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The official Neowin shopping guide for the back to school season

It's that time of the year again. School is about to start up, and students need to get ready. Of course, that means that they'll need the right gear, whether it's a new laptop, or maybe they're heading off the college and want an Xbox for the dorm.

But there's a massive selection of gadgets to choose from, so we're here to help you decide.


There are so many different types of portable PCs to choose from: tablets with attachable keyboards, convertibles with a 360-degree hinge, laptops with detachable displays, gaming laptops, and more. In other words, if you're sending your kid off to college, you're going to want to know what they're majoring in, or at least what they're interested in (in case they're undecided or change majors), so you know what to buy.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga pulls out all of the stops. It's got a 14-inch display, a 360-degree hinge, and a pen that's stored in the device (so they won't have to worry about losing it). Moreover, Lenovo offers a cellular option, so if the Wi-Fi signal is weak on campus, they can always get their work done.

The user can fold the screen all the way back to use it as a tablet, and the keys even retract into the device to make it more comfortable to use. This can be great for taking handwritten notes, or the device can be folded into a tent position for watching movies.

It also contains a wide range of ports, including two Thunderbolt 3 and three USB 3.0 Type-A ports. There's HDMI as well, which would make it excellent for connecting to an external display for presentations.

Lenovo.com is selling the X1 Yoga starting at $1,401.75, but you might want to take a look at the Microsoft Store that offers the cellular models with OLED 1440p displays and Core i7 processors. For 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, you can get it for $2,169, or you can spend $2,949 for 16GB RAM and 512GB of storage.

Make sure to check out our full review before you buy.

Huawei MateBook X

Huawei's new MateBook laptop focuses on portability. It's easy to throw it in a backpack and take it on the go. There's no touchscreen or 360-degree hinge; it's just a standard laptop that packs some serious features.

Unlike other laptops that are so thin and light, like Apple's MacBook, the MateBook X uses an Intel U-series processor, which is what you'd normally get from a laptop, rather than the low-powered Y-series chip that you'll typically find in such small devices. It uses a fanless design that allows for it.

The 13.3-inch display is beautiful at 1440p, and it's not too bad on battery life either. It's also the first 13.3-inch laptop to include Dolby Atmos, so the audio sounds great when watching movies or listening to music.

The MateBook X comes in two configurations: Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB of storage for $1,099, and Core i7, 8GB RAM, and 512GB of storage for $1,299. You can find it on Amazon here.

Dell XPS 15

The Dell XPS 15 isn't a convertible, but it's probably the best mix of power, portability, and productivity that you'll find on the market, with its quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 HQ-series processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU with 4GB GDDR5. If you're sending a student off to a school where they'll be doing power-intensive tasks like video editing, design, or software development, this is the machine for them.

The most powerful laptops on the market are usually gaming laptops, but those can be heavy and, well, designed for gaming, meaning that they're often not pleasant PCs to actually work on. The XPS 15 seems to be the best choice for doing a bit of gaming, and still doing some work, while enjoying comfort when carrying it around campus.

The display is a 15.6-inch touchscreen with a 4K resolution, so it's always going to be pleasing on the eye when using it.

You can get it from the Microsoft Store configured with a Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD for $1,649, although it also comes in configurations with an i7, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD for $1,999; and an i7, 32GB RAM, and 1TB SSD for $2,749.

Acer Spin 5

If you're on a budget, the Acer Spin 5 might be a good option. It has a 360-degree hinge, and for $579, you get 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.

It comes with a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, which means that you don't get some of the benefits that come with the seventh generation, such as 4K Netflix streaming. Still, it's a lot of PC for a good price.

You can check it out on the Microsoft Store here.

Tablets and e-readers

Come on guys; it's not 1837 anymore. Chances are that students will need to read some of their textbooks electronically, and even if not, they may appreciate the gift of being able to read without having to clutter up a small dorm room with books.

10.5-inch iPad Pro

Apple's line of iPads has always been great for reading books, playing games, and consuming entertainment like movies and TV shows. In fact, if this is all that you're buying it for, check out the 9.7-inch iPad.

The iPad Pro, however, comes with some additional features, like support for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. It's great for taking handwritten notes, and it's pretty good for typing up reports in Microsoft's Office suite.

Like the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, there's a cellular option, so they can always be connected even when there's no Wi-Fi.

While the whole setup - including the device, Pencil, and Smart Keyboard - can be a bit pricey, it's an excellent all-in-one type of device. You can check it out at Best Buy here, but make sure to read our review before you buy.

Kindle Oasis

OK, I know that the Kindle Oasis is a really expensive device for "just an e-reader". It can't do nearly as much as the iPad can, but it's sure good at what it does. In fact, it was among my top few favorite tech purchases of 2016.

Mainly, you're paying for the design. It has a sort of 'spine' handgrip, and the rest of the body is really thin and light, so one-handed use is a breeze. It also has both a touchscreen and physical buttons, so you can use it any way that you want to. With an anti-glare screen, it's easy to read in the sun, and with 10 LEDs, it's just as easy in the dark.

The Kindle Oasis starts at $289.99 (it's $70 more for cellular and $20 to remove Amazon's Special Offers), but make sure to check out our review before you buy. If you're not looking to spend as much, check out the Kindle Voyage (starting at $199.99), the Kindle Paperwhite (starting at $119.99), or the Kindle (starting at $79.99).


That's right; not only do students need hardware, but they'll need software to get their work done. Obviously, you'll want to check out the student's curriculum to find out what they'll need specifically, but here are some ideas.

Office 365

Office 365 is a must for any student, and before you buy it, you might want to look into whether the school provides it for free, as many do. It comes with the full Office suite, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. You also get 1TB of OneDrive storage, so as I've mentioned with various cellular-connected devices, the student can work from wherever they are, with their files in the cloud.

Microsoft offers an Office 365 University plan for $79.99 for four years (!!), and that allows the student to install the suite of apps on up to two PCs, two tablets, and two phones. You can check out the plans here.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Image via TechRader

Adobe's Creative Cloud suite isn't necessary for everyone, but it's worth noting that the company has a special offer for students and teachers. For just $19.99 per month, you'll get access to the entire suite of apps, which normally costs $49.99 per month.

And if the full suite is more than you need, there's also a Photography package for $9.99 per month, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom. You can check out Adobe's plans here.

Microsoft Imagine

Microsoft Imagine used to be DreamSpark, and while it's not exactly software, it's definitely worth looking into. It's a collection of free software and services that Microsoft offers to students, and all that you'll have to do to be eligible is verify that you're enrolled in a school.

The offerings differ from school to school, but typical software can include operating systems like Windows Server and IDEs like Visual Studio. You can get free training with Microsoft Virtual Academy, and free cloud services from Azure. You might even be able to grab a free developer account for submitting apps to the Windows Store.


Samsung Galaxy S8

If you're looking for a smartphone to send a student off to school with, Samsung's Galaxy S8 or S8+ might be a good option. It's got a beautiful Super AMOLED display, a powerful Snapdragon 835 processor, and a great camera.

But it also has a feature called DeX, which allows the user to dock the phone with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, offering a full desktop experience. This allows students to take their work with them anywhere they go.

You can check out the Galaxy S8 at Best Buy here, and the DeX Dock Station here.

Moto Z2 Force

Phones can be expensive, and there's nothing more frustrating then shattering the screen. And let's face it, kids break phones.

Luckily, Motorola's latest offering promises a shatterproof display, and it lives up to its word. It also uses a Snapdragon 835 chipset, has a 1440p Super AMOLED display, and lots of fun camera features. You'll want a screen protector though, because while it won't shatter, it will scratch easily.

It's available at Best Buy for as little as $24.66 per month, but make sure to check out our review before you buy.


Xbox One S

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right? Buy Jack an Xbox, so he won't be so dull - and make sure you buy one for Jill too. No dorm room is complete without one.

Whether it's Netflix and chill or Halo and kill, the Xbox One S is a fantastic entertainment machine. It's gaming features go without saying, but it also runs Windows 10, meaning that you can make calls from Skype, view your photos from the Photos app, check out your cloud storage in OneDrive, and so on. Of course, the Store offers a bunch of apps for streaming movies, TV, and music, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Spotify, and more.

And Microsoft is always offering deals on its consoles. Right now, you can get the 500GB model bundled with Minecraft Favorites for just $249, and bundles with Battlefield 1 and Forza Horizon 3 start at $279.

Have any other tips that our readers might find useful, or questions about the items on this list? Let us know in the comments!

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