HotHardware 2016 Back-to-School Tech Shopping Guide

Back To School Essentials, Notebooks And More

Store shelves are packed with fresh pencils, pens, and backpacks. Kids are begging their parents for new clothes and kicks. And teachers are frantically organizing their classrooms in the last few days of summer. It is that time of year again -- back-to-school season is upon us, like it or not. If you are looking to pick up some new tech gear for you or a loved one for the impending school year, but do not want to do all of the homework necessary to find that perfect product, do not sweat it, we have got you covered. This is Hot Hardware's personal study guide to help you choose the perfect laptop, tablet, 2-in-1, desktop, gadget, or accessory. Think of it as the "cliffs notes" for tech shoppers... 

classroom teaching computers

We will start with a look at some thin and light laptops that are perfect for carrying from class-to-class and coffee shop. Then we will examine the tablets and 2-in-1 devices that make reading, typing, drawing, and presenting a breeze. Next, we will check out the desktops that are perfect for a dorm room or office space. If you enjoy gaming during your study breaks, we have a few gaming/DTR options you will want to see as well. Finally, we will inspect the perfect accessories, gadgets, and gear to help make school life a little easier.

Thin And Light Notebooks
It is incredibly important for a student to have a laptop that is thin and light enough to lug across campus, but also powerful enough to address all of their needs. We have provided a list below of devices that should fit the bill, whether you need something ultra thin with long battery life, or something a little bigger that packs more muscle. All of these devices provide solid user experiences while still being light enough to tote around almost anywhere. 

Dell XPS 13 ($899+) And XPS 15 ($999+)

The Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15 are both well-balanced laptops. These are some lean, mean, fightin’ machines that do not compromise on performance or premium aesthetics. Both laptops are made of sturdy CNC machined aluminum and carbon fiber, feature gorgeous, near bezeless Infinity Edge displays, and are fairly light. The XPS 13 and XPS 15 are offered with an array of Skylake-based Intel processors and NVMe Solid State storage.  One of the main differences between the devices -- other than screen size, of course -- is the optional NVIDIA discrete graphics in the XPS 15. This add-on is perfect for gamers who do not feel like carrying around a big and beastly device, but still want the benefits of a dedicated GPU. The XPS 13 and XPS 15 are premium devices, with price tags to match, but these are some of the best notebooks we have ever used.  

Dell XPS15 front lid open right angle
Check out the review for the XPS 13 here and the XPS 15 here

HP Spectre 13: $1,245.00+ USD

If you are looking for an incredibly light laptop that still packs a punch, the HP Spectre 13 may be for you. HP claims that the Spectre 13 is currently the "world's thinnest" notebook. This notebook boasts a 1080P WLED-backlit screen, Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound, Quad Speakers, and a full-size island-style backlit keyboard that feel quite good despite the limited throw of the keys. The 8GB of LPDDR3-1600 memory and Intel HD Graphics 520 are unlikely to impress gamers, however, this is a great laptop for the student who does not game much and wants something ultra-portable and sleek.

HP Spectre Open Left Angle Open

Lenovo X1 Yoga ($1200+) or Lenovo X1 Yoga OLED ($1650+)

The Lenovo X1 Yoga or X1 Yoga OLED is great for students who want a device that can easily be used in multiple modes, thanks to its innovative 360-degree hinge design. This laptop comes with a stylus that is powered by WACOM and features Active Capacitive technology, 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, and integrated left and right-click buttons. Per Lenovo, 15 seconds of charging will allow the ThinkPad Pen Pro to operate for 100-minutes, and it can fully charge in 5 minutes, for up to 19 hours of use. Its dual hinge mechanism swings smoothly through its full 360 degree range and the laptop resists movement when shaken or moved, regardless of what mode is used. The Lenovo X1 Yoga or X1 YOGA OLED would work well for graphic design duties or for a business major who needs a device with the horsepower of a laptop, flexibility of a tablet, and a stylus to help keep those creative juices flowing.

lenovo thinkpad x1 yoga stand mode

HP Spectre x360 15t:
Starting at $1549 USD

The HP Spectre x360 15t is another well-balanced machine.  The high-quality keyboard and touchpad, excellent touch display, and multiple positioning options are great for industrious students who need a little flexibility in their device. This ultrabook also performed well in our testing. The HP Spectre x360 15t would therefore suit a student who works hard in the classroom, but also likes to blow off a little steam with some casual gaming.

ASUS Zenbook UX 305CA: Starting at $749 USD

If you need a laptop with good looks and excellent battery life, then the ASUS Zenbook UX 305CA will be appealing to you. In our Battery Eater pro test the laptop hung in for four hours and twenty-five minutes and lasted ten hours and nine minutes in our web browsing test. The Zenbook’s specs are fairly modest, but this machine is about being reliably productive for long stretches, untethered to an electrical outlet. The ASUS Zenbook UX 305CA’s light and compact frame, killer battery life, and affordability make this the ideal laptop for the busy, budget-conscious undergrad or harried grad student who wants a premium looking device, without the premium price.

mainpage asus zenbook ux305ca

If gaming is as important to you as studying, check out or next few picks for gaming and desktop replacement laptops.  

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