This story is part of, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.
It's back-to-school time again and the students in your life are definitely going to needand to help them work -- and play. And to help, we've assembled some of our favorite gear for those who are on tighter budgets. These are the under $100 that we heartily recommend.
Trying to decide between a shoulder laptop bag and backpack? Hybrids like this Solo Duane Hybrid Briefcase Backpack have both options, with detachable backpack straps that stow in a pocket on the back when you want to ditch the shoulder strap and wear it like a backpack. The dedicated laptop compartment has room for up to a 15.6-inch laptop and there's plenty of room for all your other stuff. Available in multiple color options (price varies slightly by color), it's a great laptop bag with a budget-friendly price that's on our list of the best laptop backpacks for 2022.
The JBL Go 3's durable design, coupled with surprisingly decent sound for its tiny size, make it one of the top micro Bluetooth speakers out there.
Available in multiple color options, it has an IP67 water-resistance rating, meaning it can be dunked in water and is dust-proof. Battery life is rated at up to 5 hours.
You don't want your phone to go dead -- ever -- so it's always good to pack a battery pack.
MyCharge calls its new line of magnetic power banks Superhero MagLock, implying that they're real saviors. I was impressed by their design. Not only do the batteries, which come in various capacities, have strong magnets and stick really well to the back of your iPhone 12 or 13, but they have raised coils, which are supposed to help with reducing heat levels while charging. It does seem to work.
The 3,000-mAh battery is lightweight and slim and it's nice to have around for some emergency charging. However, it won't get you a full charge, so you'll probably want to step up to one of the higher-capacity options like the 6,000-mAh model, which retails for $60 but is currently being discounted to $35 on Amazon when you apply a coupon at checkout. The 9,000-mAh version is beefy and feels like your phone is attached to a small brick -- the battery and phone do fit in your hand nicely, but the combo certainly isn't pocket-friendly.
All the MagLock batteries charge Qi-enabled iPhones at 5 watts, although you can get faster charging if you go wired and use a USB-C to Lightning cable. I also liked how there's a chime when the charging starts and your phone tells you how much juice is left in the battery pack (it's tied into iOS 15). You can wirelessly charge Android devices as well but the MagLock won't stick unless you have a metal ring on the back of your phone's case (stick-on rings are available).
The SuperHero MagLock is available in a few colors and has a glossy finish. It's currently the best designed magnetic power bank -- better even than Apple's.
Anker's upgraded compact 735 65W charger can charge a MacBook Pro 13 at full speed. Not only is it quite small for how much power it can deliver (it has foldable prongs), but it also has three ports (2 USB-C and one USB-A) that allow you to charge multiple devices at the same time (though that 65 watts of power is split between the ports if you charge more than one device). It uses the next-generation GaN 3 technology.
Created by former NFL fullback Chris Gronkowski (brother of Rob), the Ice Shaker not only keeps your drinks cool -- or hot -- for hours -- but comes with a removable twist-in agitator to help mix your protein shakes (or anything else that needs mixing). Available in a few different sizes and many color options, they have a built-in handle for easy carrying and start at around $35. It's one of the better insulated bottles I've used and a great way to make sure your student stays hydrated.
The Hyperice Hypersphere Mini is a social-distance-friendly alternative to a massage at the end of a stressful school day. About the size of a softball (3-inch diameter), it charges with a Micro-USB cable (a full charge offers more than two 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.
Logitech's MX Keys is one of our favorite everyday Bluetooth keyboards and now it comes in two smaller versions that leave off the number pad and some other keys: MX Keys Mini and MX Keys Mini for Mac. Both cost $100, the same price as the standard MX Keys. Colors include rose, pale gray and graphite.
While you're getting less keyboard for the same amount of money, the MX Keys Mini does have three new keys, giving you shortcuts to dictation (available in select countries for Windows and MacOS users), emoji and the all-important ability to mute and unmute of your microphone for video-conference calls. Also, Logitech says that its minimalist design "aligns your shoulders and allows you to place your mouse closer to your keyboard for less hand reaching, resulting in better posture and improved ergonomics." From my tests, I agree with that assessment.
Note that the link below goes to the standard MX Keys Mini. The MX Keys Mini for Mac can be found here.
The Earfun Air Pro SV have a few things going for them. First and foremost, they sound shockingly good for a set of earbuds in this price range. They feature big, open sound with well-defined bass and good clarity. They're also lightweight and comfortable to wear, their noise canceling is effective and they have a fairly natural-sounding transparency mode that allows ambient sound in if you want to hear the outside world around you for safety reasons.
They're a very good value, particularly now that Earfun is offering them for $54 when you input the code SUMMER40 (40% off) at checkout on its site.
There's nothing like a little blending on the go to create those healthy smoothies and protein shakes. That's where the BlendJet 2 comes in. Available in multiple color options and equipped with a rechargeable battery, it's more powerful than you might expect and it can whip up smoothies without having to plug in anywhere. It charges via USB-C (you get about 15 blends per charge) and is fully waterproof.
The model shown here has a 16-ounce jar, but you can now buy an XL 32-ounce jar for $30 extra. I'm hoping someday that you'll be able to get the 32-ounce jar version as a standalone item but it's currently an add-on accessory.
Back in 2020, Tribit released the StormBox Micro, a budget version of Bose's excellent SoundLink Micro speaker that delivered surprisingly good sound for its size and modest price. Now we get the StormBox Micro 2, which offers improved sound and battery life, along with a charge-out feature that turns the speaker into a power bank for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. An integrated strap allows you to clip it to your backpack or your bike's handlebars.
Like the original, it's an excellent value and easy to recommend if you're looking for a super compact portable wireless speaker.
If you're looking for an affordable drill for your student so they can hang shelves and frames (and who knows what else, this compact Black & Decker model is our favorite budget drill and one that I happen to use for a lot of small home projects.
While you should only expect overall midlevel performance, it's got a keyless chuck for easy drill bit changes and can get into tighter spaces than a lot of drills. It includes one 1.5-aH battery and no carrying case.
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. This second-generation model came out in 2021 and often goes on sale for as little as $50.
Like its "S" predecessors, Logitech's new MX Master 3S mouse ($99, £120, AU$170) isn't a fully redesigned new model but an incremental upgrade. Ergonomically unchanged, it features quieter operation and an upgraded 8,000 DPI optical sensor that Logitech says tracks on most surfaces including glass and offers faster workflow with high-resolution monitors.
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'll be a much-welcomed upgrade for the student who wants a break from a stubborn trackpad.
Know a student who's always losing stuff on campus? In the locker room? Or just around the house? If they own an iPhone, gifting them a set of AirTags could be just the ticket. Once slipped into a backpack or a jacket, those items become trackable thanks to the AirTags using every nearby Apple device as a rangefinder. Grab a four-pack for just $99.
Logitech makes a lot of mice and they're all designed to be comfortable to use. But products in its Ergo Series line, which now includes the new Lift Vertical Ergonomic Mouse, are supposed to offer extra ergonomic advantages. In the case of the Lift, Logitech says its 57-degree vertical design "lifts your wrist into a more natural position" and "takes pressure off the wrist, while promoting a more natural forearm posture throughout the day."
One of the key differences between this model and the company's first vertical mouse, the MX Vertical (released in 2018 for $100), is that the Lift is more compact and designed for people with small- to medium-size hands. Also, instead of using a rechargeable battery, it's powered by a single AA battery that can last up to two years. Not using a rechargeable battery has allowed Logitech to make the Lift more affordable than its predecessor. It's available in three colors as well as a left-handed version (available in graphite only).
Air fryers weren't around when we were in school, but oh how we wish they were. We tested this compact cooker and it made super crispy chicken wings, french fries, dumplings and other college staples without any messy oil. The Magic Bullet is also smaller than most models and won't crowd your already crowded dorm room or college apartment.
Earbuds are great, but if you're buying for a student who prefers full-size wireless headphones, this model delivers solid sound for less than $60 -- and with passable noise cancellation and great battery life, too.
If you're looking to maximize your student's visibility while riding a bike or scooter, the Lumos Ultra is a great gift idea. It makes sure they're noticed with both front and back LEDs that you can customize via an app -- the helmet is Bluetooth-enabled.
The helmet includes a small remote that allows you to activate a turn signal (on the back display), letting those behind you know what your next move is. It comes in a variety of colors and also is available in a step-up MIPS version that offers added protection.
This helmet is only available at full price right now, which is a little over $100, but it often goes on sale for $20 off or more.
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 for just over $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.
Blue or red versions are available for $5 more.