The best gadgets for students under $50

by Pelican Press
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The best gadgets for students under $50

The little things can get you when you’re in college. You arrive on campus, fresh and ready to go, but before you know it, you’re a few weeks into the new semester and you have a long list of small things you forgot to pack, like an extra charger, an alarm clock or your earbuds. You may also think of unassuming items that could make a big difference in how you work and play while at school. To prevent you from playing catch-up, we’ve compiled the best gadgets for school under $50 so you can cross the most crucial ones off your list before you even set foot on campus.

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you know a student lugging an old flatscreen to their dorm for the new semester, gifting them one of our favorite streaming devices – a Roku Streaming Stick 4K – will make them feel like they just got a brand new set. All they need to do is plug it into their TV’s HDMI port, connect it to WiFi and then they’ll have access to pretty much all of the streamable content they could ask for. There are apps for Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and even more niche services like Criterion Channel, so chances are they will be able to watch whatever they want on it. And, who knows, maybe they’ll find new things to binge for free on The Roku Channel. The on-screen interface is easy to navigate, too, and we appreciate that the Roku remote that comes with the dongle can be used to control the TV itself, including power and volume. If you think they’d like enhanced voice controls, it may be worth it to spend another $20 and get them the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+, which comes with the Voice Remote Pro.

$39 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Academic life will quickly become overwhelming if it’s all work and no play. 8Bitdo’s Pro 2 controller can make a student’s game time more enjoyable and comfortable. In general, 8Bitdo’s controllers are more ergonomic than, say, relying on a keyboard and mouse when playing certain PC games. They’re also a dramatic improvement over the Switch’s Joy-Cons which, if we’re honest, aren’t the most comfortable to use for long stretches of time. The Pro 2 is compatible with the Switch, Windows, macOS, Android and Raspberry Pi, and they can map functions to buttons using its companion smartphone app. Your student will appreciate that they can charge it up with any USB-C cable they have lying around, but also that they can remove the battery pack and power it with AA batteries if they want to avoid frequent recharges.

$50 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

We all forget things now and then, but students can be prone to leaving things behind, especially when they’re running out the door to get to class. A Chipolo One tracker can help them make sure to take their keys, wallet, bag or jacket with them by alerting them when their belongings have been left behind. In our testing, Chipolo’s separation alerts kicked in after moving only a couple hundred feet away from the item in question, which means the student in your life won’t go far before they find out that they’re missing something. Chipolo also doesn’t discriminate between operating systems — anyone with an iPhone or an Android device can download the companion app and use the tracker to keep tabs on important stuff.

$25 at Amazon

Logitech

It’s safe to say that the ergonomics of being a student aren’t great. Your back and shoulders won’t thank you hours after hunching over a laptop when you need to rush out a paper or cram before a big exam. But you can alleviate some of this with a few key accessories, a wireless mouse being one of them. Whether you spring for a special ergonomic mouse will be up to your preference, but even just a simple upgrade to a solid mouse like Logitech’s M720 Triathlon can make a big difference. Logitech’s accessory works across all major operating systems, including iPadOS, and it can connect either via a wireless dongle or Bluetooth. It supports 1,000 DPI and super-fast scrolling, and Logitech’s Flow software allows you to use it across two devices at the same time. And since it has a max battery life of two years using its two AA cells, you won’t have to worry about it dying in the middle of a study session.

$38 at Amazon

tomtoc

You don’t have to go all-out and gift your favorite student a new laptop, but you can help them protect the one they already have. The Tomtoc 360 protective laptop case is a great option that works with MacBooks, Windows laptops and Chromebooks — just be sure to get the right size to fit your student’s machine. The case has thick edges that absorb impacts from drops and bumps, and the exterior is spill-resistant as well. The exterior zipper pocket will allow them to easily carry a charging brick and cable with them wherever they go, and there’s a built-in strap inside of it to which they could attach a Bluetooth tracker or their keys for safe keeping. There’s also nearly a dozen colors to choose from, so you’re bound to find one that suits your student’s tastes.

$28 at Amazon

Anker

If the student in your life just invested in a new laptop, there’s a good chance they have a port issue — the issue being they don’t have many. Most of the newest and best laptops today only have a few scant USB-C ports, so if they want to connect any older peripherals to their laptop, they’ll be out of luck. This Anker 8-in-1 USB-C hub will be a good option for most students since it’s fairly compact but still packs in two USB-A ports, two USB-C ports, HDMI and Ethernet connectors and both SD and microSD card slots. Whether they need to plug in a dongle for a wireless mouse or download photos for a project from an SD card, this hub has them covered. One USB-C even supports 100W passthrough charging, so they can power up their laptop while using the hub.

$50 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Echo Dot is Amazon’s most popular smart speaker for a reason: It’s small, it sounds pretty good for its size, and it does a lot more than just play music. Students will like the fact that it won’t take up much space on their desks and that they can ask Alexa to play music from Spotify, Apple Music and other services whenever they want to have an impromptu dorm-room dance party. And, since it plugs into a wall outlet, they never have to remember to charge the Echo Dot like they would with a portable speaker. What’s more, when an assignment stumps them, students can consult Alexa for help. Are we suggesting they ask Alexa for the answers to all their homework conundrums? Not exactly, but at the very least, it’ll be fun to see how much the voice assistant actually knows about any given topic.

$25 at Amazon

EarFun

A good pair of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds can help students stay focused while studying or finishing up a big report. The Earfun Free 2S are our current favorite budget wireless earbuds thanks in part to the excellent active noise cancellation they provide at their affordable price tag. While not as strong as the ANC you’d find on flagship, $250+ earbuds, the ANC here is impressive, and by default, the buds will automatically adjust ANC strength depending on your surroundings. In addition, the Free 2S has a pleasant, warm sound profile, a comfortable design, good battery life and multi-device connectivity, so they’ll be able to use them with both their phone and the laptop as needed.

$40 at Amazon

Peak Design

Every student should have a reusable bag at their disposal. Whether it lives at the bottom of their backpack or buried in their closet, it will come in handy when they go grocery shopping, take snacks over to a friend’s place or lug extra project materials to class. There are thousands of options out there, but we like Peak Design’s packable tote because it’s affordable at $20 and it elevates the traditional reusable bag design. It’s made of 100-percent recycled ripstop nylon, which is resilient and as well as water resistant, and it has a zip closure — something most other reusable bags don’t have. It’ll keep your items more secure with that, and it’s easier to carry in different ways thanks to its single shoulder/hand strap that sports microfiber padding for extra comfort. We also like that it has an interior pocket that can hold a phone, wallet or keys, and it takes up surprisingly little space when it’s packed into itself.

$20 at Peak Design

Anker

When you’re a student, there’s nothing worse than realizing your iPhone is down to 2 percent battery in the middle of a long day filled with classes, extracurriculars and study sessions. The charging cable that came with your phone has probably served you well, but having a second, longer cable can allow you to power up in dire situations even when the closest outlet is across the room. We’ve been fans of Anker’s Powerline series for a while, and this 10-foot USB-C to Lightning cable is worth investing in. Not only is it MFi-certified so it will work well with all Apple devices, but its length gives you much more flexibility than your standard three-foot cable does. It also supports fast charging if you have an appropriately specced adapter to use it with. And for those who don’t have iPhones, Anker has a 10-foot USB-C to C cable that should serve your handsets well, too.

$19 at Amazon

Engadget

Students have enough trouble remembering weekly coursework, deadlines, test dates and the like when they’re at school, so giving them a way to easily access credentials for all of their online accounts will be a welcomed gift. A subscription to 1Password takes all of the guesswork out of logging in to student portals, personal accounts and more. All they’ll need to do is remember one master password, and that will give them access to all of their other login information. 1Password’s browser extensions will even automatically fill in the right usernames and passwords for the websites they’re trying to access, and when the software spots a weak password in their vault, it’ll suggest ways to make it stronger.

$3 at 1Password

Anker

There are rarely enough power outlets to charge all of the things a student needs when they need it most. If the student in your life likes to work from the library or a coffee shop often, there’s a good chance they’ve had to do the charging dance, choosing which device is most crucial to them at the moment and giving it the prime spot on the wall. A surge protector power strip like this one from Anker can eliminate that problem by giving them eight AC outlets to use simultaneously, along with two USb-A ports and one USB-C connector. They’ll be able to charge up their laptop and phone at the same time, and have plenty of extra options if they also need to power a portable monitor or a tablet, or recharge a pair of headphones before they head home for the day. The USB-C port on this device also supports 20W fast-charging, which will be useful when they need to top up a dying smartphone. And with this power strip measuring just 4.5-inches by 3.6-inches, it’s compact enough to live in their backpack.

$28 at Amazon

SAMSUNG

It may not be the flashiest gift, but Samsung’s Pro Plus microSD card could be something a student uses on a regular basis. This card has fast enough read and write speeds to handle any challenge, be it storing high-res images on their mirrorless camera or saving extra games on their Nintendo Switch,. Samsung includes a full-sized adapter with it as well, so they can use it in devices that only take SD cards if need be. We also appreciate that it’s a durable little accessory, too, with water, temperature, magnet and drop protection to keep all of their information safe even amidst accidents.

$28 at Amazon

Crankbrothers

If you or a student you know bikes to and from campus, this Crankbrothers M19 multitool could be the item that saves them in a pinch. Among the 19 different tools it includes, it has everything one would need to fix a surprise bike issue like multiple sizes of hex wrench and a universal chain tool. There are also Philips and flathead screwdrivers in the mix as well, so it could come in handy with other tasks. Understandably, the student in your life may not want to carry around (or store) multiple separate tools or a large kit, so this compact model is a good alternative — convenient, too, since it can easily be tossed into a backpack before leaving for the day.

$33 at Amazon

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

While the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 comes in slightly higher than our $50 threshold, we still think it’s worth mentioning as a solid, affordable Bluetooth speaker for students. It pumps out solid sound at high volumes, and it’s supremely portable, measuring only 4.1 x 3.9 x 1.6 inches. It can easily attach to a bike or a backpack, and it’ll last nearly all day long with its 12-hour battery. But the kicker for students is the speaker’s ability to double as a USB-C power bank. That means they won’t have to remember to bring a totally separate power pack with them, and they’ll still be able to power up their phones while they’re out. While the Micro 2 typically costs $60, we’ve seen it on sale for closer to $50.

$60 at Amazon



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