8 affordable tech gadgets to make the most of a new school year

Are you headed back to school this September? Below are the best tech gadgets and applications to ensure your return goes as smoothly as possibly.

Whether you’re in high school, or headed to university, we have your back.

1. Microsoft Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse

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The latest version of Microsoft’s Arc Touch mouse really looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Similar to the original Arc Touch, the Bluetooth version is curved, allowing it to conform easily to your hand. Its scroll wheel is also contextual and reminiscent of the 2015 MacBook’s touch pad, and while it doesn’t actually spin, the virtual wheel emits a satisfying clicking noise.

But what really sets this mouse apart from the competition is its ability to flatten, making it easy to slide into any backpack. This action also turns the mouse off, which helps save battery life. If you’re looking for a portable, on-the go mouse because you’re not a fan of trackpads, it’s difficult to find something better than Microsoft’s Arc Touch.

Microsoft’s Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse is priced at $79.95 from the Canadian Microsoft Store.

2. Spotify

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If university is anything like it was when we were students, then we imagine being the kid that knows all the cool up-and-coming indie bands still counts for something. In which case, you’ll want to get your university-bound child a Spotify subscription.

Priced at $9.99 per month (the company has yet to bring its new family plan to Canada), Spotify Premium includes access to ‘Discover Weekly,’ a feature any music-curious student will love. Every week, Spotify delivers each Premium user a playlist of new tunes tailored to their specific taste in music. The amazing thing about Discover Weekly is just how on point it is. Each week I finish my playlist with at least three to four complete gems in my library.

Spotify is priced at $9.99 pre month with a free 30 day trial.

3. Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

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Microsoft has a long history of releasing great peripherals — I bet you still know someone who swears by the Intellimouse. So it’s no surprise one of the company’s latest efforts, its Universal Foldable Keyboard, is a great accessory. Essentially a more portable Type Cover 3, what makes this peripheral useful to students is the fact it’s certified to work with Android, iOS and Windows 10 devices.

It can also be paired with more than one mobile device at the time. Three keys along the top row of the keyboard allow users to switch between multiple devices on the fly. Best of all, it doesn’t weigh much, and it’s handy foldable design make it easy to fit into even the smallest of backpacks.

The Universal Foldable Keyboard is priced at $99.95 from the Canadian Microsoft Store.

4. Audio Recording Apps

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The joy of learning is often hampered by a dread for note taking. It simply doesn’t make sense that upon entering a world of higher learning students should be forced to take notes the old fashioned way. We’ve got you covered with a few great options for lecture transcription apps that can help students focus on what’s really important while they’re in class — scrolling through Facebook.

Dragon produces well-regarded speech recognition services for a wide array of devices. Dragon Remote Microphone uses speech recognition software to dictate quickly, and can be used not only for lectures but for memos, articles, reminders and lists. While most transcription apps charge users per minute of audio, Dragon Remote Microphone doesn’t.

Both the iOS and Android versions of the app come with either Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC or Dragon Dictate for Mac. Naturally Speaking starts at $75 and Dictate starts at $300. While these price tags may seem expensive, think about how many lectures you’ll use the app for over the next few years.

Other note-taking apps for college and university students include Evernote (iOS and Android) Speechnotes (Android), AudioNote (iOS and Android) and TranscribeMe (iOS and Android).

5. UE Boom

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Wireless speakers are everywhere and while most will get the job done, Logitech’s Ultimate Ears brand remains one of the best on the market and features excellent sound quality, as well as battery life.

Setting up a UE Boom is as simple as syncing with an iOS or Android device. While the UE Boom 2 features improved battery life and the ability to sync two smartphones simultaneously, its expensive $259 price tag isn’t worth it.

Instead, pick up the slightly older first-generation UE Boom for just $99 from most retailers instead.

6. Chromecast

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Sometimes watching movies and TV shows on your laptop just doesn’t cut it and unfortunately that older 720p flatscreen you have set up in your residence room doesn’t feature smart TV functionality.

This is where Google’s Chromecast comes into play thanks to its ability to turn any TV into a Wi-Fi enabled device, opening the floodgates and allowing owners to watch Netflix, stream downloaded videos and movies, listen to music and use a variety of other apps, all on their television.

Chromecast costs $45 through Google’s Store.

7. Pebble Time/Round

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The Pebble Time and Time Round, even with the Time 2 looming on the horizon, remains one of the best smart watches on the market. The smartwatch features an always-on e-ink display, more closely mimicking the use case of a typical watch, and an emphasis on the triage notifications, giving the wearer only the information they want, exactly when they need it.

The Round undeniably is a more attractive wearable, though it’s also more expensive than the Time, so keep in mind that it’s rounded, sleeker form factor will cost you more money. The Round’s battery life also isn’t that great, coming in at about two days of moderate use, compared to the roughly week-long life the regular Time experiences.

The Pebble Time is priced at $149 and the Time Round costs $269.

Related: Pebble Time Round review: The notification master

8. Beyond Ink

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In many ways, Beyond Ink is the modern student’s Swiss army knife. The device features a build in iPhone lightning cable, a 16GB USB stick, voice recorder, the ability to work as a regular pen and also even a basic stylus for tablets.

Yes, all of these utilities are included in one comprehensive pencil. Beyond Ink is perfect for students who are always on the go and don’t want to carry around multiple gadgets. Instead of a bag full of high-tech toys, you just need one, moderately priced device.

Beyond Ink is priced at $70USD, which comes to approximately $91CAD.

Photography by Igor Bonifacic and Patrick O’Rourke 

If you’re still looking for back to school gift guide greatness, make sure you check out our $0 phone list and our gift wireless promo guide.

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