It’s back to school time — here are the best gadgets for the upcoming year

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Flickr/HackNY

The summer’s winding down, the weather’s (slightly) less oppressive, and school is finally back in session.

You know what that means? It’s time to buy tech stuff.

But, per usual, knowingwhichtech stuff to buy is hard. The fact that lots of crucial tech categories are currently in a state of transition doesn’t help.

Luckily for you, my colleagues and I get paid to test these things. So, to help you get the most out of your tech for the upcoming school year, here’s a quick and easy breakdown of which campus essentials are actually worth buying today.


Laptops: Mac

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Getty

Inconveniently, it’s abad time to buy a laptop. And it’s areallybad time to buy a new Mac: Anoverhauled MacBook Proappears very likely to arrive by the end of the year, and reliable Apple reporter Mark Gurman says that arefreshed MacBook Airis in the works as well. If your kid’s a Apple diehard, they should tough it out for just a couple more months.


Laptops: Windows

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The Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
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Microsoft

Again, if you can wait, wait. A number ofpromising Windows laptopswere announced just this week, the majority of which use Intel’s new 7th generation “Kaby Lake” processors. Those aren’t a huge leap forward, but they’re still an improvement. More importantly, as new laptops come out, they’ll bring down the prices of last year’s still-capable machines.

If you absolutely need something today, though, theDell XPS 13is still a wonderfully compact Ultrabook with no significant flaws, while theAsus Zenbook UX305is steady and stylish among midrange machines. TheAcer Aspire E5-575G-53VG, meanwhile, isn’t as capital-n Nice, but has the essentials down for an affordable $550.

Also, while we can’t recommend a “2-in-1” over a traditional laptop on a general basis,Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4can still do the job if you spend a bunch of your PC time laying around watching videos.


Laptops: Chromebook

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The Toshiba Chromebook 2.
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Amazon

Chromebooks are also at a turning point, thanks to Chrome OS’s forthcoming support of the Google Play Store. Android apps shouldmake Google’s platform better,but to get the most of them, you’ll want a touchscreen. There aren’t many Chromebooks around now that have that without being overpriced and/or underpowered, butthe future looks bright.

But again, if you can’t wait, theToshiba Chromebook 2runs fast, feels good, and has a beautiful (non-touch) display for $400. TheDell Chromebook 13is the same way, with a more premium build, but it can get a bit too costly for comfort.


Headphones

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The Bose QuietComfort 35.
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Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

This is another tricky one. Apple’s about tomurder the headphone jack, which is spawning a big wave of new wireless and Lightning-based headphones. Simply put: Apple’s about to make future iPhones more hostile to traditional cans.

For now, though, there are still a ton of options to choose from. For cheapskates:Monoprice’s Hi-Fi on-earsare amazingly sharp for $20, whileXiaomi’s Mi In-Ear Headphonesbring serious bass thunder for $25.

For wireless pairs:V-Moda’s Crossfade Wirelessare sturdy and fun. TheJabra Move Wirelessare a good, bass-y bargain. And if you need to total peace while studying,Bose’s QuietComfort 35are tops in terms of pure noise cancelling.

For general use: TheSony MDR-1Aare pleasant across the board, both smooth sounding and immensely comfortable. TheOppo PM-3are accurate enough to please audiophiles, and theAudio-Technica ATH-M50Xare a cult fave for about $140.


Smartphones

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The Samsung Galaxy S7 edge.
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Flickr/Răzvan Băltărețu

Anew iPhone is comingthis week, but all signs point to itbeing unremarkable. It’ll still be safe to buySamsung’s Galaxy S7 or S7 edge, which are powerful, gorgeous, and fitted with one of the best smartphone cameras in existence.

If you can’t splurge, theOnePlus 3gives you nothing less than a flagship phone for just $400. The same goes for theiPhone SE, provided you’re cool with a tinier device. And if you just want something functional for as little as possible – or just some backup in case you drop your normal phone in the toilet – theBlu R1 HDis aridiculous valueat just $60.


Going back to class means spending an unhealthy amount of time hunched over your laptop. You can make your assignments a little more comfortable, though, by investing in a more ergonomic mouse. For that, we’re big fans of the Evoluent Vertical Mouse C, which might look odd, but feels natural once you get going with it.

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The Evoluent Vertical Mouse C.
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Business Insider/Antonio Villas-Boas

You canread our reviewfor more, and check the thingout for yourself here.

For a more traditional (and cheaper) upgrade,Logitech’s Marathon Mouse M705has been ol’ reliable for many years now.


Backing up your data is a smart idea regardless, but it’s definitely worth the effort when you’ve got notes and essays to preserve. You can always stick to the cloud, but if that’s not enough, the Seagate Backup Plus Slim is reliable and portable hard drive that gives plenty of storage space for the money.

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The Seagate Backup Plus Slim external hard drive.
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Seagate

You can take alook for yourself here. Alternatively, if you don’t needthatmuch room, a speedy flash drive like theSanDisk Extreme is a great solution.


Likewise, it’s hard to see the downsides of a good external battery. Something like Anker’s PowerCore packs will keep your devices alive through a long night of studying, or other “extracurricular activities.”

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The Anker PowerCore 13000 USB battery pack.
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Anker

The13,000mAh model hereis a particularly good value, but you can go smaller or larger as you see fit.


They’re aren’t quite necessary, but instant cameras — yes, like those old Polaroids that’d print out photos right after you take them — are back en vogue, and they can lend a bit of fun to your shenanigans around campus. If you’re interested, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic is much more enjoyable than its name suggests.

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The Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic.
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Fujifilm

Itgoes for about $125on Amazon.


A good Bluetooth speaker can liven up the dorm or the quad (or annoy your roommate). The UE Roll 2 is a good choice here: It’s affordable ($80), waterproof, especially portable, and lively sounding for its size. If you’re willing to splurge a couple hundred more on stronger performance and a higher-end build, the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A1 is just plain nice.

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The Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A1.
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Business Insider/Jeff Dunn

You can findthe former here, andthe latter here.


Media streamers

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The Google Chromecast.
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Getty/Justin Sullivan

If you’re looking to get YouTube and Netflix to your TV on the cheap, your most painless picks are theGoogle ChromecastandRoku Streaming Stick.

The former is cheaper ($35) and dead simple to use – so long as you don’t mind running everything through your phone. (Just know that a4K-capable versionappears to be on the way, if that’s needed.)

The latter is $50, but it’s just as quick, and uses the same super intuitive, self-contained interface you’d get on a bigger media streamer.


You might be tempted to pair all of this with a new game console, but again, try to wait. Sony will announce new PS4s very soon, Nintendo should unveil its secretive “NX” console not long after, and Microsoft has a supercharged Xbox (dubbed “Project Scorpio”) coming next year. If nothing else, all of those should lower the prices of what’s out now.

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The Xbox One S.
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Florence Fu / Business Insider

The only new console you could maybe justify today isMicrosoft’s Xbox One S, but that’s only really worth it if you have a fancy TV set that supports 4K and HDR video. Otherwise, justhang tight for a bit, and we’ll update once the dust settles.


If you’ve got the space for a bigger picture, you might want to be that guy on campus with a projector. You pretty much have to drop big cash to find something great, but the $350 LG PH300 gets a solid (albeit 720p) image out of an easily portable package. Make sure to only use it in the dark, though.

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The LG PH300.
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YouTube

You cangrab it here.


TVs

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A TCL Roku TV.
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TCL

Going back to the Roku well, TCL’s brand ofRoku TVsare very solid values if you need a new set altogether. They aren’t world beaters in terms of picture quality, but have the whole Roku platform built in (so you don’t need to buy a media streamer).

If you’re willing to pay for higher quality, though,Vizio’s M seriesis a strong performer in the mid-range.


If you know you’ll be spending lots of time plopped in front of that TV, investing in a soundbar is the simplest upgrade you can give it. Hook a good one up, and everything sounds better. At $150, Vizio’s SB3821-C6 is about as spacious as these things get on a budget.

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The Vizio SB3821-C6 soundbar and subwoofer.
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Vizio

You cangrab it here.