Back-to-School Gift Guide 2021

While summer is still in full swing, it’s time to start preparing for kids heading back to school. Whether it’s elementary, high school, or college/university, we have prepared a gift guide of some great options to get for the student in your life.

Logitech MK850 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

For students who might be using a tablet exclusively for schoolwork, or could simply use a larger, more feature-rich keyboard for assignments, this wireless keyboard and mouse combo is a good option. Selling for about $100, the keyboard uses a pair of AAA batteries that will last for up to 36 months and the mouse uses a single AA battery that will keep it going for up to two years. Pair the mouse with up to three devices at once. The keyboard has adjustable tilt legs for setting it to the exact angle where it’s comfortable for you to type. There’s a cushioned palm rest and contoured design with the mouse.

Epson EcoTank printer

For several years running, the Epson EcoTank line of printers make it onto my back-to-school and other relevant gift guides, and it’s for good reason. They are reliable, beautifully designed, and can help you save money in the long run since each set of ink lasts for about two years with regular use. There are several models in the line, but the entry-level ET-2720 will suffice for a student. Selling for about $300, it comes with a set of ink bottles to get you started. As with any EcoTank printer, the ink is poured into dedicated reservoirs and need only be replaced once depleted or running low. So there’s no more rushing out to the store to grab a cartridge because they’re out of ink at midnight just when they finished a report they need to hand in the next morning. Students can print, make copies, and scan documents using the device, and connect it for wireless printing remotely from a smartphone or tablet.

Urbanista Seoul true wireless headphones

Urbanista Seoul True Wireless Earphones

Every student could use a good pair of true wireless earbuds to use during downtime between classes. The Urbanista Seoul true wireless earphones are designed for wear while mobile gaming, offering low latency and premium audio quality. Compatible with all Bluetooth mobile devices, they come in Urbanista’s signature Scandinavian design in four colours: midnight black, electric blue, vivid puple, and pearl white. The low latency audio means you can play mobile games or watch movies with minimal delay, at 70ms. They run for up to eight hours per charge with a USB-C wireless charging case that provides three extra charges on the go for a total of 32 hours. It can charge wirelessly using a certified Qi pad. The in-ear design has a universal fit with customizable Silicon GoFit tips in three sizes. Switch between gaming and music modes via the tap of an earbud to get the best possible audio experience. They have touch control, a noise-cancelling microphone, and three microphones on each side. They offer IPX4 water-resistance and Bluetooth 5.2, and compatibility with Siri and Google Assistant. Urbanista products are distributed in Canada by Erikson Consumer, and the Seoul headphones will be available in August/September for a MAP of $125.

Apple Gift Cards

Apple Gift Card

Every kid can appreciate an Apple gift card, as these new cards allow them to purchase anything Apple, from apps to merchandise, content, and other services. Replacing the Apple Store and App Store & iTunes Gift Cards, they come in a variety of denominations, and can be sent via mail, gift-wrapped, or delivered digitally via e-mail. There are five Apple logo illustrations available along with a collectible sticker. With a $25 Apple Gift Card, students could sign up for three months of Apple Arcade for gaming for play during downtime, or three months of Apple TV+ for watching TV shows and movies or grab some great digital books that might be able to help with homework. A $50 gift card would afford five months of Apple Music access, four months of Apple Fitness+, two months of Apple News+, or a variety of health and wellness apps from the App Store. Larger denomination gift cards might be more attractive for putting towards buying products. With $100, for example, a student can upgrade their iPhone, put the money towards a new pair of AirPods, Apple Watch, iPad, or Apple TV; or grab accessories to use with Apple devices you already own, like an Apple Pencil, a new Apple Watch band, and more. A $100 gift card could also be used to sign up to seven months of iCloud storage with shared 2TB of storage space.

Fitbit Luxe gorjana

Fitbit Luxe Activity Tracker

For stylish, older kids, the Fitbit Luxe offers a great alternative to the more bulky smartwatch. Looking like a piece of jewelry on the wrist, particularly with one of the more fashionable bands, it’s ideal for smaller wrists. You still get all of the important tracking, from sports and exercise to daily steps, calorie burns, 24/7 heart rate, and notifications. But it’s in a smaller design that won’t be as attractive nor obvious on the wrist. Check out my review of the Fitbit Luxe.

A passenger in an Uber vehicle.

Uber Pass

For college or university kids who will be living on their own for the first time, an Uber Pass will provide them with benefits on food delivery and rides to ensure they are properly nourished and get back home and to destinations safely. It’s $9.99/mo. and includes no delivery fees on eligible restaurant orders over $15, no delivery fees on grocery orders over $40, 5% off eligible restaurant orders over $15, and exclusive monthly benefits on rides, such as discounted rates. You can agree to sign them up for the duration of the school year, which is about 10 months, costing a total of $100.

Satechi stand and hub for iPad Pro

Satechi Aluminum Stand & Hub

Designed for the newest iPad Pro tablet, it’s the perfect accessory for the multitasking student. It has six ports and a foldable design so they can take it from dorm to home. The stand elevates the iPad Pro off a desk, making it ideal to use as a second screen, drawing canvas, or for video calling friends and family, keeping it at the optimal viewing angle. Designed to complement Apple devices with the sleek aluminum design, the Stand features a 4K HDMI (60Hz) port, USB-C PD charging, USB-A data port, SD card readers, and an audio jack port so you can connect a variety of peripherals. Because it is foldable, you can also easily carry it from the office to home and pop it into your bag, backpack, or briefcase for travels. US$100.

Urbanista Los Angeles headphones

Urbanista Los Angeles Headphones

For kids who prefer over-ear headphones, these offer an interesting twist: they are self-charging headphones, thanks to the inclusión of solar power technology which allows them to gain a charge from light, both indoors and out. Available in Sand Gold and Midnight Black, the Los Angeles headphones are wireless and boast active noise cancellation. They work with a companion Android or iOS app that provides tips on how to maximize the playtime, including visual indications of the solar charge levels and usage. The headphones can keep 80 hours of battery reserve to keep you going all day, and potentially all week. There’s also USB Type-C charging when you’re in a pinch. The app, which will eventually be available for other Urbanista headphones in the line-up, can also be used to customize the headphone controls. The headphones also feature ambient sound mode and Siri and Google Assistant compatibility. The Urbanista Los Angeles are available for pre-order and will sell in the U.S. for an MSRP of $199; Canadian pricing has not yet been confirmed. Urbanista products are distributed in Canada by Erikson Consumer.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 Lite

Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 Lite Tablet

A great tablet for the family, and for young kids, the A7 Lite boasts a long-lasting battery and fast charging. It has dual speakers with Dolby Atmos, and pairs seamlessly with a variety of Galaxy devices, from smartphones to earbuds. Equipped with an 8.7-inch display, the minimized bezel delivers a good screen-to-body ratio without resulting in a larger tablet. It measures just 8mm thin and weighs just 366 grams, making it ultra-compact as well. Using the tablet, you can do things like navigate with one hand via the gesture-based menus, snap photos using the 8MP back camera and 2MP back, and store plenty of content in the 32GB of built-in storage, which is expandable with an up to 1TB microSD card. The Tab A7 Lite can run for hours using the 5,100mAh battery, and comes with a free two-month subscription to YouTube Premium so you can watch YouTube content and enjoy ad-free music and videos. It comes in Mystic Silver (Samsung Exclusive) or Dark Grey and is now available in Canada for $210.

Google Pixel A-Buds

Google Pixel Buds A-Series True Wireless Earbuds

The new Google Pixel Buds A-Series offer access to Google Assistant, and real-time translation in a low-profile design. Selling for $139, the earbuds feature custom-designed 12 mm dynamic speaker drivers along with Bass Boost. A spatial vent helps reduce ear pressure, making them comfortable to wear for long periods of time without the plugged ear feeling. Each earbud connects to the main device playing audio, and has strong individual transmission power, says Google. Adaptive Sound increases or decreases the volume based on your surroundings, so you can adjust based on your setting, whether you’re listening at home or while jogging past a loud construction site. Beamforming mics, meanwhile, focus on your voice and reduce outside noise during phone calls. Once the call is over, say “Hey Google, Play my music” to resume the playlist. Offering up to five hours of listening time on a single charge or up to 24 hours using the charging case, if you don’t notice until right before class that they’re dead, you can get a quick charge in about 15 minutes for up to three hours of listening time. Because they are sweat and water-resistant, you can confidently wear them during a workout or on a rainy night. With a compatible phone with Android 6.0 or above, you can get real-time translation in up to 40 languages as well as ask Google Assistant to do everything from tell you the weather to checking your calendar, calling someone, reading notifications, queuing up your music, and more.

Fitbit Ace 3

Fitbit Ace 3 Kids Activity Tracker

For younger kids aged 6-12 or so, this is a great activity tracker they can use to motivate them to be active and enjoy some autonomy as they can see the time, set timers for races during recess, and enjoy friendly competitions with friends and family. Parents will love that it tracks sleep as well, so you can see not only how much sleep your child got, as well as the quality of the sleep and how restless they were at night, but also when they fall asleep and wake up. When presented as a fun tool, activity trackers for kids can be a great investment that kids will love, particularly when they head back to school.

MyCharge Home & Go charger

MyCharge Home & Go Wall Charger + Portable Charger

Despite the fact that many smartphones today boast much better battery life then they did a few years ago, the reality of battery drain still exists. With streaming audio and video, gaming, constantly social media access, and other activities, even the best phone won’t last a student from morning to night without a quick battery boost. This is especially so as their phone ages and battery efficiency is impacted over time. I never go anywhere I know I’ll be for an extended period of time without a portable phone charger. This charger has fold out wall prongs so you can easily plug it into a wall outlet to charge it. It doesn’t have built-in cables, which is a bummer. But it does have two USB ports so you can use your own cables and plug in up to two devices at once. With an 8,000mAh battery, it can provide at least a couple extra charges of a smartphone.

House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC

House of Marley Positive Vibration XL ANC Headphones

Eco-conscious kids, in particular, will appreciate this over-ear wireless headphones as they are designed using environmentally conscious materials, including FSC-certified wood and recyclable aluminum earcups, along with REWIND fabric weaved from recycled materials to create a durable headband lining. Even the included AUX and USB-C charging cables are composed of 99% post-consumer PE. They have 40mm high-definition drivers and feature hybrid active noise cancellation through dual sets of integrated microphones so students can tune out the world when they’re trying to study for a test or exam. The monitor mode feature is available to let the outside world in and pause listening with the tap of a button to engage with your surroundings when needed or desired. With three times the battery life of its predecessor, Positive Vibration XL ANC provides 26 hours of battery life with ANC on and 35 hours with ANC off, with advanced quick-charge technology. The headphones feature an onboard microphone for hands-free calling, voice assistant support, and remote functionality, allowing you to control volume and playback when your device is out of reach. They are foldable and come with a sustainable stash bag. MAP US$150

Twelve South Forte

Twelve South Forte MagSafe Charger

For the student with the latest iPhone, this stand magnetically suspends the smartphone in vertical or horizontal orientation for hands-free use while you can easily remove it when needed. Designed for the iPhone 12, the wireless charging stand lets you snap the MagSafe Charger into the device to then prop the phone up and continue to use it while it recharges. The swiveling MagSafe Charger platform of Forté can be tilted to the ideal viewing angle. As a bonus, it can also be used as a charging pedestal for the Apple AirPods. Available exclusively with Apple retail stores, Forté docks the phone wirelessly by locking the MagSafe charger into place.

Sennheiser MKE 400

Sennheiser MKE 400 Directional Compact Shotgun Microphone

Designed for kids who like to vlog in their spare time, it can be used with DSLR/M cameras and mobile devices, helping to eliminate background noise. This new microphone replaces the previous-generation version of the same name. Like its predecessor, it features a headphone monitoring output with volume control, has a rugged internal shock-mount, internal windscreen, and automatic on/off function. It also comes with a variety of accessories. For outdoor use, a furry windshield is included: place it over the integrated windscreen for maximum wind protection while recording. The microphone’s low-cut filter also does its part in removing problematic low frequencies like the hum from air-conditioning systems or the rumble from wind. The three-step sensitivity switch adjusts the audio level to the mic input of the camera, helping you address all the differences in dynamics that you encounter on a shoot.

You can plug any headphone with a 3.5 mm (1/8”) jack directly into the MKE 400 and conveniently check levels and audio performance while rolling. The MKE 400 includes 3.5 mm TRS and TRRS locking cables to be used with DSLR/M cameras or mobile devices so you can easily switch from one device to another. The mic’s cold-shoe mount with ¼-20 thread allows for universal mounting atop of cameras, gimbals, or even at the end of a boom pole. The cables are coiled and locking so they stay out of your way and stay securely connected while shooting. The mic is powered by a pair of AA batteries that offer up to 100 hours of continuous audio capture. A low battery indicator warns you three hours before the batteries run flat, which is more than enough time to finish the shot you’re working on. When connected to DSLR/M cameras, the MKE 400 automatically powers on/off with the camera. So, your mic is ready the instant your camera is, and helps you save energy when you’re not rolling. Power detection also works with many smartphone models: if you remove the MKE 400, it will automatically turn off. A manual power button is provided too, featuring an off-delay to avoid any accidental operation. Grab it on its own for $259.95 or in a Mobile Kit that includes a Sennheiser Smartphone Clamp and Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod for $299.95.

Moft invisible laptop stand

MOFT Laptop Stand

MOFT uses lightweight but strong fiberglass and vegan leather that folds out for use and flat for easy carry. Elevating laptops, students can stay comfortable both in class or at home. It’s durable, scratch resistant, and waterproof, and comes in a variety of colours.

Apple AirTag

Apple AirTag

To ensure kids don’t lose any of these expensive gadgets that they are being gifted, an Apple AirTag is the perfect accessory for an iPhone owner, allowing them to locate lost items using the Apple Find My app. Attach the AirTag to a valuable item like a backpack, keychain, camera strap, or gym bag and it can tap into the Find My network to locate the item if you have lost or misplaced it. Location data is kept private and anonymous, with end-to-end encryption. They are water- and dust-resistant with a built-in speaker to play a sound in case they just can’t find their car keys while rushing out to class or a group work session or ask Siri to find the tag.

If the item is out of Bluetooth range, like a wallet you forget at the local patio or backpack you forgot by the tree on campus or out in the schoolyard, you’ll be able to pinpoint the last known location on a map using the Find My network of users (in countries where the service is available). Put the AirTag in Lost Mode and you will get a notification once the item is in range or whenever it has been located. If another iPhone user finds your item, they can tap it using their smartphone or any other NFC-enabled device and be taken to a website that advises them of your contact phone number, if you have provided one. The removable cover makes it easy to pop in a new battery when needed. Set up is similar to AirPods: just hold the AirTag close to your iPhone and it will automatically connect. Once connected, you can assign different AirTags to different items, like Car Keys or Kids Backpack, or make a custom name. AirTags are $39 each or get them in four-packs for $129. Make sure to grab an accessory loop with it as well, if it will be attached to a bag strap versus inserted into a wallet or jacket pocket.

Roku Express 4K

Roku Express 4K Streaming Stick

The Roku Express 4K (MSRP $50) boasts a more powerful quad core processor than its predecessor along with dual-band wireless performance and additional storage for quicker channel start times. The Roku OS features a massive selection of free and live TV that students will appreciate for downtime entertainment, along with a customizable home screen and regular free software updates with new features. Watch compatible content in HD, 4K, HDR, HDR10, and HDR10+ and enjoy both dual-band Wi-Fi and microUSB Ethernet compatibility for wired internet connectivity where needed. It comes with everything needed to get going out of the box, including a premium high-speed HDMI cable. Control Roku Express 4K by using voice with Alexa or Google Assistant enabled devices. With AirPlay 2, you can also stream, control and share content directly from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Roku Express 4K also supports Apple HomeKit for easily and securely controlling Roku devices using Siri or the Home app on Apple devices. In addition to select 4K Roku devices, Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit will now also be available on HD Roku streaming devices, such as the Roku Express, and select HD Roku TV models. With AirPlay 2, you can stream, control and share favourite content directly from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to compatible Roku devices, bringing the experience to the big screen. Compatible Roku devices also support HomeKit, which allows you to easily and securely control Roku devices using Siri or the Home app on their Apple devices. There’s also a new feature for gamers called Automatic Game Console Configuration that will automatically detect select game consoles and configure supported features to optimize the TV’s performance for playing video games. When a supported game console is connected to an HDMI port on a Roku TV, the input tile on the user’s Roku home screen will automatically change to the game console icon for easy identification. Additionally, the Roku TV will detect the capabilities of the game console and automatically enables settings like Game Mode, which offers the lowest latency picture for a more responsive display and optimal gaming experience and enable advanced features to enhance usability and picture quality for game consoles connected via HDMI. Depending on the Roku TV model being used, settings that get automatically configured may include HDR gaming, Auto Low-Latency Mode, Variable Refresh Rate, High Frame Rate, and THX Certified Game Mode.

iRobot Root rt0 coding robot

iRobot Root rt0 Coding Robot

Perfect for grade school kids who have expressed an interest in STEM, iRobot’s Root rt0 coding robot, includes lessons, projects, and activities for hands-on problem-solving, so you can do everything from compose music to create games. It has three levels of coding and works with the Root Coding web or mobile app. Like its predecessor, the Root rt1, the Root rt0 is a two-wheeled, mobile platform that operates on a flat surface. The robot comes to life by drawing, making music, and exploring its surroundings through coding commands given by the user in the companion iRobot Coding App. The three levels of coding language range from simple graphical blocks for young children to full-text coding for more advanced users. The auto-level converter instantly translates code from one learning level to another, making iRobot Coding easily approachable for beginners, while growing with coders as they gain experience, enabling them to seamlessly “level up” to more advanced programming. A learning library is available on the iRobot Education website and the robot comes with hours of lessons, projects, and activities for both individual and group participation. There are games like “Guess the Picture” in which players are challenged to investigate pre-made programs, hypothesize what the code will create, and then be the first to guess the robot sketch in action. The Root rt0 is equipped with more than 20 sensors, giving it the ability to drive, draw, detect touch, light up, and play music. iRobot also introduced the Root Brick Top accessory, which lets users turn the Root robot into a variety of objects, from a mobile catapult or robotic arm, glowing rocket ship, or roaming music DJ. The Root Brick Top connects to the Root robot by integrated magnets and is compatible with a variety of common building blocks. It is sold separately for US$20. The iRobot Root® rt0 coding robot sell in Canada for $180. The iRobot Coding App is available  for the iOS app, and web-based apps on Chrome OS, Windows, and macOS; and a new Android version of the iRobot Coding platform is now available for download through the Google Play Store.

Scosche Fresche

Scosche FrescheAir Portable HEPA Air Purifier / Deodorizer

Great for keeping the air fresh in a dorm room full of unwashed laundry, sweaty gym clothes, and sheets that need to be changed, this little device is motion-activated and has two fans speeds. Plug it in and it will work away, purifying and deodorizing the air.

Nutribullet Magic Bullet

Magic Bullet

For the student about to head to a dorm or shared housing for college or university, one of these personal blenders would be a great gift. They can make quick and easy morning smoothies to take with them on the go along with homemade dips for midnight study snacks. And, for those students who are of age, indulge in some, er, spirited libations during the weekends. This set, which sells for US$40, includes several different sized cups with resealable lids for storing extra dip in the fridge, or using one as a to-go cup.

Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 gaming monitor lifestyle image

Samsung Odyssey Neo G9 Mini LED Curved Gaming Monitor

For the student who’s deep into gaming, perhaps even studying gaming and design as part of their post-secondary education, this monitor might be a good gift. Dubbed the “world’s first” mini LED curved gaming monitor with Quantum Matrix technology, which harnesses enhanced 12-bit gradation for greater control of the light source – contains Quantum Mini LEDs that make dark areas darker and bright areas brighter with 2,048 dimming zones, ensuring viewers enjoy the content as it is meant to be seen, says Samsung. Quantum HDR 2000 offers a peak brightness of 2,000 nits, with certification received from VDE, together with a static contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. The Odyssey Neo G9 features an ultra-wide 49-inch display with a 32:9 aspect ratio that offers Dual Quad High-Definition (DQHD; 5,120×1,440 resolution) with a rapid, 240Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time. The 1000R curvature of the monitor was certified by TÜV Rheinland, awarding it their Eye Comfort certificate. The Odyssey Neo G9 provides Adaptive Sync on DP1.4 and HDMI2.1 VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) through HDMI 2.1 with NVIDIA G-SYNC compatibility and AMD FreeSync Premium Pro, delivering dynamic and seamless action, scene-by-scene. The display seamlessly fits into any gaming setup or environment, with a glossy white exterior and rear infinity core lighting system, which includes 52 colours and five lighting effect options. The monitor also comes with the CoreSync feature, allowing users to personalize their setup with the multiple colour modes. It won’t launch until later this year, but a special student on your list might appreciate the IOU.