iMore Back to School Gift Guide

What should I buy for back to school?

These days, you need a bit more than pens, paper, and a bright backpack when returning to the classroom for the year. With the latest and greatest tech finds, students can not only get their work done, but also unwind and keep entertained in style. Here's everything you or your favorite student needs to make the grade and keep on rocking when going back to school.

iPhone, iPad, and Mac

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE may look like 2013's iPhone 5s, but inside, it's a powerful little beast. It packs the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s, but inside a 4-inch chassis — saving valuable space in backpacks, pockets, purses, or hands. You wont get 3D Touch, and the LTE radio isn't quite as fast, but you can still take Live Photos with the SE's 12-megapixel camera, use Touch ID and Apple Pay, download all the same iTunes and iBooks content for your classes, and access the same App Store apps and games.

It's less expensive than the 6s and smaller and easier to fit into a pocket or bag, which makes it great for students. If you need bigger, go iPhone 6s. If you need MUCH bigger, go iPhone 6s Plus. If you want the latest and the greatest, wait a few weeks for iPhone 7. Otherwise, iPhone SE is the best small phone for your school-day needs. (But remember: Just because it's small doesn't mean it's not rude to use it while your professor's talking.)

See at Apple

9.7-inch iPad Pro

Whether you're looking to rock a small screen in the classroom or just want a tablet for reading, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the best in the business. Its wide-color Retina display can handle everything from textbooks to Netflix, and the iPad's True Tone screen technology keeps that content looking great no matter where you are thanks to automatic ambient-light adjusting. It ensures that your whites always look white, not blue or yellow, and lets you read outdoors where a lesser tablet might stutter and fail.

The iPad supports Smart Connector accessories like the Apple Smart Keyboard and Logitech Create Keyboard along with Bluetooth external keyboards. These allow you to create a laptop-like experience when you need it, but switch back to a tablet any time you like. It also lets you use the best stylus around, the Apple Pencil: Taking notes is a breeze, and digital drawing as easy as pen to paper.

If you want to go all-in on the tablet lifestyle and a bigger screen matters, the 12.9-inch model is a great runner-up. Likewise, the iPad Air 2 is a good cost-efficient alternative, if you don't mind sacrificing True Tone, the Smart Connector, and access to the Apple Pencil.

If you want the perfect size, however, and can afford to spend a little this back-to-school season, this is the power-packed portable you want.

See at Apple

13-inch MacBook Air

There are whiffs of new Macs in the wings, but if waiting for the next generation of MacBook Pro isn't feasible — or you don't want to pay the price for high performance — the 13-inch MacBook Air is an excellent deal for the back-to-school crowd. It's light, it's roomy, and while it doesn't have a high-density Retina Display, it does have several USB ports and long battery life: It'll not only get you through the school day, it won't weigh you down while doing it.

If you're willing to wait a few months for added performance and high-quality displays, the upcoming MacBook Pro line should treat you well. If you need something even lighter and thinner than the Air with a Retina look, check out the MacBook or iPad Pro. If not, the MacBook Air is a great little computer, and should aid in your school adventure for years to come.

See at Apple

Security and backup

Kensington SafeDock Security Dock

Kensington SafeDock Security Dock

You're working away at your MacBook Air, putting the finishing touches on a term paper in your common room, and you need to step away for just a minute. Is it safe to leave the laptop unattended? Most likely not, even if you trust your classmates. But sometimes it needs to happen — and if it does, best to have a security measure in place like the Kensington SafeDock Security Dock.

Available for both the 11 and 13-inch MacBook Air, you only need to slide the laptop into the dock, secure the back cable, and your MacBook will stay put. It's the perfect tool for a busy campus where everyone is coming and going, and you can't always have your eyes on your tech. It's also portable enough to slip into a backpack or laptop bag to move it from the dorm to the library or coffee shop — wherever your study breaks may take you.

The dock is designed to keep your USB ports free, so you can keep working, and as a bonus feature, it comes with a bottom kickstand that gives your MacBook Air a more ergonomic experience when typing or reading.

See at Amazon

Seagate Slim Backup Plus

School work and learning can take up a lot of space — and we're not just talking about the stuff in your brain. You're going to be taking photos, writing papers, creating projects, and more at school; don't let your laptop's hard drive fill up and slow your computer down because of it. Instead, look to a portable, external drive to both increase your storage space and back up your valuable files.

We love the Seagate Slim Backup Plus for students because it's tiny (weighing just 4.8 ounces), portable, offers USB 3 transfer speeds, and as a nice extra perk, it offers a free 200GB two-year subscription to OneDrive to back up your files to the cloud. The drive comes in sizes ranging from 500GB to 4TB, but we recommend the 2TB as a good starter option, unless you plan to be creating a ton of music or video projects during your school year. It even comes in four different colors — black, blue, red or silver — to suit your own personal style.

See at Amazon


Best option: Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones

Bose QC 35 wireless headphones

The life of a student can be a noisy one, whether you're riding the bus to classes, dealing with pesky roommates, or eating during the dinner rush. Drown out the insanity with Bose's QuietComfort 35 Wireless headphones: Not only do they offer excellent sound quality for Bluetooth headphones, but come with Bose's top-tier noise cancellation technology.

Its 20 hours of battery life and quick-charge micro-USB port gives you the freedom and flexibility to travel across campus or the country without losing power; add a 3.5mm headphone jack to make them wired, and you'll get a full 40 hours of noise-cancellation technology. (And yes, Bose even provides an airline adapter, to make those red-eye college flights that much easier.)

The headphones are iMore's top all-around pick for their comfort, noise-cancellation, and ease of use when wireless: We have full faith they'll give your student experience a great soundtrack.

See at Amazon

Budget Option: Jabra Move

If you still want wireless sound without the Bose price point, Jabra's Move Wireless is a fantastic pick for students who want music on the go. Available in black, red, or blue, the lightweight headphones offer a stylized on-ear headphone experience and offer 8 hours of battery life without breaking the bank.

The on-ear fit helps to minimize surrounding noise so that the volume doesn't have to be cranked sky-high to drown out loud roommates, with just enough padding to stay comfortable for long periods of wear.

See at Amazon


Best option: UE Boom 2

UE Boom 2 in Phantom

Whether you want to amp up your sound for a little dorm room dance party, give a bass boost to your movie-watching experience, or simply want to add a bit of musical charm to your classroom, the UE Boom 2 offers a deceivingly small speaker with colossally great sound.

This wireless Bluetooth wonder offers 15 hours of battery life, 360-degree audio, and is even IPX7-rated for waterproofing in case it takes a spill into a pool (or you want to use it to drown out the sadness of a dorm shower).

See at Amazon

Budget option: UE Roll

UE Roll in Atmosphere blue

For the budget-conscious, the UE Roll offers a similar experience to its bigger brother without some of the bells and whistles. Like the UE Boom, you can rock out to 360-degree streamed sound; the Roll comes with a nine-hour battery and a 65-foot Bluetooth range. In addition, the speaker connects to a high-quality bungee cord: You can use it to attach the Roll to a bike, backpack, or just about anything else you can think of.

If you need a budget-friendly speaker to travel across campus, check out the UE Roll.

See at Amazon

For the dorm

Apple TV

Apple TV 4

Off to college? If you have access to an external television (or are bringing your own), a fourth-generation Apple TV can be just the ticket to weekend Netflix enjoyment outside of your cramped MacBook or iPad screen.

Featuring thousands of apps that offer great video, audio, and gaming content, it's easier than ever to find something perfect for after-class entertainment — or even an multitask with an app to help with that schoolwork. And don't worry about bringing artwork for the dorm room wall: Apple's built-in screensavers feature stunning images from around the world.

See at Apple

Vizio E-Series E32-D1 Smart TV

VIZIO E Series D1 Smart TV

No dorm room or student apartment is complete without a fantastic TV set up, and the Vizio E-Series is the best you can get, especially if it's connected to an Apple TV. (Hey, if you're going to have a TV, why not trick it out with Apple TV? Just sayin'.)

The E-Series Smart TV features a 1080p full HD display — perfect for movies and series marathons with your roommates. The two HDMI ports and USB option also allow the TV to be transformed into a second monitor for your laptop: handy when school work requires a little extra screen space.

See at Dell



Dorm rooms and student apartments tend to be short on size, so every piece of furniture has to be ultra-purposeful and built to fit into tiny spaces. A student desk, for example, is a very necessary item, but it needs to be easily tucked into a corner and easy to transport. No surprise here that IKEA has your furniture concerns covered with the MICKE Desk.

The MICKE Desk comes in under 30 inches in length, and just a hair over 20 inches in width. The single drawer is a perfect storage spot for papers and supplies like pens or USB drives, and the handy little cutout in the desktop surface keeps every cord neat and orderly and out of the way. No need to be concerned with matching the decor of the dorm or apartment because the simple black or white finish goes with everything (and since when is student furniture supposed to color coordinate?).

Best of all, the MICKE Desk is designed to match up nicely with other furniture over time; shelves, drawer stacks, and comfy office chairs will be a spot-on match for both height and color long after the dorm is a distant memory.

See at IKEA

Other essentials

Apple Watch

Apple Watch Sport

With watchOS 3 right around the corner, the Apple Watch is more powerful and useful than ever: You can add class reminders from your wrists, let your parents and friends know you're alive while walking between classes, check appointments, keep healthy, and — y'know, hopefully — get to class on time.

The Apple Watch is available in two case styles — anodized aluminum or stainless steel — with 38mm or 42mm sizing. They're easy to personalize and fun to accessorize, too, giving you the perfect opportunity to accessorize with your new school wardrobe.

See at Apple

Booq Daypack

Booq Daypack

Hauling textbooks, tech, and all the daily necessities of student life all around campus shouldn't be a difficult task. No student is too cool for a backpack, and we're pretty sure we've found one they'll be stoked to carry.

Booq has been on the trendy backpack scene for over 10 years, and the Daypack is a great example of why it's such a popular brand. It's got room for a laptop as large as 15.6-inches, as well as 26 liters of additional storage — roughly five large textbooks. Side pockets expand to store water bottles, tablets and phones, with a little room to spare for those between-class snacks.

The whole backpack is comfy, with a padded back and shoulder straps that are contoured for a secure fit. As if that's not enough, the Booq Daypack comes with a five-year warranty and a serial number that helps identify it should it ever go missing. It's a fantastic and stylish back to school essential.

See at Amazon

School's almost in session…

We hope these picks will help you or your incoming student in the back to school rush. Got a favorite we missed? Let us know below.