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The best back-to-school tech: Plus, gear for remote students

What is the best back-to-school tech? ZDNet chose the HP OfficeJet Pro printer. With distance and hybrid learning the new norm, students need to make sure they have the right equipment to be able to study effectively, no matter where they are headed this back-to-school season.
HP OfficeJet Pro 8210 Wireless Color Printer | Best school tech overall
Black HP printer against a blue background
HP OfficeJet Pro 8210 Wireless Color Printer
Best school tech overall
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Logitech C270 HD web camera | Best school tech for virtual lessons
Person's hand holding a Logitech webcam
Logitech C270 HD web camera
Best school tech for virtual lessons
View now View at Amazon
Samsung 27-Inch Class Monitor M5 Series | Best school tech for more screen space
A Samsung monitor on a desk next to a laptop with mirrored screens
Samsung 27-Inch Class Monitor M5 Series
Best school tech for more screen space
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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite | Best school tech for reading
Person holding up a Kindle with Chapter 1 on the screen against a nature background
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Best school tech for reading
View now View at Amazon
Tile Mate Essentials | Best school tech for lost items
Four black tile mate products against a teal background
Tile Mate Essentials
Best school tech for lost items
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Anker Souncore Life Q20 | Best school tech for zero distractions
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Anker Souncore Life Q20
Best school tech for zero distractions
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Seagate portable 2TB external hard drive | Best school tech to backup projects
Overhead shot of a black hard drive plugged into a laptop
Seagate portable 2TB external hard drive
Best school tech to backup projects
View now View at Amazon
LapGear Home Office Lap Desk | Best school tech to work comfortably
Marble lap desk with a laptop, smartphone, and mouse on it
LapGear Home Office Lap Desk
Best school tech to work comfortably
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Philips Hue white and color smart LED bulbs | Best school tech for ambiance
Person on the Philips Hue app controlling lights in a pink ambient room
Philips Hue white and color smart LED bulbs
Best school tech for ambiance
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Anker PowerCore Select 20000mAh | Best school tech to power devices
Person holding a smart phone plugged into a black wireless power bank
Anker PowerCore Select 20000mAh
Best school tech to power devices
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Echo Dot (4th Gen) Kids | Best school tech for kids
Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
Echo Dot (4th Gen) Kids
Best school tech for kids
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Logitech MK550 wireless wave keyboard and mouse | Best school tech for typing
Overhead shot of a person typing on a black keyboard with a black mouse next to it
Logitech MK550 wireless wave keyboard and mouse
Best school tech for typing
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Show more (7 items)

Going back to school has looked a little different in recent years, and virtual learning now has a permanent place in many student's lives one way or another. With the next school year quickly approaching, it's time to invest in remote equipment to make studying easier and more productive, no matter the student's age or level. 

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

Features: Original HP 952 cartridges | One-year limited warranty | 22 pages per minute 

No matter what level of school you or your student is in, everyone needs a printer, which is why this HP wireless color printer is our top pick for must-have back-to-school gear. This printer works with iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems and comes in a compact size. You can use the HP Smart app to set up your HP wireless printer, scan documents with your camera, and even documents print from your smartphone. 

Pros: 

  • Wireless printing 
  • Print from smartphone or tablet 
  • 2-sided printing 

Cons: 

  • Can be difficult to set up

Features: 720p resolution | Built-in microphone | Automatic light correction

A suitable camera has become a key accessory for attending lessons and lectures conducted online, and a quality cam 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, or a backup if your embedded camera fails. 

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 works for video calls made through applications including Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom as it sports a 30 frames per second streaming rate. 

Pros: 

  • Noise-cancelling microphone 
  • Smooth and clear video 
  • Universal design

Cons:

  • Resolution could be better

Also: Best webcams: Top choices for WFH video calls

Features: AirPlay 2 integration | 1920 x 1080 Pixels | 11 pounds

College students will especially benefit from this monitor that not only gives them more screen space for school projects, but doubles as a TV monitor to stream movies or TV shows from. This 27-inch Samsung monitor has built-in speakers, a remote control, and access to your favorite streaming apps so you can use it as a TV. When you need it for schoolwork, it hooks up with your computer seamlessly, and is even compatible with Apple AirPlay. 

Pros: 

  • Compatible with entertainment apps like Netflix and YouTube
  • Easy to set up 
  • Allows for a full PC experience without the PC

Cons: 

  • Average color display

Features: 167 ppi glare-free display | 8 GB of storage | 6-inch glare-free screen

Amazon's 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. However, it should be noted the cheaper price tag is due to ad support.

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with 8GB storage (upgradable to 32GB), which should be more than enough to cater for reading for pleasure and studies. The bundle also comes with a leather cover and adapter. 

Pros:

  • Adjustable front light
  • Access to thousands of book titles

Cons:

  • Kindle Unlimited costs $10 extra a month after trial period 

Features: 3-year battery life | Up to 250-foot Bluetooth range | Water-resistant

We all know someone who tends to lose everything from their keys to their wallet. If you're one of these people, this Tile Mate Essentials 4-Pack is the perfect solution as you go back to school. It comes with four different Tiles to put in various places. Whenever you lose something, simply use the free Tile app to find what it is you're looking for. 

Pros: 

  • Get Smart Alert notifications when you leave something behind
  • Four different Tiles to work with different items 

Cons:

  • Cannot replace battery once it dies 

Features: Up to 40 hours of battery life | Bluetooth 5.0 | 16 Hz-40,000 Hz

The student who needs to tune out all distractions will need noise-canceling headphones. This pair from Anker claims to block out up to "90% of ambient noise." They also support the same Bluetooth 5 protocol as the much more expensive  AirPods Max headphones. The headphones also boast features like hi-res audio and BassUp technology. When you need to talk during a virtual class, the headphone's microphone enhances voice pick-up to ensure you sound crystal clear on the other end.

Pros: 

  • Inexpensive but still packed with features 
  • 40-hour playtime should be enough for multiple days of online classes
  • Hi-res audio certified

Cons: 

  • Micro-USB charging option is slower than USB-C 
  • No included carry case (does include a pouch)

Features: Up to 20TB of storage | Windows and Mac compatible | 6.7 ounces

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 to their success. 

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, photos, and more—a portable storage drive is an alternative. 

Seagate's device, coming in at $60 for 2TB, is also available with up to 5TB storage in a portable format or much more storage space if users are happy to keep them on their desks, with up to 16TB on offer. 

Pros: 

  • 1 year of Rescue Data Recovery Services included with purchase 
  • Easily drag and drop files 

Cons:

  • Device heats up after prolonged use

Also: Best external hard drives: Top SSDs and storage

Features: 6 color options | Right- and left-handed options | 2.14 pounds 

This lap desk allows students to get work done on the couch or even in bed while still having a dedicated desk space. It has space for a laptop, a phone, and even a wireless mouse. It's padded and contoured perfectly to fit in your lap so you can get work done in your favorite comfortable chair. The lap desk even comes in various color options like white marble, blush pink, and espresso wood grain. 

Pros: 

  • Built-in phone slot and track pad surface 
  • Holds up to 15. 6-inch laptops and most tablets

Cons: 

  • Mouse pad isn't the best

Features: 16 million colors | Voice assistant compatible | 110 volts and 10 watts

When students are required to stare at a screen for hours, their eyes and concentration can suffer, but the right light and ambiance can help. 

The days of harsh lighting in rooms from 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. 

Pros: 

  • Create customized room colors and settings 
  • Control the lighting with your voice 

Cons:

  • If you have Google Assistant, you need a Hue Bridge to use these bulbs

Features: 20,000mAh | Up to 18W | 12 volts 

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 Select 20000mAh 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. 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.  

Pros: 

  • Charges devices on the go 
  • Dual-ports for charging multiple devices

Cons: 

  • Take a long time to charge the bank itself 

Features: 2 color options | Amazon Kids+ | Parental controls

The Echo Dot Kid Edition has all the same features you've come to know and love with the Echo Dot, but with more kid-friendly features and better parental controls. Kids can ask Alexa questions and even get help with their homework or ask Alexa to read them a story. The Amazon Kids+ subscription will get you kid-friendly Audible books, interactive games, and access to educational skills. 

Parents can set daily time limits, filter explicit songs, and review activity in the Amazon Parent Dashboard.

Pros: 

  • Specifically made for kids 
  • One year of Amazon Kids+ for free

Cons:

  • Amazon Kids+ costs an extra $2.99/month after the trial

Features: 33-foot wireless range | 119 keys | 3-year limited warranty

The $56 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. 

Pros: 

  • Comfortable to use 
  • Good battery life

Cons: 

  • Does not work with Mac or iOS

Also: Best keyboards

What is the best back-to-school tech?

The must-have back-to-school tech product is HP OfficeJet Pro printer since no matter what level you are in schooling, everyone needs a printer. The printer can even wirelessly print from your smartphone or tablet. 

Which back-to-school tech should you buy?

When deciding what tech gear will be valuable to today's students, the lasting impact of remote learning has to be considered. 

Students coming into the next academic year can probably expect remote learning to still be around, 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. 

How did we choose these back-to-school tech products?

We chose these back-to-school tech products to include different types of devices and price points depending on you or your student's school level and needs. 

Are there alternative back-to-school tech products to consider?

Here are a few other options worth looking into for the back-to-school season: 

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