The little things can get you when you’re in college. You arrive on campus, fresh and ready to go, but before you know it, you’re a few weeks into the new semester and you have a long list of small things you forgot to pack, like an extra charger, an alarm clock or your earbuds. You may also think of unassuming items that could make a big difference in how you work and play while at school. To prevent you from playing catch-up, we’ve compiled the best gadgets for school under $50 so you can cross the most crucial ones off your list before you even set foot on campus.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
If you know a student lugging an old flatscreen to their dorm for the new semester, gifting them one of our favorite streaming devices – a Roku Streaming Stick 4K – will make them feel like they just got a brand new set. All they need to do is plug it into their TV’s HDMI port, connect it to WiFi and then they’ll have access to pretty much all of the streamable content they could ask for. There are apps for Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and even more niche services like Criterion Channel, so chances are they will be able to watch whatever they want on it. And, who knows, maybe they’ll find new things to binge for free on The Roku Channel. The on-screen interface is easy to navigate, too, and we appreciate that the Roku remote that comes with the dongle can be used to control the TV itself, including power and volume. If you think they’d like enhanced voice controls, it may be worth it to spend another $20 and get them the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+, which comes with the Voice Remote Pro.
Logitech Signature M650 Mouse
Students might need more control over their gigantic spreadsheets and multi-slide presentations than a simple trackpad can provide. Logitech’s Signature M650 Mouse is a solid and inexpensive accessory for them that can give them extra precision on a regular basis. It’s a relatively compact mouse with comfortably textured side grips, a speedy scroll wheel, and Logitech claims its SilentTouch technology reduces click noise by 90 percent. It’ll connect to their computer of choice via Bluetooth or with the included receiver, and students can customize the side buttons using Logitech’s Options software. But arguably the best thing about this mouse is its battery life — it’ll last roughly two years on one AA battery, so they might be able to go a couple of semesters without even thinking about changing it.
Anker 341 7-in-1 USB-C hub
If your student invested in a new laptop recently, chances are they are sorely lacking in the ports department. Most of the best laptops available today only have a couple of USB-C ports built in, with maybe a lone USB-A connector if you’re lucky. Anker’s 7-in-1 USB-C hub can make their academic lives much easier by giving them a bunch of extra ports when they need them most. If they ever need to transfer photos from an SD card or upload portions of a project from a thumb drive, this hub will let them do so by only taking up one of their laptop’s built-in USB-C connectors. The hub itself even has an open USB-C port that supports passthrough charging up to 85W, which means they’ll never run out of battery, even in the middle of laborious tasks.
8BitDo Pro 2
Academic life will quickly become overwhelming if it’s all work and no play. 8Bitdo’s Pro 2 controller can make a student’s game time more enjoyable and comfortable. In general, 8Bitdo’s controllers are more ergonomic than, say, relying on a keyboard and mouse when playing certain PC games. They’re also a dramatic improvement over the Switch’s Joy-Cons which, if we’re honest, aren’t the most comfortable to use for long stretches of time. The Pro 2 is compatible with the Switch, Windows, macOS, Android and Raspberry Pi, and they can map functions to buttons using its companion smartphone app. Your student will appreciate that they can charge it up with any USB-C cable they have lying around, but also that they can remove the battery pack and power it with AA batteries if they want to avoid frequent recharges.
The Echo Dot is Amazon’s most popular smart speaker for a reason: It’s small, it sounds pretty good for its size, and it does a lot more than just play music. Students will like the fact that it won't take up much space on their desks and that they can ask Alexa to play music from Spotify, Apple Music and other services whenever they want to have an impromptu dorm-room dance party. And, since it plugs into a wall outlet, they never have to remember to charge the Echo Dot like they would with a portable speaker. What's more, when an assignment stumps them, students can consult Alexa for help. Are we suggesting they ask Alexa for the answers to all their homework conundrums? Not exactly, but at the very least, it’ll be fun to see how much the voice assistant actually knows about any given topic.
Anker Powerline cables
When you're a student, there’s nothing worse than realizing your iPhone is down to 2 percent battery in the middle of a long day filled with classes, extracurriculars and study sessions. The charging cable that came with your phone has probably served you well, but having a second, longer cable can allow you to power up in dire situations even when the closest outlet is across the room. We’ve been fans of Anker’s Powerline series for a while, and this 10-foot USB-C to Lightning cable is worth investing in. Not only is it MFi-certified so it will work well with all Apple devices, but its length gives you much more flexibility than your standard three-foot cable does. It also supports fast charging if you have an appropriately specced adapter to use it with. And for those who don’t have iPhones, Anker has a 10-foot USB-C to C cable that should serve your handsets well, too.
Students have enough trouble remembering weekly coursework, deadlines, test dates and the like when they’re at school, so giving them a way to easily access credentials for all of their online accounts will be a welcomed gift. A subscription to 1Password takes all of the guesswork out of logging in to student portals, personal accounts and more. All they’ll need to do is remember one master password, and that will give them access to all of their other login information. 1Password’s browser extensions will even automatically fill in the right usernames and passwords for the websites they’re trying to access, and when the software spots a weak password in their vault, it’ll suggest ways to make it stronger.
Otterbox Fast Charge power bank 15,000
An accessory that a student will likely never leave home without is a power bank, and Otterbox’s 15,000mAh Fast Charge battery is one of our top picks. It has a simple, not-too-heavy design that includes one 18W USB-C port and an equally powerful USB-A port, allowing them to power up two devices simultaneously. In our testing, its capacity allowed it to provide two additional full charges to iPhones and Samsung Galaxy handsets. It also didn’t lose too much charge when sitting dormant either, which means the student in your life can toss it in their backpack, forget about it, and know that when their phone’s close to death a few weeks later, they can pull it out for a top-up. Just make note that Otterbox offers 10,000mAh, 15,000mAh and 20,000mAh versions of this pack, so choose the proper capacity when you buy.
We all forget things now and then, but students can be prone to leaving things behind, especially when they’re running out the door to get to class. A Chipolo One tracker can help them make sure to take their keys, wallet, bag or jacket with them by alerting them when their belongings have been left behind. In our testing, Chipolo’s separation alerts kicked in after moving only a couple hundred feet away from the item in question, which means the student in your life won’t go far before they find out that they’re missing something. Chipolo also doesn’t discriminate between operating systems — anyone with an iPhone or an Android device can download the companion app and use the tracker to keep tabs on important stuff.
Samsung Pro Plus microSD card
It may not be the flashiest gift, but Samsung’s Pro Plus microSD card could be something a student uses on a regular basis. This card has fast enough read and write speeds to handle any challenge, be it storing high-res images on their mirrorless camera or saving extra games on their Nintendo Switch,. Samsung includes a full-sized adapter with it as well, so they can use it in devices that only take SD cards if need be. We also appreciate that it’s a durable little accessory, too, with water, temperature, magnet and drop protection to keep all of their information safe even amidst accidents.
Google One subscription (100GB)
Easy access to documents and files is crucial for any student. Many universities in the US provide students with access to some sort of cloud storage system for their work, but if your student doesn’t have that, a Google One subscription will help them. For $20 annually, they’ll get 100GB of Drive space that they can share with up to 5 other people, VPN access for multiple devices, dark web monitoring and extra Google Photo editing features like Magic Eraser. For students, the Drive storage space will be most useful, allowing them to save as many versions of a paper as they need on top of all their old presentations, resources and other assignments. And they’ll be able to access those files from anywhere, allowing them to work even when stuck in an airport on their way home for a visit or sitting on the subway on their way to class. Drive storage also applies to Gmail as well, so if they have important messages that they want to hold on to for the long haul, they can do so without worrying about freeing up more space in their inbox.
Tribit Stormbox Micro 2
While the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 comes in slightly higher than our $50 threshold, we still think it’s worth mentioning as a solid, affordable Bluetooth speaker for students. It pumps out solid sound at high volumes, and it’s supremely portable, measuring only 4.1 x 3.9 x 1.6 inches. It can easily attach to a bike or a backpack, and it’ll last nearly all day long with its 12-hour battery. But the kicker for students is the speaker’s ability to double as a USB-C power bank. That means they won’t have to remember to bring a totally separate power pack with them, and they’ll still be able to power up their phones while they’re out. While the Micro 2 typically costs $60, we’ve seen it on sale for closer to $50.