Apple devices, apps, and accessories for back to school: The ultimate guide
It's time to hit the books again for many students. Whether you're getting ready for the first day of high school, finally getting comfortable in college, or you're in the home stretch of post-grad at university, we've rounded up the best Apple tech for the back to school season.
We're keeping an eye on budget here. If money is no object, we'll list a few alternatives. Otherwise, we want to help get you through school without breaking the bank.
The best iPad for students
An iPad is a must-have for the school year. It's perfect for taking notes in the middle of a lecture, reading up on the latest research, and even working on your assignments thanks to a wealth of productivity tools. When moving around all day from class to class, you'll be happy to have something so light and portable as your workhorse. If you really need a big screen, or want the multi-app multitasking coming to iOS 9, you'll need to splurge on the iPad Air 2. Otherwise the iPad mini 3 is the best pick for students due to its lower price point and improved portability. You could even shave off another $100 by ditching Touch ID and getting the iPad mini 2. It has a 7.9-inch Retina Display, 16 GB of local storage, 10 hours of battery life, which is more than enough to get you through a busy day.
Best iPhone for students
The iPhone 5c still manages to provide exceptional value for those on a budget. You get a fully capable iPhone with a sharp color scheme in a practical price range. The 4-inch Retina Display, 16 GB of storage, and 8 megapixel camera come together in an elegant package. Of course, there's always the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus if you want more speed and screen size, and have the budget to go all-out, but for those that need to squirrel away every nickel and dime for tuition, the iPhone 5c will service you perfectly well.
Best MacBook for students
For serious work, you'll need to hunker down at a laptop. Get ready to spend a few all-nighters with the MacBook Air. It's impossibly slim and light, making it perfect for hauling around from class to class, but it also fits well into the student budget. There aren't many MacBooks under $1000, but this one squeaks in while still offering a 1.6 GHz processor, 128 GB of storage, and 4 GB of RAM. If you need high-performance, there's always the MacBook Pro.
Best desktop Mac for students
If you need a bit more horsepower, it may be worth looking at the Mac Mini. As the name suggests, it takes up barely any room on your desk and still manages to pack in a 1.4 GHz dual-core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 500 GB of storage. Two higher-end models bump up the storage, RAM, and processor speed, though at that price range, a proper all-in-one iMac may be an option. You'll need to hook the Mac Mini up to a screen and it won't be as portable as a MacBook, but it still provides excellent bang for buck.
Best iPhone cases for students
Dropping your iPhone is inevitable when you're juggling books and bags while running around all day long. Make sure you aren't stuck with a cracked iPhone until graduation by picking up one of these excellent cases.
The OtterBox Symmetry Series offers both a slim profile and protection against bumps and scratches. A rubber inner layer is covered by a removable hard plastic shell. You'll find models available for everything as far back as the iPhone 5, and a wide range of color options. Check out Android Central's hands-on impressions of the Symmetry series case here for an idea of what to expect.
Tech21 makes a whole range of affordable snap-on cases that use a special impact-absorbing gel. This should convince you that a slim case equipped with D30 can provide real drop protection. Tech21 cases are readily available for everything as far back as the iPhone 5 in a bunch of different styles.
Best note-taking apps for students
Between the lecture hall, library, and your dorm room, you're going to be writing a ton of notes. These apps can keep them shareable, organized, and searchable. They're free downloads, but premium subscriptions provide extra functions like more cloud storage space. Whatever you pick, you'll be happy to have an app like these installed when term paper time rolls around.
Evernote has been doing cloud-based note-taking for a long time. It can handle typed, drawn, audio, photos, tables, and checklists. Notes have tags which can help you keep tabs on content across themed notebooks. Upgrade to one of the two premium tiers for features like offline viewing and increased cloud storage allowance. The Apple Watch app lets you quickly glance through your notes and tick off to-do lists from your wrist.
Google Docs is a highly accessible option since it's free and available on the web for Mac and as apps for iOS. Collaboration options allow users to easily suggest edits, leave comments, and work together with live chat. Users can go back to older revisions to review changes. You get 15 GB of storage for free which should be plenty for documents, but additional space is available for dirt cheap.
Microsoft has put together a highly polished note-taking app for iPhone and iPad that ties in very tightly with the Microsoft Office suite. It does particularly well at handling handwritten notes, but you can also easily import web content. Apple Watch integration even lets you add notes directly from your smartwatch. It's possible to get by with OneNote for free, though you'll probably want an Office 365 subscription for the full suite of Microsoft apps.
Best desktop chargers for students
Let's make sure you're comfortable for the long hours you'll be spending at your desk. The right cradle for your iPhone and iPad can keep you connected and fully-charged for the second you have to head out the door.
The TwelveSouth HiRise is a particularly classy, simple powered stand for both iPhone and iPad. You can get them in black, silver, or gold to match your device. The speakers remain unobstructed, so your iPhone or iPad can play music or other audio without issue. An upgraded Deluxe version includes additional cables and a thumb dial to adjust for third-party cases. The HiRise should work fine with iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.
The Pure Contour i1 offers a place for your iPhone or iPad to charge as well as an AirPlay-supporting speaker. For those with an older device, the Contour i1 ships with both a Lightning connector and a 30-pin dock. Included is a separate remote for playback control while your device is plugged in. When not in use, it can be stashed behind the dock. An LED on the front shows the time and other status info on the front. Nab one of these if you're also hunting for some audio support for your Mac.
If you're packing both an iPhone and an iPad, the FUZ EverDock Duo is a great way to nail two birds with one stone. Silver, grey, and gold models are out there to match your devices. There's another model that supports Apple Watch if you want to go all-out.
Best iPad stylus for students
Whether you're pursuing artistic studies or you just prefer taking notes freehand, the right stylus is imperative if you're going to be spending a lot of time with your iPad. Precision, responsiveness, and comfort are all hugely important, and you'll need app support to get the most out of it.
The guys from Wacom have a sharp little stylus with a few shortcut buttons for additional functions. The thin 2.9 mm replaceable nub provides plenty of precision and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. In apps like Autodesk SketchBook, you'll also be able to enjoy palm rejection when drawing, not to mention extra tools in Wacom's own Bamboo app just for having their pen.
The Adonit Jot Script 2 has an even slimmer 1.9 mm tip and it includes 6 months of premium service to Evernote. Popular apps like Photoshop Sketch include palm rejection, but the premium build quality may be what sticks out most to you. The Jot Script 2 recharges over a USB dongle that the back end of the stylus rests in. Grab the Jot Script 2 if you intend on taking notes with the stylus; that Evernote subscription will come in handy.
The Pencil by FiftyThree is a chunky little stylus with a unique design. On the back end is a secondary nub that can be used to erase assuming your app of choice supports it (many do). The Pencil works best in FiftyThree's own Paper app, currently available for iPad and coming soon for iPhone. Between the angled tip for broad strokes and finger-based smudging, you have a lot of creative options.
Best bags for students
These top-notch bags and backpacks can handle all of your gear for a busy day. iPhone, iPad, and Mac pouches are obviously helpful, but you'll also need plenty of room for books, a water bottle, and many other personal effects. Whatever you need, these bags should survive this year and those beyond.
One of Timbuk2's top bags is the Dashboard Laptop Messenger bag. A pocket right on the top flap keeps your iPhone easily accessible. The dedicated removable sleeve inside can host your Mac and iPad. Solid weatherproofing makes this a good pick for rainy regions.
If you're constantly checking your iPhone through the day, the Powerbag will make sure it stays alive. The built-in 6,000 mAh battery can charge up to four devices at once, including your iPhone and iPad. The wiring system is fed intelligently so you can still use what you need, and store your stuff in the most convenient spots. Of course, the backpack has plenty of storage space for any of your non-electronics too.
Tylt has a backpack that cranks things up a notch with a bigger 10,400 mAh battery and four universal USB plugs. The top pocket is lined with a hard case to safely store your iPhone. There are a few travel-friendly features for those that intend to be flying home for Christmas. For example, dedicated sleeve on the interior makes it easy to slip a luggage handle through the back of the bag.
Best backup batteries for students
A dead iPhone battery can be a huge hassle if you're out partying with friends and trying to coordinate. These battery packs should provide you or a buddy enough power to make it through a busy night of selfie-taking or a late-night cram session.
If you're in a spot where you consistently use your phone all day every day, the hassle of hauling around a separate battery, having to fish it out of your bag, plug it into your phone, and checking to see when it's done might be a little too much. ZeroLemon offers a whole line of affordable, high-powered battery cases for iPhone. You can find models for the iPhone 5 and newer that get as big as 6,100 mAh. Just make sure you don't mind a little added bulk.
Tylt makes a slim battery pack that integrates a Lightning and a microUSB cable. The 5,200 mAh pack also has a standard USB port, so a third device can be charged at the same time, and the 3 A current makes sure everything can get charged quickly. Snag one of these if you don't want a battery pack that takes up a ton of room.
The Anker Astro E7 is hard to beat when comes to pure value. You get an incredible 25,600 mAh battery and three USB slots. With that much power, you could charge an iPhone 6 ten times. On the whole, this is an all-business backup battery that provides the very best bang for buck.
Best Bluetooth speakers for students
You'll want some music if you're taking a break with some friends in the quad. A wireless speaker beaming tunes from your phone can be handy around home, too. Take a look at these portable Bluetooth speakers that fit in a student budget.
The UE Roll is a fun Bluetooth speaker that can handle a bit of water. An integrated strap lets you mount the UE Roll anywhere convenient. If you already have an Ultimate Ears speaker, the dedicated app can pair them up for stereo sound. Buy one of these if you intend on squeezing in some weekend adventures.
The Big Jambox will do the trick for anyone hunting for a sharp-looking speaker. The style factor can not be understated; there are a ton of color and pattern options to make sure it fits in with your dorm room. A polished iOS app allows a great functions and regular updates. It also provides a battery indicator on your iPhone. When it comes time to unwind, you'll appreciate how deep and loud the Big Jambox can get.
The Bose Soundlink Mini 2 is a very well-rounded wireless speaker, earning high marks for audio quality and portability. A charging base keeps it going at home, while a built-in battery provides up to 10 hours of tunes while you're away. Pair two devices to bring in your calls and music from either your iPhone or iPad.
Best Bluetooth headphones for students
Pop on a pair of these excellent wireless headphones to find your groove when churning out an assignment. They're comfortable enough and should have enough power for a long stretch of writing in the library.
The Jaybird X2s are perfect for the sporty types out there. They're super light, sweat-proof, and have a variety of fitting gels. 8 hours of battery life with the help of a backup battery pack should be enough for your next workout. The sound quality is nothing to sneeze at, either.
The Plantronics BackBeat Sense will suit you well if you plan on staying put for awhile. They're light on the head and have a solid 18 hours of playback time. MicroUSB charging means you can plug this one in just about anywhere, while a 3.5 mm input is also available if you need to listen to other devices.
Plantronics BackBeat Sense
The Moto Pulse delivers good quality wireless audio for what you pay. They're comfortable with a sharp design, and offer a whooping 18 hours of playback on a single charge. A smart iOS app helps you keep tabs on battery life and find the headphones buried in that mess you call a room.
Now hit the books!
Hopefully these fine pieces of gear will prepare you for the onslaught that is to come. With any luck, these will help you take care of smaller inconveniences so you can focus on your studies. Before making the plunge on anything, be sure to check out Apple's educational discounts to see which promotions you can take advantage of. We tried to be as comprehensive as possible here, but which iPhone, iPad, Mac, and general tech would you suggest for students?
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By Kevin Lynch