We’re at that time of year when you might be looking for a solid back to school tech starter kit that mixes the right gear into one easy-to-follow an affordable package.
It’s been quite a while since I was a student myself but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the benefits of having all the right equipment before heading back to resume or even start your studies. In fact, knowing what a student needs has helped make this list that much more tailored to people who really do love all things Google.
Being able to go out and pick up the most expensive tech is not possible for everyone. Because of that, we’ve collated some of we consider the best affordable and essential gear that will benefit almost any and all students shopping for the new term on a budget.
Of course, there is no ‘one size fits all’ starter kit that can cover every single student on campus. That said, often a solid laptop and some other notable accessories are all you need for most US college and UK university courses. So with that in mind, this is 9to5Google’s back to school tech starter kit but without the whopping price-tag.
Lenovo Chromebook S330
A high-end laptop like a MacBook Pro or the Dell XPS, in many cases, just isn’t necessary for most people going to back to school, college or University. Most of the time you just need a portable text editor with the ability to access your files. Beyond that, being able to watch Netflix and YouTube is probably the only other things top of your priorities list.
A Chromebook will, therefore, meet almost all of your needs, with the added benefits of exceptional battery life and a much, much lower entry cost. The Lenovo Chromebook S330 is one of the best value laptops on the market and for that reason can be one of the core pieces of back to school tech to get you started.
At under $200, it has a mainly plastic chassis and the only disappointing aspect is the lack of an FHD display. The fact that Chrome OS is so lightweight also means that the MediaTek CPU and 4GB of RAM are more than enough for just about anything you would need to do on a daily basis — save high-end video editing.
This is the base model in the Lenovo Chromebook line, that does mean it doesn’t come with any touchscreen support. While that is one of the many core strengths of Chrome OS-powered laptops, it isn’t quite as necessary when you just want a laptop for general productivity tasks. It also helps keep you away from Android games, keeping you more productive!
Google Home Mini
The perfect companion for just about anywhere, the Google Home Mini is almost always the start of a Google-powered smart home (or dorm). It’s a great speaker for listening to music, podcasts, internet radio, and more. You can even use the Home Mini as an alarm clock to ensure that you get up and head to class on time.
It’s not just the speaker element that is great, because it is a fully functioning hotline to your Google Assistant, you can tie it to other smart home tech such as bulbs, power strips, and more.
As a student, I wish I would have had an ‘all-knowing’ web-connected speaker in my dorm room that I could ask for help on essays and homework. Because the Google Assistant can give you contextual answers, it is a powerful ‘study buddy’ that not only is able to help you learn, it can also help you enhance your work.
The Google Home Mini feels like it is almost on perma-sale at $29 from retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, and even the Google Store directly. At that price, it’s the best smart home speaker you can buy. Plus you get four neat colors to choose from: Aqua, Charcoal, Coral, and Chalk. It’s also worth noting that it will likely stay discounted ahead of the news that a ‘Nest Mini’ is coming in the future.
In my opinion, the Chromecast is still the finest piece of hardware that Google has produced. It also helps that the small dongle is an exceptional way to turn any plain old TV or monitor into a smart device. On its own, the Chromecast isn’t all that impressive but with your smartphone or laptop, you can cast browser tabs, apps, and more to your TV.
Then factor in the compatibility with all of Google’s other services and apps and you have a central point of your smart home. Not many people are aware but you can ‘cast’ PowerPoint presentations from Google Slides to a Chromecast, enabling you to practice presentations ahead of time with a big screen to aid you.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, as the Chromecast can act as a conduit for much more than just home entertainment. So many apps and games now support the streaming dongle that it is almost ubiquitous. Plus at under $30, it is one of the cheapest pieces of home or back to school tech out there. You owe it to yourself to pick one up!
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
A smartwatch can be a big distraction, which is why I refrained from recommending a dedicated Wear OS option. Although with that said, if you specifically want a smartwatch to track your workouts, heart rate, and day-to-day steps, then the Xiaomi Mi Band 4 is still one of the best cheap options period.
A Wear OS watch will be bulkier and offers less impressive battery life. The addition of the new color screen also makes the Mi Band 4 a massive step up over the previous versions.
Because you can pick up the Mi Band 4 for under $40, it gives you the best bang for your buck of almost any piece of back to school tech available right now. If you simply must have a Wear OS watch, I would recommend the TicWatch E2 at under $160 it’s pretty solid despite having an older chipset.
OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2
I had a hard time choosing between the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 because they are both superb Android-focused wireless earbuds. I eventually settled on the Bullets Wireless 2, as they are slightly cheaper and are much better for phone calls thanks to the inline microphone.
It’s almost astonishing how comfortable the actual buds are. They nestle into your ear so well that you likely won’t notice they are there even after hours of listening.
The sound profile is pretty darn good, with some solid bass, clear mids, and well-handled highs. If you listen to a wide array of music I think you’ll be more than happy with the sound and volume produced by the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2.
Currently, you can only officially pick them up directly from OnePlus for $99, for that price you do get a carry case too.
Anker PowerPort Atom 30W charger
If you want a charger for almost all of your devices that is small, powerful and reasonably affordable, look no further than the Anker PowerPort Atom. I’ve been relying on the diminutive little charger for about six months now as my main travel charger and it is a fantastic piece of kit.
While I personally tend to charge one item at a time, you may be disappointed by the single USB-C input on the PowerPort Atom. Luckily Anker does make a ton of great multi-port chargers that can take USB-A inputs but some of those can’t match the charge speed of the Atom. As I use a MacBook, I needed a USB-C to USB-C connector, so this was the perfect solution and makes an awesome back to school tech kit companion.
At $30 it’s also much cheaper than many ‘official’ charge bricks, plus the 30W power out means you can fast charge just about any phone or tablet on the market.
Herschel Pop Quiz backpack
A recent experience with Herschel customer support has restored much of my faith in how companies treat people that have bought an item a long time ago. I originally bought the Pop Quiz backpack in 2013 and it was my faithful companion during my own Master’s degree studies. I can, therefore, confirm that the Pop Quiz is perfect for carrying a laptop, associated accessories, books, and stationery without discomfort all-day.
Inside you’ll find a soft laptop sleeve (which can fit a 15-inch laptop) and a large main compartment which is perfect for separating your tech and other random bits and pieces. The top padded sunglasses pouch is also a useful extra as I tend to keep keys, memory cards and USB sticks in there as it’s not often sunny here in the UK.
The fact that this doesn’t particularly look like a ‘tech backpack’ also makes it such a great purchase in my opinion. It’s good-looking without losing any functionality or reduction in quality.
At around $75 the Herschel Pop Quiz backpack is by no means cheap but you get a lifetime guarantee. I can confirm that after some needless abuse and a bike accident I managed to tear my backpack. One email and some images of proof later, Herschel was happy to replace it at no extra cost — yet another reason why it is my everyday backpack of choice.
Google Pixel 3a
In all honesty, you probably have a smartphone already. Buying a brand new phone every year just isn’t viable, unless you lower your budget. It makes less sense to spend close to $1,000 on a smartphone in the US simply because of the existence of the superb Google Pixel 3a.
The camera is every bit as good as the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, plus it is guaranteed to get Android Q right on release day — there aren’t many Android phones even over $600 that can claim that. You do have to deal with the lack of wireless charging and IP-rating but you do get the headphone port and 18W fast charging as standard.
My personal favorite model is the smaller Pixel 3a but the 3a XL is every bit as good if you do want a slightly larger display — and bigger battery. Considering just how much ‘phone’ you get for $399 and $450 unlocked — at least in the US — there is very little competition. You can even get the phone as low as $299 activated at Best Buy.
Hopefully, that list gives you some solid alternatives to normally expensive tech that some outlets might have you believing you so desperately need while studying. You really don’t need to spend a ton to get high-quality equipment to help you make the most of your education — and our Google gear will help get you started this semester without breaking the bank.