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Going back to school in 2020 might involve home-based learning, a social-distanced on-campus experience or something in between. But however the students in your life return to the classroom, they're definitely going to need school supplies and gadget essentials to help them work -- and play. And to help, we've assembled some of our favorite gear, back to school essentials under $100.

Read more: Best back to school gear under $250  

David Carnoy/CNET

Anker's Soundcore Motion Plus is larger than many mini Bluetooth speakers, but it's still compact and manages to sound fuller than much of the competition under $100, with bigger bass, more volume and better clarity. It's also fully waterproof (IPX7 rated) and has support for the aptX streaming codec for supporting devices such as Samsung's Galaxy phones. Battery life is rated at 12 hours at moderate volume levels. There's even an app for tweaking the sound. It's an excellent value and fun addition to your school shopping at $100.

Blue or red versions are available for $6 more. 

Read our Anker Soundcore Motion Plus review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

The Hyperice Hypersphere Mini is a social-distance-friendly alternative to a massage at the end of a stressful school day to get you through the school year. About the size of a softball (3-inch diameter), it charges with a Micro-USB cable (a full charge offers more than 2 hours of battery life) and does a great job of rolling out your muscles, with three speeds to choose from. It also travels well and makes a great dorm room gift for a college student.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Soundcore listed above is our new pick for best sound quality in the sub-$100 price field. But that model is pretty beefy. By contrast, Bose's fully waterproof SoundLink Micro fits into the palm of a hand, and it delivers impressive sound for its small size. I haven't heard of anyone not liking this as a gift, and it can sometimes be found on sale for $20 off.

Read our Bose SoundLink Micro review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why buy AirPods or other name-brand truly wireless headphones, which can cost $160 and up? The Anker Soundcore Life P2 earbuds deliver solid sound quality for around $60 and are also decent for making calls.

Read our Anker Soundcore Life P2 review.

 

I've been a fan of Logitech's earlier MX Master and MX Master 2S mice, which shared the same design. For the MX Master 3, Logitech's engineers have made some upgrades to both the design and the mechanics of the mouse, most noticeably to the scroll wheel, which is driven by electromagnets and is buttery-smooth to operate. It's fast and quiet -- you can zip through thousands of lines in seconds when you switch from ratchet to free-spin mode. This stylish mouse costs just less than $100, and it's a neat upgrade for the student who wants a break from a stubborn trackpad.

Read our Logitech MX Master 3 first take.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

This wireless speaker is a colorful alternative to the Anker and Bose models above. It's pretty compact and offers better -- and bigger -- sound than some of its slimmer and smaller rivals. It really can float and has better battery life than the original Wonderboom, too.

Read our UE Wonderboom 2 first take.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

This keyboard is a great way for a student to step up from that cramped laptop (or iPad) keyboard with Logitech's MX Keys -- arguably the smartest low-profile Logitech keyboard I've used. It has "spherically dished" keys that cradle the tips of your fingers, and the keyboard is responsive and tactile. In that sense, it's similar to Logitech's Craft keyboard, which lists for twice the price. 

The keys light up as your hands approach and there's a sensor that adjusts the illumination according to the lighting conditions. You can also turn off the light if you want to save battery life. The dual layout is designed to suit both Mac and Windows users, and MX Keys is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android systems.

Using illumination, you can get 10 days of operation on a full charge or up to five months with backlighting turned off. When it's time to recharge, the battery indicator LED glows red and you can continue using the keyboard while charging via USB-C.

Read our Logitech MX Keys first take.

 

Tile

The perfect gift for an absent-minded student is now better than ever: For a limited time, CNET is partnering with Tile to offer bundles of the company's wireless trackers with a free Google Nest Mini thrown in at no extra charge. Save up to $40 over the usual bundle price when you purchase a four-pack. Students (or anyone else) can use their phone or smart speaker to locate missing gadgets, wallets or backpacks -- whatever they've attached these mini trackers to. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Earbuds are great, but if you're buying for a student who prefers full-size wireless headphones, this headphones model (yes, Anker again) delivers solid sound for just $60 -- and with passable noise cancellation and great battery life, too. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

We love Sonos Wi-Fi speakers but the cheapest models generally start at around $180. Unless, that is, you go for the Sonos-designed Symfonisk speaker that's sold through Ikea. This is the perfect alternative for delivering similarly great Sonos wireless sound at half the price of the Sonos One, perfect for a dorm room. You lose compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant, but for privacy-minded students, that's a feature, not a bug.

Read our Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf WiFi Speaker review.

 

Dale Smith/CNET

Yes, Amazon's Echo Show 8 is a fantastic smart display and a great gift for anyone with an Alexa household, but some of us prefer the Google Nest Hub. It's less likely to push Amazon products on the screen, for one thing. Plus, the voice assistant is a bit more intuitive and there's no camera, so it feels more comfortable in the bedroom. Whichever you choose, seek out a discount: These are often on sale for $80, or even less.

Read our Google Nest Hub review.