Back to school tech guide 2023: What to buy for your children
Kid-friendly products that are cool, but also well-made and affordable
Kid-friendly products that are cool, but also well-made and affordable
It may still be the middle of summer, but soon it'll be time to start thinking about sending your kids back to school — and what to send with them. While some middle and high school students may covet a shiny new iPhone 14 or the new Google Pixel 7a, which was just launched this year, we think saving your dollars and opting for cheaper, smaller, and tougher devices make much more sense.
As well as smartphones, the gear parents may want to consider include earphones, battery packs, tough cases, and Bluetooth trackers to help children find their stuff when they inevitably leave everything on the bus, subway, or in the cafeteria.
As children start middle school, they're typically getting their first smartphone. Yes, the device will keep them in touch with their friends via WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, but a smartphone also gives them some independence while also helping you keep in touch with them.
The newest iPhone, however, is not a good idea, ripe for getting dropped on day three and presenting you with a shocking repair bill. Instead, we recommend the new Google Pixel 6a. At just $349, the phone is excellent value for money, considering it runs the same Android operating system as Google's flagship handset and includes the same best-in-class camera technology.
We also like how the Pixel 6a is made from plastic and does not have a glass back — so hopefully, the device will shrug off a couple more drops than its more fragile relatives. The front is still glass, however, so you'll want to pick up a case too. Google's official fabric option costs $30.
If you're an Apple family, then look around for an iPhone SE (3rd Gen). It is the least expensive of all the iPhones (only $429) and comes with three color options and storage capacities to pick from. And it has the new A15 Apple bionic chip and two cameras, front and back.
Yes, the SE is a compact smartphone (only a 4.7" display), but it runs Apple's latest iOS software and has a metal body that should survive a few drops in the playground. But the cost is equal to what you would pay for a refurbished iPhone 14 or other older iPhones.
And lastly, no matter which phone you buy, make sure you get a good strong case for it. Who makes reliable and protective cases for Apple, Android, or Google Pixel smartphones? We recommend a few companies, like Casetify, Catalyst, Otterbox, and Mkeke. Visit our Best Smartphone Cases article to see learn more about each of these case manufacturers and which case works best for your existing or new smartphone.
Soundpeats Air3 Deluxe HS wireless earbud unboxed. GearBrain
Apple AirPods are the earphones of the moment, but at $159 (or more for the wireless charging option) they are expensive. Thankfully, there is a wide range of alternatives that offer a similar form factor and work over Bluetooth with any smartphone yet cost significantly less.
For $50, there are several good options for you to consider—companies like Tribit, Soundpeats, 1More, and Anker. Soundcore by Anker Life P3i Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling Earbuds is a good value for money and comes with 4 Mics, AI-Enhanced Calls, 10mm Drivers, Powerful Sound, App for Custom EQ, Fast Charging, Transparency, and a Bluetooth 5.2. The Anker earphones offer up to 36 hours of battery life using the case.
If you'd rather your child have earphones connected by a wire (so they won't be lost when they fall from their ear), then we would recommend looking at JayBird X3 Sport Bluetooth Headset for iPhone and Android, which are a solid option. They are SWEAT PROOF and have eight-hour battery life.
Kids — like the rest of us — misplace things. Whether that's a coat, school bag, or a set of keys, everyone puts something down, gets distracted, then forgets to pick it up again. This is where a Bluetooth tracker can come to the rescue.
The most well-known is probably the tracker range from Tile. These are powered by a watch-style battery (now replaceable, thanks to a recent design change) and are located using a free smartphone app.
Slip a Tile in your child's bag or coat pocket, and fit one to their keys, and these items can be tracked via the strength of Bluetooth connection between the Tile and their smartphone. Lost Tiles can also be located when they come into Bluetooth range of another Tile user, at which point the location of your lost Tile appears on the app. You can then make the Tile play an alarm, helping you find it.
A highly-rated alternative is the Cloud Nine Starter Pack, which costs $55 and includes a Bluetooth card for slipping into a wallet or the pocket of a bag and a tracker for attaching to your keys. Both batteries last 3 years, and the key trackers have a range of up to 250 ft / 76 meters. And both work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled devices.
Portable batteries cost from around $15 to $20Anker
Another one we could all benefit from, but which will be particularly useful for kids who run their phone batteries down quickly, are battery packs. Also known as power banks, these come in a wide range of sizes, and the simple formula is the more you pay the more energy you get — and the bigger and heavier the battery pack is as well.
Some measure in at under 10,000mAh, which should be enough for most users if the battery is getting a charge every couple of days — that's enough capacity to refill a phone fully from zero charge twice. This 5,000mAh option costs $18, while a larger 20,000mAh battery costs $35 — a small price to pay to ensure your child's phone always has enough charge to stay in touch.
Another good buy is Belkin's Portable BoostCharge which comes with 5000mAh, 10000mAh, and 20000mAh battery options, as well as USB-C cables. Pricing starts at around $24.99.
Multi-ended charging cables cost less than $8Znines
Do the other parents a favor and equip your child with a charging cable that works with any smartphone. That way, their battery pack can be used to charge up their friends' phones, too — or any device that uses a Lighting, USB-C or micro USB cable.
We recommend getting a nylon braided cable like this one for $10.99. These are tougher than the normal rubber cables most smartphones ship with and should hold up better to daily wear and tear. It's also available with Apple MFi Certified Fast Charging Cord Compatible with iPhone 13, 12, 11, Pro, Max, XR, XS, X, 8, 7, 6, Plus, SE, iPad, and more.
Carrying one of these and a battery pack also means your child can charge a phone and other devices like a Kindle, fitness tracker, earphones, or smartwatch with one cable.
The Ace is a fitness tracker designed for children aged eight to 11Fitbit
You don't need us to say how important it is for children to stay active — instead, we'd like to recommend buying them a fitness tracker. That way, you can keep an eye on exactly how active a child is during the day and if they're getting enough exercise between classes.
For children aged 11 and under, the Fitbit Ace is a good option. It is designed specifically for children of that age, costs $135, and tracks steps, active minutes, and sleep, then sends this data to a smartphone (yours or theirs) over Bluetooth. Battery life is up to five days, and between exercises, the Fitbit can be used as a digital watch, constantly showing the time on its simple LCD display.
Kindle ebook readers can slip into a child's school bagAmazon
The latest Amazon Kindle ebook reader costs $100 and is available in black or denim. With 16GB of storage, the device can hold thousands of books, and there's a front light to illuminate the screen at night. The battery lasts for 6 weeks, even if your child reads for around 30 minutes a day, every day, and the screen measures six inches from corner to corner. At about one-third of a pound and less than 0.4in thick, this should slip easily into your child's school bag.
Ebook readers aren't the best for consuming school textbooks or viewing images and diagrams — and of course, you can't scribble notes on the pages. Still, as a way to encourage your child to read more without weighing them down with a bag full of hardbacks, the Kindle is hard to beat. Books are downloaded via a Wi-Fi connection.
The $80 starter kit will get your child into computer building and programming Raspberry Pi
If your teenager loves computers and has an interest to creating software for them, you can introduce them to the Raspberry Pi. Now in its third generation, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 2019 Quad Core 64 Bit WiFi Bluetooth (4GB) costs less than $70.
A range of simple operating systems to choose from are loaded onto the simple computer as part of a software kit called NOOBS, and from there, your options are almost limitless. Raspberry Pi computers have been used to play classic arcade games, control smart home systems, operate robots, act as media centers, run a Minecraft server, or work as a simple desktop PC.
While all of these devices are sure to overweight a student's backpack — especially when books are in there too — a few of these may help make that back-to-school time a bit more exciting and take the sting away from summer ending too.
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Addtional resources for students on what to buy for the school year: