UPDATE: Microsoft Australia is currently offering a discount of 15% on its Surface Pro and Surface Book range to for students and teachers. Head over to the online Microsoft Store to find out if you're eligible.
A brand new year is a time for joyous celebration, yet parents and students alike loathe January for the same reason: the new school year is about to start.
With technology evolving in leaps and bounds, it’s not enough to just get a shiny new calculator to get ahead in class. Even as early as primary school, your child may need some pretty advanced tech just to keep up with the ever-changing academic environment and teaching methodology.
With the new term not too far away, we’re here to help you figure out what tech you need to buy so your child has gets an advantage in class. We’re not only bringing together all the best deals on classroom tech but also listing out some basic tips that every parents needs when shopping to fill a backpack.
Best back-to-school laptops and 2-in-1s
Apple MacBook Air: One of the thinnest notebooks around, the MacBook Air might not have seen any major refreshes in the last year, but it’s undeniably one of the best laptops for students. With a battery that can last through the day, the MacBook Air is one of the most affordable Apple laptops in the market.
Microsoft Surface Laptop: Jumping back to the Windows side of the computer world, the Surface Laptop is the closest competitor to MacBook Air. It might look like a traditional laptop, but with a PixelSense touchscreen and Alcantara keyboard, it’s anything but conventional. Featuring a full stack of U-series 7th generation Intel Core “i” processors, the Surface Laptop beats out Apple’s 12-inch MacBook any day of the week, and for a lower starting price at that. Plus students get a 15% discount when shopping at the Microsoft Store.
Asus ZenBook UX310UA: Featuring an all-aluminium chassis, this laptop comes stacked with a high quality display and an impressive swath of ports, including the latest USB-C interface. It does give the MacBook Air a run for its money, making the laptop great value for money.
Dell XPS 13: Decked out in an all-silver aluminum finish encompassing hardy internal components, the Dell XPS 13 is a force to be reckoned with. And, now that it packs 8th-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors as well as improved integrated graphics, it boasts an advantage over competing laptops. The 13-inch screen, crammed into an 11-inch body, makes it a worthy laptop that boats an extensive utility. It’s possible to get a student discount on the Dell XPS 13 by registering with the manufacturer with the code UNiDAYS.
Dell Inspiron 13 5000 2-in-1: Portable, sleek and featuring an infra-red camera for facial recognition, the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 series of 2-in-1 laptops can be used as either a traditional laptop or a Windows tablet. What makes the Inspiron 13 5000 a great choice is its value for money – its starting price point is below the four-figure mark. Add on a small student discount offered by Dell by using the code UNiDAYS to register on the manufacturer’s website and you can snag the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 convertible for lesser than its usual RRP.
Acer Aspire R3 131T: This slim 11.6-inch laptop is perfect for slipping into a shoulder bag. Weighing in at just 1.5kg, the Aspire R3 is convertible, with a touchscreen that folds back a full 360 degrees to create a Windows 10 tablet. And it comes at a price point that should please most budget-conscious parents.
Best back-to-school tablets
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 (16GB): If you’re not chasing after the Apple experience or the Apple price tag, then this Android alternative should make for an ideal companion. With a compact 8-inch screen size, this is the perfect middle-ground for comfortably browsing and studying without having to lug around too much bulk or fussing with a tiny screen.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: There are plenty of reasons to invest in the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, especially if you're after the best Android tablet on the market. It's reading and web surfing-friendly, while the new 4:3 screen and general size and shape is better suited for most things. Videos work better on its predecessor thanks to the more elongated aspect ratio, but they don't exactly look bad here. You can pick the Tab S2 up in 8-inch and 9.7-inch variants, to challenge Apple's iPad and iPad Mini ranges, with the smaller option being more portable and cheaper.
Apple iPad Mini 4 (128GB, Wi-Fi): Apple has made the latest iPad Mini 4 a sleeker and faster device. It may carry a premium price tag, but iOS 11 enhances user experience like never before. If you’re comfortable with purchasing a grey import, you could well find an iPad Mini 4 for less than the price Apple has slapped on it.
Lenovo Tab 4: Made for the family, Lenovo touts this tablet – available in 8 inches and 10 inches – as a multimedia hub. It promises great sound and excellent battery life. And if you don’t mind a tablet that’s not from Apple or Samsung, this Android-toting Tab 4 from Lenovo is a great option with a budget price tag.
Best back-to-school smartphones
Motorola Moto G5 Plus: Offering flagship features at a mid-range price, Motorola’s Moto G5 Plus is the perfect phone for your child to take to school this year. It’s got a fingerprint sensor, loads of internal storage with microSD support, Google Assistant (which will help them learn, probably), fast charging, 4K video capture capability and a premium look and feel.
Oppo A57: With a slick iPhone-like appearance and a feel that’s indistinguishable from Oppo's higher end models, the Oppo A57 will let your kids return to school in style – without breaking the budget. It’s also known for taking spectacular selfies, and which kid doesn’t want that?
iPhone SE: It may not be the best iPhone around, but it’s definitely one of the cheapest. It’s only slightly more expensive these days than the iPhone 5S but packs a number of improvements, including an excellent camera and the ability to run iOS 10.
Sony Xperia XA: With a slick high-end look and feel that resembles Sony’s own flagship handsets, the Xperia XA delivers a lot of bang for your buck. It’s got a terrific 8MP selfie camera with autofocus features, which is pretty good for a phone in this price range, and a 13MP sensor on the back for hi-res snaps.
LG Q6: Given its stunning bezel-free design that mirrors that of its flagship big brother, the LG G6, it’s amazing that a phone of this build quality can come in at such an affordable price. Its 18:9 5-inch display is beautiful, and your kids will also appreciate its wide selfie camera.
Best back-to-school accessories
Sony MDRZX110NC Noise Cancelling Headphones: If you’re looking out for some noise-cancelling headphones but you’re not keen on dropping a few hundred dollars, these cans from Sony offer a decent on-ear solution for peanuts.
Logitech MX Anywhere 2S Wireless Mouse: Logitech make exceptional computer and laptop peripherals, and the MX Anywhere 2S Wireless Mouse is one of our favourites. This mouse is portable and compact without being un-ergonomic, and with the new ‘Flow’ technology, you can rapidly switch between devices on the fly.
Marley Smile Jamaica in-ear headphones: Although almost every smartphone arrives with a pair of headphones to use out of the box, they’re very rarely any good. The Marley Smile Jamaica in-ears can often be found around the $30 mark and are a definite step up – plus, they come in some really groovy colours and are made from wood and cloth.
Brother MFC 9140CDN All-In-One Printer: If you’re looking for an all-in-one printing solution, the Brother MFC 9140CDN is a good go. Reliable and feature-packed, this unit will make handing in those assignments a breeze, and the replacement ink isn’t too steep either.
Belkin MIXITUP Power Pack: This portable battery pack from Belkin is able to charge two devices at once and, with it’s 6600mAh charge, has more than enough juice to top up your devices on the go. The device itself charges quickly via a micro-USB port, and a handy LED light indicator lets you know how much charge is left in the Pack.
Back to school shopping tips every parent needs
Back-to-school season can send both parents and students into a tizzy when hunting for the best hardware, peripherals and tools to help them in their studies.
While buying a lot of new items that need to go into a school backpack can make this time of year an expensive one, there are a number of shopping tips you should know to make sure you get the best possible deals on the hardware and gadgets that you – or any student you know – need to make studying at school, college or university, as easy and as fun as possible.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of eight back to school shopping tips that every parent needs to know while searching for back to school sales.
1. Know what you’re looking for
Before you hop frantically between online stores, buying all sorts of gadgets and gizmos for students, you can save yourself a lot of time, money and energy by making a list of the essentials they need to buy.
A student’s needs will vary depending on their age, the academic institution they are attending and the courses they are taking. So it is worth making sure you know what they need before you buy. Talking to teachers or lecturers, and studying any information you or the student have been sent about their course, will help you draw up a list of essentials.
2. Make use of our guides
Not to toot our our own horn (well, OK, maybe a little bit), but we have some excellent back to school guides that can help you find and buy the perfect back to school devices.
If you’re thinking of buying a laptop for yourself, or a student you know, and are not sure where to begin, check out our guide on how to buy the perfect back to school PC for any student.
Then there’s our list of 10 best laptops for college for a rundown of the very best selection.
If you’re looking for a bargain, then check out our best laptop deals page for a constantly-updated list of the very best offers.
We’ve even got a list of the best power banks you can get to make sure your kids’ devices are charged up.
3. Don’t just get flashy devices
We’re all guilty of going for devices with stylish designs that boast tons of features that we’re not realistically going to use, but when buying a laptop – or any other device – for students going back to school, restraint in this area is essential.
As much as we all love to have gorgeously-designed devices we can pull out and wow people with, it can add costs to the overall price of the gadget, and it’s not a priority for students. With laptops being slung in bags, carried around campus and left under piles of clothes, those beautifully-designed bits of hardware won’t look very good for long, so you’d be better off going for something that’s built more robustly.
Having glitzy and glamorous-looking hardware can also make them more appealing for thieves as well.
4. Take advantage of student offers
One of the best things about being a student (apart from all the parties) is that you’re eligible for many money-saving offers, so when back to school season rolls around, make sure you make the most out of these.
For example, Microsoft, Lenovo and Dell offer discounts for students. So if you’re looking for a Windows laptop or a tablet from one of these manufacturers, make sure you out their websites before making a purchase. It could save you some serious cash.
Apple offers discounts for students, so if you’re looking to get a Mac or iPad for school, make sure you check out our guide on how to get a student discount on Apple products – it could save you some serious amounts of cash.
With more student discounts available in the US, Australian students can apply for an International Student Identity Card, giving them access to a number of special deals, even via the Unidays website. Australian students can also check out Student Edge for deals.
5. Don’t be scared of second hand or refurbished kit
You can bag yourself a serious bargain by looking at second hand kit – especially refurbished hardware. This is hardware that has been professionally repaired and often comes with a warranty, so you can buy with confidence that although it is second hand, it is still as good as new.
We’ve partnered with eBay to bring you a guide on why refurbished buying is the perfect way to replace your old laptop.
6. Refresh old hardware
Speaking of old hardware, if you have an ageing laptop that’s not being used much anymore, then it could find a new lease of life as a back to school laptop. If it’s running Windows and feels a bit slow, follow our guide on how to reinstall Windows. This is a great way to give an older machine a new lease of life.
You could also look into upgrading the hard drive to a solid state drive (SSD), which can give the laptop a much needed speed boost.
Finally, you can help prolong the life of an old laptop by replacing Windows with a lightweight Linux distribution. These are operating systems that have been specially designed to run on older hardware, which means you’ll still get a fast and responsive experience no matter the age or power of your machine. Many Windows programs have Linux versions – or there will be (free) alternatives to use. Check out our list of the best lightweight Linux distros to help you choose.
7. Shop on Black Friday or Boxing Day
If you can make a list by November, you can save yourself some serious dosh on back-to-school supplies when the big Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day sales roll around at the end of the year, as shops – both online and traditional stores – cut prices for a huge range of products.
8. Use free software alternatives
Buying software, such as office suites and photo editors can be expensive. While specialist programs needed for certain courses may not have free alternatives, but many common programs do.
So, if you or the student you know needs a word processor, or has to create spreadsheets or presentations, instead of splashing out on Microsoft Office, you could consider installing the excellent free alternative LibreOffice, which has many of the same features. For more choices, check out our best free office software guide.
For students who need to make a lot of presentations, head over to our list of the best free presentation software.
While students are away from home, you’ll want to make sure they – and the devices they use – are fully protected from internet threats, and there are some great free security applications out there.
You’ll also want to make sure that any important coursework is properly backed up – as losing months of hard work and studying can be catastrophic, so make sure you visit our best free file recovery software roundup to help recover any missing files, and our best free backup software list.