How to make the most of that Instant Pot you just bought

Few kitchen appliances have reached the same cult status as the Instant Pot. With 1.9 million members on the official Instant Pot Facebook group, more than 100 fan-created online groups, around 30,000 reviews on Amazon and accolades from the likes of TheNew York Times, it’s no question that this kitchen marvel is a hit.

It’s a winner with the Engadget staff, too; not only have a few of us bought it for ourselves, we’ve recommended it in past gift guides. Sure, it’s not a tech gadget per se (although there is a “smart” edition with an app and Google Assistant), but it does have a lot of crossover appeal thanks to its promise of all-in-one efficiency.

But what do you do when you get one? With so many recipes on the internet and so many different things you can do with it, where do you even start? In this guide, I’ll attempt to give you a primer on the first steps you should take when you get one, some tips and tricks on how to use it and a few favorite recipes and source links. A lot of this comes from personal experience; I’ve been an Instant Pot owner for a few years. I’ll also note that the listed recipes lean toward my own taste, but hopefully this guide will provide a good start for your own culinary adventures.

How Instant Pots work

Should you own multiple Instant Pots? These women do

If you’re reading this, you probably already know what an Instant Pot is, but just in case you don’t, here’s a brief introduction. The Instant Pot is an “all-in-one” kitchen gadget that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker and a slow cooker; it also lets you sauté and steam foods. But the real reason the Instant Pot has risen to fame is that it’s also a very good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate; imagine pulled pork in an hour instead of five or a chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it’s electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away. Unlike a stovetop pressure cooker, there’s no need to keep a constant eye on it.

There are a bunch of Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt-maker, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all have the electric pressure cooker function, so much of this guide will focus on that. The Instant Pot comes in 3-, 6- and 8-quart sizes. Unless you’re only cooking for yourself or you have a large family, I think the 6-quart model should work for most people.

Buy Instant Pot Duo at Amazon – $89

A brief word on other Instant Pot models: 

  • The Duo Plus (starting at $100) is an upgraded version of the Duo Series. It has two additional functions: sous vide (for temperature-controlled cooking) and sterilizer (a steam shortcut for sterilizing items like baby bottles). There’s also a cooking progress status bar plus an anti-spin design that keeps the inner pot in place when you’re sauteing.

  • The Pro (starting at $115) is designed for the serious cooking enthusiast, with plenty of upgrades over existing Instant Pots. The inner pot has an extra thick bottom that can go on the stove, plus it has handles so it’s easier to lift. It comes with 28 customizable programs for different foods, and there are five favorites buttons that you can assign to frequently cooked meals. The steam release switch has been upgraded to reduce noise and splatter, and there are even steam release reminder alerts with 5- and 10-minute pre-sets. The Pro is also one of a few Instant Pots compatible with an optional QuickCool lid that helps you release pressure faster.

  • The Duo Crisp + Air Fryer ($180) is basically an Instant Pot that comes with an additional Air Fryer Lid, which adds dry-heat cooking methods like baking, broiling, dehydrating and of course air-frying. There’s also a Pro version of this Instant Pot ($200) that pairs the air fryer lid with the Pro model mentioned above.

  • The Star Wars Instant Pots ($100) are a great choice for the Star Wars enthusiast or just anyone who wants a fun and unique kitchen appliance. They’re really just rebranded versions of the Duo, with the same exact functionalities and features. They come in five iterations: Little Bounty, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, BB-8, and R2-D2.

Which Instant Pot model is right for you?

  • The 6-quart Instant Pot is ideal for most people, but if you’re a singleton or a student, then the 3-quart model is best. For large families, or simply those who like to make a lot of food, then the 8-quart model is a good choice.

  • If you’re interested in diving into sous vide but don’t want to make an investment in a separate machine just for that, then the Instant Pot Smart WiFi, Ultra, Duo Crisp or the Duo Plus are good choices.

  • If you’re really into pressure-canning and preserving foods, then the Instant Pot Max is the one for you. It’s the only one that’s capable of reaching 15 PSI, which is needed for pressure-canning.

  • Making yogurt with the Instant Pot is really easy because it can maintain the same temperature for hours. Models that have this feature include the Duo, Duo Nova, Smart WiFi, Ultra and Duo Plus.

Getting started

With any appliance, I would suggest reading the instructions to get a full idea of how to use it, but here’s a brief primer.

The Instant Pot has three parts: the housing with the cooking element at the bottom; the stainless steel inner pot; and the lid, which comes with a sealing ring plus a steam-release valve. Setup is as easy as putting the inner pot inside the housing and plugging it in. You’ll also want to attach a tiny condensation collector on the back if the instructions call for it.

Instant Pot Super Bowl cookoff

The first thing to do is a “water test,” which not only helps familiarize you with the basic pressure-cooker features but will confirm your appliance is in proper working order.

To do a water test, put three cups of water in the pot, twist the lid on — it’ll make a sound when it’s locked in place — and set the pressure cooker on high for two minutes. The way to do this varies from model to model; on the Duo machines, you’ll have to press Manual, select High, then dial down the time to two minutes. On something like the Ultra, you just need to go to the Pressure Cooker menu, dial it to two minutes and select High.

Then make sure your valve is set to “Sealing” so that the Instant Pot can build pressure. On the Duo machines, this means rotating it so the arrow points up, while on the Ultra, the valve will automatically be set to Sealing.

Then press “Start.” From there, the Instant Pot will build up that pressure to High, maintain it for the set two minutes, and then stop. In some cases, you’ll hear hissing and see steam coming out of the Instant Pot. This is totally normal. You’ll know the Instant Pot is under pressure when the float valve pops up and the hissing quiets down.

The lid cannot be opened when the Instant Pot is under pressure. You must depressurize it first. Once the cooking is done, you can let the pot naturally depressurize (also known as “Natural Release”), which simply means leaving it alone for 20 or so minutes until the float valve comes down.

Or you can do a manual release (also known as “Quick Release”) by switching that aforementioned valve to “Venting.” To do that on the Duo models, you rotate the valve, while on the Ultra, you’ll press a steam release button on the top. This method will release a lot of steam, so I suggest doing this under a range hood if you have one. Again, once the float valve comes back down, you’ll know the Instant Pot has been depressurized.

Doing the water test teaches you the basics of sealing the Instant Pot, setting it and depressurizing it. Plus, if anything goes wrong along the way — especially if it doesn’t seal the pressure — you can call the retailer or manufacturer to troubleshoot or ask about a return or exchange. It’s a step that many people skip, but I recommend it, especially if you’re a beginner.

Instant Pot accessories

Instant Pot accessories

The Instant Pot is ready to use right out of the box, but if you want to get even more functionality out of it, then you might want to consider some accessories. The following are just a few suggestions that we think will elevate your Instant Pot experience.

Tempered glass lid

The main reason to get an Instant Pot is to use it as a pressure cooker, but it has other functions too. If you want to use it as a slow cooker or you simply want to keep your food warm, then you’ll want to invest in a tempered glass lid. This lid will also keep your food covered if you want to transfer the inner pot to the table or the fridge. 

Buy glass lid at Amazon – $15

Steamers/PIP

Steaming food in the Instant Pot is quick and easy, but you’ll want specific equipment to get the job done right. Instant Pot makes two styles of silicone steamers; one is a stacking model that you can use for dumplings or fish, and another is a collapsible one that is ideal for batch-cooking vegetables. If you need even more capacity, we recommend this Hatrigo mesh steamer basket

Along your Instant Pot discovery journey, you might come across a phrase called “PIP cooking.” This stands for Pot-in-Pot and involves putting another vessel inside the Instant Pot. This method is great if you’re cooking foods that don’t contain liquid (such as cheesecake) or you simply want to cook in smaller quantities. One of our favorite accessories for this is the Aozita Stackable Steamer, which not only acts as a steamer, but also contains tiered containers so that you could cook multiple foods at once. 

Buy stackable steamer basket at Amazon – $10Buy steamer basket at Amazon – $15Buy Hatrigo steamer basket at Amazon – $18Buy Aozita stackable steamers at Amazon – $30

Sealing ring

If you use your Instant Pot for both savory and sweet applications, then we suggest getting extra sealing rings so that the odor of one doesn’t affect the other. You don’t really want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork or vice versa. 

Buy sealing rings at Amazon – $12

Air fryer lid

As the name suggests, the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid essentially turns your Instant Pot into an air fryer. It’s a good option if you don’t want two appliances taking up space on your kitchen counter, and this add-on does a decent job of “air frying” foods

Yet, after using it for a few months, I don’t quite recommend it if you plan on cooking a lot of meals this way. The non-stick coating on the fry basket can flake off if placed in the dishwasher, and as I’ve discovered, it accumulates a sticky film that is almost impossible to wash off. Plus, as I said in an earlier hands-on, the Lid really only works for small batches as well as smaller pieces of food. Even a hot dog is too large to fit inside the air fryer basket. 

If you’re going to use the air-fryer lid to add roasting and broiling capabilities to the Instant Pot — so you can brown a roast chicken or melt the cheese on a lasagna, for example — then it’s not a bad option. But as far as air-frying goes, I’d probably save up and invest in an actual convection toaster oven rather than settle for the lid.

Tips and tricks

Instant Pot with Air Fryer Lid

Let’s go over a few tips and tricks on how to best use the Instant Pot. This is not an exhaustive list, as different people might have different takeaways from their usage of the Instant Pot, but these insights are what I found works best for me.

Don’t worry about all the buttons

When you first get the Instant Pot, you might be overwhelmed by all of the different buttons on the front of it. There are ones that say “Meat/Stew,” “Chili/Beans,” “Multigrain,” “Egg” and even “Cake.” With the exception of a few, most of these are simply shortcuts that Instant Pot programmed ahead of time. You might never need to use them.

The most important buttons to know are “Sauté,” which (as you might expect) lets you sauté things in the pot, and the aforementioned “Manual” or “Pressure Cooker” function. The rest are pretty superfluous, with the exception of “Keep Warm,” “Cancel” and non-pressure cooker functions like the “Slow Cooker” or “Yogurt” (which helps maintain the cultured milk at a specific temperature).

Add at least half a cup of liquid, and don’t go over the maximum

One of the things you’ll learn about pressure cooking is that you don’t need to add as much liquid like you would in regular recipes. But you’ll still need to add some liquid because the pressure cooker requires some moisture to build that pressure. Otherwise, the Instant Pot could overheat and show an “OvHT” error on the display. On the other hand, you shouldn’t fill it up beyond two-thirds capacity, which is handily marked on the inside of the inner pot. The Instant Pot probably won’t explode on you — it has a lot of safety features to prevent that — but you probably shouldn’t test its boundaries.

Cooking times aren’t always accurate

Setting the pressure cooker timer for two minutes doesn’t mean the entire cooking time is two minutes. You have to take into account the amount of time the Instant Pot needs to come to pressure and the time it’ll need to depressurize. The more stuff you have in the pot (and the colder it is), the longer it’ll take. Because of that, a “five-minute” chicken curry could really be more like 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish.

Clean it carefully and frequently

The inner pot is dishwasher safe, which is great, but the rest has to be cleaned by hand. Also, don’t make the same mistake I did and accidentally spill something hot directly on the cooking element. The outer shell is hard to clean because you can’t put it in the sink — electricity and water don’t mix, after all — and you risk damaging the appliance. As for the lid, hand wash it after every use. You’ll also notice after a while that the sealing ring — the rubber/silicone gasket on the inside of the lid — might develop an odd smell as it absorbs the scent of the food you’re cooking. I recommend soaking it in a vinegar solution, or you could also put it on the top rack of your dishwasher for a couple of cycles.

Consider a separate sealing ring

If you find yourself cooking desserts in addition to savory meals — it’s great for making cheesecakes and puddings — I recommend a separate sealing ring just for that. You probably don’t want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

You can’t cook everything with it

Sure, you can cook everything from dog food to jam in the Instant Pot, but it’s not a miracle worker. You can’t deep fry in it. You can’t bake a pie in it. Don’t be ridiculous.

Recipes and guides

This is a wide angle photograph of an African American father in his 40s preparing food for cooking dinner with his 17 year old daughter in their home kitchen in Miami, Florida.

Now you’re all ready to cook, and you’re probably dying to know what to make in your newfangled machine. Due to the popularity of the Instant Pot, you’ll find no shortage of cookbooks and recipe tutorials online. That aforementioned Facebook group is a good place to start, and there are numerous YouTube videos that are helpful as well. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Pressure Cook Recipes

Amy and Jacky are part of the OG Instant Pot community, and their site is great for beginners. Not only will you get the low-down on the aforementioned water test, but you’ll also get great recipes for bone broth, “fail-proof” rice, yogurt, cheesecake and more.

Nom Nom Paleo

Whether or not you’re into the “paleo” lifestyle, you’ll like Michelle Tam’s list of Instant Pot recipes. Pressure cookers are great for shortening the amount of time for cooking braised meats, and she has a lot of recipes that cater to your inner carnivore. Her Instant Pot pulled pork recipe is still my go-to, and the short ribs are great as well.

Serious Eats

My personal favorite site for pressure-cooker recipes is probably Serious Eats. All of these recipes are fantastic. I’ve tried the chicken stock, the mushroom risotto, the chicken pho, the chicken and chickpea masala, and they’ve all been outstanding.

The New York Times

Another personal favorite is The New York Times cooking section, which has a list of wonderful pressure-cooker-friendly recipes. My favorites are from Melissa Clark, who has written two Instant Pot cookbooks: Dinner In an Instant and Comfort in an Instant. There’s a recipe in Comfort in an Instant for spaghetti and meatballs that I was hugely skeptical of but turned out to be one of the most amazing things I’ve ever made. I also love the recipes for chicken korma and shrimp biryani.

Tiller & Hatch

If you’re at a complete loss with what to do with your Instant Pot, then we recommend trying out products from Tiller & Hatch, a company that specializes in pressure cooker-ready frozen meals. Simply unload the contents of a bag into your Instant Pot, follow the instructions and you’ll have dinner in minutes. Some of the meals are better than others — I prefer the minestrone soup over the gnocchi — but on the whole I think they’re a pretty good value. Each bag costs around $16 and has four servings each. You can sign up for a subscription plan on the website, or pick up individual meals from select Wal-Mart and Target locations.

Other sources

Here are a few other guides that I found very useful in my own Instant Pot journey, and they contain links to many more recipes and sites than I have space for here:

With all of this information in your arsenal, you should have no fear in picking up an Instant Pot. Thankfully, not only is the base model pretty affordable at less than $100, Amazon frequently puts it on sale either on Prime Day or on Black Friday. So if you haven’t bought one just yet, it’s not a bad idea to wait until one of those times of year to get one at a deep discount. And when you do, come on back here, read through the guide once more and venture off on your own pressure-filled culinary adventures.

Images: Detroit Free Press via Getty Images (First Instapot); Portland Press Herald via Getty Images (Instapot / chopping board); Boogich via Getty Images (cooking)

The best Nintendo Switch accessories you can buy

It’s shaping up to be a good year for the Nintendo Switch, with games like New Pokémon Snap, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles and Famicom Detective Club giving us plenty of reasons to keep playing the now four year old console. The new OLED version might add a bit of extra pep to your game graphics, but a better Switch experience doesn’t have to cost $350. You can upgrade your setup with the right accessories, and we’ve got a few recommendations for different uses.

For Switches that stay at home

Nintendo Switch dock
Devindra Hardawar

The first thing you’ll want to pick up for your Switch or Switch Lite is a microSD card. After all, there are a lot of great games to download and your system has limited storage space. It’s also the only way you’ll get screen captures off your console if you haven’t connected it to Facebook or Twitter. Samsung’s EVO Select line is recommended for its speed and reliability, but it’s the price that you’re likely to find most appealing, with a 256GB card running only $36 and the more spacious 512GB costing $70.

Buy Samsung Evo microSD card (256GB) at Amazon – $36Buy Samsung Evo microSD card (512GB) at Amazon – $70

It might be tempting to pick up a third-party dock for your Switch. Don’t. There have been reports of Switches getting bricked by non-Nintendo docks, which means you’re stuck with the official $100 model. However, if all you’re looking for is a change in look, you can buy a skin for your dock (and the Joy-Cons too) that will liven things up. Dbrand offers a range of bold, vibrant colors, and the skins won’t damage your Switch if removed. If you’d prefer something with a design, Slickwraps offers marble and camo patterns as well some attractive Super Nintendo and Super Famicom-themed skins.

If your Switch gets a lot of use, chances are you may have picked up some extra Joy-Cons and a Pro Controller. It’s a real pain to have to charge multiple pairs of Joy-Cons on one Switch, however, so a charging dock can be a great buy. PowerA’s Pro Controller charging dock has room for one pair of Joy-Cons and a Pro Controller, keeping them tidy and powered up. If you don’t need a place to put your Pro Controller, the regular charging dock can accommodate two sets of Joy-Cons. You can also use them for other controllers that slide onto your Switch’s rails like the official NES-style controllers or Hori’s Split Pad Pro.

Buy Dbrand skins starting at $8Buy Slickwraps starting at $35Buy PowerA charging dock at Amazon – $36

Labo VR headset
Kris Naudus / Engadget

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Labo VR kit from 2019, mostly due to its price and a lack of game support. But if you’re interested in trying out the virtual reality modes in games like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the VR starter kit is a good purchase. It comes with the basic headset and the blaster, which was easily the most fun of all the various Labo VR projects. It usually costs around $40, but Best Buy often puts it on sale for half that amount so be sure to keep an eye out.

Buy Labo VR starter kit at Amazon – $76

For Switches that travel often

 Devindra with Switch Lite
Kris Naudus / Engadget

You’re going to need a case, that’s certain. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just enough to protect your Switch from getting bumped around in your bag. The AmazonBasics model is cheap, has 10 slots to hold additional Switch cards and a mesh pocket to store an extra charging cord or set of Joy-Cons. If you’re planning to take your entire setup, dock and all, Amazon also makes a larger storage case that can fit all the cords and controller accessories. If you need something smaller for your Switch Lite, the official case from Nintendo is incredibly slim and even comes with a screen protector. But it’s not made for carrying a lot of games. For that, we recommend TomToc’s line of Switch Lite cases, which are waterproof and come in a wide variety of colors to match your handheld for under $20.

Buy AmazonBasics case at Amazon – $10Buy AmazonBasics large case at Amazon – $27Buy TomToc case at Amazon – $18

SteelSeries Arctis 1
Kris Naudus / Engadget

You probably already have a bag that you’re carrying around all your stuff in, but if you were looking for one specifically made for your Switch, how about this backpack from HORI? It’s specifically designed to hold a Nintendo Switch and all its accessories, and comes in Pokémon, Mario and Zelda designs. The company also makes less overtly nerdy bags, but where’s the fun in that?

If Animal Crossing is more your aesthetic, Target sells a charming collection of bags emblazoned with leaf or character patterns. The backpacks have a special pocket just for your Nintendo Switch, while the clutch purses are perfectly sized for the consoles while being super stylish to boot.

Buy HORI Backpack at Amazon – $45Buy Leaf Collection Mini Backpack at Target – $30Buy Animal Crossing messenger bag at Target – $50

Whether you hate the speakers on your Switch or just don’t want to bother those around you, you’re going to need a pair of headphones to listen to your games. Ideally you want something that doesn’t cost too much and can survive a beating in your bag, so if you don’t mind wires we’re still big fans of Turtle Beach’s Recon 70, which offers great sound in an affordable, lightweight form factor. However, if you just can’t stand cords and don’t mind dropping a bit of extra cash, check out the SteelSeries Arctis 1 or Razer’s Barracuda X headsets. They both come with a USB-C receiver you can plug directly into your console for a solid wireless connection, and the sound quality of either is among the best you’ll find in any gaming headset, especially for under $150.

If you already have a pair of wireless headphones you’re particularly attached to, you can use those with your Switch or Switch Lite by plugging HomeSpot’s 5.0 Audio Transmitter Adapter into the USB-C port. It’s rather diminutive and can slip into your case easily, and very affordable at only $30.

Buy Turtle Beach Recon 70 at Amazon – $40Buy SteelSeries Arctis 1 at Amazon – $100Buy Barracuda X at Razer – $100Buy HomeSpot’s 5.0 Audio Adapter at Amazon – $30

PowerA Nano controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

One thing you definitely have to worry about if you game on the go often is battery life, and in those cases you’ll want to carry around an extra power bank. For your Switch there are two features you need to focus on, and that’s the ability to use a USB-C cord to connect, and a slim profile so it’ll fit inside your Switch case. The RavPower 26,800mAh power bank fits both those criteria perfectly, is rather affordable at $61, and can even charge your device as you play.

Occasionally you might want to make use of the Switch’s kickstand and play with a standard gamepad. The official Pro Controller is generally accepted to be the best available, but it’s also kind of cumbersome to lug around in your bag. If you’re trying to travel a little lighter and don’t mind a slightly smaller version, PowerA’s Enhanced Nano controller can do the job. In my testing I found it’s susceptible to electrical interference, but when you’re sitting right in front of the Switch on a table it should handle the task just fine. It even comes with a little cloth bag to protect the controller from dings and scratches.

Buy 26,800mAh power bank at RavPower – $48Buy PowerA Enhanced Nano controller at Amazon – $55

The best study-from-home essentials for students

Engadget recommends a variety of laptops every year as part of our annual back-to-school guide. But that’s not quite enough if you want a productive study environment. Whether you’re a student staying home this year or you’re returning to campus, you’ll benefit from a few additional essentials. A laptop stand is useful for preventing neck and arm pain, while a lumbar pillow supports the lower back. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones does wonders for blocking out distractions and a LED lamp helps ease eye fatigue. From an external keyboard to a USB dock, we think all our suggestions below will lead to much-improved setup for those long study sessions.

Soundance Laptop Stand

Soundance Laptop Stand
Will Lipman Photography / Soundance

While laptops are more convenient than desktops, using just your notebook for long periods of time is bad for your posture and can lead to neck ache. That’s why we strongly recommend getting a laptop stand. You can position your machine so that the screen is at the appropriate height. In general, you want your eye level to be one to two inches below the top of the display.

One of our team’s favorites is this one from Soundance, which can support laptops with 10- to 15-inch screens. It’s made from a sturdy aluminum alloy and the surface that holds the laptop is rubberized, which prevents it from sliding around. And, thanks to a series of detachable components, it’s also one of a few stands that’s easily portable. You can take it apart and put it together in minutes, making it great not just for your desk at home, but also for using it in the library.

The Soundance raises your laptop six inches above the desk, which should work well for most people. Also, the elevated design both facilitates better posture and helps ventilate your laptop. There’s even enough space underneath for you to store your keyboard and mouse when they’re not in use. If you want one with adjustable height, we recommend the Rain Design iLevel 2. It’s not quite as portable and it’s more expensive than the Soundance, but it’s a good option if you need a stand with more flexibility.

Buy Soundance laptop stand at Amazon – $24Buy Rain Design iLevel 2 at Amazon – $47

Logitech K780 multi-device wireless keyboard

Logitech K780 Multi-Device Wireless Keyboard
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you do get a laptop stand, you’ll definitely want an external keyboard to go along with it. (It’s not going to be comfortable typing on your laptop while it’s docked in the stand.) We recommend a wireless model so you don’t have to worry about cords cluttering up your desk. Logitech’s line of Bluetooth keyboards is an Engadget favorite, and the K780 is one of the brand’s most versatile models. It’s a full-size keyboard complete with a numpad, but it still feels slim and compact. The keys are responsive and comfortable as well, and you can pair it with up to three devices. There’s even an integrated cradle if you wish to use it with a smartphone or iPad.

Buy Logitech K780 at Amazon – $59

Logitech M525 wireless mouse

Logitech M525 Wireless Mouse
Will Lipman Photography / Logitech

In addition to the external keyboard, you should get a wireless mouse to match. Logitech’s M525 is a great option thanks to its ergonomic design and affordable price point. It’s small enough that it won’t take up much space on your desk and It has an ambidextrous design that’ll fit both right and left-handed users. Its precision scroll wheel has a tilt function that allows for side-to-side scrolling as well. We should note, however, that this isn’t a Bluetooth mouse; you connect it to your computer via a USB receiver.

If you’d rather have the convenience of Bluetooth, consider the MX Anywhere 3. It has a 4,000-dpi Track Anywhere sensor that works on most surfaces, even glass. However, the MX Anywhere 3 is a lot pricier at $80 and it doesn’t include the aforementioned tilt wheel, so bear that in mind.

Buy Logitech M525 at Amazon – $25Buy MX Anywhere 3 at Amazon – $80

Purple Back Cushion

Purple Back Cushion
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Long study sessions often mean sitting for an extended amount of time, which can result in lower back pain. You could get a chair with better back support, but those can be expensive. Plus, if you’re living in a dorm, you probably don’t have much choice in furniture anyway. The next best option is to get a lumbar support pillow. I personally recommend the Purple Back Cushion because it has a cushy grid that’s malleable enough to mold to the contour of my spine. One of the features that sets it apart from other cushions is that it has hundreds of air channels, which means you won’t get a sweaty back after sitting in a stuffy dorm room all day long. It comes with a washable cushion cover and an integrated strap that helps you attach it to most chairs.

Buy Purple Back Cushion at Amazon – $39

Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38

Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38
Will Lipman Photography / Taotronics

Another desk must-have is a lamp for those late-night study sessions. And if you’re going to spend money on one, it’s a good idea to get a lamp that can charge your devices at the same time. We’ve commended the Taotronics desk lamps in previous buying guides due to their multi-functionality, which is why we feel so confident recommending the Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38 for most students.

The lamp has a built-in Qi-enabled wireless charger on its base that works with fast-charge compatible iPhone and Samsung devices up to 7.5W and 10W, respectively. Additionally, it has a USB port for charging other devices that aren’t Qi compatible. A multipurpose lamp is perfect for students who have a limited space and budget, plus the quick-charging base means you can quickly top up your battery in between classes. Of course, not having to deal with a charging cable while you’re studying is also a bonus.

The LED Desk Lamp 38 is also just a really excellent lamp, with five lighting modes and five brightness levels. You can use it on your nightstand too: It has a “night light” and a timer mode that automatically shuts off after an hour, which is helpful for those of us who like to read before bed.

Buy Desk Lamp 38 at Taotronics – $56

Sony WH-CH710N noise cancelling headphones

Sony WH-CH710N Noise Cancelling Headphones
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones is great for blocking out unwanted noise during study sessions, be it from annoying siblings or a raucous roommate. You might be hesitant to get one because you think noise-cancelling headphones are expensive, and for the most part that’s correct. Fortunately, there are some budget options that aren’t terrible.

Take Sony’s WH-CH710N wireless cans, for example. Engadget’s Billy Steele noted that it offers decent range and good clarity, adept ANC, plus it has dual noise sensors that can detect environmental noise. You can also switch to ambient sound mode if you need to quickly hear the world around you. They also offer an impressive 35 hours of battery life, plus USB-C quick charging that promises 60 minutes of playback on a 10-minute charge.

These headphones may look a little more basic than the higher-end XM4s, but Sony didn’t compromise on comfort here thanks to adjustable sliders and soft oval-shaped earcups. They’re also much more affordable at $198 (and we’ve seen them for less), giving you a lot of bang for your buck.

Buy WH-CH710N at Amazon – $178

Cooper Standing Desk Converter by Fully

Cooper Standing Desk Converter by Fully
Fully

Sitting for long periods is bad for your health, which is why many people like to have standing desks. Unfortunately, they can be expensive, plus you might not even have the space for one. Instead, consider a standing desk converter that can be used with the desk you already own. Fully’s Cooper is a staff favorite, and we like it more than even the company’s Cora model because it has two levels: one for your laptop and another for your external keyboard and mouse. Raising and lowering it is easy thanks to a simple hydraulic lift, and it’s external-monitor friendly thanks to its 35 pounds (16 kilograms) weight limit. Plus, unlike a lot of other sit-stand converters, it’s pretty stylish to boot — we especially like the one with the bamboo finish.

Buy Cooper converter at Fully – $299

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock
Will Lipman Photography / Caldigit

Your computer can be your portal to, well, everything when you’re in school — you’re probably using it to attend classes and complete coursework all while also relying on it to connect with family, game with friends and the like. You may find yourself constantly connecting and disconnecting peripherals and accessories while pushing your machine to its limits, and that’s where a dock like this one from CalDigit can come in handy. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino likes it because it has 10 ports, including USB-A, USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet and DisplayPort (or HDMI, depending on the model you choose), and it supports up to two 4K monitors with a single cable.

Our favorite part, though, is that it works with both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C laptops, so if you’re not sure which you have, you don’t have to worry about it. You can also use it with the latest iPads, such as iPad Pros and the 4th-gen Air. Unlike smaller dongles, it’s not the most portable solution, but the Pro Dock makes up for that by giving you many more ports than your traditional adapter has — and it provides up to 94W of power to charge your device while it’s connected.

Buy USB-C Pro Dock at Amazon – $239

24-inch ViewSonic VA2456-MHD monitor

24-inch ViewSonic VA2456-MHD monitor
Will Lipman Photography / ViewSonic

Sometimes a laptop screen just isn’t big enough, and an external monitor is needed for you to do your best work. It’s useful for those who need more screen real estate for stats and charts, Excel spreadsheets, editing photos or video, or just looking over copious amounts of code.

However, monitors can be pricey. ViewSonic’s 24-inch VA2456-MHD, however, delivers an impressive feature set for the price. Though we haven’t reviewed it, it’s highly-rated on Amazon and we’ve liked ViewSonic’s other monitors in the past so we know the company has a solid track record for quality. The VA2456-MHD has HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA connections, which makes it pretty versatile for a budget monitor. It also has 1080p resolution and an IPS panel for wide-angle viewing. Its three-sided frameless design is sleek too, an important quality for such a relatively large object. Lastly, it has a blue light filter to help minimize eye strain.

We should note however, that those looking for a color-accurate monitor might want to invest in something more powerful, like Dell’s UltraSharp U2720Q, but it is also considerably more expensive at nearly $700.

Buy 24-inch ViewSonic monitor at Amazon – $180

Ironflask 24 oz Classic tumbler

Ironflask 24 oz Classic Tumbler
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s important to stay hydrated even when you’re at your desk, which is why we like having a dedicated water vessel nearby. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino recommends the Ironflask 24-ounce Classic tumbler as a more affordable alternative to a Yeti or a Hydro Flask (the new Nomad tumbler is slightly more travel-friendly thanks to its leak-proof flip lid). Its double-walled, vacuum insulated construction can keep drinks cold for up to 16 hours and hot for up to four hours. That means you can use it for water as well as coffee or tea when you need a pick-me-up. It comes in a variety of colors, and it ships with two stainless straws, two plastic straws and straw cleaning brushes — so not only is the cup itself easy to clean, but you’re getting the tools to clean the straws, too. It also fits standard-size cup holders, which is great when you want to grab a drink on the go.

Buy Ironflask Classic tumbler at Amazon – $23Buy Nomad tumbler at Ironflask – $24

The best student discounts we found for 2021

They say your college years are the best of your life. But they tend to leave out the part where you’re scrounging every dollar for textbooks, food and (if you’re lucky) the occasional weekend outing with friends. Money is tight when you’re a student, and that financial stress can be compounded by the reality of having to stay on top of your studies.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s student discounts. Many companies offer their products and services for less to those struggling through lectures, writing research papers and studying for finals. We’ve compiled a list of the best deals you can get on useful services, along with some things you’ll enjoy in your down time. Just keep in mind that most of these offers require you to prove your status as a student either by signing up with your .edu email address or providing some form of student identification.

Shopping

Amazon Prime Student

If you’re not piggybacking off of your parents’ Amazon Prime account, you can have the subscription for less while you’re in school. College students can get Prime Student for $6.50 per month or $60 per year, and it includes the same perks as a standard Prime membership including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery in select areas, and access to the entire Prime Video library. Amazon also currently offers a six-month free trial, so you’ll pay even less during your first year.

Buy Prime Student at Amazon – $60 a year

Best Buy

While it doesn’t offer a specific student discount, Best Buy has Student Deals that you can sign up to receive. Aside from proving your student status, the only requirement is for you to be a My Best Buy member; that program is free to enroll in. We actually recommend that most people sign up for My Best Buy because some items, especially during site-wide sales, will be even cheaper for members. All student deals will appear in the Member Offers page in your account.

Sign up for Student Deals at Best Buy

Apple

Apple offers some deals to students and educators. This year in particular, Apple is throwing in a free pair of AirPods when you buy select Macs or iPads for college. You’ll get AirPods with the regular wired charging case free, or you can upgrade to AirPods with the wireless charging case for $40 more. Alternatively, you can get the AirPods Pro for $90 more. Apple knows how popular AirPods are and it clearly wants to sweeten the deal for students who have been thinking about getting a new computer before heading off to college.

The AirPods promotion also includes Apple education pricing on Macs and iPads. There isn’t a flat percentage rate across all products; the discounts are device dependent. For example, right now students can get a new MacBook Air M1 starting at $899, which is $100 less than the normal starting price (Amazon’s matching this price, too). The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts off $100 cheaper and the new iPad Pros start at $749, or $50 cheaper than usual. These are decent savings if you must have a brand new Apple product, but those with tighter budgets should also consider Apple’s refurb program.

Shop Apple’s back-to-school promos

Samsung

Samsung offers up to 10 percent off most of its products to students and educators. The brand also has some decent offers like a “speed and storage” bundle that includes two Samsung drives for under $300. We’d recommend stretching that 10 percent discount as much as possible by using it on big-ticket items like a Samsung laptop or a Galaxy smartphone if you need one. Otherwise, Samsung has solid accessories like the Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Shop Samsung’s back-to-school promos

Microsoft

Microsoft also provides students and educators with up to 10 percent off its gadgets, including the already affordable Surface Go 2 and the Surface Headphones 2. And Microsoft’s online store doesn’t only sell Surface devices: You can also find Windows PCs from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others there at discounted prices.

Shop Microsoft’s back-to-school promos

Streaming

Spotify

Spotify Premium’s student plan gives you a lot for only $5 per month. Besides access to millions of songs, it also includes Hulu’s ad-supported plan and Showtime’s ad-free service. You’d spend roughly $27 a month if you paid for all three separately at their full prices, making this student offer one of the best you can get.

Buy Spotify Premium Student – $5 a month

Pandora

Pandora also offers students its Premium membership for $5 per month. Pandora’s offering doesn’t include any additional services, but you do get an ad-free experience, personalized music, unlimited skips and unlimited offline play.

Buy Pandora Premium Student- $5 a month

Apple Music

Apple also slashes 50 percent off its Apple Music subscription for students, bringing it down to $5 per month. The offer is available for up to 48 months so you can enjoy the rate for the entirety of your college experience. What’s more, the company bundles Apple TV+ in this student offer, so you can watch Apple originals like The Morning Show and See.

Buy Apple Music Student membership – $5 a month

Tidal

Tidal provides student discounts on both of its streaming services: Premium and Hi-Fi. Premium drops to $5 per month, down from $10, while Hi-Fi costs $10 per month, down from $20. This year, the company is offering a three-month free trial of either of its services to any new user through the end of August. Tidal is still often overshadowed by Spotify and Apple Music, but these discounts are a good way to give it a try without spending too much money.

Buy Tidal Student starting at $10 a month

Hulu

College students can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported plan for only $2 per month. That’s $4 less than the normal price and a great deal considering all of the content that Hulu has to offer (think The Handmaid’s Tale, Grey’s Anatomy, Rick & Morty and more). Yes, you have to deal with commercials, but it’s a small price to pay to binge-watch shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, which can provide a much-needed laugh when you’re drowning in coursework.

Buy Hulu (ad-supported) – $2 a month

YouTube

If you’re already spending a lot of time watching YouTube, you may have a better experience with YouTube Premium. The Student plan knocks nearly 50 percent off the price so you’ll pay $7 per month for ad-free video viewing, background play, video downloads and access to YouTube Premium Music. The latter is YouTube’s attempt at a Spotify/Apple Music competitor, but it has a long way to go before it can really hold a candle to those services. However, if you listen to most of your music via YouTube already, Premium could be your one-stop-shop for music and video streaming.

Buy YouTube Premium Student – $7 a month

Headspace

Being a student is stressful even in the best of times, but now it’s even more difficult to concentrate and find peace. Headspace is just one of many meditation and mindfulness apps available that can help with that, but it stands apart with a great student discount: $10 for the entire year, or $60 less than a normal annual membership. In addition to a large library of meditation lessons and routines to follow, Headspace recently added SleepCasts, a collection of soothing voices reading bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, as well as “mindful” workout routines.

Buy Headspace Student plan – $10 a year

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

You’re probably using Adobe products if you’re studying anything to do with digital art or design. Adobe CC is the industry standard in this space but the entire suite of programs is quite expensive at $53 per month. Thankfully, Adobe has education pricing for students that drops the entire creative suite to $20 per month for the first year. That includes the big programs like Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC along with Lightroom CC, Premiere Pro CC, Adobe XD and more.

After your first year, the monthly cost increases to $30 per month. While not ideal, it’s still more affordable for students than it is for industry professionals. If you’re not tied to Adobe programs, you might also consider Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher apps from Serif ($50 each for the Mac or Windows versions), which compete with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Buy Adobe CC – $20 a month

Ableton Live

Regardless of whether you’re studying music production, students can get 40 percent off Ableton Live Standard or Suite for as long as they are enrolled full-time. That brings Live 11 Standard down to $269 and Suite down to $449 — great discounts on some of the best music software available right now.

Buy Ableton Live starting at $269

Microsoft 365

Many students have to use Microsoft 365 tools on a regular basis. If your college or university doesn’t provide you with an account, you can still get Microsoft 365 for free by taking advantage of the company’s student and educator discount. This gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams free of charge, which is a great deal considering an annual subscription costs $100.

Get Microsoft 365

Ulysses

Spending all day and night writing papers is even more frustrating when you don’t have all your writing organized in one place. Ulysses is a popular writing app for mac/iOS that can be used for note taking as well as thesis writing, with features like auto-save and auto-backup, word-count writing goals, markup, plain text support and DropBox integration. Normally, Ulysses costs $40 per year but students can get it for only $11 every six months, or $22 per year. There isn’t a direct alternative for Windows users, but you do have options including Scrivener (a one-time student price of $41.65), IA Writer (a $20 one-time price) and FocusWriter (free and open-source).

Buy Ulysses – $22 a year

Evernote

Evernote can be an indispensable tool if you like to keep all of your thoughts in one place — everything from class notes to web clippings to to-do lists. Students can get half off one year of Evernote Premium, which brings the price down to $4 per month or $48 for the year. Premium is the way to go if you’re investing in Evernote because it syncs your notes across unlimited devices, gives you offline access, lets you annotate PDFs and search saved documents.

Buy Evernote Premium (1 year) – $4 a month

Squarespace Student plan

Whether you’re itching to get a jump-start on your portfolio or just want an online space for to show off your work, Squarespace is a good option as it gives students a 50 percent discount on any of its annual plans. The most affordable option will cost $72 for the year, which is half the normal yearly price of $144. Squarespace is one of many website builders out there, but it’s particularly popular with creative professionals. Its customizable templates make it easy to build a website and make it look exactly how you want it. Plus, you can upgrade down the line to add things like website analytics, custom JavaScript and CSS and e-commerce.

Buy Squarespace starting at $72 a year

News

It’s always been important to keep up with the news, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Yes, it’s daunting sometimes and we don’t expect (or encourage) you to inhale every breaking-news headline as it’s published. However, it’s crucial to know what’s going on in the country and the world as a whole. Here are some reputable news organizations that offer student discounts on their monthly or annual subscription plans.

The Atlantic: Starts at $25 per year for digital-only access.

The New York Times: $4 every four weeks for a base subscription.

The Washington Post: $5 every four weeks for digital-only access.

The Wall Street Journal: Starting at $4 per month for the Student Digital Pack.

The best laptops for gaming and schoolwork

There’s never been a better time to be a PC gamer, especially when it comes to laptops. Gaming notebooks are lighter, more powerful and cheaper than ever before. They’re particularly useful for students because their beefy hardware could be helpful for rendering video and doing any other schoolwork that would make super-thin ultraportables sweat. You can find some general advice on choosing gaming laptops in our guide. In this piece, you’ll find a few selections specifically geared towards school use.

Are gaming laptops good for college?

As stated above, gaming laptops are especially helpful if you’re doing any demanding work. Their big promise is powerful graphics performance, which isn’t just limited to games. Video editing and 3D rendering programs can also tap into their GPUs to handle especially demanding tasks. While you can find decent GPUs on some productivity laptops, like Dell’s XPS 15, you can sometimes find better deals on gaming laptops. My general advice for any new workhorse machine: Get at least 16GB of RAM and the largest solid state drive you can find. Those components are both typically hard to upgrade down the line.

The one big downside to choosing a gaming notebook is portability. For the most part, we’d recommend 15-inch models to get the best balance of size and price. Those typically weigh in around 4.5 pounds, which is a significantly more than three-pound ultraportables. Today’s gaming notebooks are still far lighter than older models, though, so at least you won’t be lugging around a 10-pound brick. Also, if you’re not into LED lights and other gamer-centric bling, keep an eye out for more understated models (or make sure you know how to turn those lights off).

Best midrange for most people: ASUS Zephyrus G15

Back to School - ASUS Zephyrus G15
Will Lipman Photography / ASUS

The Zephryus G15 has all the power you’d want in a gaming laptop, at a price that’s more reasonable than higher-end options. It’s a slightly larger follow-up to last year’s favorite for this category (the G14), but there’s still lots to love. The G15 features AMD’s latest Ryzen 5000 processors, along with NVIDIA’s RTX 3000 GPUs. And, judging from our benchmarks, it manages to make good use of all that power. It also has a fast 165Hz 1440p screen, which is ideal for playing games at high framerates. The G15 doesn’t have a webcam, but its solid specs and performance more than make up for that.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy – $1,850

Best high-end option: Razer Blade 15

Back to School - Razer Blade 15
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For years, Razer has staked a reputation for building gaming laptops that look as good as MacBooks. And that’s still true. Razer’s Blade 15 features a sleek and sturdy metal case, an impressively understated design (unless you really kick up those RGB keyboard lights), and just about all the power you’d want in a portable gaming powerhouse. If money is no object, you can equip the Blade 15 with Intel’s latest 11th-gen processors, NVIDIA’s powerful RTX 3080 and either a 240Hz QHD or 360Hz HD screen.

While you’ll pay a bit more for the Blade 15 compared to some other models, you’ve still got a few different price points to work with. The entry-level model starts at $1,699 with an RTX 3060 GPU and 144Hz 1080p display. That’s certainly enough power for most games and creative apps. If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, Razer’s new AMD-powered Blade 14 looks compelling as well.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer- $1,699

A stylish mid-range option: Alienware M15 R5 Ryzen Edition

Back to School - Alienware M15
Will Lipman Photography / Alienware

Alienware’s M15 notebooks have made for solid options over the last few years, but the R5 Ryzen Edition adds something new to the mix with AMD’s latest processors. Basically, you can expect slightly better multi-core performance from this machine, compared to its Intel-equipped siblings. The Alienware M15 still retains the brand’s signature, sci-fi-like aesthetic, making the R5 Ryzen Edition a great option if you want a notebook that’s also distinct (without looking garish like cheaper offerings).

Buy M15 R5 Ryzen Edition at Dell – $1,274

Best budget option: Dell G5 15

Back to School - Dell G5 15
Will Lipman Photography / Dell

While Alienware has established itself as a solid premium brand, Dell’s cheaper G-series notebooks are worth a look for anyone on a budget. In particular, the G5 15 continues the trend of delivering very capable hardware under $1,000. Sure, the case may contain a lot of plastic, and the screen doesn’t offer all of the latest niceties, but for the price it’s hard to find something much better.

Buy G5 15 at Dell – $960

Best no-limit gaming laptop: ASUS Zephyrus Duo 15 SE

Back to School - ASUS Rog Zephyrus Duo
Will Lipman Photography / ASUS

Taking the idea of a gaming laptop to the absolute extreme, ASUS’s latest Zephyrus Duo combines AMD’s latest Ryzen mobile processors with all of NVIDIA’s great RTX 30-series hardware. And, true to its name, it has two screens: a gorgeous 15.6-inch main display, and a very wide secondary panel right below. That opens up a near desktop-level of multitasking, since you can have windows spread across both screens. That could be useful for browsing the web and keeping an eye on Twitter at the same time. (Or, perhaps squeezing in a game of Overwatch while following an online lecture on the other screen. We won’t tell anyone.)

Buy Zephyrus Duo 15 SE at ASUS – $2,899

The best gadgets for students under $50

The little things can get you when you’re in college. You arrive on campus, fresh and ready to go, but before you know it, you’re a few weeks into the new semester and you have a long list of small things you forgot to pack and need to buy ASAP. We at Engadget also know from experience that there are unassuming gadgets that can make your collegiate life easier. To help you get ahead of the game, we’ve compiled the best items under $50 so you can get the most crucial ones off your list before you even set foot on campus.

Anker PowerExtend Cube USB-C power strip

Basic two-receptacle wall outlets just don’t cut it anymore now that we all have a small army of devices that we rely on every day. A power strip like Anker’s PowerExtend will become a necessity for students as it gives them more power options than what comes standard in their dorm rooms. This cube has two USB-A ports, one 30W USB-C socket and three AC outlets, giving you more ways to keep your laptop, phone, tablet, headphones and other devices charged up. The five-foot cable is another perk as it prevents you from needing to hug the wall of the library in order to get things done. Also, it weighs just 9.2 ounces so you can bring it with you whenever you need your own personal charging station.

Buy PowerExtend strip at Amazon – $40

Incase Bionic accessories organizer

Staying organized is key to staying sane while in school, and that’s true for both your digital and physical essentials. For the latter, Incase’s Bionic Accessory Organizer is just the right size to act as both a pencil case and an “everything else” holder. It has a number of pen loops inside for those that prefer to take handwritten notes, but it also has a bunch of variously sized pockets that can easily hold things like your portable hard drive, an extra phone charger and even a compact wireless mouse. And, unlike those cheap pencil cases you’ll find at the dollar store, this one’s made of ocean-recycled material that’s equivalent to seven plastic bottles.

Buy Bionic accessory organizer at Incase – $50

Lention 4-in-1 USB-C hub

Your brand new laptop might be blazing fast and super lightweight, but it probably doesn’t have as many ports as you’d like. Such is the trade-off companies make when creating powerful thin-and-light machines, leaving us stuck living the dongle life. But it doesn’t have to be so painful if you get the right adapter for your laptop. Lention’s 4-in-1 USB-C hub is a great option for students. It’s compact, measuring 3 x 1.4 inches, and it includes three USB-A ports and one USB-C connection. That should let you connect accessories like mice and keyboards, and even access files on a thumb drive when you’re working on a group project. The USB-C port is for charging only, but that’s not necessarily a downside — you can use it with your laptop’s power adapter and USB-C cable to power your machine while using the adapter at the same time.

Buy Lention 4-in-1 hub at Amazon – $20

Anker PowerLine II USB-C to Lightning cable (10-foot)

When you’re a student, there’s nothing worse than realizing your iPhone is down to 2 percent battery when you’re in the middle of submitting an assignment online. The charging cable that came with your phone has probably served you well, but having a second, longer cable can allow you to power up in dire situations even when the closest outlet is across the room. We’ve been fans of Anker’s Powerline series for a long time, and this 10-foot USB-C to Lightning cable is worth investing in. Not only is it MFi-certified so it will work well with all Apple devices, but its length gives you much more flexibility than your standard three-foot cable does. It also supports fast charging if you have an appropriately powerful adapter to use it with. And for those who don’t have iPhones, Anker has a 10-foot USB-C to C cable that should serve your handsets well, too.

Buy Powerline II USB-C to Lightning cable at Amazon – $23

Apple AirTag

We’re all familiar with the panic that ensues when you realize you’ve misplaced your keys, wallet, phone or other valuables. There are plenty of gadgets that can help you find those items, but AirTags are arguably the best for those who live in Apple’s ecosystem. Like most Apple accessories, setting up AirTags is as easy as placing them in close proximity to your iPhone and figuring out how you want to attach them to your belongings (and you don’t have to shell out a lot of money for fancy key rings to do so). After that, if you do lose your stuff, you can use your phone to force the AirTag to emit a loud chime. And if you’re still within Bluetooth range, Apple’s Precision Finding feature can literally guide you back to your belongings. If you don’t own an iPhone, you can skip the AirTags and opt for one of Tile’s many Bluetooth trackers to get a similar experience.

Buy AirTag at Amazon – $29

SanDisk Dual Drive Go

While you may be used to saving your assignments in the cloud, it can’t hurt to have local copies as backups. SanDisk’s Dual Drive Go is a tiny thumb drive with both USB-C and USB-A connectors, so you can download and save important programs, files, photos and other documents from almost any device. It works with laptops, tablets and smartphones, and it even has a companion app that can automatically backup your files so you always have the most up-to-date version on hand. We appreciate the dual USB connectivity, the device’s tiny size and its affordable price — you can grab a 256GB model for only $30 to $40.

Buy SanDisk Dual Drive Go at Amazon – $30

Amazon Echo Dot (4th-gen)

The Echo Dot is Amazon’s most popular smart speaker for a reason: It’s small, it sounds pretty good for its size, and it does a lot more than just play music. Students will like the fact that it won’t take up much space on their desks and they can ask Alexa to play music from Spotify, Apple Music and others whenever they want to have an impromptu dorm-room dance party. And, since it plugs into a wall outlet, they never have to remember to charge the Echo Dot like they would with a portable speaker. What’s more, when an assignment stumps them, students can consult Alexa for help. Are we suggesting they ask Alexa for the answers to all their homework conundrums? Not exactly. But the voice assistant’s answers could give them a good starting point for further research.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon – $50

Anozer tablet stand

Whether you’re studying, attending a virtual class or watching a movie, it’s crucial to have your device of choice at a comfortable viewing angle. Anozer’s phone and tablet stand is a sturdy yet unassuming solution: It’s height and angle adjustable, its metal-weighted base with rubber feet helps it stay in place, and it can be folded flat so it’s easily portable. We also appreciate its silicone covered pad and rubber hooks that keep your phone or tablet from slipping and sliding around. It’s a must-have for anyone who primarily uses mobile devices to complete their schoolwork.

Buy Anozer stand at Amazon – $15

Manta Sleep Mask

Sleep can be hard to come by in college. Sometimes you may have to cram late into the night to prepare for an exam, but other times you’ll be subjected to the whims of others as they galavant around your dorm room as if classes and projects simply don’t exist. When you need to shut out the world in the hopes of catching a few ZZZs, Manta’s sleep mask could be a lifesaver. We like its adjustable eye cups that block out nearly 100 percent of light. The headband is adjustable as well; you can tighten or loosen the mask to your liking. And if it becomes indispensable to you, Manta sells different types of eye cups that you can switch out when you want relief from migraines or a bit more TLC for your skin. We also recommend completing the “do not disturb” bundle with a good pair of earplugs that block out audible annoyances when you’re trying to sleep.

Buy Manta sleep mask at Amazon – $30

RAVPower 20,000mAh charger

It goes without saying that a portable way to recharge your phone is essential nowadays. Even better is a battery pack that’s capable of charging all of your devices, including your laptop. RAVPower’s 20,000mAh portable charger does just this — it’s 60W output allows it to juice up machines like a MacBook Pro from 0 to 60 percent in just one hour. And if you’ve got your laptop covered, it can power your tablet, smartphone, headphones and other gadgets quickly as well. Just before publishing this article, RAVPower’s charger went up in price to $54, but even if it’s a bit more expensive than our original threshold, we still think it’s worth the investment.

Buy 20,000mAh 60W portable charger at RAVPower – $54

USB desk fan

Dorm rooms can be insufferably hot throughout the school year, and there are few things worse than sweating when you’re trying to study. A gadget to help circulate air is a necessity and this USB desk fan is small and quiet enough to work in almost any environment. It doesn’t take up much space on a desk and its nearly four-foot-long cable makes it easy to plug into a power source — probably your laptop since it’s likely to be close by while studying, but it could also be a USB adapter connected to an AC outlet or even a portable battery pack. The fan also has three speeds and the head can be angled to direct air at your face or anywhere else you want it.

Buy desk fan at Amazon – $12

Brita filter bottle

The environmental reasons for carrying a reusable water bottle are clear, and hydration is important for everyone — not only students. Brita’s is a good option because it’s made of BPA-free plastic, comes in 26- and 36-ounce capacities, has a leak-proof lid and uses a filter straw to make the water you drink from it just like the water you’d get from a larger Brita container. And no, you won’t have to spend too much on replaceable filters either. The company recommends changing your bottle’s filter every two months, and a pack of three filters will run you only about $12.

Buy Brita water filter bottle at Amazon – $20

The best laptops for college students

We’re all contending with a return to normalcy, and going back to school likely feels strange yet exciting. Whether you’re heading to a physical campus, taking classes online or a mix of both, a laptop is sure to be the control center for your studies.

And things have changed quite a bit over the last year or so. We’ve seen the introduction of Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks, while Microsoft recently unveiled Windows 11. With ARM-based computers teasing a future where the line between mobile and desktop computing is blurry, and Windows 11 working to bridge that gap by supporting Android apps, the laptop market is the most exciting it’s been in years.

But that might lead to more questions for shoppers. What should you look out for if you want an ARM-based PC? Will they run Windows 11 when that update is available? What are some key specs you should add to your must-have list this year? We compiled this guide to help you make the right choice, alongside a list of this year’s best laptops.

What to look for in a laptop for school (and what to avoid)

First: Windows on ARM still isn’t worth it. Snapdragon laptops may look and feel sleek, offer excellent battery life and built-in cellular radios, but they’re typically quite expensive, especially considering their limited app compatibility and finicky software. Apple’s M1 MacBooks, on the other hand, are great for almost everyone, barring those who need external GPUs, niche software or more than 16GB of RAM.

Over on the Intel side of things, almost every notebook released this year packs an 11th-generation Core processor. You’ll likely be able to find a cheaper version of a product with a 10th-gen chip, and it should still serve you well. And don’t forget about AMD’s Ryzen chips, either — they’re plenty powerful and no longer just for the bargain bin. If you’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of Windows 11 devices, don’t expect to see them before the semester begins. They’re more likely to show up in the fall around Microsoft’s usual hardware event in October.

Across the industry, companies have shifted to taller aspect ratios for their screens. Surface Laptops sport 3:2 panels, while many Dell and HP models offer 16:10. While the older 16:9 format is nice for watching videos, you’ll probably appreciate a taller format when you’re writing an essay. Some devices, like Dell’s XPS and Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro, come with OLED panels, which will be nice for working with photos and videos. They usually cost more and take a toll on battery life, though, so you’ll need to weigh your priorities.

Fortunately, there’s a diverse selection of laptops around, so you should be able to find a suitable one regardless of your preferences. Here are our favorite notebooks for your return to schoolwork.

Apple MacBook Air M1

With its speedy performance, slim fanless design and excellent battery life, the MacBook Air M1 is a no-brainer for any Apple user. You’ll appreciate familiar features like a Retina display, comfortable keyboard and reliable trackpad. Plus, thanks to the company’s excellent Rosetta 2 emulator software, you won’t notice a huge performance difference when relying on Intel apps.

The big news, though, is that the ARM-based M1 allows the laptop to run iPhone and iPad apps too. While not every app will be available on macOS, the potential for more options on your desktop here is great. Now you just have to make sure you can keep the distractions at bay — which should be easy with the upcoming Focus modes on macOS Monterey, arriving in its final form later this year.

Unfortunately for those looking for more internal storage or something to run their bespoke video streaming setup, pre-fab MacBook Air M1 laptops top out at 512GB storage (although you can pay extra for up to 2TB) while the Pro M1 only supports up to 16GB of RAM. The MacBook Pro M1 also lacks support for multiple monitors and an external GPU. Those with more demanding workflows might need to look to Windows or an Intel-powered MacBook to ensure app compatibility.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon – $999

Dell XPS 13

Dell’s XPS series has been an Engadget favorite for years. Despite a somewhat plain design that some might call “classic,” the XPS 13 still stands out for nailing pretty much everything that matters. Great performance? Check. Gorgeous screen? Yes. Comfortable keyboard? Yep. Throw in a long-lasting battery and a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports in the latest versions, and you’ve got a powerful workhorse for all your classes (and more).

The company shifted to a 16:10 aspect ratio in 2020, and recently added a 4K OLED option. That means you’ll see greater contrast ratios and deeper blacks for maximum display goodness. The OLED configuration will cost you $300 more than the Full HD LCD option, but those who want the best viewing experience may not mind the premium. We also recommend you spend a little more and get at least the Core i3 model with 8GB of RAM instead of the meager 4GB that the base model offers.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell – $930

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

If you’re looking for an excellent typing experience, look no further than the Surface Laptop 4. Microsoft has been killing it with its recent Surface Laptops keyboards, and this one is no exception. Though they’re not as deep and springy as ThinkPads, the buttons here are super responsive and offer ample travel. The roomy trackpad is solid, too.

Of course, it’s important that the Surface Laptop 4 deliver on everything else, or we wouldn’t recommend it. The 15-inch version that we tested offered breezy performance, respectable battery life and a lovely 3:2 Pixelsense screen that supports Microsoft’s Surface Pen input. Though its design is a little staid, the Surface Laptop 4 still has a clean, professional look and a luxurious aluminum case that’s sturdy enough to withstand being stuffed in your backpack on the regular. Plus, at 3.4 pounds, it won’t burden your shoulders much.

The best thing about the Surface Laptop 4 is that the base model, which comes equipped with AMD’s Ryzen 5 processor and 8GB of RAM, starts at $1,000. That rivals the Dell XPS 13, making it a better buy for the value conscious; you get more screen, more power and more RAM for the money. Both the Surface and the XPS are great options, but the latter offers an OLED panel and thinner bezels that make it look more modern.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft – $999

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro

For those whose priority is a lightweight design, the Galaxy Book Pro series should be at the top of your list. At just 2.36 pounds for the clamshell and 3.06 pounds for the convertible model, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro is one of the lightest 15-inch laptops around. It’s also super thin at 0.46 inches thick, and despite its compact size it manages to house three USB-C ports (one of them supporting Thunderbolt 4), a microSD card reader and a headphone jack.

It also packs an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and at least 8GB of RAM, along with a 68Whr battery that delivers a similar runtime to the Dell XPS 13 and Surface Laptop 4. That’s particularly impressive given the Galaxy Book Pro has a Super AMOLED screen, which offers sumptuous image quality, high contrast ratio and deep blacks. Unfortunately, Samsung is still stuck on a 16:9 screen format, which will feel outdated in a year or two, but is hardly a dealbreaker.

The Galaxy Book Pro’s keyboard isn’t as comfortable as the Surface Laptop 4’s but it’s pleasant enough, and the trackpad is enormous. We’re more concerned about the odd webcam software that makes you look dark and splotchy, so if looking your best on video calls is of concern you might want to consider something else. Plus, the $1,100 base model comes with an Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, making it a competitive offering against the Dell and Surface laptops. Awful camera aside, there’s plenty to love about the Galaxy Book Pro, especially for those looking to lighten their loads.

Buy Galaxy Book Pro at Samsung – $999

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

If you’re considering saving a few hundred bucks by opting for Chrome OS, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 might be the right choice. Sure, there are cheaper Chromebooks out there, but it’s one of few machines with a 3:2 aspect ratio and has a utilitarian design that makes it perfect for butterfingers.

That price also gets you an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and sturdy 360-degree hinge so you can set it up in a variety of modes. The 13.5-inch screen is also more pixel-dense than most 1080p displays of the same size. Though the Spin 713 only clocked about 8 hours on our battery test, that’s enough to get you through a work day. If $700 feels too expensive for a Chromebook, you could also wait till it inevitably goes on sale to save a bit more. There are sleeker, more powerful Chromebooks available, but Acer’s Spin 713 offers a good mix of performance and a modern screen for the money.

Buy Acer Chromebook Spin 713 at Best Buy – $700

Acer Aspire 5

If price is your utmost concern, we recommend the Acer Aspire 5. It’s a 15-inch Windows laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that costs between $400 and $450. Yes, that’s less memory than anything else on this list, but it also costs much less than any of our non-Chromebook suggestions.

There’s plenty of ports here — including an Ethernet socket — and the aluminum chassis should make this laptop feel more expensive than it is. You’ll also appreciate its reliable performance, comfortable keyboard and 1080p display. For the price, the Aspire 5 offers everything you need to get through the school day, making it a great bargain.

Buy Aspire 5 at Acer starting at $399

The best accessories for your new iPad

Accessories will be key whether you’re turning your new iPad into a laptop replacement or just trying to protect it against daily-life hazards. It’s tempting to turn to Apple’s own accessories — and in some cases, you should — but there’s a slew of alternatives that work just as well and are often more affordable. We tested out a bunch of cases, keyboards, styli and other miscellany to see which iPad accessories are worth buying.

Cases and stands

Otterbox Symmetry Case for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

I’ve always been that person who takes her new smartphone or tablet out of the box and immediately puts it in a case. While some detest hiding the true form of their new gear, it’s undeniable that cases provide protection for probably the most expensive tech you own. Apple’s Smart Covers for its various iPads are fine, but they’re overpriced and most of them don’t give your iPad any edge protection. Similar alternatives abound, some of which do surround the edges of an iPad. I’ve found ProCase and MoKo make some of the best — even better, they cost a fraction of what Apple’s Smart Cover costs.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a case, get something that combines protection and style. Otterbox is an expert when it comes to protection, but its Symmetry Series 360 series shows that it also has the design chops. Symmetry cases look similar to the Smart Cover, but the clear, scratch-resistant back is sturdy without adding a lot of weight to the iPad and the edge protection is substantial. I also like the extra flap Otterbox added that keeps the screen cover closed and holds the second-generation Apple Pencil to the side of the iPad Pros. Symmetry Series 360 cases are available for most new iPads, and while they’re expensive at $90, they’re worth it if you want a great balance of protection and style.

Buy Otterbox Symmetry 360 case at Amazon – $55

ProCase Leather Folio case for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A more affordable alternative is ProCase’s Leather Folio. While ProCase isn’t as well known for protection as Otterbox is, this model has a flexible plastic interior that wraps around most of the iPad’s edges to keep it secure. The lining also surrounds the second-gen Apple Pencil while it magnetically charges against the new iPad Pros, making it one of the more secure cases for those that have the Pencil.

Leather folios will appeal to a certain type of person. I didn’t think I was that person — until I tried this case. Not only is it attractive, but it’s practical. It has a pocket on the front flap, three notches on which to prop up the iPad at different viewing angles and an elastic strap that can either keep the folio closed or hold the front flap against the back of the iPad while you’re using it. It’s definitely worth its $18 list price for those that want a case that’s just as practical as it is professional.

All of the cases we like prop up your iPad in some way, but they aren’t the best if you want the device at a comfortable eye level. You’ll want a dedicated tablet stand for that, and there are several out there that let you adjust height, angle and more. Anozer’s foldable tablet stand is a good option if you’re often on the go. It’s heavier than other stands at one pound and it can be folded (mostly) flat so you can easily throw it in your backpack. While it’s best suited for 7- to 13-inch tablets, it can support certain smartphones, too (or you could get the company’s dedicated smartphone stand instead).

If you’re willing to sacrifice flexibility for something more elegant, Elago’s P2 stand for iPad may be a good fit. It’s made of a single piece of aluminum with a ledge for your iPad and a few well-placed cutouts that you can snake a charging cable through. The ledge is also wide enough to accommodate most iPad cases. It may not be foldable or adjustable, but its minimalist design will make it an attractive addition to your desk.

Buy ProCase Leather Folio at Amazon – $17Buy Anozer tablet stand at Amazon – $15Buy Elago P2 stand at Amazon – $20

Keyboards

Zagg Slim Book Go for iPad Pro

There are two types of people that seek out keyboards for their iPads: those who want something more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard for banging out the occasional email, and those that plan to use their iPad as a fully-fledged laptop. If you’re part of the first crowd, there are tons of inexpensive Bluetooth keyboards that will do the trick.

I’m partial to Logitech’s Keys to Go, an ultra-slim keyboard that almost disappears in your bag. It’s without a doubt one of the most portable Bluetooth keyboards you’ll find and it’s fairly comfortable to type on. Yes, the keys have little travel and a bubbly feel to them, but they’ll let you compose a quick email or respond to a message on Facebook much more easily than you could with the touchscreen. I also like that its wipeable fabric prevents spills and dirt from getting inside the keyboard. Plus, at around $60-$70, it won’t break the bank.

If you fall into that second category of shopper, there are even more options for you. The most luxurious comes from Apple itself in the Magic Keyboard. The $300 case magnetically attaches to the new iPad Pros and keeps them “floating” above the keyboard and trackpad. We praised the Magic Keyboard for its typing comfort and precise trackpad, but docked it for its limited range of motion. It’s easily the fanciest keyboard available for the iPad Pros and it’s one to consider if money is no object — or if you want the most stylish (and arguably most comfortable) keyboard money can buy.

Buy Keys to Go at Amazon – $70Buy Magic Keyboard at Amazon – $290

Logitech Slim Folio Pro for iPad Pro
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as far as protection goes, the Magic Keyboard provides basically as much as Apple’s Smart Cover (which isn’t much). If you need something a bit more durable (and don’t want to spend $300), Zagg’s $30 Slim Book Go could do the trick. It’ll keep your entire setup pretty sleek as its name suggests, and it’s even thinner than the $130 Logitech Slim Folio Pro. The latter case may be on the thick side, but it has a well laid-out keyboard and a secure flap that holds the Apple Pencil against your tablet.

If you want something that combines durability with style, we like Logitech’s $160 Folio Touch keyboard case. Its exterior is made of a tweed-like fabric, so it will blend in better with your briefcase or work bag. It’s also fairly slim and has a similar Apple Pencil-friendly flap that closes the whole thing shut. Plus, the keyboard is joined by a small yet useful trackpad, so you can truly use your iPad as if it were a laptop.

Buy Zagg Slim Book Go at Amazon – $30Buy Logitech Slim Folio Pro at Amazon – $130Buy Logitech Folio Touch at Amazon – $160

Stylus and screen protectors

Apple Pencil 2nd generation

This likely won’t come as a surprise, but the Apple Pencil is the best stylus you can get for the iPad. Both the first- and second-generation Pencils are designed to work specifically with iPads and it shows in their seamless writing performance. The second-gen stylus has a double-tap feature that you can customize to a certain degree, and pressure-sensitivity allows you to add as much or as little detail as you want to digital artwork. I highly recommend shelling out $100 or $130 for the Apple Pencil if you’re an artist — you won’t be disappointed.

But there are other options, too. Logitech’s Crayon is more affordable at $70 and it has arguably a better grip than either Apple Pencil. It’s just as good in terms of latency and accuracy — drawing in Procreate was a lag-free experience and my strokes always ended up exactly where I wanted them to be.

Buy Apple Pencil (1st gen) at Amazon – $95Buy Apple Pencil (2nd gen) at Amazon – $125Buy Logitech Crayon at Amazon – $70

Logitech Crayon stylus
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But as someone who primarily uses an Apple Pencil for digital art, I missed pressure sensitivity when using the Crayon. Aside from that, the other biggest annoyance is that you have to use a Lightning or USB-C cable to charge it (even the newest model for the iPad Pros doesn’t magnetically attach to the tablet for charging). While I wouldn’t recommend the Crayon for serious artists, I would recommend it for anyone who’s on a strict budget, especially digital journal-keepers, hardcore note-takers and the like.

If you’re a heavy user of the Apple Pencil or some other stylus, you should consider getting a screen protector for your iPad. They pull double-duty: not only do they act as a first line of defense if your iPad goes careening onto the concrete, but they can also enhance the digital drawing and writing experience. Using a stylus on an iPad is strange at first because gliding the stylus nib over a glass surface feels nothing like “normal” writing. Matte screen protectors can get closer to replicating the pen-on-paper experience, and they also prevent the stylus nib from wearing down so quickly. Paperlike is the most popular in this space, but Bersem’s screen protectors are a great value at $14 for a pack of two. Not only does the matte finish help when you’re drawing or taking digital notes, but it also reduces screen glare and doesn’t interfere with FaceID on the newest iPads.

Buy Paperlike screen protector starting at $40Buy Bersem screen protectors (2 pack) at Amazon – $14

Hubs and adapters

Satechi iPad dock
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

If you plan on pushing your iPad Pro to its limits as a daily driver, you’ll probably need more than the tablet’s single USB-C port. Apple has provided little guidance to which USB-C hubs and adapters work best with the iPad Pros — there’s no MFi certification for accessories like this yet. Some hubs specifically advertise that they work with the newest iPad Pros, and if you want to be extra safe, I recommend buying one of those that comes from a reputable brand.

A newcomer in this space is Satechi’s $100 aluminum stand and hub, a foldable rectangle that cradles your iPad and provides a bunch of useful ports and charging capabilities. The holder itself rotates outward, revealing a hidden, attached USB-C cable and a rubber bumper that keeps the stand in place in your desk. On the back edge are a 4K HDMI socket, one USB-A port, a headphone jack, both SD and microSD card slots and a 60W USB-C connection for charging.

I liked the versatility of Satechi’s hub. I could easily use it when I needed to prop my iPad up to watch a YouTube video, and by just plugging in the attached cable, I could switch to using my iPad as more of a work device with all of the necessary connectors in place. It’s also surprisingly light at 10 ounces. Combine that with its foldable design and you have a full-featured hub that can easily be stuffed in a bag.

Buy Satechi stand and hub at Amazon – $100

HyperDrive USB-C adapter for iPad Pro

Another popular option is HyperDrive’s USB-C adapter. I’ll admit I was skeptical about this one, mostly because so many Amazon reviewers and YouTube personalities have raved about it (and I have a hard time believing a six-port adapter the size of a lighter should cost $90). However, after testing it out, I can say it delivers on its promises: t’s a neat little adapter that’s just large enough to fit an HDMI socket, a USB-C port, a USB-A connection, micro- and regular SD card slots and a headphone jack on its edges. That should cover most things you’d need an adapter for, save for hardwired internet.

However, what sets the HyperDrive USB-C adapter apart is that it comes with a tool kit that gives you more flexibility in how you use it. The default plate that surrounds the USB-C plug fits iPads without screen protectors, but there’s an included plate that accommodates screen protectors. HyperDrive even included a third plate with a dongle-like attachment so the adapter doesn’t have to sit right up against the iPad. All you need to do is use the tiny screwdriver that’s in the box to switch out the plates.

I think that somewhat justifies its $90 asking price. So many adapters that hug the iPad Pro’s edges are slick but they become basically unusable if you have a case, skin or screen protector.

Buy USB-C adapter at HyperDrive – $90

Anker USB-C hub
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But $90 for an adapter is still a lot of money and I’d only recommend spending that much if you plan on using the iPad Pro as your daily driver. A cheaper alternative is Anker’s 5-in-1 USB-C adapter: It works just as well as HyperDrive’s; has most of the same ports, with the exception of an extra USB-C port and a headphone jack; and costs only $26.

You could use any of these adapters to connect an external drive to your iPad for more space. We’re fans of Samsung’s T7 series and SanDisk’s Extreme drives for those that want a good amount of extra storage in a fairly durable yet pocketable gadget. If you’d prefer something even more portable, SanDisk’s Dual Drive Luxe flash drive is a good option because it can plug right into your iPad’s USB-C port, it’s available in up to a 1TB capacity and it’s small enough to attach to your keys.

Buy Anker 5-in-1 adapter at Amazon – $30Buy Samsung T7 drive at Amazon – $80Buy SanDisk Extreme drive at Amazon – $85Buy SanDisk Dual Drive Luxe at Amazon – $50

Chargers and power

Anker Nano II 45W charger
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

A battery pack or an extra charger is important to have in your bag regardless of where you’re going. RavPower’s 26,800mAh power bank can charge iPad Pros 1.5 times using its 30W USB-C PD port. It also works with the newest MacBook Pros and other USB-C laptops in addition to the Nintendo Switch — so it can be your one-stop-shop for all your charging needs. I also appreciate that it comes with its own USB-C to C cable, so you don’t need to remember to bring one with you, as well as the micro-USB cable used to charge the power bank itself.

RavPower’s PD charger will set you back $60, but you can opt for the $50 Anker Powercore Essential PD charger if you want to spend a bit less. Its 20,000mAh capacity will provide at least 50 percent more juice to most iPads. It’s not ideal for larger devices like laptops, but it works well with smartphones and tablets.

You also don’t want to rely solely on the charging adapter that came with your iPad; it’s handy to have a backup. Anker’s new line of GaN II chargers has a couple of good options, and arguably the best for most people is the 45W Nano II. It’s the midrange adapter in the lineup and it can power up a 2020 11-inch iPad Pro up to 30 percent faster than Apple’s default adapter. In just a half hour of charging, I got about a 33 percent boost in battery life on my 11-inch iPad Pro. Anker’s device is also smaller than Apple’s and it has a foldable design, so it’ll fit better in cramped spaces and it’ll be easier to throw in a travel bag.

Buy RavPower 26,800 power bank at RavPower – $60Buy Anker 20,000 power bank at Amazon – $50Buy Anker Nano II 45W GaN charger at Amazon – $36

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