Priority no. 1 for students: Good music. And that means good speakers. So we're starting off with a selection of our favorite sub-$100 wireless speakers.
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First off is the UE Wonderboom: This softball-size Bluetooth speaker is waterproof, sounds great for its size, and travels from room to room (or on road trips) with ease. It retails for $100, but many of its myriad colors are available on Amazon for closer to $70.
Even smaller and lighter than the Wonderboom and the JBL is the Bose SoundLink Micro. You won't find any other speaker this small that sounds this good, especially for only $99. And it's waterproof, too.
The SoundCore Boost comes from the accessory mavens at Anker. It doesn't sound quite as great as the JBL, Bose or the UE, but it's also water-resistant -- not fully waterproof, though -- and it costs closer to $80.
If you don't need battery power and prefer a smart speaker, Amazon's second-generation Echo is a great first choice. Its ubiquitous Alexa voice assistant handles a boatload of queries and smart-home controls, and the audio quality is better than that of the entry-level Echo Dot. And with seven plastic or fabric finishes (oak is shown here), it can fit into any decor.
With music taken care of, let's move to video. Modern dorm life is all about video on demand, and the $70 Roku Streaming Stick Plus offers the best bang for the buck in this category. The plug-in design gives you full 4K and HDR compatibility, and a remote with both voice control and the ability to control your TV's volume and power. Oh, and it streams every major (and hundreds of minor) video service out there, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, Movies Anywhere and HBO Go.
Amazon's 4K Fire TV streaming dongle isn't quite as good as Roku's stick. But it costs the same $70 and it's fully compatible with Amazon's best-in-class Alexa voice assistant. If you're buying for a student who lives in a dorm full of Echo speakers, it's a great way to go.
Speaking of Amazon: The company makes the only tablet priced under $100 that we can enthusiastically recommend. The 2017 version of the $80 Fire HD 8 tablet is zippier than ever, and it offers expandable storage, too. The screen is "only" 8 inches, but stepping up to the 10-inch Fire HD 10 will almost double the price to $150.
A lot of students already have a new Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro, but do they have the ultimate USB-C Hub for said MacBook (or another USB-C based notebook that's got limited port options)? Kingston's sturdy Nucleum ($80) allows you to add external ports for HDMI, USB-A (2), micro- and standard SD memory cards, as well as an extra USB-C port.
If you're buying for a reader who prefers reading documents and e-books without the distractions of social media and other apps, a Kindle reader is the way to go. The entry-level $80 Kindle offers a better reading experience in the sun than a glossy-screen tablet or smartphone.
The Plantronics BackBeat 500 ($80) is an attractively designed, affordable on-ear wireless Bluetooth headphone that's comfortable -- for an on-ear model anyway -- and sounds good for the money. It also comes in a version called the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 500 that features additional sweat resistance and costs slightly more.
The step-up Kindle Paperwhite adds a gently lit screen for nighttime reading. The unit costs $120, but we're including it here because it's often discounted to $99. If you see it on sale, it's definitely worth the extra $20.
Originally $150, Apple seems to have knocked a full one-third off the price of the BeatsX wireless headphones. If you don't want to spend up for the AirPods, the BeatsX -- with Lightning charging and auto-iPhone pairing built-in -- are the next best thing for iPhone users.
Last year Plantronics put out its affordable wireless on-ear headphone, the BackBeat 500 Series, that sounded decent and fit comfortably -- for an on-ear model anyway. Now the company has brought the same value concept to an over-ear design with the BackBeat Go 600. It lists for $100 but sells for as low as $60 online, depending on the color (it comes in four colors).
The JBL Reflect Mini 2 doesn't have the absolute best sound quality for a $100 pair of wireless headphones, but they're so comfortable that it kind of makes up for it. And thanks to the reflective cord that glows at night when it catches the light, these are ideal for students who run or walk.
Moving from wireless to wired headphones: The Sony MDR-7506 model is a true classic. These first debuted in 1991, but they are also arguably still the best-sounding headphones you can get for under $100. Just note that these are so old-school that they lack an inline mic for phone calls.
The Fitbit Charge 2 and Alta HR are our favorite fitness trackers, but they'll cost you closer to $150. You can gift the more minimalist Flex 2 fitness tracker for closer to $60. Unlike those more expensive models, it's fully waterproof, too.
The Fitbit Versa and Apple Watch are both great, but they'll cost you $200 minimum. In the under-$100 category, you're best off going with the Amazfit Bip. It somehow crams all the must-have smartwatch features into an $80 package that delivers marathon battery life.
If you're shopping for someone who spends all day on a Mac or Windows PC, a top-notch mouse like the Logitech MX Master 2S is just the ticket. It's the sequel to the original MX Master, which we quite liked.
For students who want to relive their parents' school-age gaming, the Super Nintendo Classic is the way to go. It packs 21 awesome retro games into one tiny box that hooks up to any HDTV, and it even includes a second controller for two-player matches in Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II. This one is still terribly hard to find at its normal retail price of $80.
The Nintendo Switch is arguably the perfect gift for the college-bound student gamer, but it does cost $300. For half of that, Nintendo 2DS XL is a nice alternative. If that's still beyond your budget, though, the standard 2DS is just $80. The one snag: The standard 2DS can't play most SNES titles from Nintendo's library. It does, however, come bundled with either New Super Mario Bros. 2 or Mario Kart 7.
Not only does this fully waterproof speaker (IPX7) have improved battery life and better sound than the Clip 2, it's more durable, according to JBL, thanks to the integrated carabiner framing the entire perimeter of the speaker, acting as a bumper. It's one of the top speakers for its tiny size. It sells for $60.