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You may already have the big ticket items you need for school, but you’ll probably need a few more things once the semester begins. This is especially true for those who aren’t heading back to campus immediately due to quarantine restrictions. Regardless of where your classes take place, there are some tools you may not realize you need until the last minute, as well as gadgets that could make your study-from-home life easier. Here, are all the useful things in our back-to-school guide that are under $50 so you can quickly snag the important stuff now without breaking the bank.
Aukey Power Strip Surge Protector
Even with a power strip, it’s sometimes hard to plug in all the devices you use on a regular basis. Aukey’s Power Strip Surge Protector can make things much easier. Its cylindrical design holds 12 AC outlets and six USB-A ports with enough space around them all to accommodate many devices plugged in simultaneously.
The wide spacing means you can make use of every AC outlet at the same time, and you’re also less likely to have overlapping, tangled cords like you often get with flat power strips. AiPower adaptive charging technology automatically adjusts to provide the maximum safe amount of power to your USB devices and the large power button at the top of the unit lets you turn off everything at once, which is an easy way to save energy.
While docking stations are really useful work-from-home tools, they’re expensive and ultimately not very portable. Instead of investing in one for your studying-at-home time, grab Aukey’s 8-in-1 USB-C Hub instead. We like it because it offers many ports and connectors in a lightweight, packable design for only $38. It includes three USB-A ports, one USB-C port that supports 100W power delivery, an SD card slot, a microSD card slot, an HDMI port and a Gigabit ethernet port.
The most important of those are the USB-C port and the ethernet port. As long as you have your laptop’s original charging cable and AC adapter, you can power it through Aukey’s device at a fast rate. The ethernet port ensures that you can connect to a network even if you have spotty WiFi at your home (or other places when you get back to campus). Just be sure to pick up a Gigabit Ethernet cable to use with it. Some accessories are designed to be used in one place, but a hub like this will give you more freedom and flexibility both at home and back at school.
More power is always necessary when you’re logging an hours-long study session. Anker’s new PowerCore 10000 power bank works similarly to any other portable charger. With a full battery, it can recharge some smartphones from zero to 100 percent twice, but the kicker of this model is its Qi wireless charging capabilities. Set your smartphone or Qi-capable earbuds on top and they’ll start powering up instantly, no extra cables needed. You have the option to charge with a cable if you prefer, but wireless charging is not only easier since you don’t have to mess with cords but it’s also more convenient if you want to use your phone while it’s powering up. Anker’s power bank is slightly smaller than an iPhone XR and less than half an inch thick, making it easy to hold underneath your smartphone as you use it.
Sometimes not everything you need for school can or should be saved in the cloud. You can free up space on your computer or smartphone with SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive Go, a swiveling flash drive with both USB-A and USB-C support. Between those two ports, you should be able to connect the drive to nearly any device you have, and if you have a USB-C smartphone, you can enable automatic backup of your documents, photos and more with the accompanying SanDisk smartphone app. (Those with iPhones should check out SanDisk’s iXpand flash drive, which instead has a Lightning connector instead of USB-C.) In addition to dual USB support, we like the compact design, its 150MB/s read speeds and the fact that you could clip it to your keys and take it with you wherever you go. Also, if you work mostly with documents and smaller files, you could skip a more expensive external SSD completely and get the $39 256GB Dual Drive Go.
You don’t have to drop hundreds to get a good pair of wireless earbuds. Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo true wireless earbuds cost only $40 and could easily be your daily drivers. They fit securely in your ears and, while they don’t have active noise cancellation, they do a decent job blocking out ambient sound.
Most importantly, you can wear them comfortably for hours and they’re secure enough to wear while exercising. (They’re also sweat-proof with an IPX7 rating.) They even have two stereo microphones so you can use them while on a Zoom call. Sound quality is quite good for a pair of earbuds this affordable, and Bluetooth 5.0 ensures a solid connection at all times. Anker estimates five hours of playtime on a single charge -- although I’ve gotten more in my use -- and the charging case gives you an extra 15 hours of juice. They charge via microUSB and the case has a larger profile than what you’d get with AirPods or another expensive competitor, but otherwise these earbuds are a fantastic value.
You might be used to the trackpad on your laptop but a mouse can lessen wrist fatigue and make it easier for you to do schoolwork on your computer. Logitech’s M720 Triathlon wireless mouse is one of the most capable accessories you can get and it costs only $50. We like it for its hyper fast scrolling and multi-device connectivity -- if you happen to be working on more than one PC at once, you can switch between them seamlessly and use the mouse on both. It comes with a USB receiver, but it also has Bluetooth so you can go with whichever is best for you. It will also last two years on a single AA battery.
The Echo Dot is a decent enough speaker for listening to tunes on. But Alexa also has smart features and Skills that can help out time-strapped students. For example, you can ask the virtual assistant to give you weather reports, update you on calendar events and more without lifting your eyes from your textbook. There are also Skills you can download like Quizlet’s study flashcards that help you review coursework and others like Blackboard and Canvas that integrate with your school’s system to keep you updated on due dates, upcoming tests and important events.
A handy device stand can make a huge difference when you’re studying. Maybe you’ve gotten into the habit of propping up your phone or tablet beside your computer while you’re studying so you have a tiny bit of extra screen space to review notes and read PDFs. TechMatte’s mini stand lets you position your mobile device so you can see the screen better, and you can adjust the viewing angle to your liking.
Since you must press the stand’s side button to change the angle, it won’t easily buckle under the weight of your device and it’s non-slip base ensures that it’ll stay put on any surface. The bottom part of the stand even has an indent that aligns with the Home button on older Apple devices so it remains easily accessible. The stand can hold a Nintendo Switch, too, so you can easily go from studying to Animal Crossing when you want to take a break.
Studying doesn’t have to be so rigid all the time, but it can be hard to find a good spot on your couch where you can prop up your laptop, textbooks and everything else you need. Lap Gear’s Clipboard lap desk is a good way to fix that -- it’s a standard lap desk that gives you a sturdy surface on which to put your computer, notebooks and other study materials. However, it also has a clip on one side so you can securely hold printed out study sheets, PDFs or small notebooks while you do your work. We also like that it has a pen slot and a “ledge” at the bottom that will keep your laptop from sliding off.
I’m going to channel your mother for a moment: Stay hydrated! It’s so easy to forget to drink water throughout the day, especially now when we’re all stuck at home and time basically has no meaning. It’s even harder when you’re in the middle of an all-nighter (do not recommend) or hours-deep into a studying session. The best way to hydrate throughout the day is to keep a water bottle like Contigo’s Autospout, filled, with you at all times. This particular model holds 20 ounces of water (or cold drink of your choice), uses vacuum insulation to keep drinks colder for longer and stays sleek and clean thanks to its stainless steel design.