (2019 edition)
Summer draws to a close and the new school year is just around the corner. There’s one thing to get excited about before classes begin though – Back to school shopping! Good tech is as essential as pens, pencils, and notebooks (probably more so now). To save you the trouble of sorting through countless options, here are our picks for best back to school tech you can get your hands on.
Best back to school tech:
- Smartphones: OnePlus 7 Pro, Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL, Moto G7 series
- Laptops: Asus Zenbook 14 (2019 edition), Acer Chromebook Spin 13
- Video streaming: Google Chromecast 3rd Gen, Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Smart speakers and displays: Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen, Google Nest Hub Max
- Bluetooth speakers: JBL Charge 4, Anker Soundcore Flare
- Wireless headphones: Sony WH-1000 MX3, Creative Outlier Air
- Fitness trackers: Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, Fitbit Charge 3
- Other tech essentials: Lenovo Smart Clock, Rocketbook Fusion reusable notebook, Mancro smart backpack
OnePlus 7 Pro
Our pick for one of the best phones you can buy is the OnePlus 7 Pro. It may be the most expensive OnePlus yet, but the 7 Pro is still at least a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than most other 2019 flagships. High-end specifications and features, a beautiful all-screen front, a pop-up selfie camera, and incredible bang for your buck make for a very enticing package.
Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL
For an excellent smartphone camera at a budget-friendly price, the Pixel 3a and the Pixel 3a XL are the way to go. They have mid-range specs and a plastic build, but retain the fantastic camera setup of its flagship siblings, the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL.
Motorola Moto G7 series
If you’re looking for even more affordable options, Motorola’s G series fits the bill. The latest devices – the Moto G7, Moto G7 Power, and Moto G7 Play – are some of the best cheap phones you can get.
The entry-level G7 Play is the cheapest of the lot. While the G7 Power is a touch more expensive, its selling point is the huge 5,000mAh battery it packs. Finally, the Moto G7 is the mid-range offering that comes with a more powerful processor, higher resolution display, and better camera, but is also priced at under $250.
Asus Zenbook 14 (2019)
The 2019 edition of the Asus Zenbook 14 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an extremely slim, light, and ultra-portable laptop. Asus’ new Zenbooks come with the innovative Screen Pad 2.0, that’s basically a trackpad that doubles as a 5.65-inch interactive touchscreen. Even with its high-end specifications, the new Zenbook 14 is relatively affordable as well.
Acer Chromebook Spin 13
If you’re looking for a Chromebook that doesn’t cut any corners, the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 is a great choice. It comes with a large, high-resolution display, premium looks, and giving the device its name is a 360-degree hinge that lets you rotate the screen and use it as a large tablet. A stylus is also available, that docks into the base. There are cheaper Chromebooks out there, but the Spin 13 gives you everything you’ll need from a laptop.
Video streaming devices
Google Chromecast 3rd Generation
Video streaming devices are an affordable way to cut the cord. With numerous apps and streaming services, you’ll easily find all your content online. And with devices like the Chromecast, you can enjoy your favorite shows and movies on any TV. The Chromecast is affordable, and gets even cheaper with excellent deals that are available around major sales events and holidays. The Chromecast Ultra sets you back a little more, but lets you stream 4K content.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV Stick offers similar functionality, but works as a standalone streaming device. Basically, you won’t need your phone to watch something when using the Fire TV Stick. A lot of apps are pre-installed, and more are available in the app store. The Fire TV Stick is quite cheap, with a more expensive 4K-capable model also available.
Smart speakers and displays
Amazon Echo Dot
The Echo Dot is one of the best, and more importantly, affordable smart speakers around. You can take advantage of a slew of Alexa skills, and use the device to completely control your smart home products with your voice. You’ll want to upgrade to the regular Amazon Echo if great sound quality is what you’re after. But as far as affordable options go, the Echo Dot is a great option.
Google Nest Hub Max
On the other side of the size and feature spectrum is the Google Nest Hub Max. This super-sized Nest Hub (previously known as the Google Home Hub) comes with a 10-inch high-resolution display, a built-in Nest Cam that can be used for security and video-calling, and excellent audio quality. You can save a decent chunk of money with the regular Nest Hub, but if you want one of the best smart displays around, the Max is the way to go.
JBL Charge 4
If you’re looking for one of the best Bluetooth speakers around, it doesn’t get much better than the JBL Charge 4. It’s portable, offers solid battery life, isn’t too harsh on the wallet, and most importantly, features excellent sound quality. Giving the Charge 4 its name is the fact that you can charge other devices while using the speaker with a built-in USB-A port.
Anker Soundcore Flare
The Anker Soundcore Flare gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It’s a good-looking speaker, and the ring of flashing lights won’t look out of place in a dorm room or house party. It features impressive sound quality and is a great option for those who don’t want to splurge on a Bluetooth speaker.
Sony WH-1000 MX3
The Sony WH-1000 MX3 may not have the most easy-to-remember name, but what is noteworthy is the fact that it’s one of the best headphones you can buy. These Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones feature some of the best active noise-canceling around, and of course, the sound quality is fantastic. It’s certainly expensive, but you won’t have to worry about upgrading these for a while.
Creative Outlier Air
The Creative Outlier Air is definitely an outlier when compared to the current range of true wireless earbuds around. The battery life is far better than what I’ve got with any other true wireless earphones, the sound quality is really good, and it’s surprisingly cheap for what it has to offer. Not everyone wants or needs to spend three or four hundred dollars on headphones. If that’s the case, the Creative Outlier Air is one of the best in the affordable segment.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music
Want to know how many steps it takes to get from one class to another? A fitness tracker will do that for you. Of course, some, like the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music, are capable of a lot more. Everything we loved about the Vivoactive 3 returns, and adds music storage of up to 500 songs. It’s a fantastic running watch with a built-in GPS, heart rate monitor, 5ATM water resistance rating, Garmin Pay support, and seven-day battery life, and is one of our favorite multi-sport fitness trackers.
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit’s Charge 3 is the best fitness tracker you can buy for under $150. Its classy and versatile design means it looks good in the office and at the gym. It’s also water-resistant and has one of the more accurate wrist-based heart rate sensors we’ve tried on a wearable. It offers a great software experience, plenty of smartwatch features, and a battery that can last almost a week on a single charge. There’s no GPS, but you’ll only need that if you’re a runner.
Lenovo Smart Clock
The Lenovo Smart Clock is basically a Google Assistant-powered smart display that’s disguised as an alarm clock. It can run your smart home, play music, help you manage your calendar, and a lot more. More importantly, it’s an excellent alarm clock, which shows the time using large numbers, gets suitably loud, and can be hit (lightly) on the head to shut off the alarm.
Rocketbook Fusion reusable notebook
Rocketbook is a traditional notebook at first glance that you write in with a pen. What makes this special is that you can then save your notes to a cloud storage service of your choice, wipe the ink away, and reuse the page many times. If you’re a diligent notetaker, you can go through multiple notebooks in a semester. Instead, a one-time investment in the Rocketbook can help you save a lot of money. And it’s actually pretty cool.
Mancro smart backpack
The Mancro smart backpack comes with a large pocket that can comfortably hold a 15.6-inch laptop. There are also multiple slots and pockets for pens, textbooks, and other gadgets that you’ll need. You can also keep ID and credit card information safe by keeping your wallet in an RFID-blocking pocket. A USB port (that can be connected to a power bank) on the bag lets you charge your device while on the go.
That’s it for this roundup of the best back to school tech!