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Studying Up on Back-to-School Technology

Studying Up on Back-to-School Technology
Image: HP

As the summer winds down, families everywhere take a collective deep breath as the start of another school year looms over the horizon. While college enrollment is down — it underwent an 8 percent drop from 2019 to 2022 — millions of teenagers will still head off to university this fall.  

We’ve collected a bunch of products for every dorm room, backpack and desktop this fall. Increasingly, that means being technologically equipped; even for elementary, middle and highschoolers, tech is a necessary part of the educational landscape these days. And they’re in luck: With everyone stuck at home, the pandemic had a side effect of boosting innovation in the learning tech space. Now that supply chains have mostly been worked out, we’re seeing much of the fruit of this labor across the industry. Computers and tablets (or combos!) are must-haves, of course, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of school tech, across the age range. We’ve collected a bunch of products for every dorm room, backpack and desktop this fall.  

The QuietOn 3.1 active noise canceling earphones
Image: QuietOn

A Good Night’s Sleep 

The science is undeniable that proper sleep is hugely important for young, developing brains and bodies. However, getting enough sleep can be a challenge for college students away from home for the first time, especially those in loud urban areas, or with loud freshman roommates. The QuietOn 3.1 active noise canceling earphones will drown out nearly any auditory sleep interruption. Using ANC, they block a wider frequency range (and louder sounds in general) than simple earplugs, as a microphone records background noise and then generates an inverse wave to cancel out incoming sound. Low-frequency sounds (cars, snoring roommates) are its target, while higher-frequency noise, like alarm clocks will come through, ensuring they’ll be alerted when it’s time for class. 

The Hatch Restore 2 smart alarm clock.
Image: Hatch

For that crucial “waking up” part, the Hatch Restore 2 makes a great compliment. It’s a smart alarm clock, sunrise lamp and sound machine all in one, waking you up with slowly increasing light and sound, and simulating a sunset at night — especially handy during those long indoor study sessions. Using the accompanying app, users can choose from a wide range of sounds, sunrise alarms, light and sound pairings, and sleep sounds, along with a new “morning moment” option (think: stretches, affirmations, etc). Some extras are only available via a $4.99/month subscription, but there are plenty included gratis as well. 

Work Hard, Play Harder 

The Soundcore Liberty 4 earbuds Image: Soundcore 

For uninterrupted study time, nothing beats a pair of good noise-canceling earbuds. There are some great options on the market, including the Soundcore Liberty 4, JBL Tour Pro 2 and Status Audio Between 3ANC — all of which sport eye-catching industrial designs. All three use adaptive ANC, which only increases environmental noise cancellation when it’s needed, while toning it down in quieter environments. Transparency modes let you hear what’s going on around you via onboard microphones, with the Liberty 4 offering a “vocal” transparency mode that prioritizes the frequencies found in human speech. Battery life is superb on all of these buds, weighing in at around 10 hours (or more, depending on how much the ANC is being used). Likewise, all are rated IPX5 for water and sweat resistance, making them just as at home in the gym or field as they are in the library.  

Computing Your Way 

The HP Chromebook x360 14c
Image: HP

When it comes to general computing, these days it feels like flexibility is a key factor. Enter HP’s Chromebook x360 14c: Its two-in-one design means you can use it as either a tablet for more stylus/touchscreen-oriented tasks, or as a traditional laptop, complete with keyboard and trackpad. Hook up any standard wired or wireless mouse (or something more wrist-friendly, like Kensington’s SlimBlade Pro wireless trackball), and you’ve got a proper workstation in seconds. The camera, microphone and speakers are some of the best-in-class for Chromebooks, and the Core i3 processor (with 8GB of RAM) makes it capable of handling pretty much any school or work tasks thrown at it (read: a few dozen browser tabs, streaming, light video or audio editing, etc). Finally, the impressive battery life clocks in at over 10 hours. Pair it with HP’s Envy Inspire 7255e printer, and you’ve got a laptop ready for both the analog and digital worlds.  

Kid Friendly Tech 

Screens come in all shapes and sizes these days, and for a slightly younger crowd, LeapFrog’s LeapPad Academy is as durable as they come. The device comes preloaded with 20 educator-approved apps designed to help develop reading, math, science and creativity skills. Built kid-friendly with a rubber bumper and shatter-safe 7” touchscreen, it also comes with a stylus and built-in kickstand. Parent controls can be used to set time limits and control content access, and it comes with a three-month free trial subscription to LeapFrog Academy, which guides children through more than 2,000 games and activities.  

The Thames and Kosmos Robotics Workshop Image: Thames and Kosmos  

Another great way to catalyze learning and curiosity for the young ones is through toys that bridge the gap between learning and fun. STEM toys like the Thames and Kosmos Robotics Workshop and the Squishy Circuits Deluxe Kit make great choices. The Robotics Workshop allows kids to create 12 unique robots using motors, light, sound and touch sensors via hundreds of snap-together pieces. Robots perform various functions: doodling, avoiding obstacles, or following a line — even more complicated actions, like grabbing objects and moving them around. The robots can be controlled and programmed using a free iOS and Android app, which connects to the core controller via Bluetooth. With slightly fewer bells and whistles, Squishy Circuits kits are great, even for younger kids, as they use conductive and insulating modeling dough (think: Play-Doh) to teach them the basics of electrical circuit building. Lights, motors, buzzers and switches are all on offer, in a kit that’s safe and accessible for kids ages eight and up. 

LeapFrog’s LeapPad Academy
Image: LeapFrog

Finally, the Yoto Player is a wireless speaker that plays audiobooks, kid-friendly podcasts and relaxing sleep sounds from physical cards. These cards use NFC sensors, and slide into the top of the cube-shaped unit — which, it’s worth noting, has no screen to speak of, and instead displays simple 8-bit images on a cute pixel-art display. Yoto Player is a more free-form afterschool supplement to school-based learning, and makes a great alternative to TV for kids 3 to 12.