Back to SchoolGadget Guide

Yes, we know it’s only the beginning of August but, it’s not too soon to start thinking about important back to school gadgets you need to consider for yourself or the student in your life. Here’s a rundown of the essential back to school gear you should consider along with some fun accessories.

Back to School Gadget Guide
Lots of computers to choose from

Even if you already have an older computer there are lots of reasons to buy a new computer for school. Not only can you get a lot of computing power for your money these days along with the latest operating systems but there are many new types of computers to choose from including Chromebooks, convertible laptops and tablets.

Apple Desktop Windows Desktop
Desktops Are Still a Good Choice

Although you can’t take a desktop to a lecture hall or the library, a desktop computer offers lots of value for students with powerful graphics engines, lots of memory and storage, the ability to use multiple monitors or a “real” keyboard, mouse and don’t forget all other accessories you can add like a good pair of speakers. The big question for a desktop will be whether to go with Apple or Windows. You typically get more for your money with Windows but Apple provides an easy to use interface and comprehensive eco-system.

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Apple iMac Apple Mac Pro New Apple Mac Pro

You still pay a premium for Apple desktops but you get a beautifully designed machine like the very large 27-inch Apple iMac which will cost you around $1800, the $2500 quad-core Mac Pro desktop or you could wait for the brand new space age looking new Apple Mac Pro due out later this year. Our recommendation is, unless you’re doing creative work like producing something with Photoshop, you’d probably be better off with an iMac.

Lenovo IdeaCentre A730 Dell XPS 8700 Gateway DX4860

On the Windows side you can get an all-in-one PC like the 27-inch, $1500 Lenovo IdeaCentre A730 Desktop that does an iMac one better with its touchscreen which makes using Windows 8 more fun. For more value look for desktops like the Dell XPS 8700 for around $800 or the Gateway DX4860 for around $500.

Apple Macbook Pro Toshiba Satellite
Thin and Light Laptops

Your choice here, again is Apple vs. Windows. Apple provides a friendly ecosystem that ties together other products like iPads and Apple TVs along with backups to external hard drives or the Cloud. MacBooks range in price from the 13-inch $1200 MacBook Pro and 15-inch $1800 MacBook Pro to the 13-inch $1700 MacBook Air with Retina display. You typically get more for you money with a Windows laptop and you can still get something thin and light like the 13-inch Sony VAIO Pro for around $1249, the $1120 14-inch Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon or the more affordable $800 14-inch Toshiba Satellite.

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga
For the Best of Both Worlds Consider a Convertible

There’s a new category of laptops called convertibles that offer features of a laptop and tablet in one device. You get a touchscreen display and a “real” keyboard” in a device that converts from one mode to the other like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga with its swiveling display or the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 that has a detachable touchscreen display.

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Acer Chromebook Samsung Chromebook
Chromebooks Are Another Laptop Option

Chromebooks lack some of the components of laptops like a large hard drive and a full blown operating system like Mac OS or Windows but you get a light and cheap laptop with a long battery life and a 10 second boot-up time that needs to be connected to the Internet in order to function fully. There are still only a handful of Chromebooks to choose from but if you’re looking for a trouble-free and inexpensive alternative to a laptop, Chromebooks are an option worth considering. You can pick up a Samsung or Acer Chromebook for around $250 - $300.


There probably isn’t a student who wouldn’t want a tablet to take to school but we’re not sure every student actually needs one. Tablets can come in very handy for reading and looking up information. They can also be very handy for wasting time playing games or watching movies and YouTube videos. Furthermore, without an add-on keyboard we don’t see a tablet being a great note taker. On the other hand, there are plenty of apps that could come in handy for school work so if you’re convinced a tablet makes sense for school be prepared to spend over $500 for a large 9.7-inch iPad, $329 for a 7.9-inch iPad Mini or something on the Android side like the $400 Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1-inch. The new and improved Nexus 7 with some impressive new specs is about to go on sale for $239 for the 16GB version.

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Accessories your student may need

Once you've taken care of the big ticket item like a computer you'll want to consider some of
the accessories.

Viewsonic VG2236wm-LED ASUS VE278Q
External Monitor Boosts Productivity

We think adding an extra monitor to a laptop or a desktop makes a lot of sense. Most computers can accommodate a second screen allowing you to view more things at the same time like a web page on one screen and a Word doc on the other. High resolution monitors can also serve as high definition TV screens for watching movies or playing games. Widescreen monitors are not even that expensive with the 22-inch ViewSonic VG2236wm-LED costing around $200 or the 27-inch ASUS VE278Q at $275.

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Belkin’s stylish quilted Notebook Carrying Case Pegasus SwissGear Backpack
Cases and Backpacks to Hold Laptops

Although a laptop case can be a tipoff for a thief on the lookout for a laptop to grab, they can still protect a laptop against damage. There are plenty of laptop cases to choose from including Belkin’s stylish quilted Notebook Carrying Case which goes for around $30. The Pegasus SwissGear Backpack can hold up to a 17-inch laptop and gets high marks for durability.

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Logitech Tablet Keyboard Tablet Keyboard Makes For Better Note Taking

Some tablet owners have become proficient on the soft keyboards found on tablets and smartphones but generally a physical keyboard makes for faster and more accurate typing. Bluetooth keyboards for laptops are very common and don’t cost all that much money. You can but the Logitech Tablet Keyboard that connects to Apple products or Android devices via Bluetooth for around $70.

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Kensington ClickSafe Keyed Laptop Lock Lojack
Keep Your Students Laptop Secure

We know students have a lot on their minds and are always leaving their laptops in places where they can be easily stolen. To help keep laptops from being removed you can buy cables like the $45 Kensington ClickSafe Keyed Laptop Lock that attaches to laptops with the T-Bar™ locking mechanism found in most laptops. To help recover a lost or stolen laptop you can install a product like LoJack which can also be used on smartphones to help police locate missing units.

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Smartphones Smartphones and Phablets Combine Lots of Gadgets

An Android, iOS, Windows or other smartphone can be a wise investment for a student. Not only can they be used to take photos and videos, help find the way with its GPS, serve as a clock radio, or voice recorder but there are plenty of useful academic-type apps that can help any student with schoolwork. You’ll have to balance the expense of the phone and service with the value your student gets out of one but we think it’s a good investment. The hot smartphones today are the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One or the soon to become available 5-inch waterproof Sony Xperia Z.

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There is a new class of smartphones that have very large screens and even a stylus, called phablets (phone + tablet). If you don’t think holding something the size of a thin paperback book up to your ear to make a call, a phablet with its increased viewing area might make sense. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with its large 5.3-inch AMOLED display is a popular phablet with many others to choose from. The rumored 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 is supposedly waiting in the wings. The 5.5-inch 440 ppi LG Optimus G Pro is another popular phablet. For more phablet news, check out this article on Retrevo.

Lifeproof iPhone 5 case Smartphone Accessories

Along with a smartphone or phablet, there are lots of accessories to consider. Although some new phones with their Gorrilla Glass screens are pretty rugged, a case like LifeProof Frē iPhone 5 case will probably be one of the first things to buy not only for protection against bumps and drops but to “personalize” it with colors, textures and designs. Some phones now claim to be water resistant but you can also send a phone out to companies like Liquipel, HzO, Neverwet and P2i who offer similar nano-polymer coatings that repel water.

Plantronics Voyage Legend Jawbone Jambox JBL Charge

A Bluetooth headset will not only keep your student from getting in trouble when using their phone in the car but can be useful for hands-free calling. You can get a Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics Voyage Legend or a Bluetooth speaker like Jawbone’s Jambox for around $200 or JBL’s Charge with a 6,000 mAh rechargeable battery for around $150.

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