It’s the same old story every January – the new year ushers in a time loathed by both kids and parents alike, thanks to a new academic year rearing its intimidating head. Kids are reminded to put away their Christmas presents so they can get ready to hit the books, while parents stress out trying to find the best back-to-school supplies to give their child an edge over the competition.
While some back-to-school supplies haven’t changed – like the reliance on heavy textbooks and the need for stationery and backpacks to carry them all – constantly evolving technology has changed the way our kids are taught at school. Laptops and tablets have become essentials in a backpack these days, and not just for uni students.
Sending your kids off to school means that, at a certain age, you’d want to keep tabs on them, so they’re going to need a mobile phone. Even wearables for kids are becoming popular these days, some offering a way to get in touch with parents without the need for a connected phone that's ideal for primary school children.
With so much tech to choose from, it can get overwhelming for parents to make the right choice. So we’ve listed a few tech essentials here to help you narrow down your search for the best back-to-school supplies. And it’s not necessary to spend too much money either – we’ve listed a premium and a budget option for each tech category so you can decide what might be the best choice for you and your children.
Whether you plan to homeschool your kids this year or they’re heading back to the classroom with their mates, we’ve put together the best tech to help keep students ahead of the pack in the coming academic year.
Best back-to-school laptops
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It might be an expensive proposition for a student laptop but if you’ve got the cash, Apple’s M1 silicon chip makes the 2020 edition of the MacBook Air one of the best laptops money can buy... even after a couple years since its launch. It’s thinner and lighter than any of the older MacBook Air models and Apple’s M1 silicon makes it a standout performer while also giving it a boost in battery life. In fact, the M1 chip hasn’t really increased the price of the MacBook Air very much over the predecessors – it’s still an affordable Apple laptop and comes in cheaper than our top pick for a Windows machine, the formidable Dell XPS 13. No matter where you purchase the machine from, it will come preloaded with the latest macOS Monterey which works really well on the slightly older machine, making the 2020 MacBook Air a top-notch performer and a darn good all-rounder, particularly for students.
Read our in-depth MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review
With the base model of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 offering the power of a 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor (which is pretty good), 4GB of system memory and 128GB of storage for under a grand, it's a smidge cheaper than the Apple alternative listed above.
The second iteration of the Surface Laptop Go offers better performance than its predecessor, so this machine should be good for a few years and has more than enough power to cater to most students' needs. Keep in mind it's not a workhorse, but churning out homework of all shapes and sizes will be easy on this beautifully designed laptop. If more performance is needed, then you will need to go up to the 8GB RAM option, and that will of course cost extra.
The Surface Laptop Go 2 is also pretty compact, weighing just a teensy bit over a kilo. So that's good news for the backpack. The 12.4-inch touchscreen works really well, but it is low-res (1536 x 1024). As long as no graphic work is needed, the screen is great. The keyboard is also pretty good and comfortable to use, plus a rather generous battery life will see your kids eke out up to 13 hours of use from a single charge.
Best back-to-school Chromebook
Chromebooks are, for the most part, affordable devices running a lightweight Chrome OS. The HP Chromebook 14, though, doesn’t quite stick to that definition – it’s one of the most premium options, but then it’s got some extras that justify the higher price. That starts with ample screen real estate on its 14-inch screen, which is pretty crisp too. The vivid display is paired with a really nice keyboard and trackpad.
Its specs aren't as powerful as some other Chromebooks on the market, like those using Intel Core i5 CPUs such as Acer, but a sturdy build and a great balance between price and features makes this an excellent choice for students.
Read our in-depth HP Chromebook 14 review
The name gives us the sense that Lenovo couldn’t decide if this was a tablet or a Chromebook, but whatever you want to call it, the IdeaPad Duet Chromebook is a brilliant 2-in-1 on a budget. If just browsing the internet and getting assignments done is the main aim for purchasing a back-to-school device, then this is a very good option that should suit most budgets.
The battery has an incredibly long life of almost 22 hours, so if you (or your kids) are burning the midnight oil, it’s highly likely you (or the kids) will pass out before the IdeaPad Duet Chromebook runs out of juice. Admittedly the keyboard is small and the trackpad not too reliable, but these are the little sacrifices that have been made to keep costs down and may not be deal-breakers for you.
Read our in-depth Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook review
Best back-to-school webcams
Admittedly this is a great choice for anyone interested in streaming, but it's exactly those features that makes the Razer Kiyo Pro one of the best webcams money can buy. Uni students can experiment with streaming content in 1080p at 60fps, while younger kids can be in the spotlight as this webcam works quite well in low light too thanks to the ultra-sensitive light sensors it boasts. There's even HDR capabilities here, and that 60fps frame rate is buttery smooth. It's important to note that this Razer webcam requires a USB 3.0 connection, but this 2021 model breathes life into a stagnating webcam market where some of the best choices, like the Logitech C920 are now ageing.
Read our in-depth Razer Kiyo Pro review
If you really don't want to spend a lot of money on a webcam, then this option from Microsoft might suit your needs. It's not the sharpest tool in town, being just a 720p camera, but it is perfect for everyday use. Thanks to Microsoft's LifeCam software, there are filters and effects that can be applied if you or your kids want to jazz things up a little, and you can even take stills using the software that get saved directly to your computer's hard drive. The LifeCam can be mounted on a tripod if needed and, more importantly, it is very affordable at around the AU$50 mark.
Best back-to-school tablets
Honestly, when it comes to researching assignments and getting some other schoolwork done, you can choose any of Apple's iPad 10.2 models released from 2019 onwards. Even being older, the 2019 iPad 10.2 and the 2020 iPad 10.2 still hold their own, but the 2021 edition brings a better selfie camera if your kid needs to have a video chat with a teacher. It's now a 12MP ultra-wide lens. There's also double the storage from the previous model, and it gets a power boost thanks to the A13 Bionic chip. It still has an old-fashioned thick-bezel design and lacks Face ID, but offers far better value for money compared to the more premium and latest 2022 models of the iPads.
Read our in-depth Apple iPad 10.2 (2021) review
While the AU$499 price tag for the TCL Nxtpaper 10s might seem high for a 'budget' option, it is cheaper than the iPad 10.2 and comes with a keyboard folio in the box as well. Some retailers also offer the tablet packaged with the stylus instead, so you can choose what's best for your kids.
While the specs of this Android 11-toting tablet are pretty darn good – 10.1-inch FHD screen, 8,000mAh battery, 8MP rear camera plus 5MP front-facing, 4GB RAM and 64GB storage (expandable up to 256GB) – the headline is the display.
TCL has been pioneering screens that are easy on the eyes, adding filters on the display to reduce harmful blue light. While it doesn't compromise colour rendition, it does take away a little bit of sharpness. Still, it's quite remarkable what TCL has been able to achieve with this display. It's good for your child's eyes, making this one of our picks for a decent tablet for students.
While TCL says you can use any stylus to write on the Nxtpaper 10s, we found that claim unfounded. However, the screen feels just like paper when you're running a digital pen over its surface.
Best back-to-school smartphone
It’s all about brand power for kids these days, so if you’re looking to treat your child with one of the best smartphones on the market, then the iPhone SE (2022) is definitely in that category. As we mentioned in our review, the latest iPhone SE "is faster and better connected" than the older model, thanks to the A15 Bionic chip under the hood.
While its performance and compact size are things we absolutely love about it, we're not too big on its middling battery life. And considering kids love their gadgets, they might need to carry the charging cable around with them if they've got access to mains power, or you'll need to get them a portable power bank... just in case.
That said, this is a gorgeous phone, with a the Liquid Retina screen displaying everything vividly, and the classic iPhone design looking nice and dainty here.
Read our in-depth Apple iPhone SE (2022) review
Far from looking like a cheap handset, the Oppo Reno8 5G has some very premium looks and features. It runs Android 12 but, as with other Chinese companies, there's a heck of a lot of bloatware here.
Where the phone, which costs under AU$600, really shines, is its camera array. A 50MP primary shooter is accompanied by an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP macro optic on the rear. Its low-light performance is excellent and it can even shoot 4K video at 30fps.
Battery life isn't too bad, and it supports 80W fast charging too. What it lacks is stereo speakers at the bottom of the handset, but kids love their headphones, don't they? All in all, this is a solid offering, with 5G connectivity, a great screen and good performance overall. While we haven't tested the Aussie version, our colleagues in India checked it out for themselves and were quite impressed.
Best back-to-school portable storage
It’s incredibly fast and ships with both a USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cable in the box, so it doesn’t matter what kind of laptop your kid uses. The Samsung T5 series of portable SSDs come in different colours and in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB flavours. With average read speeds of about 500MB/s and write speeds of about 350MB/s, it’s one of our favourite storage solutions. If there’s any sensitive information that needs to be stored on the device, or if your kids just want to keep their homework away from prying eyes, the SSD can be password protected if needed. It’s incredibly portable, measuring just 74 x 57 x 10.5mm and weighing only 51g, but all this incredulity comes at a steep price.
Read our in-depth Samsung Portable SSD T5 review
If you’re willing to sacrifice speed for space, then you can snag a G-Technology G-Drive Mobile portable hard drive for around AU$150 for a 1TB option. The G-Drive Mobile also comes with both a USB-C and USB-A cable, so can be plugged into any PC or laptop. Keep in mind that the device has been designed to work with Macs out of the box, but it can easily be formatted to work with a Windows machine without any loss in speed. While not quite as fast as an SSD, it does offer up to 130MB/s speed, which is quite respectable and plenty for schoolwork.
Read our in-depth G-Technology G-Drive Mobile USB-C portable hard drive review
Best back-to-school headphones
They're available in different colours and the Beats Studio Buds aren't all that expensive. In fact, you can very often find them discounted on Amazon and other retailers.
And the lower price makes no compromises either. The Studio Buds are arguably the best-sounding Beats yet, with a balanced soundstage and active noise cancellation also on board. Where it falls short is in call quality, although some kids might argue the ANC could be better. Still, it's a good balance of value and performance here. It's best paired with Apple products though, with support for Spatial Audio in Dolby Atmos format, but they will work with Android devices too.
Read our in-depth Beats Studio Buds review
For something you can get for under a hundred dollary-doos, these Senny cans are exceptional. Actually, you can even find it discounted for under AU$50! That is what we call value for money.
The Sennheiser HD 250BT might not have the most pleasing design, but they're lighter than they look and are comfortable to wear. At this price, don't expect a stack of features – even the headband misses out on padding – but these headphones more than make up for that by the sound they produce. The sound is open and well-defined, but it does lack a little bass. That said, some EQ adjustments can be made.
Battery life of up to 25 hours from a single charge should not be ignored either.
Read our in-depth Sennheiser HD 250BT review
Best back-to-school wearables
If you’re worried about your kids safety, the Spacetalk Watch is a great way to stay in touch with them. It’s essentially a phone, a watch and a GPS tracker rolled into one device. There aren’t any apps or games on the smartwatch to distract your kids, not even a camera, internet browser or social media access – it’s been designed so you can maintain contact with your child if you don’t want to give them a smartphone of their own. Your child will be able to call you via the smartwatch or receive calls from you, while also giving you full control over the contact list by letting you block numbers. You can see their location at any time on the companion app, and even set up ‘safe zones’ – if your child steps away from that area, you get a notification. Better yet, there’s an SOS button that automatically dials your number. If you don’t answer, it will go through the contact list until someone does. It’s one of the best wearables for kids made by an Aussie company.
There are a few great choices when it comes to fitness wearables for kids, but the Fitbit Ace 2 makes its way into this buying guide because it suits older children as well – great for kids 6 and older, at least according to Fitbit. The Ace 2 is basically the Inspire in a kid-friendly case and strap, with a rechargeable battery that will last up to five days before needing some time at the mains. It’s water resistant up to 50m, so a bit of rain won’t be an issue, while also doing a great job tracking your kids’ activities and calories. When a goal is hit, the screen displays fun animations. It works well with the Fitbit app and can also support notifications via a vibration motor.
Read our in-depth Fitbit Ace 2 review
Best back-to-school printers
It might be a slightly higher investment up front, but because you don't need to keep purchasing ink cartridges, the Epson EcoTank ET-2720 is a great option if you want to keep ongoing costs low. In fact, this won't just help the kids, the entire family can make use of the printer. Given the amount of ink that actually ships with the printer, chances are high you won't need to worry about a fresh supply for a long while – it should give you up to 4,500 colour pages. And in terms of ongoing costs, well, the bottled ink you need is about 80% cheaper than cartridges.
On board is a scanner bed, a colour LCD display and built-in Wi-Fi if you want to print wirelessly. The paper tray doesn't hold a lot of sheets, but that may not be a deal breaker for home use.
If you’re not too keen on splurging top dollar for a printer, then this option from Canon is wonderfully affordable. At just under AU$100 you can print and scan as much as needed. The printer even has an ‘auto duplex’ feature which automatically prints to both sides of the paper, and setting up a Pixma Cloud Link account will let you print anything sitting in Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or any other cloud service. You can even print from Facebook or Instagram. The Pixma Home TS5160 is covered by Canon’s Print Assist program, where you’ll receive step-by-step instructions on how to set up the device (although it’s easy to do anyway) and any fault found within the first year of purchase will see the printer replaced at no cost.
Ports on new laptops are changing. The faster USB-C or Thunderbolt ports are slowly and steadily becoming the norm. So if you child's new laptop doesn't have the ports needed to plug in, say, a USB 3.0 cable, then this Satechi hub offers seven different ones, and includes an SD card reader, a 4K HDMI port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. All these ports come at a price though and it's definitely not the cheapest option, but it is one of the best. The ports are spaced out nicely, so plugging something in won't require juggling cables and wires.
There's a whopping 20,000mAh capacity battery pack here and it's been built to make sure your kids' laptops stay juiced up all day, ensuring they don't lose their hard work if the laptop shuts down suddenly because of low battery. And for something that costs less than AU$100, it's excellent value for money.
It supports both Power Delivery and Quick Charge on a USB-C port with an output of up to 45W, although there is a 50W total output available. It even tops itself up really quickly at 45W, so it really is a great power backup solution to carry around. It is a little on the clunky side, but still looks quite alright.
If your child has an artistic streak and is interested in taking a photography class, considering getting them a beginner DSLR. Yes, it might seem counterintuitive to recommend a DSLR in the age of mirrorless, but there's no better type of camera to learn photography on.
The Canon EOS 200D Mark II is not only easy to use, it's compact and lightweight, plus won't cost the earth – you can get a single-lens kit for under a grand. It might also be a little old now, but it's powered by a Digic 8 processor that's still pretty powerful. There's Canon's trusty Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus on board, as well as both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
While its autofocus performance isn't as snappy as Canon's newer R-series cameras, it is still pretty good. Then there's a flip-out screen that offers a guided menu system to help a beginner learn, and 4K video capture if necessary. And like all DSLRs, it's got a pretty good battery life that no mirrorless can match.
You can always encourage your child further by adding more lenses over the years, which there are plenty of.
Read our in-depth Canon EOS 200D Mark II review
From the company that brought us the interactive Star Wars bots comes these little connected toys that put education front and centre. The Sphero Mini (a tabletennis-sized ball) and the Sphero Bolt (a bigger, rolling robot with a display) are remotely controlled toys that can help kids learn to appreciate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM) that the Australian government is heavily investing in right now.
While they're a whole load of fun for both kids and grown-ups alike, you can also write code that dictates the actions of the Sphero. There are plenty of lessons to choose from and there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be had to see your creation come to life when the toy begins to move. The Sphero Edu app also allows you to try out other people's code if you or your child aren't keen on creating your own. Coding, though, is very simple and requires no prior computer technology knowledge.
Parents should be aware that if you get the Sphero Bolt for your child, the accompanying Sphero Play app has a Scream Drive setting that makes the Bolt move faster the louder your kid screams or shouts at it (it's a lot of fun for the kids but not so much for everyone else).