Back to School Guide 2018



TMA-2 Modular

There’s nothing worse than when the cable starts crapping out on your favorite headphones. Or maybe the headband wears through and starts digging into your skull. With the TMA-2 from Aiaiai, this is not a concern. The clever modular design lets you replace faulty parts without having to spring for a new pair. It also means you can configure your own headphones depending on your music or comfort preferences. Fussy types can even swap parts out for different situations (say, on-ear pads for DJing or a wireless upgrade for sports). Oh, and they look and sound great, too.
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Chromebook Flip C302

Until now, Chromebooks haven’t been most people’s first choice when they need a machine to get work done, but it’s time we gave them a chance. With Google adding support for Android apps to Chrome OS, the library of available apps has grown immensely, meaning you can now do a lot more with these devices. The ASUS Chromebook Flip C302 offers a good display, a comfortable keyboard, strong performance and a lightweight design, and rings in at less than $500. If you’re looking for a simple laptop for taking notes in class and writing term papers in Google Docs, the Chromebook Flip will be more than enough.



If you’re majoring in music, you’ll want a digital audio workstation (DAW). Our choice is Ableton Live: It’s packed with software instruments and effects, and sports a clean modern design. It’s also intuitive to use; the “session” view in particular is ideal for live performance and exploring combinations of loops, riffs and rhythms. That said, even with a hefty 40 percent education discount, Ableton Live isn’t cheap. Live Standard costs $269, but if you can afford it (and are serious about your music) consider springing for the $449 Live Suite.


Powramid Air

It used to be customary to offer guests a drink when they dropped by for a visit, but these days it’s more common for folks to ask for a place to plug in their phone. Rather than scramble around your dorm room looking for an open outlet, why not make it easier on everyone by having a surge protector already out as the centerpiece on your table? The Powramid Air offers six outlets arrayed in a circle plus two USB ports on the side so there’s plenty of room for your group’s phones, tablets and laptops during your next all-night study session.


Creative Cloud (Student)

If you’re taking any design, film or photography classes, one of the best ways to edit pictures or video is with Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC) software. With the CC subscription, you get access to more than 20 of the company’s apps, including Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere and Illustrator. All those apps are available to students for as little as $20 a month with an annual commitment, a 60 percent discount. If you don’t need all that, you can still save money with the $10-a-month photography plan, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom.
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Alienware’s Area-51 is the desktop you get if you want everyone to be envious of your gaming rig. The base model has an Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA’s GTX 1050Ti graphics -- but if you have the appetite (and wallet) for excess, you can configure it with Intel’s monstrous 18-core processor and dual liquid-cooled GeForce GPUs. Its case is also easy to dive into for upgrades, and you’ve got nine different LED lighting zones to program. After all, a machine this powerful should be visible from space.
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Prime (Student)

Prime’s $20 price hike in the US doesn’t have to be a tragedy for broke college kids. You can still use your .edu email to get a six-month trial and 50 percent off the new monthly/yearly subscription. A $59 membership could be worth it if you purchase anything from textbooks to cheap ramen on Amazon: It gets you not only free two-day shipping, but also access to Prime Video’s catalog and to Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Plus, if you’re tired of pizza and have money to spare, you can take advantage of Prime’s Whole Foods discounts.
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Echo Spot

Sure, smartphones can double as alarm clocks, but how many of them are as cute and intelligent as the Amazon Echo Spot? This little smart speaker will remind you of upcoming calendar appointments, provide daily news headlines and, of course, blast out your favorite Spotify playlist. Aside from showing you the time, the screen can be used to display info like song lyrics, detailed weather forecasts or photos of your friends and family. The built-in camera and microphone also mean you can use it to make a video call to your mom every so often.


Kindle Paperwhite

There’s a difference between reading for class and for pleasure, but the Paperwhite is well suited for both. Its matte, backlit e-ink display means it’s as easy to read on the quad as it is under the covers. There’s a vast selection of digital textbooks available through Amazon too. That said, you’re probably better off using this Kindle for powering through those Norton Critical Editions your lit-crit professor just assigned. Throw in a battery that lasts for weeks and handy features like instant definitions and you’ve got an excellent tool for tackling your workload.


Fire TV 4K Pendant

Amazon’s latest iteration of the Fire TV puts everything you want into one tiny package. Inside that pendant is every video streaming app we can think of, which you can control with a remote or Amazon’s capable Alexa voice assistant. And with support for high-end features like 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos audio, you won’t need to upgrade from this $70 dongle for a long time.


Premium USB-C Mini-Dock

If you’re buying an ultraportable like the XPS 13 or MacBook Pro, you’re going to find yourself stuck with USB-C as your only connection option. It’s pretty great in concept, but most peripherals still rely on … pretty much every other port, which makes getting connected a pain. Rather than live in dongle hell, streamline things by investing in this mini dock. It accommodates two standard USB 3.0 ports as well an SD card slot and an HDMI port. As a bonus, the slim device easily slips into your backpack’s side pocket, so you’re still traveling pretty light.


iMac (27-inch)

The iMac is still considered the gold standard for all-in-one desktops, and that makes it a good fit for a dorm room. It’s not the most powerful system, but its 5K display is still outstanding for media editing, heavy multitasking or just watching movies after a long day of classes. It’s largely clutter-free, too, thanks to its wireless networking and peripherals. You’ll need to be sure that any class-specific apps are Mac-friendly, but otherwise it’s hard to go wrong. Consider the 21-inch model if the 27-inch variant is too large or costly for your liking.
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Watch Series 3 (GPS only)

For iPhone owners, the Apple Watch (Series 3) is the perfect addition to your wrist, day and night. The Series 3 now packs water resistance, GPS and best-in-class fitness tracking for sportier freshmen. There’s also music playback and Apple Pay for buying your lunch on the go -- if you have your phone with you. Oh, and no smartwatch offers as many easily swappable band options, meaning there should be something for everyone’s on-campus style.
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MacBook Pro 13-inch

With their ease of use and ubiquity in school programs, MacBook Pro laptops are a huge draw for students. However, Touch Bar models with the latest eighth-gen CPUs are priced at $1,800 and up, putting them out of reach for many. That’s where the Touch Bar-less 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in. You can get it for as little as $1,300 with a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 Intel CPU, giving you enough power for video editing and graphics. The main drawback: the lack of ports.
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iPhone X

While some updated models are right around the corner, Apple’s iPhone X is still the best iPhone money can buy. You probably know the deal by now: It’s incredibly quick, it has an excellent set of cameras and it pioneered the notched-screen design adopted by, well, everyone. The impending release of iOS 12 (which is already available as a public beta) means the iPhone X will only get better. Improved performance and features to curb your nascent smartphone addiction are big additions, but there’s no conversation starter quite like asking for opinions on your Memoji.
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9.7-inch iPad (2018)

No one wants a heavy laptop weighing down their bag. Fortunately, Apple’s latest iPad is a powerful, light tablet that, once you add a keyboard, becomes a decent PC replacement. Apple’s entry-level iPad now packs Pencil support, just like the pricier iPad Pro series, making it a great tool for note-taking and creative apps. And when class is done, you’re seconds away from gaming options like Fortnite. Best of all, the iPad itself can be had for just $299 with a student discount, although those accessories will push that closer to $500.
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At $349 the HomePod isn’t cheap, but thanks to a recent software update it offers more value than it did at launch. Assuming you have the dorm space and budget for two, you can now set up your speakers to either play in stereo or as a multiroom unit -- something rival devices from Sonos and Google could already do. All told, the HomePod is among the best-looking (and best-sounding) smart speakers. Siri integration is useful too. That said, we only recommend it to Apple Music subscribers: You won’t get much use out of those voice commands with a competing streaming service.


GarageBand (iOS)

Simply put, there’s no better way to record multiple music tracks on your iPhone or iPad than GarageBand. There are other digital-audio workstation apps, of course (most notably Korg’s Gadget and Cubasis 2), but you'll have to pay for them. GarageBand can record both real and software instruments as well as use prerecorded loops and beats with a drum sequencer. Even the most basic of demos will sound amazing with the ability to record up to 32 tracks and use a host of mix-down effects from Logic Pro. All of this on your phone at no cost? Priceless. 



Audeze’s planar-magnetic headphone tech is some of the best-sounding stuff you’ll put on your ears. The company caters to audiophiles and casual listeners alike, perhaps best exemplified by its new Mobius wireless set. This will do wonders for solo gaming in your dorm room, thanks to immersive 3D audio and head tracking to help you get lost in whatever you’re playing. The $399 Mobius also just makes for a really good set of wireless headphones.

Bang & Olufsen

Beoplay P6

There are lots of reasons to consider B&O's wireless Beoplay P6 speaker. It offers up to 16 hours of battery life -- good enough to power one epically long dance party. The P6 also has a splash-proof design in case things get crazy. Lastly, but just as important, the company’s signature mix of aluminum and leather make for a refined look. At $399 the P6 is admittedly pricey, but its versatility means you'll get lots of bang for your buck.



The BeatsX solves one of the biggest pains associated with wireless connection: pairing. This process has been simplified on iPhones and can be accomplished with just a few taps. In addition to sounding great, the behind-the-neck design and magnetic buds (which stick together) mean you’ll be less likely to lose them than other true wireless earbuds. If you’re looking for a lightweight Bluetooth headset that brings the bass without waking your RA, the BeatsX is a good addition to your ears.



Blue is best known for its microphones, but the company’s Satellite headphones are a solid pick for over-the-ear sound. With these headphones, Blue took what it knows about audio, built an amp and threw it into a pair of wireless cans. The audio is outstanding, partly thanks to active noise canceling, and if you run out of power you can just plug in a regular 3.5mm headphone cable and keep the party going. They’re perfect for drowning out your roommate, not to mention any drum circles you encounter in the quad.


Mini S / Mini X

For action-sports enthusiasts on a budget, consider one of Boosted’s Mini electric skateboards for getting around campus. This is a more portable version of the company’s top-of-the-line cruisers, and it doesn’t sacrifice features. The size lets you stash it more easily than a longboard at class, libraries or even on public transport. It’s more maneuverable too, letting you navigate busy streets or walkways. The S is the most affordable, but if you can spare the extra cash, get the Mini X to avoid range anxiety, with up to 14 miles on a charge.

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If you want an electric skateboard, the Boosted Plus is our no-brainer recommendation. Unlike the Boosted Mini, it has a conventional longboard deck, improving comfort and stability over long distances. The high-end Boosted Stealth is a little faster, but for beginners the extra $200 probably isn't worth it. The Boosted Plus has a top speed of 20MPH, which is plenty fast for nipping around campus and public parks. We're also big fans of the extended-range battery, good for 14 miles on a charge, along with the robust companion app for iOS and Android.
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Quiet Comfort QC35 II

During finals week, it’s important to drown out the crying of your fellow students while you study. The Bose Quiet Comfort QC35 II headphones will do just that, thanks to some of the best active noise canceling around. As an added bonus, they have Google Assistant built right in. The headphones can be paired with Bluetooth or NFC for a quick connection, and they offer 20 hours of battery life or 40 hours of ANC when wired. That’s more than enough to get through even the roughest study sessions.

Carex Health Brands

Day-Light Classic Plus

If you tend to slip into a funk during the winter months, you might be among the six percent of the population prone to seasonal affective disorder. Before the days get darker, consider installing a light therapy lamp, which uses artificial sunlight to trigger production of melatonin -- that’s the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. This lamp from Carex Health Brands is cheaper than many of its rivals and has been well-received by reviewers. A recommendation from the Center for Environmental Therapeutics lends it extra credibility.
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Whether you’re working, gaming or just listening to tunes, the HS70 provides considerable bang for your buck. This full-sized headset has a detachable microphone, a solid metal frame, memory foam padding and adjustable over-the-ear cups delivering above-average sound for a surprisingly affordable $100. The wireless USB dongle connects quickly, provides up to 40 feet of range and is compatible with computers and PS4 consoles. PC gamers also get the benefit of a 7.1 virtual surround sound experience.


Inspiron 27 7000

If you like the space-saving advantages of an all-in-one desktop for your dorm but prefer a Windows PC over an iMac (or just want to save some cash), Dell’s Inspiron 27 7000 should be on your short list. It packs modern processing power, up to a 4K touchscreen and better-than-usual audio into a compact design that won’t swallow up your desk or bank account. The Windows Hello sign-in support makes for safe, speedy log-ins, too. It’s not a serious gaming machine, but it’s more than enough for juggling your classwork or catching up on Netflix.
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Inspiron Desktop 3670

Looking for a no-frills desktop PC to handle your schoolwork, and maybe a little gaming on the side? Dell’s current Inspiron Desktop, the 3670, should do the trick. Its compact case is dorm-friendly, but you can configure the system with processors and dedicated graphics cards powerful enough to handle some after-school fun. And, crucially, the price is right -- even the top-end model won’t pose too much of a threat to your wallet.
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XPS 13 (2018)

We love Dell’s XPS series of laptops for combining reliable performance, sumptuous displays, sleek designs and long-lasting batteries, always with a slim profile. This year’s XPS 13 continues that tradition, adding HDR support in a slightly thinner and lighter body. You’ll still get a comfortable keyboard and enough battery life to get you through a day of classes. Its webcam still sits below the display, though, so if having a flattering camera on Skype calls is important to you, consider looking elsewhere.

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G3 15

Dell’s last Inspiron gaming laptop proved that you don’t have to spend a ton to get decent performance. Now rebadged as the G series, it’s still an incredible deal for gamers on a budget. The 15-inch G3 starts at just $750, with a fast eighth-generation Core i5 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 graphics. That’s more than enough power to play the latest games in 1080p at 60fps. And if you need more power, there’s always the Dell G5 and G7 notebooks. Plus, the revamped design means these won’t be mistaken for a humdrum Inspiron.
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If you’re trying to stay organized (of course you are!), Todoist will quickly become your best friend. It works across all major platforms, no matter what computer, phone or tablet you use. Even the free version is quite robust, with recurring due dates, sub-tasks and sub-projects for detailed organization, task priorities and collaboration with up to five people per project. Paying $29 per year gives you additional features like location-based notifications, file uploads, reminders and comments. 



You don’t want to be that person who loses your thesis because you saved one lone copy on your laptop. Upload all your papers to a cloud service like Dropbox, so you don’t have to graduate late if something happens to your computer or to the thumb drive where you keep copies of your work. Cloud services also give you a way to edit your documents anytime, like when you’re stuck in a soul-suckingly boring lecture. And since Dropbox has hundreds of millions of users, your groupmates can’t use the lack of access as an excuse not to pitch in.
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Your hearing is unique to you, so why choose a headphone that’s designed for most people? Even’s wireless H2 headphones contains a built-in hearing test. The H2s use the test to create an “Earprint” that equalizes the sound to make up for any quirks in the way you hear. Customized audio profiles on headphones are becoming more common, but the H2s’ price point and sturdy build make them an ideal choice. What's more, the 20-hour battery life should see you through tedious cramming sessions and there’s a 3.5mm jack, to boot.



Even if you’re a die-hard pen-and-paper fanatic, we recommend you transfer your hand-scrawled notes to a digital note-taking app for posterity. The clear winner there is Evernote. It works on any platform, has checklists and reminders, and can scan text in photos to make them searchable. It’s basically a must-have for collecting research and organizing your thoughts before putting them to paper. Evernote is free, but a premium subscription is well worth it, at $70 per year. As a student, too, you get a steep 50 percent discount, which practically makes it an easier sell.
$0 - 35/yr
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Impress (or confuse) classmates with the Fitbit Versa’s resemblance to the Apple Watch. That similarity is not a bad thing -- the Versa is the first Fitbit that isn’t ugly and can camouflage with most outfits. Bundled into that sleek package are all the features you’d expect from a typical fitness tracker. The Versa will track your heart rate, steps, and sleep and even provide onscreen workout guides should you need some inspiration at the gym. It’s water-resistant, so you can wear it in the shower; it lasts a respectable five days; and it works with both Android devices and iPhones. 

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Sure, you can tap into Freeletics’ bodyweight workouts without paying anything, but the magic here lies in the premium “coach” option (as little as $6 per month if you subscribe for 12 months at a time). The app gauges your current fitness levels and offers an array of workouts tailored to how many times per week you’re looking to sweat off those extra pizza slices. As you progress, the algorithmically guided coach will increase the intensity and difficulty of your workouts, ensuring you’re still putting in effort two months from now.
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Pixel 2 XL

Who better to turn to than Google for one of the best Android phones you can find? Despite some early screen-color problems, the Pixel 2 XL is a well-rounded handset, with excellent cameras, capable performance, intuitive software and a long-lasting battery. You might even grow to love the ability to squeeze the phone’s sides to trigger Google Assistant. If you must have the best and the latest all the time, you could wait a few months for the Pixel 3, but right now, the Pixel 2 XL is a trusty companion for staying on top of activities both in and out of school.

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Chromecast 4K (2nd gen)

If your new dorm room TV is also your old basement TV, with terrible apps or no apps, you’ll need a better way to access someone else’s Netflix account. Google’s second-generation Chromecast dongle arrived before buzzwords like 4K and HDR became standard, but it still works with most of the things you’d like to watch on a big screen. YouTube, Spotify, Twitch or even Facebook -- this $35 add-on does the most for the least.



If you’ve already handed your digital life over to Google, then you might want to consider getting a Google Home. Not only is it a fun little speaker for playing your favorite tunes, but you can also use it to remind you when your assignment is due or create a shopping list for your next house party. You could also hook it up to your Chromecast so you can say things like “OK Google, play cat videos on the living room TV.” The only thing it can’t do is help you write that essay on postmodernism theory that’s due tomorrow. You’re on your own there, buddy.


Omen Desktop 880-010z

Buying a gaming desktop for school is challenging. How do you balance the need for speed with the realities of student loans? The HP Omen 880-010z walks that line if you’re looking for a pre-built machine. The combination of AMD Ryzen chips and mid-tier NVIDIA graphics gives it enough grunt for most games, while the chassis is compact enough that it won’t swallow up precious dorm space. You’ll need a higher-end variant if you want to play newer games in their full glory, but even the standard configuration should be enough for more casual use.
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Hamilton Beach

Programmable Coffee Maker

If you want a great cup of coffee but want to save money -- those college courses aren’t going to pay themselves -- consider the Hamilton Beach 12 Cup Coffee Maker. No, it’s not going to beat a high-end machine or a classic pour-over setup, but for a regular cup of joe, it should more than suffice. As a bonus, it’s programmable, so you can wake up to a fresh pot right before you head out to that dreaded 8 AM class.



School is stressful. One of the best things you can do to stave off burnout is meditation. There are a ton of options, but we especially like Headspace, available on mobile and desktop. We dig how the simple explanations and cute animations make meditation feel approachable. There are sessions to show you the basics along with lessons focused on creativity, managing anxiety and improving self-esteem. There’s plenty of free content in the app, though some of it is for subscribers only. Plans cost either $13 month-to-month or $58 for a year (marked down from $96).
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Last year, scoring one of our recommended 55-inch TVs with 4K and HDR meant shelling out at least $500. Now you can get all of that technology plus built-in Alexa voice control for less than $400 with the Hisense 55H8E. At that price, it’s cheaper than an Xbox One X and the same price as a PS4 Pro that you’d connect for some high-res gaming. Enjoy spending your leftover funds on other important things like snacks, Fortnite battle passes or maybe books?
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Depending on where in the country you attend school, you could find yourself in an over-air-conditioned dorm in a dry climate. If that’s the case, the lack of humidity can lead to everything from sinus problems to chapped lips. Reviewers say the Honeywell HCM350W is reasonably priced, well-built, discreet in design, performs well and is easy to clean. Our friends at Wirecutter like it so much that they’ve consistently recommended it every year since 2015, even as other companies have released newer models. 


Nordmarke Qi charger

There’s no shortage of accessories that’ll work with your iPhone X, Galaxy S9 or any other device using the Qi wireless-charging standard. Depending on your taste, you might be put off by the fact that some of the best options have, say, the Samsung logo plastered all over. We dig Ikea’s Nordmarke line on account of its minimalist design. It’s also available in an uncommonly wide "triple" size ($60) that has room for three devices -- useful for when your friends stop by and need a top-up. If you’re on a budget, there’s also an $18 single-device version.



Boosted might be the go-to for electric skateboards, but if you want to travel farther than 14 miles at a time, consider the Inboard M1 instead. It has a top speed of 22MPH -- a touch higher than the Boosted Plus -- and can reach up to seven miles on a charge. That distance might seem short, but the Inboard has a dead-simple battery-swap system, which means you have the option of stowing multiple batteries in your bag for theoretically limitless range. The M1 also uses hub motors, which are quieter and sleeker than the Boosted's belt system.

Instant Pot

Duo Plus Mini (3qt)

Like most college students, you probably won’t be blessed with a big kitchen, whether you share a space or have your very own (you lucky dog). That’s why having a multi-purpose kitchen appliance is so important, and few are as deserving of that title as the Instant Pot. You can use it to cook everything from rice to pulled pork, and since it’s a pressure cooker as well, the food will be done in half the time. We recommend the Duo Plus Mini three-quart model, because it’s ideal for one or two people and it won’t take up much space on your counter.


Link 20

Music may help you study, but a smart speaker can help with reminders and other useful study tricks. Look no further than the Bluetooth JBL link 20, which comes in a portable and waterproof package. It provides good volume and sound quality for its class, along with WiFi connectivity and Google Assistant integration. You also get a network-signal gauge, listening indicators for its reliably sensitive mics and convenient controls, including a microphone mute button for privacy.


Elite 65t

True wireless earbuds have come a long way since their arrival a few years ago. Connectivity and sync issues are (mostly) a thing of the past. With Jabra’s Elite 65t, you get a solid pair of earbuds that offer good sound, additional features through a companion app and a charging case to keep the audio accessories powered on the go. Perhaps the best part is they’re more affordable than a lot of the competition, and a lower price doesn’t mean having to make big sacrifices.



In addition to being sufficiently sport, the Jaybird Run wireless earbuds distinguish themselves by delivering wonderful sound. During our tests, we found them easy to set up, and they also offer a solid fit in your ear so they don’t fall out while you’re running. As you might expect for workout-friendly headphones, they’re also sweat- and water-resistant. All told, the headset delivers four hours of battery life, and its sound quality is better than you’d expect from such a tiny package.



When you’re living in tight spaces, you probably don’t have room for a full-on turntable setup. If you still want to show off your vinyl collection, give the Klipsch Three a look. The compact speaker isn’t lacking in audio quality, and if offers WiFi, Bluetooth, USB and RCA connectivity. You can also control it with an Alexa-enabled device -- you know, for all the times you really don’t want to get out of bed. Plus, the wood grain and copper accents are easy on the eyes.

Literature & Latte


At $38 for the Mac or PC app (and $20 for iOS), Scrivener can seem pricey. You’ll soon find its worth when you need to compile a ton of research for that massive paper that’s due at the end of the semester. Whether you use one of the many included templates or start with your own blank canvas, Scrivener keeps your written output in a well-organized central location. You can even save your project to Dropbox and sync with the iOS version, ensuring that your precious hard work is never out of reach.



Between all the typing and trackpad use, your wrists might get a little worn out around midterms and finals. So it might be worth splurging on something more ergonomic to avoid trips to the orthopedist. The Ergo’s trackball is a lot easier on your hands, partially thanks to the ability to tilt the entire unit into the perfect position. It’s wireless too, so you don’t have to worry about finding a place for it at your workstation, or even sitting at a desk at all -- it’ll work just fine on an armrest or in your lap if you decide to kick back on your comfiest piece of furniture while studying.


GS65 Stealth Thin

If you want a no-compromise gaming laptop that’s light enough to throw in a backpack and take to class, MSI’s GS65 Stealth Thin should be high on your list. It weighs just 4.14 pounds and measures 0.69 inch thick, so it easily fits into most messenger bags. It still has a 15.6-inch 1080p screen, eighth-gen Intel Core i7 CPU and GTX 1060 or 1070 Max-Q graphics. Unlike the MacBook Pro, it also packs a USB-C port, an SD card reader and even Ethernet jacks. The main limitations are a stiff trackpad and fairly lofty price.
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If you’re interested in customizing every aspect of your gaming desktop but don’t have time to put it all together yourself, look to Maingear’s F131. You can have it built with the latest chips from AMD and Intel (including the insane 18-core i9); up to two NVIDIA GPUs; or custom water-cooling. You can even get the case decorated with automotive paint. It’s a showpiece for anyone who wants to broadcast their knowledge of and obsession with PC hardware. Maingear also has a sterling reputation -- each machine includes lifetime support.
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Master & Dynamic

MW50+ 2-in-1

If you’re looking to keep your options open for the go-to headphones you’ll rock around campus, Master & Dynamic’s latest is worth a look. The MW50+ features swappable earpads so you can change between on-ear and over-ear styles, depending on what you feel like wearing. Yes, they’re expensive, but when you combine the semi-modular system with stellar audio and great design, the total package here is worth considering.


Surface Laptop

The Surface Laptop shows just how far Windows laptops have come. It’s sleek, sturdy and powerful enough to handle just about any task you throw at it, making it the ideal school companion. It’s a great option if you’re looking for an alternative to a MacBook, especially if you can’t stand Apple’s new flat keyboards. (Did we mention that the Surface Laptop is a dream to type on?) It also lasts a stunning 14.5 hours on a charge. Sure, the Surface Laptop can’t handle heavy-duty gaming, but good luck finding a 2.8-pound laptop that can.
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Surface Pro

If you want something that’s as light as a tablet but as powerful as a laptop, Microsoft’s Surface Pro is a strong contender. Not only is it a powerhouse productivity machine, but it’ll last for 13-plus hours at a time on a single charge -- enough for long nights in the library preparing for that midterm. Pick one of the higher-end models: It will be beefy enough to run plenty of professional apps in areas like image and video editing. The only downside: the lack of discrete graphics, meaning it won’t be able to run the most demanding of games.
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Ticwatch E (Express)

Your favorite fashion brand probably has an Android-powered smartwatch in a style you like, but if you don't have a preference, or don't want to spend upwards of $300, the Ticwatch E is a good option. For just $150, you'll get a bright round display, heart rate tracking and all that Google's Wear OS has to offer. This way, you can stay on top of all your alerts without having to whip out your phone during lectures.


Run Club

As important as studying is, you won't get much done without a healthy body. One of the best (and cheapest) ways to stay fit is running. Nike’s free Run Club app, which is available for iOS and Android, is beloved by casual joggers and professional racers alike. You can track your runs via GPS and get audio-guided workouts and customized coaching plans from Nike experts. You can also set specific goals like a personal 5K time to beat and check your daily, weekly and monthly progress.


OnePlus 6

It’s fast, it’s pretty and -- compared to the competition -- it’s almost shockingly cheap. The cameras have been improved over last year's model and, thanks to the included Dash charger, a quick top-up should keep your phone running through the worst of your all-nighters. Those are all good reasons to invest in OnePlus’s latest smartphone, but here’s one more: The company recently firmed up its software update policy, so now we know that the OnePlus 6 will get two years’ worth of major Android updates, plus another year of security patches.
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Libby is a free app from Overdrive for iOS, Windows or Android devices that allows library card holders to browse the e-book, e-audio and digital-magazine sections of the local library. Through the well-designed and slick interface, it’s easy to check out items or place a hold. You can read directly in the app or send e-books to your Kindle. Libby also makes it easy to add cards from multiple libraries. It’s not the first app of its kind, but it’s the best. Libby is perfect for students who read on phones and tablets, making it simple to find new titles.
$0 w/ card
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R1 / R1 Elite

If you dig an old-school West Coast vibe for your skateboard but want an electric option, Riptide’s R1 series can get you from place to place in style. Starting at $599, these are some of the most affordable belt-drive models out there. At 31 inches long, it’s close to the size of a regular skate deck but packs 1,800 watts of power and two convenient handle cutouts. For quick jaunts to class and around town, the Riptide R1 or R1 Elite are a great way to save some cash while still getting a powerful electric cruiser.
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The microwave is the student’s friend, but not just for quick fixes of steaming hot ramen -- with the Rocketbook Wave, it’s also a study aid. The Wave looks and feels just like a regular spiral-bound notebook, but it has two high-tech tricks up its sleeve. The first is a companion app that scans your homework (or doodles) and saves them as a PDF to share on popular cloud services like Evernote and Dropbox, as well as email. The second is the ability to wipe the Wave clean several times just by blasting it in the microwave, making this possibly the only notebook you’ll ever need.


Streaming Stick+

If you’re in the market for a streaming stick, Roku’s entry is a strong contender. At $70, it’s the same price as Amazon’s Fire TV and can also deliver 4K video with HDR. It doesn’t have the Alexa voice command system built in, but it does have its own voice search and tons of apps. Also, if you plug headphones into its remote (or your phone running the Roku app), then it’s ready for a late-night binge that won’t upset your roommate while they’re sleeping or studying.


Galaxy S9+

As of this writing, the Galaxy S9+ is still arguably the best Android phone we’ve seen this year. It’s blazing fast, lets you make meme-ready GIFs in just a few moments and has an outstanding dual camera with crowd-pleasing features like super-slow-motion video. (You know, because your next rager needs meticulous documentation.) Even better, the S9+ often gets tagged with special promotions by US carriers, so picking one up shouldn’t cut into your beer-and-textbook budget too much.
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If you’re buying a TV for school, there’s a good chance you’re buying it as much for gaming as for video -- and if that’s the case, Samsung’s 43-inch NU7100 should be on your list. It touts not only 4K and HDR but also low input lag, which will help you claim victory in twitch-happy action games. Combine that with its small size and low price and it’s an easy choice. While the raw picture quality and included remote are strictly average, it’s worth making those sacrifices to dominate in Fortnite after a long day of classes.


Gear Sport

Samsung’s Gear Sport is more fitness tracker than smartwatch, with a slick design that differentiates it from Apple’s and Fitbit’s offerings. If you’re bound for the swim team, this could be the wearable for you: It’s water-resistant to 50 meters and can also track your swims through a preloaded Speedo tracking app. Oh, and there’s a rotating bezel, which is great for fiddling with when class gets boring.


Fizzi One Touch

Sometimes you really need to fuel up with some sweet, caffeinated soda but there’s not a bottle to be found. Rather than run out to the convenience store or cram a wrinkled dollar bill into a vending machine, you could always just make your own. The One Touch takes the already simple SodaStream process and boils it down to -- you guessed it -- one touch, making it super easy to insert a bottle in the machine and choose your preferred level of carbonation. Of course, if you really want sugary fizziness, you’ll need some syrups, which you can snag from plenty of retailers.



The One is among our favorite smart speakers, owing to its excellent audio quality, Alexa smarts and inconspicuous design. Just in time for back-to-school season, the One has received a software update that allows you to bypass Sonos’ app and stream directly from Apple Music via AirPlay. A recent update also brought improved Siri integration, with Google Assistant support to follow later. Though a single speaker is fine for students on a budget, it’s worth noting you can get two (and enjoy stereo pairing or multiroom audio) for about $50 more than the price of a HomePod.


Xperia XZ2 Compact

There are plenty of good smartphones out there without Apple or Samsung in the name, but Sony’s Xperia XZ2 Compact is special. Not only is it one of the smallest new devices on the market, but it’s as powerful as any flagship. This cute handset has some funky color options, a great display and camera and the best mobile processor money can buy. Best of all, it’s a premium device without the premium price. At $600, the Xperia XZ2 Compact won’t weigh down your book bag or empty your wallet in the same way other top-tier smartphones will.
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“Hey Google, what’s the square root of 289?” In the connected age, this is pretty much as easy as homework gets. But what if you want Google Assistant’s smarts with Apple HomePod looks? Enter the LF-S50G from Sony. That product name might be a mouthful, but the superior audio and hidden digital clock more than make up for it. Plus, with Amazon’s Alexa, you’re dangerously close to those one-hour-delivery candy purchases, which is never a good thing. The answer is 17, by the way. But if you had one of these, you’d know that by now.



In a world loaded with feature-packed yet pricey Bluetooth speakers, it’s sometimes nice to take a breather. That carefree zone is where you’ll find the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom. This likeable little Bluetooth speaker has big sound at an affordable price. There are a variety of color combos and even custom exteriors to choose from, along with a convenient bungee to help it hang out with you wherever you go. The Wonderboom works with the UE app and offers “double up” mode if you want to go stereo with a pair. It’s also the perfect shower or pool buddy, since it’s completely waterproof.



A student’s budget doesn’t always include room for cutting-edge technology, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. The Ultimate Ears Megaboom launched a few years ago, but it’s still a reliable big hitter for sound and battery life -- often at discounted pricing. This bag-portable Bluetooth speaker can kick out the jams in a big way and is safe from the elements with an IPX7 waterproof rating. As a bonus, this supports the UE app’s PartyUp feature, letting more than 150 friends with a Boom or Megaboom all play the same tunes from one source.

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Under Armour


Just because you can eat dining hall cheeseburgers twice a day doesn’t mean you should. To avoid gaining the dreaded Freshman Fifteen, you’ll want to get lots of steps in, take it easy on the booze and consider downloading a calorie-counting app to keep yourself accountable. The Engadget staff has tried a number of good options, but most of us prefer MyFitnessPal, whose simple interface makes it easy to enter calories, import recipes, log workouts and scan barcodes for packaged foods. 

Under Armour

HOVR smart running shoes

Under Armour’s HOVR running shoes look good, are comfortable and, most important, have tech inside that make them smarter than typical sneakers. A built-in sensor tracks your cadence, distance, pace, stride length and steps. You will want to pair them with your iOS or Android device and using the MapMyRun app. The best part about them is that any time you go on a run without your phone, that embedded chip will keep logging your stats and you can sync them to MapMyRun later. And, at $110 they’re not much pricier than your average pair of running shoes.
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Going off to college shouldn’t mean settling for less, and with $440 Vizio’s E-Series, you won’t have to. This 50-inch 4K TV is ready for anything you throw at it and comes with all the connectivity you’re looking for, built in. Even when you lose your remote, the SmartCast OS can be controlled by an app on your phone, and it’s Google Cast–compatible, to work with almost any streaming app out there. Plus it has voice control with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, so it can tie in with any other smart devices you’ve brought along for the ride.

3rd Eye Studios

Downward Spiral: Horus Station

You’re exploring an abandoned craft lost in the far reaches of space, and a sense of danger grows at the mouth of every new porthole. We’ve played games like this before, but Downward Spiral: Horus Station is a welcome, heart-pounding addition to the space-thriller genre, particularly as a VR game. Its transportation mechanics are smooth and its environments are spooky, but audio design is where the game truly stands out. With an ambient-electronic soundtrack by HIM frontman Ville Vallo, Downward Spiral is a perfect way to demonstrate the power of VR.



Prices for PC video cards have jumped because of Bitcoin miners, but student gamers watching every penny do have some options. Among the best is AMD’s Radeon RX 580, with prices hovering around $275 for the 4GB version and $300 with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM. For that sum, you’re getting a GPU with around the same performance and price as NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1060 card but with a bit more memory. As for trade-offs, it draws considerably more power than NVIDIA’s card. 

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Nitro 5

Acer’s Nitro 5 laptop isn’t made for hardcore gamers, and that’s a good thing. Given that it’s a more modest machine, the configurations worth considering start at an agreeable $750. For that kind of money, you get an Intel Core i5 chip and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU. It’s no beast, but it can certainly handle gaming way better than your typical studying machine. Better yet, it’s just cheap enough that you can probably persuade your parents to help out with the cost.
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Astro Gaming


Passing through the perils of a leviathan raid amid the noise in your crowded dorm room is no mean feat. At least, not without one of Astro Gaming’s A20 wireless headsets on your noggin. These headphones are built for collaborative gameplay. Its 5GHz broadcasts won’t interfere with your wireless controllers while its low latency makes sure your conversation stays in sync with what’s on-screen. The A20s come in two varieties: One works with PlayStation/PC/Mac; the other with Xbox/PC. Both cost $150.
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Stardew Valley

Stressed about your classes, assignments and exams? Stardew Valley is the game for you. The smash-hit farming simulator lets you tend to a plot of land with no real danger or time constraints to worry about. Harvest a few crops and you'll slowly unlock new seeds, livestock and a nearby town filled with people who need your help. It's a slow, relaxing experience with a refreshingly open-ended design. Will you focus on your next yield or the nearby mine that's filled with precious resources? Whatever you decide, the game is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Deck Nine Games

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

It’s hard to shift back into school mode, but there’s a delightful game to get you in the mood for old friends and new challenges: Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. A prequel taking place three years before the award-winning Life Is Strange, this game spotlights a younger but no less rebellious Chloe Price as she grows closer to new BFF Rachel. The narrative-heavy game progresses through exploration and dialogue, but it has all the heartfelt emotion and teen angst that made the first game an unforgettable experience.

Epic Games


There’s a reason Fortnite has more than 125 million registered players and is completely dominating the battle royale genre: It’s fast-paced, strategic and, most importantly, a lot of fun. The fact that it’s free to play might have something to do with its popularity, too. It’s suitable for casual and more serious gamers alike -- seriously, everyone is playing it, including your new roommate. Fortnite is available on everything from smartphones to consoles to desktop PCs, so there’s no excuse for sitting out. Just remember to turn the sound off when playing in class.
$0 - 60
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Whether you’re aiming to be the next Twitch Ninja or just want to FaceTime your grandma from school, you’re going to want to look good on-screen -- and that’s what the $200 Logitech 4K Pro Webcam delivers. It features UHD 4K resolution and 5x digital zoom, and it can cover up to a 90-degree arc of your recording space. What’s more, the 4K Pro incorporates Logitech’s RealLight 3 HDR technology, so you won’t have to worry about lighting issues, and it even has infrared facial recognition so you can ensure that your computer only unlocks when you’re in front of it.


Xbox One S

The Xbox One S is the best value when it comes to gaming consoles. Not only does it include a UHD Blu-ray player and support for HDR video, but if you’ve been playing video games at any point in the past decade, you probably already own games for it. Remember all the stuff you downloaded from Xbox Live on your Xbox 360 as a kid? Microsoft keeps making more titles from its previous console playable on its latest. All that and you’ll be able to play the latest Gears of War, Forza and Halo games the moment they’re released.
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Xbox Elite controller

Want to make a statement when you show up to the campus gaming club’s first meeting? Bring an Xbox One Elite gamepad. Unlike so many other gaming accessories with prestigious-sounding names, the Elite lives up to its moniker and high price. It’s noticeably heavier than the standard Xbox gamepad, which, along with the soft-rubber covering on its topside and other embellishments elsewhere, lends a premium feel. More than that, its rubberized underbelly offers a much better grip than the traditional Xbox controller. If you’re dead-set on owning the competition, the fully customizable Elite may be the ticket to victory you’re looking for.


GTX 1080Ti

If you want to a killer PC rig, NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 Ti offers nearly all the performance of the flagship Titan XP for half the price. For about $750, you get a 35 percent performance boost over the GTX 1080 and 11GB of GDDR5X memory. That makes it the best option for 4K (or 5K) HDR gaming, along with any HTC Vive or Oculus Rift VR experiences. And it will easily handle CAD or graphics work for students in engineering or design courses. If you don’t have that kind of cash and don’t need quite that much performance, consider AMD’s $570 Radeon RX Vega 64 instead.
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You can’t go wrong with Nintendo’s hybrid gaming console, Switch. It’s fantastic for both home and mobile gaming -- even if you consider mobile to be in your bedroom. There are hundreds of titles to enjoy, too, with everything from big-budget games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Skyrim to multiplayer titles like Fortnite and Splatoon 2 to quirky indie entries like Night in the Woods and The Final Station. The Switch is also the least expensive of the current-generation consoles, coming in at least $100 less than PS4 or Xbox One.


Switch Pro Controller

Nintendo hit a home run with the Switch, a console you can play at home or take on the road. But after a while, the small Joy Cons that come with the console might feel too awkward and uncomfortable. Luckily, Nintendo released an alternative: the Switch Pro Controller, which handles like a traditional gamepad. While a bit pricey, at $70, it has a better balance and feel, for pulling off skillful moves in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Dragon Ball FighterZ -- and, crucially, it will save your wrists during long play sessions.


Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may be functionally the same game that was released on the Wii U in 2014, but it’s a sublime experience on the Switch. If you’re looking for a newcomer-friendly title up to four of your friends can play at once (eight if you add another console), this is a great choice. Who doesn’t want to careen down tracks as Mario, Peach, Luigi, Bowser, Link and a host of other familiar characters? The racing is easy to learn, yet compelling at all skill levels, while the vibrant stages send you around cities, deserts, jungles and -- yes -- rainbow roads.


Rift + Touch

The Oculus Rift and its Touch controllers have been out for a while, but that’s what makes them such a good buy. The $400 bundle is just half of the original unbundled price. And they’re still among the best VR hardware on the market. The Rift is far more comfortable than the $499 HTC Vive, and its motion controllers are smaller and easier to hold. You won’t have to worry about installing any sensors high up on your walls, either, since the Rift modules sit right beside your monitor. Not everyone needs a VR headset, but the Rift is a smart choice if you decide you do.


Oculus Go (32GB)

This is the VR system we’ve been promised for decades. The Oculus Go is an untethered, stand-alone headset that connects directly to the Oculus Store, offering a complete VR experience without the need to be connected to a PC or phone. This is the easiest way to dive into VR, making it ideal for breaking the ice with new friends or disappearing into your own world in a crowded dorm. The 32GB model holds an estimated three HD movies, 10 games and 20 apps at a time, and, at $200, it doesn’t break the bank.
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PUBG Corp.

Player Unknown Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, more commonly called PUBG, can be credited with taking the battle royale genre mainstream. Where Fortnite is more arcadey, PUBG prioritizes realism. It’s best played as an FPS with curtains drawn and headset on -- move carefully to gear up and avoid getting dropped by a single sniper shot. “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” is one of the most rewarding lines of text in gaming, but bear in mind that you’ll need an Xbox One or a decent gaming PC to get into the action.


Rocket League

Rocket League is three years old now, but there’s still a sizable active player base. The game is basically soccer, only it’s played in a big cage with rocket-powered cars and an oversize ball. What’s not to like? Whether you have five minutes or five hours to kill, the game’s hectic pace is best enjoyed with buddies. You can pick it up on PC or any of the consoles for the price of a McDonald’s order, and though it’s fun to just mess around, the skill cap is insanely high, meaning you’re only ever one jump and midair boost away from incredible highlight-reel plays.


BlackWidow Ultimate

Sticky sodas and expensive electronics just don't mix. One fist pump goes awry and suddenly your keyboard is swimming in Mountain Dew Code Red and you find yourself in the market for a new input device. This time, get yourself a keyboard that can stand up to the elements and keep up with tournament-level play -- something like the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate. This $110 keyboard is water- and dust-resistant, and it features the company’s patented mechanical switches, which are rated for 80 million clicks apiece.

Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption Game of the Year Edition

If you haven’t played the first Red Dead Redemption since its debut, you’ll need to do some catching up. Good thing, then, that the original and its zombie-themed expansion can be bought together on the cheap. The Game of the Year edition we recommend is backward-compatible on Xbox One. Even better: Clearing every bandit cave and unlocking each outfit will keep you busy from semester’s start to when the sequel is released, after midterms.


PlayStation 4 Slim (1TB)

Assuming you don’t have a collection of Xbox 360 titles from your childhood, the PlayStation 4 Slim is the way to go for gaming on campus. It’s small and light, the rechargeable controller doesn’t require AA batteries and it has the best games you can’t play anywhere else. With Sony’s newest version of its Greatest Hits program, you can pick up a smattering of those exclusives for less than the price of a few craft 12-packs. Just don’t expect Sony to let you play Rocket League with your buddies on Nintendo Switch or Xbox One before you graduate.


PlayStation VR

For those of you who are already bringing a PS4 to the dorms, the PlayStation VR is a natural add-on. This plug-and-play peripheral is perfect for showing your friends what VR is all about, thanks to immersive versions of popular games like Doom, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Gran Turismo Sport and Batman: Arkham. All told, there are more than 150 titles for PSVR. You can get the stand-alone headset for $199, though it’s better to pay a little more for a bundle that includes a game, PlayStation camera and (in the case of the Skyrim bundle) Move controllers.

Stress Level Zero

Duck Season

VR, meet ultimate nostalgia. Duck Season transforms the classic NES game Duck Hunt into a suspenseful, mysterious and ultimately terrifying new experience for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, though you wouldn’t guess it’s a horror game just from the cover art. After playing through Duck Season yourself and gathering all seven (yes, seven) endings, there are two ways to approach this one: Either explain the game’s true roots to your friends before throwing them in, or keep it a secret and watch with ill-concealed glee as they discover the terror on their own.

VR Cover

Disposable starter pack

VR is often portrayed as a solitary activity, but, as with most things in life, it’s infinitely better with friends. Unfortunately, humans are gross, and sharing your shiny new VR headset with a load of new classmates can quickly turn into an oily germ-fest. That’s where the VR Cover starter kit comes in: It includes a detachable, padded ring and a stack of disposable sheets to line almost any headset’s visor, keeping the system clean for each new player. Let’s not encourage the “video game fans are greaseballs” stereotype any more than is necessary.



Apple says its Music service has a whopping 45 million songs in its massive catalog, making it one of the largest streaming options out there. That could be well worth its $5-a-month student pricing, especially now that you can listen to full tracks on its web player. Smash your phone at a party? No big -- just fire up your laptop. A subscription also gives you access to Beats 1 radio station, exclusive shows like Carpool Karaoke, ad-free music videos and the iCloud Music Library, which makes it easy to access tracks you purchased from iTunes across devices.


Movies Anywhere

If you’ve been redeeming digital movies from disc purchases or buying films from different digital platforms, it helps to have a one-stop viewing portal. Movies Anywhere has lately been a go-to for watching your fragmented collection in one place while also serving up those flicks across services. It’s partnered with majors like iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, Google Play and FandangoNow, while Ultraviolet films daisy-chain over through VUDU. Movies Anywhere doesn’t support 4K or HDR yet, but it passes that data to platforms that may, working as a distribution hub for your collection, with occasional bonus content.



Chillin’ in the dorm just doesn’t seem complete without Netflix. Sure, it’s lacking in the movies department, and some of its own creations are a miss, but it boasts a diverse catalog of TV shows and originals. You have sitcoms like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, various book adaptations, documentaries, stand-up comedy, sci-fi series like Altered Carbon, Marvel's TV universe and RuPaul’s Drag Race, which will have you shouting “Amen!” Since Netflix plans to release 700 originals this year, you might come across a couple that’ll make its $8-plus monthly fee worth it.
$8 - 14/mo
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Spotify / Hulu

Student bundle

If you’re tired of scraping YouTube for the latest hot music, consider giving Spotify a try. Students can get the $10 premium version of the streaming service for $5 per month. Better yet, it comes with Hulu’s limited-commercials plan (typically $8 per month on its own) at no extra cost. You’ll have access to 20 million songs on any device you own, plus you can check out Samurai Jack, Gravity Falls and classic Buffy episodes without paying a dime more.