Posts with «bts2020» label

All the gear you need to game-stream like a pro

Sure, it’s easier than ever to start your own video game streaming channel, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a streamer. There are dozens of factors to consider before pressing that big GO LIVE button on YouTube or Twitch, such as lighting, audio quality, video output and software organization — and that’s just to get on-air. If you want to succeed as a streamer, it also takes practice, charisma, luck and, of course, the proper equipment.

While we can’t help with the patience, natural talent or social factors that determine who becomes a streaming star, we can recommend the tools to make a channel look as professional as possible from day one. If anyone on your gift list is serious about diving into the business of video game streaming, these are the gadgets they’ll be ecstatic to unwrap (and show off on-camera).

Blue Yeti

Blue Microphones

Classic. Iconic. Legendary. Whichever descriptor you pick, the Yeti by Blue remains one of the most reliable, ubiquitous pieces of technology in the live-streaming business. The Yeti is a USB microphone, meaning it’s plug-and-play with most rigs, and it has a specific setting (cardioid pattern) that’s great for live streaming. It’s also more affordable than comparable mics while offering high-quality sound and simple set-up.

Buy Blue Yeti at Amazon - $130

HyperX QuadCast S

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Some mics are built to blend in with their surroundings, and others are designed to stand out — like the QuadCast S by HyperX. The QuadCast S has a light-up core with customizable RGB effects, adding a pop of color to the screen at all times (yep, even when your queue time hits 10 minutes). It also has an internal pop filter and four polar patterns, including cardioid.

Buy HyperX QuadCast S at Amazon - $160

EPOS Sennheiser Game One

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Uncomfortable headphones can destroy an otherwise enjoyable gaming session, and this is extra-true for streamers, who don’t have the time or brainpower to deal with squashed ears. Sennheiser’s Game One headset offers incredibly crisp audio in a cozy, breathable frame, complete with velour earpads that play well with glasses. An open-back design provides 3D sound and lets streamers hear their surroundings without sliding one ear to the side. The Game One is also in the same price range as mid-tier headsets from Razer, HyperX or SteelSeries, but its unique open-acoustic design provides high-quality, crystal clear — and comfy! — soundscapes.

Buy EPOS Game One at Amazon - $130

Razer BlackShark V2

Razer

If you’re looking for style and performance in a budget-friendly headset, Razer has you covered. The BlackShark V2 is a relatively affordable gaming headset with everything a streamer needs, from memory foam ear cushions to a detachable mic. This one is a sound-isolating headset, making it good for public streaming spaces with a lot of background noise. Razer knows what it's doing when it comes to gaming accessories, and the Black Shark V2 is a tried-and-true device for any player, all in that classic black-and-green look.

Buy BlackShark V2 at Amazon - $100

Elgato Stream Deck MK.2

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Elgato’s Stream Deck is the piece of equipment that most streamers don’t realize they need, at least until they get one. This little baby is a customizable desktop controller with 15 LCD keys that can be set to launch and manage apps like Twitch, YouTube, OBS, Spotify and XSplit. It’s especially handy for live situations, where streamers need to smoothly swap among programs and monitor multiple apps at the same time.

Buy Stream Deck MK.2 at Amazon - $150

Logitech C922 Pro Stream

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

One thing every streamer needs is a quality camera. Logitech makes a range of reliable webcams, but for streamers today, a good starting place is the C922 Pro Stream. It hovers around $100, and it streams in 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60fps, with built-in autofocus and lighting correction. The C922 is a workhorse that’ll get the job done with little fuss.

Buy Logitech C922 Pro Stream at Amazon - $100

Razer Kiyo Pro

Razer

There’s only so much lighting you can squeeze into a single streaming space, and that’s where Razer’s Kiyo Pro comes in. It’s a USB camera with an adaptive light sensor that makes the most of dim, backlit and string-lighted environments, and it’s capable of capturing footage at 1080p and 60fps, or in HDR mode at 30fps. This is a high-quality streaming camera with a wide-angle lens and a sleek circular profile, and it comes with a privacy cover to ensure there are no on-air accidents.

Buy Kiyo Pro at Amazon - $199

Razer Ripsaw HD

Razer

For truly professional-looking streams, a capture card is a must, and Razer’s Ripsaw HD is one of the best. The Ripsaw HD is a plug-and-play device that records and streams gameplay at 1080p and 60fps, while allowing the game itself to hit 4K and 60fps. This is how the experts do it.

Buy Ripsaw HD at Amazon - $160

Lightsmoon Line Lamp

Lightsmoon

Once the basic bits of tech are out of the way, it’s time to add some style to your streamer’s scene. Lighting is an easy way to set the mood and draw the eye of new viewers, and the Line Lamp by Lightsmoon is a classy, unobtrusive option for customizable, multicolor ambiance. The Line Lamp is designed to fit in the corner of a room, reflecting off the walls and making the whole room glow with minimal hardware.

Buy Line Lamp at Lightsmoon - $280

Govee Glide Wall Light

Govee

For a mounted lighting option, the Govee Glide Wall Light is the way to go. It consists of six bars that snap together in various configurations, with a range of lighting effects, plus Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice capabilities built-in. Govee’s Glide Wall Light is dimmable, customizable and it has six modes that automatically react to music.

Buy Glide wall light at Amazon - $100

REAWUL large RGB mouse pad

REAWUL

Want a quick, easy and cheap way to make a streaming space pop? Get a big, light-up mouse pad. The large RGB mouse pad by REAWUL is an extended mat that measures 80cm by 30cm, easily covering the area of a full-size keyboard and mouse, with light-up edges. The pad has 14 RGB lighting modes with steady and animated options, and it’s powered via USB. At less than $20, this is a steal as well as a showstopper.

Buy RGB mouse pad at Amazon - $20

The best Chromebooks you can buy

Chromebooks have earned a reputation for being cheap and limited, but that hasn’t been true for a while now. The combination of years worth of software updates and laptop manufacturers making more powerful and better-built Chromebooks means there are a ton of good Chrome OS machines that work well as everyday drivers. Of course, there are an unnecessary number of Chromebooks on the market, so choosing the right one is easier said than done. Fortunately, I’ve tried enough of them at this point to know what to look for and what to avoid.

What is Chrome OS, and why would I use it over Windows?

That’s probably the number one question about Chromebooks. There are plenty of inexpensive Windows laptops on the market, so why bother with Chrome OS? Glad you asked. For me, the simple and clean nature of Chrome OS is a big selling point. If you didn’t know, it’s based on Google’s Chrome browser, which means most of the programs you can run are web based. There’s no bloatware or unwanted apps to uninstall like you often get on Windows laptops, it boots up in seconds, and you can completely reset to factory settings almost as quickly.

Of course, the simplicity is also a major drawback for some users. Not being able to install native software can be a dealbreaker if you’re, say, a video editor or software developer. But there are also plenty of people who do the vast majority of their work in a browser. Unless I need to edit photos for a review, I can do my entire job on a Chromebook.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Google has also added support for Android apps on Chromebooks, which greatly expands the amount of software available. The quality varies widely, but it means you can do more with a Chromebook beyond just web-based apps. For example, you can install the Netflix app and save videos for offline watching; other Android apps like Microsoft’s Office suite and Adobe Lightroom are surprisingly capable. Between Android apps and a general improvement in web apps, Chromebooks are more than just a browser.

What do Chromebooks do well, and when should you avoid them?

Put simply, anything web based. Browsing, streaming music and video and using various social media sites are among the most common things people do on Chromebooks. As you might expect, they also work well with Google services like Photos, Docs, Gmail, Drive, Keep and so on. Yes, any computer that can run Chrome can do that too, but the lightweight nature of Chrome OS makes it a responsive and stable platform.

As I mentioned before, Chrome OS can run Android apps, so if you’re an Android user you’ll find some nice ties between the platforms. You can get most of the same apps that are on your phone on a Chromebook and keep info in sync between them. You can also use some Android phones as a security key for your Chromebook or instantly tether your laptop to use mobile data.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Google continues to tout security as a major differentiator for Chromebooks, and I think it’s definitely a factor worth considering. The first line of defense is auto-updates. Chrome OS updates download quickly in the background and a fast reboot is all it takes to install the latest version. Google says that each webpage and app on a Chromebook runs in its own sandbox, as well, so any security threats are contained to that individual app. Finally, Chrome OS has a self-check called Verified Boot that runs every time a device starts up. Beyond all this, the simple fact that you generally can’t install traditional apps on a Chromebook means there are a lot fewer ways for bad actors to access the system.

As for when to avoid them, the answer is simple: If you rely heavily on a specific native application for Windows or a Mac, chances are good you won’t find the exact same option on a Chromebook. That’s most true in fields like photo and video editing, but it can also be the case in fields like law or finance. Plenty of businesses run on Google’s G suite software, but more still have specific requirements that a Chromebook might not match. If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll also miss out on the way the iPhone easily integrates with an iPad or Mac, as well. For me, the big downside is not being able to access iMessage on a Chromebook.

Finally, gaming is almost entirely a non-starter, as there are no native Chrome OS games of note. You can install Android games from the Google Play Store, but that’s not what most people are thinking of when they want to game on a laptop. That said, Google’s game-streaming service Stadia has changed that long-standing problem. The service isn’t perfect, but it remains the only way to play recent, high-profile games on a Chromebook. It’s not as good as running local games on a Windows computer, but the lag issues that can crop up reflect mostly on Stadia itself and not Chrome OS.

What are the most important specs for a Chromebook?

Chrome OS is lightweight and usually runs well on fairly modest hardware, so the most important thing to look for might not be processor power or storage space. That said, I’d still recommend you get a Chromebook with a relatively recent Intel processor, ideally an eighth-generation or newer M3 or i3. Most non-Intel Chromebooks I’ve tried haven’t had terribly good performance, though Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 2-in-1 runs surprisingly well on its MediaTek processor.

As for RAM, 4GB is enough for most people, though 8GB is a better target if you have the cash, want to future-proof your investment or if you’re a serious tab junkie. Storage space is another place where you don’t need to spend too much; 64GB should be fine for almost anyone. If you plan on storing a lot of local files or loading up your Chromebook with Linux or Android apps, get 128GB. But for what it’s worth, I’ve never felt like I might run out of local storage when using Chrome OS.

Things like the keyboard and display quality are arguably more important than sheer specs. The good news is that you can find less expensive Chromebooks that still have pretty good screens and keyboards that you won’t mind typing on all day. Many cheap Chromebooks still come with tiny, low-resolution displays, but at this point there’s no reason to settle for anything less than 1080p. (If you’re looking for an extremely portable, 11-inch Chromebook, though, you’ll probably have to settle for less.) Obviously, keyboard quality is a bit more subjective, but you shouldn’t settle for a mushy piece of garbage.

Google has an Auto Update policy for Chromebooks, and while that’s not a spec, per se, it’s worth checking before you buy. Basically, Chromebooks get regular software updates automatically for about six years from their release date (though that can vary from device to device). This support page lists the Auto Update expiration date for virtually every Chromebook ever, but a good rule of thumb is to buy the newest machine you can to maximize your support.

How much should I spend?

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Chromebooks started out notoriously cheap, with list prices often coming in under $300. But as they’ve gone more mainstream, they’ve transitioned from being essentially modern netbooks to the kind of laptop you’ll want to use all day. As such, prices have increased a bit over the last few years. At this point, you should expect to spend at least $400 if you want a solid daily driver. There are still many budget options out there that may be suitable as couch machines or secondary devices, but if you want a Chromebook that can be your all-day-every-day laptop, $400 is the least you can expect to spend.

There are also plenty of premium Chromebooks that approach or even exceed $1,000, but I don’t recommend spending that much. Generally, that’ll get you better design quality with more premium materials, as well as more powerful internals and extra storage space. Of course, you also sometimes pay for the brand name. But, the specs I outlined earlier are usually enough.

Right now, there actually aren’t too many Chromebooks that even cost that much. Google’s Pixelbook Go comes in $999 and $1,399 configurations, but the more affordable $650 and $850 options will be just as good for nearly everyone. Samsung released the $1,000 Galaxy Chromebook in 2020; this luxury device does almost everything right but has terrible battery life. Samsung quickly learned from that mistake and is now offering the Galaxy Chromebook 2 with more modest specs, but vastly better battery life at a much more affordable price (more on that laptop later). For the most part, you don’t need to spend more than $850 to get a premium Chromebook that’ll last you years.

Engadget picks

Best overall: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Look beyond the awkward name and you’ll find a Chromebook that does just about everything right that’s also a tremendous value. It gets all the basics right: The 13-inch 1080p touchscreen is bright, though it’s a little hard to see because of reflections in direct sunlight. It runs on a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, the eight-hour battery life is solid, and the backlit keyboard is one of the best I’ve used on any laptop lately, Chromebook or otherwise. The Flex 5 is now a little over a year old, but it still holds up well and is even cheaper than it was when it first launched. It can now regularly be found for well under $400 on Amazon. (As of this writing, it’s priced at $329.) That’s an outstanding value for a Chromebook this capable.

Naturally, Lenovo cut a few corners to hit that price. Most significantly, it only has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy a computer with those specs — but Chrome OS is far less dependent on local storage. Unless you were planning to store a ton of movies or install a huge variety of Android apps, 64GB is enough for moderately advanced use. I was concerned about the non-upgradeable 4GB of RAM, but my testing showed that the IdeaPad Flex 5 can run plenty of tabs and other apps without many hiccups. If you push things hard, you’ll occasionally have to wait for tabs to refresh if you haven’t viewed them recently, but other than that this is a solid performer, particularly for the price.

Other things in the IdeaPad Flex 5’s favor include that it has both USB-C and USB-A ports and a 360-degree convertible hinge. I personally don’t find myself flipping laptops around to tablet or stand mode very often, but it’s there if you like working in those formats. At three pounds and 0.66 inches thick, it’s not the lightest or slimmest option out there, but those specs are also totally reasonable considering the price.

Ultimately, the Ideapad Flex 5 hits the sweet spot for a large majority of potential Chromebook buyers out there, providing a level of quality and performance that’s pretty rare to find at this price point. That said, given this laptop has been out for over a year now, we’re keeping an eye out for any potential replacements Lenovo offers, as well as comparable options other manufacturers release.

Buy Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook on Amazon - $430

Upgrade picks: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2, Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Engadget

Premium Chromebooks with more power, better design and higher prices have become common in recent years. If you want to step up over the excellent but basic Lenovo Flex 5, there are two recent options worth considering: Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 and Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713.

The Galaxy Chromebook 2 is infinitely more stylish than most other Chromebooks, with a bright metallic red finish and a design that looks far better than the utilitarian Flex 5 and Chromebook Spin 713. As I mentioned earlier, Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook 2 fixes some of the serious flaws we identified in the original. Specifically, the 2020 Galaxy Chromebook had terrible battery life and cost $999; this year’s model starts at $549 and can actually last seven hours off the charger. That’s not great, but it’s far better than the lousy four hours the original offered.

Samsung cut a few corners to lower the Galaxy Chromebook 2’s price. Most noticeable is the 1080p 13.3-inch touchscreen, down from the 4K panel on the older model. The good news is that the display is among the best 1080p laptop screens I’ve seen in a long time, and the lower resolution helps the battery life, too. The Galaxy Chromebook 2 is also a bit thicker and heavier than its predecessor, but it’s still reasonably compact.

Finally, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 has a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor rather than the Core i5 Samsung included last year. All these changes add up to a laptop that isn’t as ambitious, but is ultimately much easier to recommend. Instead of pushing to have the best screen in the thinnest and lightest body with a faster processor, Samsung pulled everything back a bit to make a better-priced but still premium laptop.

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713, by comparison, doesn’t look like much from the outside — it’s a chunky gray slab with little to distinguish it from many other basic laptops. While it doesn’t seem exciting, the Spin 713 is just as well-made as the Galaxy Chromebook 2, with a sturdy hinge and body. But what’s most interesting is the display, a 13.5-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. That makes it a much better option than 1080p displays when you’re scrolling vertically through documents and webpages. It has a somewhat unusual resolution of 2,256 x 1,504, thanks to the taller aspect ratio, but it makes for a more pixel-dense display than you’ll find on your standard 13.3-inch, 1080p laptop. Long story short: The screen is great.

As for the rest of the hardware, the 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor is more than enough power for most tasks, and the keyboard and trackpad are solid, if not the best I’ve used before. The same can be said for battery life: I got about the same six to seven hours using the Spin 713 as I did using the Galaxy Chromebook 2. I wish it were better in both cases, but it’s in line with other premium Chromebooks I’ve used lately.

The Spin 713 configuration that I tested costs $699, the same as the Galaxy Chromebook 2. Because I’m such a fan of the 3:2 display, I prefer the Spin 713 (which also has a more powerful processor), but the Galaxy Chromebook 2 is worth a look if you want a laptop that has a little more style and a better keyboard.

Last year, Google’s Pixelbook Go was our pick for the best premium model. It’s still an excellent choice and one of my favorite Chromebooks to use, but it’s almost two years old. Its age coupled with its aging 8th-generation Intel processor make it tougher to recommend. That said, it’s still one of the thinnest and lightest Chromebooks around, and it still handles everything I can throw at it. It also has the best keyboard I’ve used on any recent Chromebook. There’s still a lot to like, but it’s harder to justify spending $650 or more on it. Hopefully Google will release an updated version this fall.

Buy Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 starting at $549Buy Acer Chromebook Spin 713 at Best Buy - $629

A good option for kids: Acer Chromebook 512

Acer

While Lenovo’s Flex 5 is inexpensive enough that you could get one for your kid, Acer’s Chromebook 512 might be a better option for young ones in your life. First off, it’s specifically built to take abuse. In addition to the military-rated (MIL-STD 810G) impact-resistant body, you can spill up to 330mL of liquid on the keyboard. A drainage system will flush it out and keep the insides working. (Note that I haven’t actually tried that.) The keyboard features “mechanically anchored” keys that should be harder for kids to pick off, too. Regardless of exactly how much water you can pour onto that keyboard, the Chromebook 512 should handle a child’s abuse better than your average laptop.

This computer isn’t a speed demon, but the Intel Celeron N4000 chip coupled with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage should be fine for basic tasks. The 12-inch screen isn’t a standout either, but it has the same taller 3:2 aspect ratio as Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713. That means you’ll get more vertical screen real estate than you would on the 16:9, 11-inch panels typically found in laptops of this class. (The Chromebook 512’s screen resolution is 1,366 x 912, whereas most 11-inch Chromebooks use a 1,366 x 768 panel.)

All in all, it’s a fairly modest computer, but grade-school kids, a computer that can take some abuse and runs an easy-to-use OS that’s well supported in education should fit the bill well. The Chromebook 512 is priced at $249.99 direct from Acer, but it's going for $219.99 as of this writing at other retailers.

Buy Acer Chromebook 512 at Best Buy - $220

The best study-from-home essentials for students

Engadget recommends a variety of laptops every year as part of our annual back-to-school guide. But that’s not quite enough if you want a productive study environment. Whether you’re a student staying home this year or you’re returning to campus, you’ll benefit from a few additional essentials. A laptop stand is useful for preventing neck and arm pain, while a lumbar pillow supports the lower back. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones does wonders for blocking out distractions and a LED lamp helps ease eye fatigue. From an external keyboard to a USB dock, we think all our suggestions below will lead to much-improved setup for those long study sessions.

Soundance Laptop Stand

Will Lipman Photography / Soundance

While laptops are more convenient than desktops, using just your notebook for long periods of time is bad for your posture and can lead to neck ache. That’s why we strongly recommend getting a laptop stand. You can position your machine so that the screen is at the appropriate height. In general, you want your eye level to be one to two inches below the top of the display.

One of our team’s favorites is this one from Soundance, which can support laptops with 10- to 15-inch screens. It’s made from a sturdy aluminum alloy and the surface that holds the laptop is rubberized, which prevents it from sliding around. And, thanks to a series of detachable components, it’s also one of a few stands that’s easily portable. You can take it apart and put it together in minutes, making it great not just for your desk at home, but also for using it in the library.

The Soundance raises your laptop six inches above the desk, which should work well for most people. Also, the elevated design both facilitates better posture and helps ventilate your laptop. There’s even enough space underneath for you to store your keyboard and mouse when they’re not in use. If you want one with adjustable height, we recommend the Rain Design iLevel 2. It’s not quite as portable and it’s more expensive than the Soundance, but it’s a good option if you need a stand with more flexibility.

Buy Soundance laptop stand at Amazon - $24Buy Rain Design iLevel 2 at Amazon - $47

Logitech K780 multi-device wireless keyboard

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you do get a laptop stand, you’ll definitely want an external keyboard to go along with it. (It’s not going to be comfortable typing on your laptop while it’s docked in the stand.) We recommend a wireless model so you don’t have to worry about cords cluttering up your desk. Logitech’s line of Bluetooth keyboards is an Engadget favorite, and the K780 is one of the brand’s most versatile models. It’s a full-size keyboard complete with a numpad, but it still feels slim and compact. The keys are responsive and comfortable as well, and you can pair it with up to three devices. There’s even an integrated cradle if you wish to use it with a smartphone or iPad.

Buy Logitech K780 at Amazon - $59

Logitech M525 wireless mouse

Will Lipman Photography / Logitech

In addition to the external keyboard, you should get a wireless mouse to match. Logitech’s M525 is a great option thanks to its ergonomic design and affordable price point. It’s small enough that it won’t take up much space on your desk and It has an ambidextrous design that’ll fit both right and left-handed users. Its precision scroll wheel has a tilt function that allows for side-to-side scrolling as well. We should note, however, that this isn’t a Bluetooth mouse; you connect it to your computer via a USB receiver.

If you’d rather have the convenience of Bluetooth, consider the MX Anywhere 3. It has a 4,000-dpi Track Anywhere sensor that works on most surfaces, even glass. However, the MX Anywhere 3 is a lot pricier at $80 and it doesn’t include the aforementioned tilt wheel, so bear that in mind.

Buy Logitech M525 at Amazon - $25Buy MX Anywhere 3 at Amazon - $80

Purple Back Cushion

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Long study sessions often mean sitting for an extended amount of time, which can result in lower back pain. You could get a chair with better back support, but those can be expensive. Plus, if you’re living in a dorm, you probably don’t have much choice in furniture anyway. The next best option is to get a lumbar support pillow. I personally recommend the Purple Back Cushion because it has a cushy grid that’s malleable enough to mold to the contour of my spine. One of the features that sets it apart from other cushions is that it has hundreds of air channels, which means you won’t get a sweaty back after sitting in a stuffy dorm room all day long. It comes with a washable cushion cover and an integrated strap that helps you attach it to most chairs.

Buy Purple Back Cushion at Amazon - $39

Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38

Will Lipman Photography / Taotronics

Another desk must-have is a lamp for those late-night study sessions. And if you’re going to spend money on one, it’s a good idea to get a lamp that can charge your devices at the same time. We’ve commended the Taotronics desk lamps in previous buying guides due to their multi-functionality, which is why we feel so confident recommending the Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38 for most students.

The lamp has a built-in Qi-enabled wireless charger on its base that works with fast-charge compatible iPhone and Samsung devices up to 7.5W and 10W, respectively. Additionally, it has a USB port for charging other devices that aren’t Qi compatible. A multipurpose lamp is perfect for students who have a limited space and budget, plus the quick-charging base means you can quickly top up your battery in between classes. Of course, not having to deal with a charging cable while you’re studying is also a bonus.

The LED Desk Lamp 38 is also just a really excellent lamp, with five lighting modes and five brightness levels. You can use it on your nightstand too: It has a “night light” and a timer mode that automatically shuts off after an hour, which is helpful for those of us who like to read before bed.

Buy Desk Lamp 38 at Taotronics - $56

Sony WH-CH710N noise cancelling headphones

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones is great for blocking out unwanted noise during study sessions, be it from annoying siblings or a raucous roommate. You might be hesitant to get one because you think noise-cancelling headphones are expensive, and for the most part that’s correct. Fortunately, there are some budget options that aren’t terrible.

Take Sony’s WH-CH710N wireless cans, for example. Engadget’s Billy Steele noted that it offers decent range and good clarity, adept ANC, plus it has dual noise sensors that can detect environmental noise. You can also switch to ambient sound mode if you need to quickly hear the world around you. They also offer an impressive 35 hours of battery life, plus USB-C quick charging that promises 60 minutes of playback on a 10-minute charge.

These headphones may look a little more basic than the higher-end XM4s, but Sony didn’t compromise on comfort here thanks to adjustable sliders and soft oval-shaped earcups. They’re also much more affordable at $198 (and we’ve seen them for less), giving you a lot of bang for your buck.

Buy WH-CH710N at Amazon - $178

Cooper Standing Desk Converter by Fully

Fully

Sitting for long periods is bad for your health, which is why many people like to have standing desks. Unfortunately, they can be expensive, plus you might not even have the space for one. Instead, consider a standing desk converter that can be used with the desk you already own. Fully’s Cooper is a staff favorite, and we like it more than even the company’s Cora model because it has two levels: one for your laptop and another for your external keyboard and mouse. Raising and lowering it is easy thanks to a simple hydraulic lift, and it’s external-monitor friendly thanks to its 35 pounds (16 kilograms) weight limit. Plus, unlike a lot of other sit-stand converters, it’s pretty stylish to boot — we especially like the one with the bamboo finish.

Buy Cooper converter at Fully - $299

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

Will Lipman Photography / Caldigit

Your computer can be your portal to, well, everything when you're in school — you're probably using it to attend classes and complete coursework all while also relying on it to connect with family, game with friends and the like. You may find yourself constantly connecting and disconnecting peripherals and accessories while pushing your machine to its limits, and that's where a dock like this one from CalDigit can come in handy. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino likes it because it has 10 ports, including USB-A, USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet and DisplayPort (or HDMI, depending on the model you choose), and it supports up to two 4K monitors with a single cable.

Our favorite part, though, is that it works with both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C laptops, so if you’re not sure which you have, you don’t have to worry about it. You can also use it with the latest iPads, such as iPad Pros and the 4th-gen Air. Unlike smaller dongles, it’s not the most portable solution, but the Pro Dock makes up for that by giving you many more ports than your traditional adapter has — and it provides up to 94W of power to charge your device while it’s connected.

Buy USB-C Pro Dock at Amazon - $239

24-inch ViewSonic VA2456-MHD monitor

Will Lipman Photography / ViewSonic

Sometimes a laptop screen just isn’t big enough, and an external monitor is needed for you to do your best work. It’s useful for those who need more screen real estate for stats and charts, Excel spreadsheets, editing photos or video, or just looking over copious amounts of code.

However, monitors can be pricey. ViewSonic’s 24-inch VA2456-MHD, however, delivers an impressive feature set for the price. Though we haven’t reviewed it, it’s highly-rated on Amazon and we’ve liked ViewSonic’s other monitors in the past so we know the company has a solid track record for quality. The VA2456-MHD has HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA connections, which makes it pretty versatile for a budget monitor. It also has 1080p resolution and an IPS panel for wide-angle viewing. Its three-sided frameless design is sleek too, an important quality for such a relatively large object. Lastly, it has a blue light filter to help minimize eye strain.

We should note however, that those looking for a color-accurate monitor might want to invest in something more powerful, like Dell’s UltraSharp U2720Q, but it is also considerably more expensive at nearly $700.

Buy 24-inch ViewSonic monitor at Amazon - $180

Ironflask 24 oz Classic tumbler

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s important to stay hydrated even when you’re at your desk, which is why we like having a dedicated water vessel nearby. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino recommends the Ironflask 24-ounce Classic tumbler as a more affordable alternative to a Yeti or a Hydro Flask (the new Nomad tumbler is slightly more travel-friendly thanks to its leak-proof flip lid). Its double-walled, vacuum insulated construction can keep drinks cold for up to 16 hours and hot for up to four hours. That means you can use it for water as well as coffee or tea when you need a pick-me-up. It comes in a variety of colors, and it ships with two stainless straws, two plastic straws and straw cleaning brushes — so not only is the cup itself easy to clean, but you’re getting the tools to clean the straws, too. It also fits standard-size cup holders, which is great when you want to grab a drink on the go.

Buy Ironflask Classic tumbler at Amazon - $23Buy Nomad tumbler at Ironflask - $24

The best student discounts we found for 2021

They say your college years are the best of your life. But they tend to leave out the part where you’re scrounging every dollar for textbooks, food and (if you’re lucky) the occasional weekend outing with friends. Money is tight when you’re a student, and that financial stress can be compounded by the reality of having to stay on top of your studies.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s student discounts. Many companies offer their products and services for less to those struggling through lectures, writing research papers and studying for finals. We’ve compiled a list of the best student discounts you can get on useful services, along with some things you’ll enjoy in your down time. Just keep in mind that most of these deals require you to prove your status as a student either by signing up with your .edu email address or providing some form of student identification.

Shopping

Amazon Prime Student

If you’re not piggy-backing off of your parents’ Amazon Prime account, you can have the subscription for less while you’re in school. College students can get Prime Student for $6.50 per month or $60 per year, and it includes the same perks as a standard Prime membership including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery in select areas, and access to the entire Prime Video library. Amazon also currently offers a six-month free trial, so you’ll pay even less during your first year.

Buy Prime Student at Amazon - $60/year

Best Buy

While it doesn’t offer a specific student discount, Best Buy has Student Deals that you can sign up to receive. Aside from proving your student status, the only requirement is for you to be a My Best Buy member and that program is free to sign up for. We actually recommend that most people sign up for My Best Buy because some items, especially during site-wide sales, will be even cheaper for members. All student deals will appear in the Member Offers page in your account.

Sign up for Student Deals at Best Buy

Apple

Apple offers some deals to students and educators. This year in particular, Apple is throwing in a free pair of AirPods when you buy select Macs or iPads for college. You’ll get AirPods with the regular wired charging case free, or you can upgrade to AirPods with the wireless charging case for $40 more. Alternatively, you can get the AirPods Pro for $90 more. Apple knows how popular AirPods are and it clearly wants to sweeten the deal for students who have been thinking about getting a new computer before heading off to college.

The AirPods promotion also includes Apple education pricing on Macs and iPads. There isn’t a flat percentage rate across all products; the discounts are device dependent. For example, right now students can get a new MacBook Air M1 starting at $899, which is $100 less than the normal starting price (Amazon's matching this price, too). The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts off $100 cheaper and the new iPad Pros start at $749, or $50 cheaper than normal. These are decent savings if you must have a brand new Apple product, but those with tighter budgets should also consider Apple’s refurbishment program.

Shop Apple’s back-to-school promos

Samsung

Samsung offers up to 10 percent off most of its products to students and educators. The Galaxy manufacturer also has some decent offers like a "speed and storage" bundle that includes two Samsung drives for under $300. We’d recommend stretching that 10 percent discount as much as possible by using it on big-ticket items like a Samsung laptop or a Galaxy smartphone if you need one. Otherwise, Samsung has solid accessories like the Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Shop Samsung’s back-to-school promos

Microsoft

Microsoft also provides students and educators with up to 10 percent off its gadgets, including the already affordable Surface Go 2 and the Surface Headphones 2. And Microsoft’s online store doesn’t only sell Surface devices — you can also find Windows PCs from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others there at discounted prices.

Shop Microsoft’s back-to-school promos

Streaming

Spotify

Spotify Premium’s student plan gives you a lot for only $5 per month. Besides access to millions of songs, it also includes Hulu’s ad-supported plan and Showtime’s ad-free service. You’d spend roughly $27 per month if you paid for all three separately at their full prices, making this student offer one of the best you can get.

Buy Spotify Premium Student - $5/month

Pandora

Pandora also offers students its Premium membership for $5 per month. Pandora’s offering doesn’t include any additional services, but you do get an ad-free experience, personalized music, unlimited skips and unlimited offline play.

Buy Pandora Premium Student- $5/month

Apple Music

Apple also slashes 50 percent off its Apple Music subscription for students, bringing it down to $5 per month. The offer is available for up to 48 months so you can enjoy the rate for the entirety of your college experience. What’s more, the company bundles Apple TV+ in this student offer, so you can watch Apple originals like The Morning Show and See.

Buy Apple Music Student membership - $5/month

Tidal

Tidal provides student discounts on both of its streaming services: Premium and Hi-Fi. Premium drops to $5 per month, down from $10, while Hi-Fi costs $10 per month, down from $20. This year, the company is offering a three-month free trial of either of its services to any new user through the end of August. Tidal is still often overshadowed by Spotify and Apple Music, but these discounts are a good way to give it a try without spending too much money.

Buy Tidal Student starting at $10/month

Hulu

College students can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported plan for only $2 per month. That’s $4 less than the normal price and a great deal considering all of the content that Hulu has to offer (think The Handmaid’s Tale, Grey’s Anatomy, Rick & Morty and more). Sure you have to deal with commercials, but it’s a small price to pay to binge-watch shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, which can provide a much-needed laugh when you’re drowning in coursework.

Buy Hulu (ad-supported) - $2/month

YouTube

If you’re already spending a lot of time watching YouTube, you may have a better experience with YouTube Premium. The Student plan knocks nearly 50 percent off the price so you’ll pay $7 per month for ad-free video viewing, background play, video downloads and access to YouTube Premium Music. The latter is YouTube’s attempt at a Spotify/Apple Music competitor, but it has a long way to go before it can really hold a candle to those services. However, if you listen to most of your music via YouTube already, Premium could be your one-stop-shop for music and video streaming.

Buy YouTube Premium Student - $7/month

Headspace

Being a student is stressful even in the best of times, but now it’s even more difficult to concentrate and find peace. Headspace is just one of many meditation and mindfulness apps available that can help with that, but it stands apart with a great student discount: $10 for the entire year, or $60 less than a normal annual membership. In addition to a large library of meditation lessons and routines to follow, Headspace recently added SleepCasts, a collection of soothing voices reading bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, as well as “mindful” workout routines.

Buy Headspace Student plan - $10/year

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

You’re probably using Adobe products if you’re studying anything to do with digital art or design. Adobe CC is the industry standard in this space but the entire suite of programs is quite expensive at $53 per month. Thankfully, Adobe has education pricing for students that drops the entire creative suite to $20 per month for the first year. That includes the big programs like Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC along with Lightroom CC, Premiere Pro CC, Adobe XD and more.

After your first year, the monthly cost increases to $30 per month. While not ideal, it’s still more affordable for students than it is for industry professionals. If you’re not tied to Adobe programs, you can also consider Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher apps from Serif ($50 each for the Mac or Windows versions), which compete with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Buy Adobe CC - $20/month

Ableton Live

Whether or not you’re studying music production, students can get 40 percent off Ableton Live Standard or Suite for as long as they are enrolled full-time. That brings Live 11 Standard down to $269 and Suite down to $449 — great discounts on some of the best music software available right now.

Buy Ableton Live starting at $269

Microsoft 365

Many students have to use Microsoft 365 tools on a regular basis. If your college or university doesn’t provide you with an account, you can still get Microsoft 365 for free by taking advantage of the company’s student and educator discount. This gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams free of charge, which is a great deal considering an annual subscription costs $100.

Get Microsoft 365

Ulysses

Spending all day and night writing papers is even more frustrating when you don’t have all your writing organized in one place. Ulysses is a popular writing app for mac/iOS that can be used for note taking as well as thesis writing, with features like auto-save and auto-backup, word-count writing goals, markup, plain text support and DropBox integration. Normally, Ulysses costs $40 per year but students can get it for only $11 every six months, or $22 per year. There isn’t a direct alternative for Windows users, but you do have options including Scrivener (a one-time student price of $41.65), IA Writer (a $20 one-time price) and FocusWriter (free and open-source).

Buy Ulysses - $22/year

Evernote

Evernote can be an indispensable tool if you like to keep all of your thoughts in one place — everything from class notes to web clippings to to-do lists. Students can get half off one year of Evernote Premium, which brings the price down to $4 per month or $48 for the year. Premium is the way to go if you’re investing in Evernote because it syncs your notes across unlimited devices, gives you offline access, lets you annotate PDFs and search saved documents.

Buy Evernote Premium (1 year) - $4/month

Squarespace Student plan

Whether you’re itching to get a jump-start on your portfolio or just want an online space for to show off your work, Squarespace is a good option as it gives students a 50 percent discount on any of its annual plans. The most affordable option will cost $72 for the year, which is half the normal yearly price of $144. Squarespace is one of many website builders out there, but it’s particularly popular with creative professionals. Its customizable templates make it easy to build a website and make it look exactly how you want it. Plus, you can upgrade down the line to add things like website analytics, custom JavaScript and CSS and e-commerce.

Buy Squarespace starting at $72/year

News

It’s always been important to keep up with the news, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Yes, it’s daunting sometimes and we don’t expect (or encourage) you to inhale every breaking-news headline as it’s published. However, it’s crucial to know what’s going on in the country and the world as a whole. Here are some reputable news organizations that offer student discounts on their monthly or annual subscription plans.

The Atlantic: Starts at $25 per year for digital-only access.

The New York Times: $4 every four weeks for a base subscription.

The Washington Post: $5 every four weeks for digital-only access.

The Wall Street Journal: Starting at $4 per month for the Student Digital Pack.

The best laptops for gaming and schoolwork

There's never been a better time to be a PC gamer, especially when it comes to laptops. Gaming notebooks are lighter, more powerful and cheaper than ever before. They're particularly useful for students because their beefy hardware could be helpful for rendering video and doing any other schoolwork that would make super-thin ultraportables sweat. You can find some general advice on choosing gaming laptops in our guide. In this piece, you'll find a few selections specifically geared towards school use.

Are gaming laptops good for college?

As stated above, gaming laptops are especially helpful if you're doing any demanding work. Their big promise is powerful graphics performance, which isn't just limited to games. Video editing and 3D rendering programs can also tap into their GPUs to handle especially demanding tasks. While you can find decent GPUs on some productivity laptops, like Dell's XPS 15, you can sometimes find better deals on gaming laptops. My general advice for any new workhorse machine: Get at least 16GB of RAM and the largest solid state drive you can find. Those components are both typically hard to upgrade down the line.

The one big downside to choosing a gaming notebook is portability. For the most part, we'd recommend 15-inch models to get the best balance of size and price. Those typically weigh in around 4.5 pounds, which is a significantly more than three-pound ultraportables. Today's gaming notebooks are still far lighter than older models, though, so at least you won't be lugging around a 10-pound brick. Also, if you're not into LED lights and other gamer-centric bling, keep an eye out for more understated models (or make sure you know how to turn those lights off).

Best midrange for most people: ASUS Zephyrus G15

Will Lipman Photography / ASUS

The Zephryus G15 has all the power you'd want in a gaming laptop, at a price that's more reasonable than higher-end options. It's a slightly larger follow-up to last year's favorite for this category (the G14), but there's still lots to love. The G15 features AMD's latest Ryzen 5000 processors, along with NVIDIA's RTX 3000 GPUs. And, judging from our benchmarks, it manages to make good use of all that power. It also has a fast 165Hz 1440p screen, which is ideal for playing games at high framerates. The G15 doesn't have a webcam, but its solid specs and performance more than make up for that.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy - $1,850

Best high-end option: Razer Blade 15

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For years, Razer has staked a reputation for building gaming laptops that look as good as MacBooks. And that's still true. Razer's Blade 15 features a sleek and sturdy metal case, an impressively understated design (unless you really kick up those RGB keyboard lights), and just about all the power you'd want in a portable gaming powerhouse. If money is no object, you can equip the Blade 15 with Intel's latest 11th-gen processors, NVIDIA's powerful RTX 3080 and either a 240Hz QHD or 360Hz HD screen.

While you'll pay a bit more for the Blade 15 compared to some other models, you've still got a few different price points to work with. The entry-level model starts at $1,699 with an RTX 3060 GPU and 144Hz 1080p display. That's certainly enough power for most games and creative apps. If you're looking for something a bit smaller, Razer's new AMD-powered Blade 14 looks compelling as well.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer- $1,699

A stylish mid-range option: Alienware M15 R5 Ryzen Edition

Will Lipman Photography / Alienware

Alienware's M15 notebooks have made for solid options over the last few years, but the R5 Ryzen Edition adds something new to the mix with AMD's latest processors. Basically, you can expect slightly better multi-core performance from this machine, compared to its Intel-equipped siblings. The Alienware M15 still retains the brand's signature, sci-fi-like aesthetic, making the R5 Ryzen Edition a great option if you want a notebook that’s also distinct (without looking garish like cheaper offerings).

Buy M15 R5 Ryzen Edition at Dell - $1,274

Best budget option: Dell G5 15

Will Lipman Photography / Dell

While Alienware has established itself as a solid premium brand, Dell's cheaper G-series notebooks are worth a look for anyone on a budget. In particular, the G5 15 continues the trend of delivering very capable hardware under $1,000. Sure, the case may contain a lot of plastic, and the screen doesn't offer all of the latest niceties, but for the price it's hard to find something much better.

Buy G5 15 at Dell - $960

Best no-limit gaming laptop: ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15 SE

Will Lipman Photography / ASUS

Taking the idea of a gaming laptop to the absolute extreme, ASUS's latest Zephyrus Duo combines AMD's latest Ryzen mobile processors with all of NVIDIA's great RTX 30-series hardware. And, true to its name, it has two screens: a gorgeous 15.6-inch main display, and a very wide secondary panel right below. That opens up a near desktop-level of multitasking, since you can have windows spread across both screens. That could be useful for browsing the web and keeping an eye on Twitter at the same time. (Or, perhaps squeezing in a game of Overwatch while following an online lecture on the other screen. We won't tell anyone.)

Buy Zephyrus Duo 15 SE at ASUS - $2,899

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 and need to buy ASAP. We at Engadget also know from experience that there are unassuming gadgets that can make your collegiate life easier. To help you get ahead of the game, we’ve compiled the best school gadgets under $50 so you can buy the most crucial ones before you even step on campus.

Anker PowerExtend Cube USB-C power strip

Basic, two-receptacle wall outlets just don’t cut it anymore now that we all have a small army of devices that we rely on every day. A power strip like Anker’s PowerExtend will become a necessity for students as it gives them more power options than what comes standard in their dorm rooms. This cube has two USB-A ports, one 30W USB-C port and three AC outlets, giving you more ways to keep your laptop, phone, tablet, headphones and other devices charged up. The five-foot cable is another perk as it prevents you from needing to hug the wall of the library in order to get things done. Also, it weighs just 9.2 ounces so you can bring it with you whenever you need your own personal charging station.

Buy PowerExtend strip at Amazon - $40

Incase Bionic accessories organizer

Staying organized is key to staying sane while in school, and that’s true for both your digital and physical essentials. For the latter, Incase’s Bionic Accessory Organizer is just the right size to act as both a pencil case and an “everything else” holder. It has a number of pen loops inside for those that prefer to take handwritten notes, but it also has a bunch of variously sized pockets that can easily hold things like your portable hard drive, an extra phone charger and even a compact wireless mouse. And unlike those cheap pencil cases you’ll find at the dollar store, this one’s made of ocean-recycled material that’s the equivalent of seven plastic bottles.

Buy Bionic accessory organizer at Incase - $50

Lention 4-in-1 USB-C hub

Your brand new laptop might be blazing fast and super light, but it’s probably lacking in the port department. Such is the trade-off companies make when creating powerful thin-and-light machines, leaving us stuck living the dongle life. But it doesn’t have to be so painful if you get the right adapter for your laptop. Lention’s 4-in-1 USB-C hub is a great option for students. It’s compact, measuring 3 x 1.4 inches, and it includes three USB-A ports and one USB-C port. That should let you connect accessories like mice and keyboards, and even access files on a thumb drive when you’re working on a group project. The USB-C port is charging only, but that’s not necessarily a downside — you can use it with your laptop’s power adapter and USB-C cable to power your machine while using the adapter at the same time.

Buy Lention 4-in-1 hub at Amazon - $20

Anker PowerLine II USB-C to Lightning cable (10-foot)

As a student, there’s nothing worse than realizing your iPhone is down to 2 percent battery when you’re in the middle of submitting an assignment online. 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 long time, 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 powerful 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.

Buy Powerline II USB-C to Lightning cable at Amazon - $23

Apple AirTag

We’re all familiar with the icy cold panic that rushes through us when you realize you’ve misplaced your keys, wallet, phone or other valuables. There are plenty of gadgets that can help you find those items, but AirTags are arguably the best for those who live in Apple’s ecosystem. Like most Apple accessories, setting up AirTags is as easy as placing them in close proximity to your iPhone and figuring out how you want to attach them to your belongings (and you don’t have to shell out a lot of money for fancy keyrings to do so). After that, if you do lose your stuff, you can use your phone to force the AirTag to emit a loud chime. And if you’re still within Bluetooth range, Apple’s Precision Finding feature can literally guide you back to your belongings. If you don’t have an iPhone, you can skip the AirTags and opt for one of Tile’s many Bluetooth trackers to get a similar experience.

Buy AirTag at Amazon - $29

SanDisk Dual Drive Go

While you may be used to saving your assignments in the cloud, it can’t hurt to have local copies as backups. SanDisk’s Dual Drive Go is a tiny thumb drive with both USB-C and USB-A connectors, so you can download and save important programs, files, photos and other documents from almost any device. It works with laptops, tablets and smartphones, and it even has a companion app that can automatically backup your files so you always have the most up-to-date version on hand. We appreciate the dual USB connectivity, the device’s tiny size and it’s affordable price — you can grab a 256GB model for only $30 to $40.

Buy SanDisk Dual Drive Go at Amazon - $30

Amazon Echo Dot (4th-gen)

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 doesn’t take up too much space on their desks and they can ask Alexa to play music from Spotify, Apple Music and others 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. Also, 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 the voice assistant’s answers could give them a good starting point for further research.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50

Anozer tablet stand

Whether you’re studying, attending a virtual class or watching a movie, it’s crucial to have your device of choice at a comfortable viewing angle. Anozer’s phone and tablet stand is a sturdy yet unassuming solution — it’s height- and angle-adjustable, its metal-weighted base with rubber feet helps it stay in place, and it can be folded flat so it’s easily portable. We also appreciate its silicone covered pad and rubber hooks that keep your phone or tablet from slipping and sliding around. It’s a must-have for anyone that primarily uses mobile devices to complete their schoolwork.

Buy Anozer stand at Amazon - $15

Manta Sleep Mask

Sleep can be hard to come by in college. Sometimes you may have to cram late into the night to prepare for an exam, but other times you’ll be subjected to the whims of others as they galavant around your dorm room as if classes and projects simply don’t exist. When you need to shut out the world in the hopes of catching a few ZZZs, Manta’s sleep mask could be a lifesaver. We like its adjustable eye cups that block out nearly 100 percent of light, limiting any visual distractions around you. The headband is adjustable as well, you can tighten or loosen the mask to your liking. And if it becomes indispensable to you, Manta sells different types of eye cups that you can switch out when you want relief from migraines or a bit more TLC for your skin. We also recommend completing the “do not disturb” bundle with a good pair of earplugs that block out audible annoyances when you’re trying to sleep.

Buy Manta sleep mask at Amazon - $30

RAVPower 20,000mAh charger

It goes without saying that a portable way to recharge your phone is essential nowadays. But a battery pack that’s capable of charging all of your devices, including your laptop, is even better. RAVPower’s 20,000mAh portable charger does just this — it’s 60W output allows it to juice up machines like a MacBook Pro from 0 to 60 percent in just one hour. And if you’ve got your laptop covered, it can power your tablet, smartphone, headphones and other gadgets quickly as well. Just before publishing this article, RAVPower’s charger went up in price to $54, but even if it’s a bit more expensive than our original threshold, we still think it’s worth the investment.

Buy 20,000mAh 60W portable charger at RAVPower - $54

USB desk fan

Dorm rooms can be insufferably hot throughout the school year, and there are few things worse than sweating when you’re trying to study. A gadget to help circulate air is a necessity and this USB desk fan is small and quiet enough to work in almost any environment. It doesn’t take up much space on a desk and its nearly 4-foot-long cable makes it easy to plug into a power source — probably your laptop since it’s likely to be close by while studying, but it could also be a USB adapter connected to an AC outlet or even a portable battery pack. The fan also has three speeds and the head can be angled to direct air at your face or anywhere else you want it.

Buy desk fan at Amazon - $12

Brita filter bottle

The environmental reasons for carrying a reusable water bottle are clear, and hydration is important for everyone — not only students. Brita’s is a good option because it’s made of BPA-free plastic, comes in 26-ounce and 36-ounce capacities, has a leak-proof lid and uses a filter straw to make the water you drink from it just like the water you’d get from a larger Brita container. And no, you won’t have to spend too much on replaceable filters either. The company recommends changing your bottle’s filter every two months, and a pack of three filters will run you only about $12.

Buy Brita water filter bottle at Amazon - $20

The best laptops for college students

We’re all contending with a return to normalcy, and going back to school can feel strange yet exciting. Whether you’re heading to a physical campus, taking classes online or a mix of both, a laptop is likely going to be the control center for your studies.

And things have changed quite a bit over the last year or so. We’ve seen the introduction of Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks and Microsoft just announced Windows 11. With ARM-based computers harkening a future where the line between mobile and desktop computing is blurry and Windows 11 working to bridge that gap by supporting Android apps, the laptop market is the most exciting it’s been in years.

But that might lead to more questions for shoppers. What should you look out for if you want an ARM-based PC? Will they run Windows 11 when that update is available? What are some key specs you should add to your must-have list this year? We compiled this guide to help you make the right choice, alongside a list of this year’s best laptops.

What to look for in a laptop for school (and what to avoid)

First: Windows on ARM still isn’t worth it. Snapdragon laptops may look and feel classy, offer excellent battery life and cellular connections, but they’re typically too expensive, especially considering their limited app compatibility and finicky software. Apple’s M1 MacBooks, on the other hand, are great for almost everyone, barring those who need external GPUs, niche software or more than 16GB of RAM.

Over on the Intel side of things, almost every notebook released this year packs an 11th-generation Core processor. You’ll likely be able to find a cheaper version of a product with a 10th-generation chip, and it should still serve you well. And don’t forget about AMD’s Ryzen, either — they’re plenty powerful and no longer just for the bargain bin. If you're eagerly awaiting the arrival of Windows 11 devices, don't expect to see them before the semester begins. They're more likely to show up in the fall around Microsoft's usual hardware event in October.

Across the industry, companies have shifted to taller aspect ratios for their screens. The Surface Laptops sport 3:2 panels, and many Dell and HP models offer 16:10. While the older 16:9 format is nice for watching videos, you’ll probably appreciate a taller option when you’re writing an essay. Some devices, like Dell’s XPS and Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro, come with OLED panels, which will be nice for working with photos and videos. They usually cost more and take a toll on battery life, though, so you’ll need to weigh your priorities.

Fortunately, there’s a diverse selection of laptops around, so you should be able to find a suitable one regardless of your preferences. Here are our favorite notebooks for your return to academia.

Apple MacBook Air M1

With its swift performance, slim fanless design and excellent battery life, the MacBook Air M1 is a no-brainer for any Apple user. You’ll appreciate familiar features like the Retina display, solid keyboard and trackpad. Plus thanks to the company’s excellent Rosetta 2 emulator software, you won’t notice a huge performance difference when relying on Intel apps.

The big news though, is the ARM-based M1 allows the laptop to run iPhone and iPad apps too. While not every app will be available on macOS, the potential for more options on your desktop here is great. Now you just have to make sure you can keep the distractions at bay — which should be easy with the upcoming Focus modes on macOS Monterey, which rolls out later this year.

Unfortunately for those looking for more internal storage or something to run their bespoke video streaming setup, the MacBook Air M1 tops out at 256GB storage while both the Air and the Pro only go up to 16GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro M1 also lacks support for multiple monitors and an external GPU. Those with more demanding workflows might need to look to Windows or an Intel-powered MacBook to ensure app compatibility.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Dell XPS 13

Dell’s XPS series has been our favorite for years. Despite a somewhat plain design that some might call “classic,” the XPS 13 still stands out for nailing pretty much everything a laptop should have. Great performance? Check. Gorgeous screen? Check. Comfortable keyboard? Check. Throw in a long-lasting battery and a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports in the latest versions, and you’ve got a powerful workhorse for all your classes (and more).

The company shifted to a 16:10 aspect ratio in 2020, and recently added a 4K OLED option. That means you’ll see greater contrast ratios and deeper blacks for maximum display goodness. The OLED configuration will cost you $300 more than the Full HD LCD option, but those who want the best viewing experience may not mind the premium. We also recommend you spend a little more and get at least the Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM instead of the meager 4GB that the base model offers.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell - $930

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

If you’re looking for an excellent typing experience, look no further than the Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft has killed it with the keyboards on its recent Surface Laptops and this one’s no different. Though they’re not as deep and springy as ThinkPads, the buttons here are deliciously responsive and have ample travel. The roomy trackpad is solid, too.

Of course, it’s important that the Surface Laptop 4 deliver on everything else, or we wouldn’t recommend it. The 15-inch version that we tested offered breezy performance, respectable battery life and a lovely 3:2 Pixelsense screen which supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen input. Though its design is a little staid, the Surface Laptop 4 still has a clean, professional design and a luxurious aluminum case that's sturdy enough to withstand being stuffed in your backpack. Plus, at 3.4 pounds, it won't burden your shoulders too much.

The best thing about the Surface Laptop 4 is that its base model, which comes equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 5 processor and 8GB of RAM, starts at $1,000. That rivals the Dell XPS 13, making it a better buy for the value-conscious: You get more screen, more power and more RAM for the money. Both the Surface and the XPS are great options, but the latter offers an OLED panel and thinner bezels that make it look more modern.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft - $999

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro

For those whose priority is light weight, the Galaxy Book Pro series should be at the top of your list. At just 2.36 pounds for the clamshell and 3.06 pounds for the convertible model, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro is one of the lightest 15-inch laptops around. It’s also super thin at 0.46 inches thick, and despite its compact size it manages to house three USB-C ports (one of them supporting Thunderbolt 4), a microSD card reader and a headphone jack.

It also packs an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and at least 8GB of RAM, along with a 68Whr battery that delivers a similar runtime to the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 4. That’s particularly impressive given the Galaxy Book Pro has a Super AMOLED screen, which offers sumptuous image quality, high contrast ratio and deep blacks. Unfortunately, Samsung is still stuck on a 16:9 aspect ratio, which will feel outdated in a year or two, but it’s not a deal breaker.

The Galaxy Book Pro’s keyboard isn’t as comfortable as the Surface Laptop 4’s but it’s pleasant enough, and the trackpad is enormous. We’re more concerned about the odd webcam software that makes you look dark and splotchy, so if looking your best on video calls is of concern you might want to consider something else. Plus, the $1,100 base model comes with an Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, making it a competitive offering against the Dell and Surface laptops. Awful camera aside, there’s plenty to love about the Galaxy Book Pro, especially for those looking to lighten their loads.

Buy Galaxy Book Pro at Samsung - $999

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

If you’re considering saving a few hundred bucks by opting for Chrome OS, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 might be the right choice. Sure, there are cheaper Chromebooks out there, but it’s one of few machines with a 3:2 aspect ratio and has a utilitarian design that makes it perfect for butterfingers.

That price also gets you an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and sturdy 360-degree hinge so you can set it up in a variety of modes. The 13.5-inch screen is also more pixel-dense than most 1080p displays of the same size. Though the Spin 713 only clocked about 8 hours on our battery test, that’s enough to get you through a work day. If $700 feels too expensive for a Chromebook, you could also wait till it inevitably goes on sale to save a bit more. There are sleeker, more powerful Chromebooks available, but Acer’s Spin 713 offers a good mix of performance and a modern screen for the money.

Buy Acer Chromebook Spin 713 at Best Buy - $700

Acer Aspire 5

If price is your utmost concern, then we recommend the Acer Aspire 5. It’s a 15-inch Windows laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that costs between $400 and $450. Yes, that’s less memory than anything else on this list, but it also costs much less than any of our non-Chromebook suggestions.

There’s plenty of ports here — including an Ethernet socket — and the aluminum chassis should make this laptop feel more expensive than it is. You’ll also appreciate its reliable performance, comfortable keyboard and 1080p display. For the price, the Aspire 5 offers everything you need to get through the school day, making it a great bargain.

Buy Aspire 5 at Acer starting at $399