Windows Central Back to School Gift Guide
'Tis the season to head back to school, and students everywhere are shopping for the required textbooks, supplies, and tech. Why not help them out with a thoughtful gift? We've been testing a lot of great (and some not-so-great) products to figure out our absolute favorite tech. And we brought it all together here to help you find gifts that will be truly appreciated inside and outside of the classroom.
Microsoft Surface Go
The latest device from Microsoft is the most affordable, most portable Surface yet. Its 10-inch touch display has a 1,800 x 1,200 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio for a beautiful picture, and it's completely compatible with the Surface Pen. Choose from a couple of configurations to suit your student's needs, and they'll carry the Go everywhere.
From $399 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Microsoft Surface Laptop
Available in four different colors and with a palmrest covered in Alcantara fabric, there's a Surface Laptop for all students out there, no matter their style. The touch display is brilliant, the clamshell chassis is thin and light, and plenty of hardware configuration options allow for the perfect PC based on individual needs.
From $799 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Dell XPS 13 9370
Dell's premier notebook, the XPS 13, is available in plenty of configurations ranging from more affordable to more performance, and it's one of the best looking laptops out there right now. It's thin, it's light, and its display has almost no bezel at all. It's no doubt a lot of gift, but it will last a student for years to come.
From $1,000 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
DecalGirl Surface Skins
These skins from DecalGirl are available in plenty of different designs and colors, and once applied, they offer stylish scratch protection for a low cost. Students no doubt want to stand out, and what better way than with a cool coating on their Surface device?
From $20 Buy Now
Toast laptop covers
Most laptops these days come in a few set colors, but that doesn't mean they have to stay that way. Toast makes a ton of wood covers ― even custom jobs ― that stick to the outside of your laptop to give it a premium look. With etching and engraving options, there's the opportunity to inspire your favorite student with a personalized message.
From $10 Buy Now
Booq Cobra Squeeze
With slimming lines, a durable, weatherproof outer fabric, and more pockets and sleeves than you can shake a stick at, the Cobra Squeeze is the perfect backpack for any student headed back to school. Fit inside up to a 15-inch laptop with extra room for some textbooks, and take advantage of the design that lets you use it in both casual and professional settings. It also makes a great air-travel companion thanks to its size.
$123 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Peak Design Everyday Messenger
For the student who refuses to travel light, there is the Peak Design Everyday Messenger. It's one of the best out there, thanks to a high-quality build, a ton of pockets and space, and a magnetic clasp that keeps things sealed up tight. Equal parts function and fashion, this is the bag for pretty much anyone with lots of stuff to tote around.
From $180 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
UGRACE laptop rucksack
Canvas bags with leather accents are all the rage these days, so I had to include the ultra-modern and super hip UGRACE slim laptop rucksack. It'll fit laptops up to 15.6 inches in size, plus it has a ton of extra pockets and sleeves for all of your student's stuff. Not sold on the green? There are six colors to choose from, including this one in mint green.
$26 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
WaterField Outback Solo
Any student who likes to travel light between courses — especially with a Surface Go in tow — would no doubt love the Outback Solo bag from WaterField. It's made in the U.S. from waxed canvas and neoprene, and has a full-grain leather flap that pulls the whole thing together. There are sizes to fit most Surface devices, and it will only get better with time as the leather gets worn in.
$159 Buy Now
Waterfield Staad Attaché
Waterfield products are handmade in San Francisco, resulting in a premium build that truly lasts. The Staad Attaché is designed as a meeting point between messenger and briefcase, offering padded compartments for tablet and laptop, as well as multiple smaller pockets for accessories. Made from a mix of premium leather, waxed canvas, and ballistic nylon, this bag can keep up with a busy grad student who's keen on finishing a degree.
From $229 Buy Now
How do you fit thousands of books into your hand? With an eReader! Amazon's Kindle has a glare-free touch display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and a battery that lasts for weeks at a time. If you're shopping for a bookworm, there's no better gift than a Kindle. Don't forget, plenty of textbooks are available in digital format.
$80 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $53 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
Logitech C922x webcam
The Logitech C922x lets you record video and enjoy Skype calls in 1080p, and it has some impressive features, including a virtual green screen, for anyone who streams video. If your student wants to stay in touch while away at school, this is an ideal gift.
$88 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $100 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)
Logitech MX Master 2S
Logitech's MX Master 2S is a beast of a wireless mouse, sporting great functionality and some advanced features. It is accurate enough for both gaming and productivity, and it is designed to easily switch between wireless-capable devices. Don't worry about dead batteries — get up to 70 days of power from a single charge.
$70 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $100 at Best Buy (opens in new tab)
Razer knows how to make quality mice, and the wireless Atheris is no different. It has a high DPI, an affordable price, and comfortable, compact design that can easily fit into your laptop bag. Students are constantly moving between classes and back and forth from the dorm, so make the trip lighter with this great mouse.
$44 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Quality office chairs can reach into the thousands of dollars, and that price just isn't feasible for most people. If you want to treat your student to an office chair that won't cause future back pain, the IKEA Markus is just about your best bet for less than $200. Plenty of padding, a high back, and removable armrests are all included in this comfortable package.
From $199 Buy Now
Dell UltraSharp 24-inch LED monitor
Laptops are great when you're on the go, but when you need to get down to business, plugging into a monitor is superior. At 24 inches and with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, this monitor will fit nicely in a dorm room while delivering a beautiful picture.
From $210 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $191 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
GeChic on-lap monitor
A student's quarters can be cramped, so a standard TV or monitor might not exactly work when more screen real estate is needed. In that case, the GeChic on-lap monitor offers 11.6-inches of FHD screen that can easily be toted around. It works on your lap, it works on a desk, and it has great battery life when you need to use it on the go.
$300 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Plugable USB 3.0 docking station
Laptops provide a portable computing solution, but sometimes you need to sit down at a real battlestation and get things done with a full-size keyboard, external mouse, and multiple monitors. In that case, this laptop docking station from Plugable can make life easy.
$89 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $89 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
Satechi Dual Sonic PC Speakers
PC speakers don't have to cost an arm and a leg. This two-pack from Satechi offers impressive sound despite the small size, and all it takes to connect are a USB-A port and 3.5mm jack. They'll fit easily in a dorm room, yet they're perfectly at home in a larger space, making them ideal for just about any student.
$28 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
UE Boom 2
Share the gift of music with this portable, waterproof speaker that will easily fill a room with tunes. It will blow you away with its 90 decibels of 360-degree sound. Expect up to 15 hours of battery life on a single charge, and it'll stay in mobile range up to 100 feet away. Whether relaxing at home or providing music at a get-together, your student will love this speaker.
From $130 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $32 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
Anker SoundBuds Slim+
Anker's Slim+ line of Bluetooth SoundBuds check all the right boxes. They're lightweight, the battery lasts up to seven hours, the cable between the two buds has an inline remote, and, most importantly, they deliver impressive sound. If you want to give your student the gift of music without spending a mint, these headphones are a great choice.
$30 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones
These Bluetooth headphones offer amazing noise-cancelling technology and a battery that lasts up to 20 hours. If you have the budget, there are really no other wireless headphones that do it this good. The recently updated Series II models now also come with built-in noise-cancellation adjustment and a virtual assistant button for quick access to Siri or Google Assistant.
$300 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $349 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
Love streaming ad-free music? Grab a Spotify Premium subscription and listen to music on all your devices. From specific songs to curated playlists to radio stations, you'll find your favorites here. This is the perfect add-on gift for any student who can't get enough music. Don't forget to mention how classical music can help with studying!
From $10 Buy Now
Xbox One X
True 4K gaming from a console is here in the form of the Xbox One X. Featuring 40 percent more power than other modern consoles, you're getting an incredible gaming experience at a relatively affordable price. Take advantage of Xbox One X Enhanced games to get the best optimization, and stream your fun in glorious 4K/60FPS. You might want your student to focus on school, but everyone needs a bit of leisure time.
$499 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Xbox Elite Wireless Controller
The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller grants unprecedented control over your game, adding ridiculous amounts of additional configuration and customization options. It's a must-buy for Xbox gamers looking to get a leg up on the competition.
$150 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
PowerA Xbox One X vertical stand
Dorms can be cramped, so it's not a bad idea to stand up the Xbox One X to save room. This stand is simple yet effective, and the price certainly is right if you're looking for an add-on gift for your favorite student.
$15 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Sure, video games and studies don't usually mix very well, but Minecraft is different. It's one of the most relaxing and therapeutic titles out there, letting players essentially do whatever they want in a world of blocks. If school gets too stressful, an hour or two of Minecraft can no doubt help.
$20 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
PDP Talon Xbox One Remote
The Xbox One makes a great media streaming centerpiece, but it's annoying wearing your Xbox controller's batteries down while watching a TV show or movie. Grab this remote from PDP, and next time your student wants to chill out, they can use it to choose what they're going to watch.
$20 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Xbox Live Gold subscription
Without an Xbox Live Gold subscription, you won't be able to get access to the best online multiplayer, a bunch of discounts in the store, and free bonuses each month. Grab a month for $10, or splurge for an entire year for $60. This is the perfect add-on gift for any gamers obsessed with Xbox.
From $10 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Razer Thresher wireless headset
The Razer Thresher wireless Xbox headset uses the Xbox Wireless protocol, meaning there are no cables, dongles, or base stations to worry about. On top of that, it's super comfortable to wear, it offers rich sound, and its battery life lasts up to about 16 hours. If your student is worried about hearing properly in a crowded dorm, this should be the solution.
$150 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
The best wearable around right now is the Fitbit Versa, thanks to a small and light build, 300 x 300 resolution touch display, water resistance, heart-rate tracking sensor, and GPS. It'll also store up to 300 of your favorite songs or stream from Pandora or Deezer, and there are countless watchbands to choose from (opens in new tab) to match your student's style.
From $200 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $144 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
Fitbit Charge 2
The Fitbit Charge 2 is no slouch either, especially for anyone who prefers not to run with the boxy shape that the Versa uses. There's no waterproofing, but you're still getting everything expected from a fitness tracker, including heart-rate monitor, step counter, calorie counter, and sleep quality monitor. Like the Versa, there are plenty of third-party bands (opens in new tab) available.
$120 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $150 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
TuneBand Go Armband
This fitness armband fits any phone from 5 inches to 6.5 inches in size thanks to its clever clip system, and you can even keep the case on the phone for maximum protection while working out. For anyone who likes to stay active, this is the perfect accessory.
$20 Buy Now (opens in new tab)
Jaybird X3 Sport Headphones
The Jaybird X3 Sport wireless headphones deliver great sound quality with a battery that lasts up to eight hours. Both sweatproof earpieces are tethered together, and you get a three-button remote for control over your music.
About $100 Buy Now (opens in new tab) $48 at Walmart (opens in new tab)
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.