You already know their basic tech necessities – a laptop, a smartphone, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. These days, however, matriculating kids require more than the usual essentials to survive college life, which means that the best tech for college students, especially in 2021, extends beyond that list.
Which ones should make that expanded tech checklist only college kids would know. That’s why we consulted with one to put together these recommendations while also utilizing our expertise. A few in this guide below are so obvious you’ll probably be kicking yourself for not thinking of it before, others not so. Many of you probably didn’t even know they existed until now.
This back to school season, some of the best gadgets for students in college are things you never even knew they needed. Lucky for you, you have us to set you off to a good start. Pick these up, and they’ll never want for anything again. Or at least for the next four years.
1. Acer Spin 5 (2020)
Dorm rooms are notoriously small and can get pretty cramped pretty quickly, which is why minimization is key. That’s why students should get a 2-in-1 laptop like the Acer Spin 5. Instead of having a tablet, a TV and a laptop cluttering their space, they have a single device that does all that and more. It’s an economical route as well because you’re just paying for that one device.
There are other popular 2-in-1 laptops out there, but it’s this mighty offering from Acer that gets our vote for college students. It delivers excellent performance, a long battery life, a display with an aspect ratio ideal for note-taking, and a feature-rich stylus that’s included without upping the price way beyond a college kid’s budget.
2. ChargeTree Swing
Another excellent minimalist solution for dorm rooms is an all-in-one charging station for their wireless charging needs – because these days, who even uses cables anymore? It minimizes a college kid’s collection of device chargers to just one compact station and reduces the need for pesky cables that only add to the clutter.
There are many options on Amazon, but if you want a tried and tested recommendation, ChargeTree Swing from STM Goods is the one to get. This wireless charging station is surprisingly lightweight and compact – with a smartwatch charging pad arm that easily swings back when you need it out of the way – yet robust and reliable. It charges a smartphone, a smartwatch and an Airpods wireless charging case all at once without taking up much space. Unfortunately, it only comes with a USB-C cable, so be sure to have an available USB-C port on hand.
3. XGIMI MoGo Pro+
While a 2-in-1 laptop is more than enough for watching movies and shows solo, larger screens are preferable for post-school entertainment with friends. But, of course, having a TV set isn’t exactly conducive to an uncluttered, stress-free dorm room, which is why mini projectors make for better solutions. They’re more affordable than regular-sized projectors and take up much less space than actual TVs.
We’ve tested a few of these mini projectors, and so far, it’s the XGIMI MoGo Pro+ that we recommend the most. It’s incredibly compact and relatively lightweight – so much so they’re just the right companion for quick weekenders – while delivering impressive 1080p viewing performance and a built-in battery to see you through a whole movie. For even more convenience, it’ll let you install most of the vital streaming apps so you won’t need to connect a streaming device, and it has Google Assistant built-in so you won’t have to search for titles manually. Its Harman-Kardon speakers could be better, but pair it with a more powerful Bluetooth speaker, and it’s all set.
4. iOttie Auto Sense Wireless Car Charger
Car phone holders are just as beneficial to college kids as they are to adults, especially those that juggle both school and work. Sadly, they can be annoying to use as well, many requiring users to manually pry the arms apart often with great effort just to mount their phones. Having to do that extra step isn’t exactly convenient and can be a pain when you’re already running late for class.
It’s a good thing that iOttie has come up with a terrific solution. The manufacturer’s Auto Sense Wireless Car Charger boasts a proximity motion sensor that automatically opens and closes its arms for pain-free phone mounting. No arms to pry open, no buttons to push. It also boasts wireless charging and an adjustable foot to accommodate different phone sizes. Our collaborator from college says it’s one of their most-used gadgets, especially when driving to and from work.
5. Einova Ultra Fast 63W Power Bank
We know what you’re thinking: it’s a college campus and there are outlets everywhere. Still, a power bank that can charge your kid’s laptop will more than pay for itself, especially for college students who have to be in the field for their research project. We’ve tested our share of laptop power banks, and believe it or not, there are very few of them that actually do the job and do it well. Many don’t actually work while those that do won’t even give you a full charge.
Out of all those power banks we’ve tested ourselves, only the Einova Ultra Fast 63W Power Bank has proven to be consistently reliable. It’s slim and smart-looking yet capable of giving a MacBook Pro 13-inch one full charge with some juice left over for smaller devices, thanks to its 20,000mAh capacity. There are three ports on hand, one of which is 45W USB-C with fast PD. And, it’s TSA-approved as well so they’re a great travel companion for college kids going home for the holidays and for the summer. The best part for economizing students though is that it’s accessibly priced – just the right kind of purchase when you’ve got a long back-to-school list to get through.
6. Myth Pack
With all those devices and accessories to juggle, a school backpack with a proper organizational system is just the ticket for college students – lest they lose control of their already hectic life. There are many such backpacks out there, with Amazon brimming with options from lesser-known brands, but we like Sydney-based STM Goods’ Myth Pack, which is as robust as it is pocket-happy.
The Myth Pack boasts the company’s proprietary SlingTech laptop compartment, which not only swaddles your device in protective padding but also suspends it off the bottom as an extra precaution. Equally important, pockets abound. There’s one in front that comes with a plastic carabiner clip and a cable passthrough, and another on top for need-quick-access items like sunglasses. In the main compartment, there are 11 smaller pockets as well as an earbud or cable keeper and a couple of organizational hooks. Travel-friendly, it also comes with a trolley sleeve that fits any suitcase handle. There’s a lot to love here.
7. Jackyled Surge Protector Power Strip Tower
Many colleges require students to use surge protectors if they were to use power strips in their dorm rooms for obvious reasons. Our college student friend says having one has proven to be a vital part of dorm life. So, instead of giving your kid just whatever power strip is most accessible to you, just cover their bases and get one that protects their devices from electrical surges. It’s an investment anyway since it helps ensure that their devices last through their four years of college.
For that, we like the Jackyled Surge Protector Power Strip Tower. It’s energy-saving since each layer has an independent switch, and it comes with 10 AC outlets and 4 USB ports. That’s a collection of outlets worthy of any WFH professional, let alone a college student. Moreover, in the spirit of minimalism, its vertical tower design and retractable 6.5-foot cord mean it will take up less floor space and reduce clutter in the dorm room.
8. Moshi Muse 13" 3-in-1 Slim Laptop Sleeve
Bet you didn’t know that there’s a laptop sleeve that can turn into a laptop stand. Again, in the spirit of minimalism and dual-purpose-ism, such a laptop sleeve is something we’d heartily recommend. Not only will it keep dorm room clutter to a minimum, but it’ll also protect your laptop anytime, anywhere, whether or not you’re using it. And, the laptop stand function also offers ergonomic benefits.
Meet Moshi’s Muse 13" 3-in-1 Slim Laptop Sleeve. This Bay-area company is all about simple innovations, and this laptop sleeve is an excellent showcase of that. Part protector, part carrying case, part laptop stand, students can effortlessly turn it into a 15-degree convertible stand whether it’s in the dorm room, in class, or at a cafe. When done, that magnetic closure back effortlessly flips to turn it back into a sleeve. There’s even a storage compartment for cables and a charger. And, don’t worry about its leather finish – it’s premium vegan leather with weather-resistant coating.
Even the most seasoned journalists and authors require the help of an editor; what more college kids who don’t have a lot of experience. Research and thesis papers are already challenging to write without having to worry about grammar, typos and making sure things sound concise and clear.
Luckily, there’s Grammarly, an intelligent, aptly-named cloud-based writing assistant software that does most things that an editor does: from checking spelling, grammar and punctuation to making suggestions for improvements. There’s a free plan for budget-minded folks who might not utilize it as much. However, parents would be wise to gift their matriculating kids a more robust plan. A Premium Grammarly plan, which can be a monthly, quarterly or annual subscription, also offers suggestions for clarity, better engagement and more superior pieces overall. We use this plan ourselves, and we must say, it’s a game-changer. Your kid will certainly be impressing their professors in no time.
10. Fitbit Charge 4
All-nighters and demanding research projects may dominate a college student’s time, but staying fit and active shouldn’t take a back seat. For budget-minded students, an economical yet equally reliable fitness tracker is most ideal.
For that, we like the Fitbit Charge 4, which is also our unnamed collaborator’s pick who says that it makes them look like they’re serious about their fitness. More importantly, it does most of the fitness capabilities of a pricier option, including a built-in GPS and heart rate zone tracking. It has more than 20 goal-based exercise modes, exercise tracking, sleep and oxygen tracking, and Spotify control. When not in health or activity mode, that doesn’t mean it just sits on your wrist doing nothing: when paired with an Android phone, it boasts smartwatch features like receiving texts and calls. All that while keeping the cost under $150? Your kid will soon forget about that Apple Watch 6 they’ve been eyeing.
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Michelle Rae Uy is the Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor here at TechRadar. She's a Los Angeles-based tech, travel and lifestyle writer covering a wide range of topics, from computing to the latest in green commutes to the best hiking trails. She's an ambivert who enjoys communing with nature and traveling for months at a time just as much as watching movies and playing sim games at home. That also means that she has a lot more avenues to explore in terms of understanding how tech can improve the different aspects of our lives.