On the internet over the last few weeks there have been many back-to-school technology guides and lists. Rather than checking all of them out yourself, we did it for you—”we” being Luke, my team’s college-age intern, and I—have created a Master List of the back-to-school tech everyone agrees you need…plus a few items that Luke, a real-life student, thinks are worthy of consideration.
Here is the best of the best that Engadget, CNET, PC Magazine, ZDNet, and Laptop Magazine say you should consider (with perhaps an opinion or two thrown in there). Note: the items marked with an ” * ” are things Luke would like to run out and purchase (or would encourage his parents to do so 😉 ):
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch*
It’s thin, it’s fast, and the newest versions apparently have better battery life. Starting at $855, check it out if you’re looking for a new non-Windows machine. (Note: Missy has one of these and loves it, but then, she has “drunk the Kool-Aid” as it were, regarding Apple products).
Lenovo Yoga 2 and Yoga 2 Pro*
CNET calls this a full-time laptop and a part-time tablet. The regular Yoga is a bit thicker than the Yoga 2 Pro, but you’ll still get a 1080p screen. Prices start at about $900 and these were on pretty much every list.
Two models hit tech lists, the S7 and the V7. The S7 is described as “top of the line” with a wafer-thin design, but the V7 isn’t exactly clunky and is also well reviewed. The V7 starts at $700, and cheapest S7 will set you back about $1,600.
Sony PlayStation 4*
CNET believes this $399 console is pulling ahead of the competition, but time will tell. It does have a great controller, multiplatform performance is “worth it” if you’re a die-hard gamer according to Engadget. Missy has a 10-year-old gamer at home and she’s thinking of leaving their sinking-ship WiiU and adding a new console. Perhaps this one is the way to go? Feel free to give her your thoughts in the comments.
Sony PlayStation Vita Slim
If a full-on PS4 isn’t what you want, for $200 this gadget lets you game on the go with its 5-inch OLED display. If you do have the whole set-up though, it will allow you to do PS4 Remote Play.
Microsoft Xbox One
With the new Kinect-free pricing putting it at $399 like the PS4, the Xbox delivers a “great gaming experience.” Of course, you could always splurge and spend $500 for the Kinect and the voice controls. Remember, Barclay shared his review of his One earlier this year.
Kindle Fire HDX
This Amazon-made tablet won’t burn a hole in your pocket. It starts at $229 and ranges up to $329 depending on the storage size (16GB, 32GB, 64GB) and whether it is 4G LTE enabled (only available on AT&T and Verizon). You can do a lot more than read eBooks on this 7” HDX display, as this Kindle offers many cutting-edge features, such as the ability to mirror images to your TV and the “Mayday” button which lets you talk to a real-life human for tech support (Luke is interested to see how well this works).
Apple iPad Air
It’s thin. It’s light. It’s powerful. Apple’s iPad Air is a sleek and useful machine with access to over 500,000 apps in the App Store. The only knock Luke has on it (who’s also an Apple guy :-)) is that it does not offer a USB port. It’s also a bit pricey, starting at $499 and ranging all the way to $929 for the 128GB cellular-enabled model. Missy says she has one (cheapest model), loves hers, and has not missed the USB port.
Apple iPad Mini*
Very similar to the iPad Air, but as you may guess, the Retina display screen is 7.9 inches, rather than 9.4 inches. This offers a bit more mobility, which seems to make this a popular model. It’s also $100 cheaper. Those Missy knows who have the mini really appreciate how easy it is to toss in a bag and bring it along.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3*
Its motto is “the tablet that can replace your laptop,” and, honestly, it probably could. With a 12” screen, a couple different ports, foldable keyboard, kickstand and the ability to run most Microsoft technology, there isn’t a lot you can’t do. The only thing is you’ll also be paying laptop price, as it starts at $799 and goes all the way up to $1,949 for the 512GB i7 model.
ASUS Transformer Book T100
Offering a slim, mobile design and enough power to allow programs such as Microsoft Office, the Transformer Book is a solid option starting at $400.
Google Nexus 7
The 7 stands for the 7inch screen of the tablet. Similar to the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HDX, this model offers a greater ease of mobility. It is powered by Android which uses the Google Play Store. The starting price is $229.
At a cheap price ($35) and the size of a flash drive, Google Chromecast offers an easy and versatile way to display your favorite entertainment on your TV. You can mirror anything from personal content to Netflix and WatchESPN to your TV from the majority of smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Amazon Fire TV
This will cost you a bit more than Chromecast, at $84, but you don’t need another device to stream your favorite entertainment. A remote and small—yet powerful—box serve as your gateway to leisure. There are also other cool features like voice search and a way for parents to limit kids’ viewing time and content.
The latest Roku device will run you $100, but it’s definitely a solid option. It has the same streaming capabilities you’d expect, along with unique features like one-stop search, a headphone jack and mobile phone apps.
Apple iPhone 5s*
Apple’s most recent phone is its best yet. The beautifully crafted phone offers faster processing, a more impressive camera and a thumbprint lock technology. It is available in silver, gold and gray and starts at $199…but you could always wait a few more weeks for the Apple to announce their iPhone 6s on September 9th.
Starting at $99, this smartphone offers a good bang for your buck. There is a huge 5.5 inch HD screen, quick processing and laser autofocus to take better photos.
Samsung Galaxy S5
Apple’s rival’s newest phone has some cool new features along with the expected processing power. It offers a 16-megapixel camera with selective focus, along with an impressive ultra power saving mode to drastically stretch a low battery. It’s priced at an average of $150, depending on the carrier.
This is the most mobile camera out there. It is primarily used for action shots and can be used for anything from skydiving to surfing. The newest models range from $199 to $399 and all shoot with high quality and have built in Wi-Fi. The $399 model even shoots in 4K quality and offers other impressive features.
Sony RX100 III
This 20.1-megapixel camera offers people who want an upgrade from the point-and-shoots a solution without getting too complex. The RX100 III is $800, looks like your old camera souped-up, and has many capabilities, such as Wi-Fi connectivity to smartphones, a sensor for extreme low-light and a selfie-ready multi-angle LCD display.
Luke’s picks for other back-to-school essentials
Beats by Dre Solo2
Headphones are a key item for back-to-school. The Solo2 is a new model that goes for $200. They are the sleekest headphones out there and offer great sound as well. They collapse to make them more portable and are the perfect sidekick for your walk to class.
WD My Passport 1TB Portable External Hard Drives
Whether it is the ‘Ultra’ for your PC, or one of their Mac models, WD makes some of the nicest portable external drives out there. I know from experience that drives can crash and it is a really huge pain. Ensure your files are safe by backing them up using a reliable external hard drive. This is one of the less thought about—but very crucial—back-to-school items. Depending on size, you can usually get one for under $100.
Luke’s tips for buying new gear
Don’t be afraid to get last year’s model—Technology moves fast and it’s not long before the new model will seem ‘obsolete’ too. Sure, there may be some changes made, but as long as you’re upgrading every once in a while you’ll be just fine without the newest, shiniest thing. It will help save you a lot of money too!
Get devices that can serve multiple functions—This has become a trend recently with all of the tablet-laptop hybrids. Devices like this eliminate the need to buy ten different machines, which is good for wallets everywhere and people should take advantage and be efficient when buying.
Do your research—If you are buying a new device, make sure you check the prices of all retailers—both online (Amazon, Newegg, etc.) and traditional stores (Best Buy, Target, etc.). You don’t want to be that person who buys a new expensive toy only to see it advertised $100 cheaper the next day somewhere else.
Don’t be afraid to buy used/resold equipment—If you don’t want to pay top dollar for a new device, don’t be afraid to resort to resources like Craigslist for equipment. You have to be extra smart about knowing what you’re getting yourself into here, but it can be well worth it. (I just bought a retail-valued $400+ Samsung TV on Craigslist for $175!)
Get devices that work well together if possible—Sometimes it’s good to be brand loyal, or at least get products that work well together. For example, having an iPhone, a MacBook Air and an iPad Mini would be a lot better than mixing Apple, Google and Microsoft products. Having the same brand of products allows work and fun to be more easier synched and transferred between the devices—and ultimately a greater experience.
With guest blogger: Luke Brooks
Luke is the intern for the Corporate Communications team at TDS and does a lot more than brew coffee and make copies. He is called on for anything from press releases to multimedia projects. Luke is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in Communication Arts and Journalism and Mass Communication. His strongest passions are movies and sports.