Our favorite back to school picks for 2019

students

Microsoft

We’re in the thick of summer, which is the best time to start gearing up to go back to school. There are a bunch of amazing deals to be had on many of the products that students will need when they head back to their dorms and classrooms this fall.

From the best phones for students to the best laptops to everything else in between, we’ve curated a handful of recommendations for campus life. Check out our picks for basic cooking equipment, more advanced gear for foodies and eight inexpensive things to keep students healthy at college.

Below, we’ve rounded up our favorite back-to-school picks for 2019. Have a look.

Read more: 9 dorm room essentials worth buying early | Cooking must-haves for your dorm 

Note that CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.  

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sure, Apple’s excellent AirPods may be the more visible campus status symbol — but Sony’s brand new wireless earbuds are the superior product. At $230, they’re not cheap. But they sound better, deliver 6 to 8 hours of battery life, and have active noise-cancelling features, making it one of only two models in this class with the feature. The Sony WF-1000XM3 are now available for preorder and will ship in early August.

You need tunes for both work and play. Most small Bluetooth speakers stink — but the new UE Wonderboom 2 delivers full sound in a durable, waterproof package at a reasonable price. Note that the original version is also great and is currently available at Amazon for as low as $55.

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There are not many things you can’t cook in a microwave, and — unlike hot plates, camping stoves and other niche cookery devices — most dorms allow them. For $60, this AmazonBasics Microwave includes Alexa voice support and a (somewhat random) popcorn re-ordering feature. Bottom line: It’s a competitively priced cooking device with some useful features you won’t find in other microwaves in the same price range. 

Ninja

Coffee may be the most essential ingredient for academic success. So, some kind of coffee maker is highly advisable, and this jack-of-all-trades Ninja is a great contender. It can handle regular coffee as well as cold brew and even tea, with separate settings and baskets for beans and leaves (loose or bagged). It has a fold-away frothing arm for latte-style drinks — so not only will it save money on Starbucks runs, it’ll make the dorm the most popular spot to study. It includes size settings too, so you can brew a full carafe or a single cup.

Read more: Trusty reusable coffee mugs

Hydro Flask

Modern students are aware of the benefits of staying hydrated, and many are discerning about the container they use. Hydro Flask bottles keep liquids cool for up to 24 hours and hot drinks warm up to 12 hours. And they’re tough enough to survive the rigors of campus life. 

Read more: CNET’s full list of the best water bottles.

Burton

I’ve been using Burton’s Spruce 26L backpack for the past year, and think it’s the best, most versatile bag I’ve ever owned. It’s comfortable to wear, looks cool and is made with very durable materials including weather-resistant zippers. From the quick-release magnetic buckles to the fleece-lined laptop pocket, this bag is extremely well-designed from top to bottom. And it comes with Burton’s lifetime warranty. 

Normally priced at $180, I’m seeing this bag in a variety of colors selling for just over $100 on Amazon. That’s a killer deal. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Rocketbook’s line of reusable notebooks make it easy to send notes and other jottings to your email or preferred cloud service (Google Drive, Dropbox, Slack and Evernote). On the one hand, using the Fusion notebook is just marginally more convenient than taking a photo of any piece of paper and sending it to yourself. But the notebook has a few nice usability touches — you can mark an icon at the bottom of the page to route notes to up to seven different destinations — and the sustainability angle is compelling. Included with the notebook is a nice Pilot FriXion pen (which doubles as an eraser) and a microfiber cloth that effectively wipes pages clean to be used again.

Note that Rocketbook is offering a back to school discount at getrocketbook.com between Aug. 30 and Sep. 3. Enter the code B2S2019 at checkout to get 25% off an order of $25 or more.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Lenovo Smart Clock is a minimalist, customizable smart clock that can recommend alarms based on your calendar. It comes with the full power of the voice-activated Google Assistant, so it’s basically a Google Home Mini with a clock face. Our favorite feature is also the most visceral — you can snooze your alarms just by whacking the thing. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

You’ll be hard pressed to find a student that won’t enjoy playing with the Nintendo Switch. But unless your gamer is willing to keep their handheld docked to a TV, you’ll want to wait until mid-September to pull the trigger. That’s when you’ll be able to buy the updated Switch that has longer battery life — or the Switch Lite, which will be $100 cheaper. If you do go for this model, though, make sure you get the new model with longer battery life: here’s how to tell which is which.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In 2019, the TV remains central to many forms of modern entertainment. This model comes with a Roku built in, making all of the streaming apps effortlessly accessible. The 32-incher can be found for under $120 at Walmart and even the biggest, 49-inch model costs just $250.

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For the lucky student who already has a TV, the Roku Plus will transform it into a full-featured streaming device. This model supports 4K and HDR video, has the best search interface and can control the TV’s volume and power. 

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

When the revamped version of the MacBook Air debuted in 2018, it cost $1,199. Apple has since dropped the price down to $1,099. I think it should cost $999, like the older model. But Amazon has an even better deal right now: $950. (Note that this isn’t the newest model that just came out and which has only one inessential difference from the model currently on sale.) This is a superb deal on one of the best laptops for students. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can find similar components in other laptops at around the same price, but few can match the XPS 13 for its near-perfect combination of size, slim bezel, processing power, great design and excellent keyboard, plus a wide range of price options. 

Hello Fresh

Not only does a meal kit delivery service save time, it cuts down on food waste with perfectly proportionate amounts of ingredients. Plus, thanks to detailed recipe instructions, even novice cooks can pull off impressive meals. There are plenty of meal kit delivery companies to choose from and many offer plans for special diets including vegan and gluten-free selections. But Hello Fresh is currently offering 15% off every box for students (new customers only) plus free shipping on any box when you use code UniDAYS (prices start at $9 per serving). 

Read more: Best meal kit subscription services

Angela Lang/CNET

It’s not always easy for students to get to the grocery store or the mall, and an Uber gift card can help ease the burden of transportation. The company offers both digital and physical cards in denominations up to $500, and you can give the gift of a ride or food delivery (through the Uber Eats service).

Originally published earlier, updated to include latest prices and current info on Instant Pot and Nintendo Switch.

Back-to-School Tech Gift Guide

Kya Gin Wong
Rex is Editor-in-Chief of TheTechyTrends and was previously Editor-in-Chief of GamerLive and China Watch Online. Rex has a real passion for gadgets, mobile, technology and business.

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