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Back to school: Best tech gear for the remote student

Now that distance learning has become the new norm, students worldwide need to make sure they have the right equipment to be able to study effectively from home.

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Back to virtual school: Education embraces remote learning

Technology makes the shift possible, but challenges abound.

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As the enterprise continues to grapple with a new work from home culture and fresh sets of logistical and security-based challenges caused by changing legislation as well as the rise and fall of coronavirus cases, both parents and students have also felt the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic

For younger students, this has meant parents doing what they can to work with teachers and keep their children entertained and learning in some way. For older students, preparation for exams or continuing study at university while at home -- rather than being on campus -- has become the new normal. 

The imposition of lockdowns came as a shock to everyone this year and few of us were prepared for communicating with others virtually on a daily basis. However, with little end in sight to the end of global restrictions and the new school year approaching, it's time to invest in remote equipment to make studying easier and more productive. 

Below, ZDNet has listed tech and gadgets remote students will find useful in the upcoming academic year.

Logitech C270 HD web camera

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The $53 Logitech C270 HD web camera is a budget-friendly model suitable for students now required to complete their studies remotely due to COVID-19. 

A suitable camera has become a key accessory for attending lessons and lectures conducted online, and a quality web camera is useful for virtual meetups with friends and family, too. 

When you need to jump on a call but your PC has no camera -- or your laptop's inbuilt system simply doesn't cut it when it comes to quality streaming -- this 720p widescreen camera could be a great alternative. 

Compatible with various Windows PC systems, the camera can be clipped on to your device at the angle you prefer. The Logitech C270 also includes automatic light correction and is suitable for video calls made through applications including Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom as it sports a 30 frames per second streaming rate. 

$53 at Walmart

Lume Cube

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Now we are obliged to use video conferencing tools more than ever before, whether students want to use this software to jump into lectures or to catch up with friends, the correct lighting can show them off at their best. 

It might seem like overkill to separately acquire gadgets just for lighting on virtual calls, and while the $69 Lume Cube improves how you look on camera when attending virtual classes, the device also should be considered as a future-proof gadget -- as it may be of benefit for remote job interviews in the future, too. 

Compatible with both laptops and PCs, the light system is adjustable with a 3200k (warm) to 5600k (cool) range and can run for up to 14 hours on a single charge made via an included USB cable. A frosted lens is included for improved light diffusion. 

$69 at Lume Cube

Razer DeathAdder V2

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The traditional mouse is a great alternative to trackpads. And they are now far more advanced than a plastic shell and ball -- programming, comfort, and style are just as important as functionality. 

The $69.99 Razer DeathAdder V2 is a wired mouse designed to be lightweight and can be used with a palm grip, claw, or fingertip control, sporting a response time of 0.2 milliseconds with commands sent through infrared technology. 

While marketed for gamers, the mouse also comes with eight programmable buttons which could prove useful in software and applications dedicated to studies, given that users can program commonly-used shortcuts or functions to save time.

An alternative wireless model is also available for $149.99.

$69 at Razer

BlueParrott B450-XT Bluetooth headset

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Aside from a quality web camera and lighting, students need to be able to hear -- and speak -- effectively over the internet when using video conferencing tools for remote classes. 

Meeting both requirements, the $149.99 VXi BlueParrott (B450-XT) is a headset suitable for both Windows and Mac machines as well as mobile devices. After charging for three hours, students can use their headsets for up to 24 hours without disruption. 

Another benefit of this headset is active noise-canceling technology to help students concentrate in noisy homes and other busy environments. 

$149 at Best Buy

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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With many libraries currently out of commission, schools, colleges, and universities have turned to virtual repositories of the books, magazines, academic articles, and other content students need to be able to access for their studies. 

A dedicated tablet or e-reader will now be a key gadget for students required to learn from a distance, and one product range that has remained popular for years is the Amazon Kindle. 

Amazon's $249.99 Kindle Paperwhite is a modern e-reader complete with a 300dpi display that reduces glare and keeps reading on a screen comfortable for long periods of time. 

In the same way as the standard Kindle or Kindle Oasis, users can expect weeks of battery life on a single charge, and books can either be purchased via the Kindle Store, manually loaded through a PC, or sent by email to a dedicated Amazon email account which then synchronizes content with a Kindle device. 

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with 8GB storage, which should be more than enough to cater for reading for pleasure and studies. Students can also take advantage of cheaper models if they accept advertising. 

$249 at Amazon

MacBook Air

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MacBooks are a common sight across campuses given their portability and durability. As remote learning is likely to be the new normal for the foreseeable future, investing in a MacBook that will last through an academic career is worth considering. 

MacBooks are available in Pro and Air formats. The Air could be of particular interest due to its lightweight, durable chassis -- coming in at only 2.8 pounds, making it a suitable laptop to use not only at home, but also at school or college if blended courses are being offered.

A 13.3-inch, 2560x1600 Retina display is standard and users can customize their MacBook Air with up to an Intel i7 processor, up to 2TB SSD, and up to 16GB RAM. Intel Iris Graphics, an inbuilt 720p FaceTime HD camera, and multiple USB-C ports are included. 

$999 at Apple

Microsoft Surface Go 2

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If the student in your life is more familiar and comfortable with the Windows operating system, Microsoft's Surface Go 2 is an excellent alternative -- and more budget-friendly than Apple products. 

The Surface Go 2 is a hybrid device that can be used as a standalone tablet or laptop due to its detachable keyboard and stylus pen accessories. Sporting a 10.5-inch touchscreen display and coming in at only 1.2 pounds, the Surface Go 2 can be customized with up to an Intel M3 processor, optional LTE connectivity, up to 8GB RAM, and up to 128GB storage.

Students can expect their devices to operate for up to 10 hours on a single charge, and if they're taking design-related courses, this flexible tablet/laptop combination could become an incredibly valuable tool.  

$399 at Microsoft

WD 2TB Elements

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It's always a good idea to have a backup system in place for important documents, files, and media. For students, having an extra copy of coursework and essays in case of device failure can be crucial. 

While cloud storage is an option, if you prefer to have a physical backup at hand -- and one that could also be used to store media, films, television shows, and photos -- a portable storage drive is an alternative. 

WD's 2TB Elements is a $62.99 storage drive -- available with up to 4TB storage in a portable format or much more storage space if users are happy to keep them on their desks -- which is both USB 2.0 and 3.0 compatible for rapid data transfers and can be used to store a variety of digital media. Users can connect the Elements drive to both Windows and Mac machines and also set up Elements to perform automatic file backups. 

$62 at Amazon

Philips Hue white and color smart LED bulbs

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When students are required to work long hours, staring at a screen, their eyes and concentration can suffer -- but the right light and ambiance can help. 

The days of harsh lighting in rooms caused by traditional light bulbs are long past with the introduction of IoT and smart lighting products in our homes. Philips Hue is a well-known name in this space, with both white and color options available to replace ceiling lights. 

Controllable via mobile apps or voice assistants, these lights provide a range of colors and temperatures suitable for everything from watching a film to studying. Students may find the white light options particularly useful to aid in concentration while they are working remotely. 

Philips has also recently launched a desk lamp alternative, a $159.99 product that can provide more direct lighting when students are hard at work at their desks. 

$89 at Amazon

LapGear Lap desk

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Not every student has the luxury of a dedicated workspace. However, working leaned over a coffee table or on the sofa can eventually lead to back problems, aches, and pains.

Available in a range of colors and finishes, LapGear's Lap desk can comfortably support a laptop of up to 15.6 inches. Cushions keep your legs from going to sleep while also helping to maintain airflow and circulation to prevent laptops from overheating -- something which must also be considered during the summer months. 

There is also dedicated space on the portable desk for a mouse and smartphone. 

$32 at Amazon

Anker PowerCore Metro 20000

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Running out of juice for your devices can be irritating, but when students are in the middle of a remote learning lecture or discussion, this can be far more disruptive. 

Every year, portable power packs become smaller and lighter as the technology used to build them improves, and Anker's product line is no exception. 

The Anker PowerCore Metro is a slim and portable battery for smartphones and other mobile devices that is able to power up to two flagging gadgets at the same time. With a capacity of 20000 mAh, this converts to up to roughly 96 hours of charge for a single smartphone. Anker's power pack can keep students connected when they need an extra surge of power most -- and may also be a useful addition to throw in a backpack for holidays and events, when such things are once again safe.  

$42 at Walmart

Moleskine smart writing set Ellipse

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Most students are familiar -- or, at least, should be -- with taking notes during lessons, but if remote learning is going to be around for the foreseeable future, investing in a more modern alternative can streamline the process. 

Moleskine's $149 Ellipse writing set contains a Pen+ Ellipse smart pen and a ruled paper tablet that can be used to convert handwritten thoughts, images, notes, or schedule entries into a digital format. 

Students can, therefore, save themselves time and effort as the system removes the need to type out handwritten notes on classes or lectures, and the smart pad may also be particularly useful for slow typers or students who work best with a pen in their hand, rather than a keyboard. 

Once written down, notes are automatically converted and can be edited, transcribed, and shared across different services via the Moleskine mobile app.

$149 at Moleskine

Logitech MK550 wireless wave keyboard and mouse

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Alongside a headset and microphone, a comfortable keyboard can help students work more efficiently, for longer -- and more comfortably. 

The $49.99 Logitech MK550 wireless wave keyboard and mouse combination does not have any backlit lighting or particularly stylish accessories but has been designed to provide a comfortable resting place for a user's palms and wrists. 

When writing essays or completing coursework, this is likely to be far more important to students than fancy bolt-ons to help reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries. 

Suitable for Windows PCs, this keyboard and mouse are wireless and connect via USB dongles. The entry-level price point, too, makes the kit affordable for today's students. 

$49 at Best Buy

Buyer's Guide

When deciding what tech gear will be valuable to today's students, the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic has to be considered. 

It might seem like a lifetime ago, but it only last year students were packed into classrooms, attending lessons, seminars, and lectures. What may have been the occasional use of online platforms or software related to courses are now essential to keeping students on track.  

Students coming into the next academic year can expect remote learning to be the new norm, and so devices or accessories that can make a difficult situation slightly easier or more comfortable -- whether a laptop desk to take the strain off their back or a notepad that can be used to port scribbles directly into digital coursebooks -- can only be of benefit.