The best back-to-school gear for Aussie kids
It’s the same old story every January – the new year ushers in a time loathed by both kids and parents alike, thanks to a new academic year rearing its intimidating head. Kids are reminded to put away their Christmas presents so they can get ready to hit the books, while parents stress out trying to find the best back-to-school supplies to give their child an over the competition.
While some back-to-school supplies haven’t changed – like the reliance on heavy textbooks and the need for stationery – constantly evolving technology has changed the way our kids are taught at school. Laptops and tablets are becoming bare essentials in a backpack these days, and not just for uni students.
Sending your kids off to school means that, after a certain age, you’d want to keep tabs on them, so they’re going to need a mobile phone. Even wearables for kids are becoming popular these days.
With so much tech to choose from, it can get overwhelming for parents to make the right choice. So we’ve listed a few tech essentials here to help you narrow down your search for the best back-to-school supplies. And it’s not necessary to spend too much money either – we’ve listed one premium option and one budget one so you can decide what might be the best choice for you and your children.
Best back-to-school laptops
It might be an expensive proposition but the XPS 13 has been topping our best laptop charts for years for a very good reason. It’s a powerhouse and, with each new iteration, it only just keeps getting better. We admit this might be an option that caters more for the uni students, but it’s a superb option for high school as well, and it will stick around till your child has graduated from uni a few years down the line. There’s a new model from 2019 that would be the latest option but that also means you’ll be able to find an older iteration for less.
Read our in-depth Dell XPS 13 review
This rather good-looking device might fly under the radar if you happen to be searching for a laptop, but don’t overlook the Microsoft Surface Go. It’s one of the best Windows tablets available today – all you need to do is add a keyboard to make it a convenient and very portable 2-in-1. It might have some low-cost innards but don’t let them fool you: Microsoft has engineered this device to take on the load of schoolwork and more. Being one of the most beautiful devices on the market, it’s a great balance between style, cost and performance.
Read our in-depth Microsoft Surface Go review
Best back-to-school Chromebook
Chromebooks were designed for education, running on a lightweight Chrome operating system. However, if you think your schoolwork is going to need a tad more from what a basic Chromebook can offer, then this 13-inch Acer is the way to go. Powered by an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 – i5 U-Series chip and coming with either 4GB or 8GB of system memory, there’s some serious grunt under the hood. It’s also a rather sleek device, with its aluminium body and QHD display.
Read our in-depth Acer Chromebook Spin 13 review
If just for browsing the internet and getting assignments done is the main aim for purchasing a back-to-school laptop, then the HP Chromebook 14 will see your kids through the school year with ease. It’s one of the few Chromebooks that’s officially available in Australia and comes at an affordable price too. You will need to keep in mind that battery life and performance won’t match the likes of a regular laptop, but it’s definitely one of the best Chromebooks currently available Down Under.
Read our in-depth HP Chromebook 14 review
Best back-to-school tablets
For researching assignments and getting some other schoolwork done, the 2019 iPad 10.2 is the perfect choice. It replaces the 9.7-inch 2018 model, meaning there’s a slightly bigger display at a decent price point. Admittedly it’s not as powerful as the latest Pro versions of Apple’s tablet, but its chipset is very capable. Out of the box, it will run iPadOS which offers all the latest features the tech giant has to offer, plus it works with both the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. Battery life is pretty good, too, with up to 10 hours on a single charge.
Read our in-depth Apple iPad 10.2 (2019) review
In 2019, Samsung refreshed the Tab A line with a brand new model with a 10.5-inch screen. Its Snapdragon 450 chipset isn’t as powerful as the one found on the iPad mentioned above, but it does have enough power to keep on top of homework or assignments. It runs on Android, so the user experience will be different as compared to an Apple product, but it’s cheaper than getting the 2019 iPad 10.2. There’s no fingerprint scanner on the Tab A, instead security will depend on the user’s password and, unlike the iPad, doesn't support doodling or writing directly on the screen with a stylus.
Best back-to-school smartphone
It’s all about brand power for kids these days, so if you’re looking to treat your child with one of the best smartphones on the market, then the iPhone XR is definitely in that category. It might have only a single camera, but it’s a very capable one, while the A12 Bionic chipset under the hood gives it plenty of grunt. With iOS 13 and Apple’s new Find My app, you can keep tabs on your kids at all times, but the caveat here is that you can only do so on another iPhone or MacBook. The best feature about the iPhone XR, though, is its excellent battery life – it can go all day for the average user, something that iPhones before this one couldn’t do.
Read our in-depth Apple iPhone XR review
Far from looking like a cheaper version of its more expensive flagship siblings, the Google Pixel 3a is a powerful mid-range phone with a very extensive feature set, including the same camera that’s on the Pixel 3. It’s also rare to see a 5.6-inch OLED display at this price point, but the handset’s screen is gorgeous. And being a Google handset, it’s sure to get all the OS and security updates first. However, it is a plastic body and is not water resistant, so your kids will definitely need to be a bit careful with it.
Read our in-depth Google Pixel 3a review
Best back-to-school portable storage
It’s incredibly fast and ships with both a USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cable in the box, so it doesn’t matter what kind of laptop your kid uses. The Samsung T5 series of portable SSDs come in different colours and in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB flavours. With average read speeds of about 500MB/s and write speeds of about 350MB/s, it’s one of our favourite storage solutions. If there’s any sensitive information that needs to be stored on the device, or if your kids just want to keep their homework away from prying eyes, the SSD can be password protected if needed. It’s incredibly portable, measuring just 74 x 57 x 10.5mm and weighing only 51g, but all this incredulity comes at a steep price.
Read our in-depth Samsung Portable SSD T5 review
If you’re willing to sacrifice speed for space, then you can snag a G-Technology G-Drive Mobile portable hard drive for under AU$150 for a 1TB option. The G-Drive Mobile also comes with both a USB-C and USB-A cable, so can be plugged into any PC or laptop. Keep in mind that the device has been designed to work with Macs out of the box, but it can easily be formatted to work with a Windows machine without any loss in speed. While not quite as fast as an SSD, it does offer up to 130MB/s speed, which is quite respectable and plenty for schoolwork.
Read our in-depth G-Technology G-Drive Mobile USB-C portable hard drive review
Best back-to-school headphones
While it doesn’t have the noise cancelling abilities of the more premium Bose QC35 II or the newer (and rather strangely named) Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the SoundLink Around-Ear Wireless is wonderfully comfortable to wear for long periods of time and offers the same soundstage as its more expensive siblings. You’ll get up to 15 hours of playback on a single charge, and all the controls needed for music and phone calls can easily be operated by feeling for them. There’s a really nice carry case for toting them around as well, so your kids won’t ruin the earpads getting the cans in and out of their backpacks.
It wasn’t quite the ‘budget’ option when it launched but with the newer 75t 'buds just making their way to retailers, the 65t true wireless headphones are now going to get cheaper. They’re already available for under AU$200 on Amazon on a regular basis, but we expect the price to drop further, particularly during the big sales. The 65t are one of the best true wireless sets, with excellent sound quality and decent bass, which most ‘buds in this category can’t achieve. There’s about 5 hours of battery life for each earphone, but the charging case adds another 15 hours. And they’re comfortable to wear with multiple ear tips shipping in the box for a great fit. They’re the perfect balance between sound, features, usability and, now, value for money.
Read our in-depth Jabra Elite 65t review
Best back-to-school wearables
If you’re worried about your kids safety, the Spacetalk Watch is a great way to stay in touch with them. It’s essentially a phone, a watch and a GPS tracker rolled into one device. There aren’t any apps or games on the smartwatch to distract your kids, not even a camera, internet browser or social media access – it’s been designed so you can maintain contact with your child if you don’t want to give them a smartphone of their own. Your child will be able to call you via the smartwatch or receive calls from you, while also giving you full control over the contact list by letting you block numbers. You can see their location at any time on the companion app, and even set up ‘safe zones’ – if your child steps away from that area, you get a notification. Better yet, there’s an SOS button that automatically dials your number. If you don’t answer, it will go through the contact list until someone does. It’s one of the best wearables for kids made by an Aussie company.
There are a few great choices when it comes to fitness wearables for kids, but the Fitbit Ace 2 makes its way into this buying guide because it suits older children as well – great for kids 6 and older, at least according to Fitbit. The Ace 2 is basically the Inspire in a kid-friendly case and strap, with a rechargeable battery that will last up to five days before needing some time at the mains. It’s water resistant up to 50m, so a bit of rain won’t be an issue, while also doing a great job tracking your kids’ activities and calories. When a goal is hit, the screen displays fun animations. It works well with the Fitbit app and can also support notifications via a vibration motor.
Best back-to-school printers
It’s a pretty compact printer/scanner, perfect for small spaces, and works via the HP Smart app available for both iOS and Android devices, and doesn’t need a Wi-Fi connection to set up printing tasks. The Tango works completely wirelessly, thanks to its two-way cloud-based network connection, and doesn’t have any ports to plug in a PC. It’s user-friendly and can be connected to your Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker (if you have one) for easy voice-activated printing as well. The replacement cartridges, though, can be expensive and, sadly, HP hasn’t brought its Instant Ink program to Australia yet, although it’s been running in the US and Europe for a few years now.
If you’re not too keen on splurging top dollar on a printer, then this option from Canon is wonderfully affordable. At just under AU$70 you can print and scan as much as needed. The printer even has an ‘auto duplex’ feature which automatically prints to both sides of the paper, and setting up a Pixma Cloud Link account will let you print anything sitting in Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or any other cloud service. You can even print from Facebook or Instagram. The Pixma Home TS5160 is covered by Canon’s Print Assist program, where you’ll receive step-by-step instructions on how to set up the device (although it’s easy to do anyway) and any fault found within the first year of purchase will see the printer replaced at no cost.
Ports on new laptops are changing. The faster USB-C or Thunderbolt ports are slowly and steadily becoming the norm. So if you child's new laptop doesn't have the ports needed to plug in, say, a USB 3.0 cable, then this Satechi hub offers 7 different ones, and includes an SD card reader, a 4K HDMI port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. All these ports come at a price though and it's definitely not the cheapest option, but it is one of the best. The ports are spaced out nicely, so plugging something in won't require juggling cables and wires.
It might be a tad bulky but there's no better portable charger than the Anker PowerCore 20100. The large capacity means your kids' handheld devices won't run out of juice, particularly during crunch time. If your kids' phones and tablets support high-speed PowerIQ or Voltage Boost, there's quick charging available as well. The fast charging is not quite as efficient as Qualcomm's QuickCharge technology, but the Anker PowerCore 20100 is still one of the best you can get. It's also great value for money as it costs well under the AU$100 mark in Australia.
If your child has an artistic streak and is interested in taking a photography class, the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III is one of the best compact shooters on the market. It's great if your child is interested in becoming a YouTube star, with 4K video quality really good. The little camera has a mic port for sound, and live streaming capabilities to YouTube available on board. There's also a built-in ND filter to manage bright lights, and the flip-up LCD display is a vlogger's dream. If it's stills your child is keen on, this camera will grow with them, with the manual mode allowing kids to hone their skills. There's no viewfinder here but for under AU$1,000 it's a great buy.