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Best gear for summer classes

Whether you're spending the sunny season learning remotely or in person, these gadgets can make your summer studies feel a little more chill.

Mary King Associate Editor
Mary is an associate editor covering technology, culture and everything in between. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she served as an editor at The Daily Tar Heel and reported for newspapers across the state. You can usually find her decked out in UNC merch and streaming lo-fi hip-hop while she writes.
Mary King
4 min read

For many of us who are enrolled in college during COVID-19, summer 2021 is shaping up to be an odd in-between period with a halfway-there sort of vibe: Things are looking up, but they're not quite back to normal. Even as the world reopens and our schools prepare to follow suit, the pandemic's effects still shape our day-to-day lives.

As a result, if you ask any of your peers what they're up to this season, you'll hear widely varying answers -- especially for those of us who are jumping into summer classes. Some are pressing on with the virtual-school grind. Others are leaving the Zoom screens behind and feeling the heat as we commute to in-person classes.

Read more: Best laptop for college 2021

But regardless of whether we're spending the sunny season in Google Classroom or an actual classroom, these gadgets can help us make the most of the last stage of life that allows us a proper summer break. (Shoutout to my fellow rising seniors. I'm still in denial.)

Screenshot of Notion interface, which shows a table that organizes class notes.

I've struggled my entire college career to find an effective strategy for keeping track of my assignments. But after discovering this app on TikTok last semester, I've hopped aboard the Notion train -- and I'm never disembarking. This remarkably user-friendly planning app lets you organize tasks, due dates, calendars and virtually anything else you can imagine -- school-related or not. Best of all, it's free -- and a student email address secures you a Personal Pro plan, which lets you add unlimited users and file uploads.

Apple's 2020 M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Air
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Remote and IRL students alike need a laptop that can get the job done, from writing papers to submitting assignments to procrastinating on Netflix. With education pricing, Apple knocks $100 off its typically $999 13-inch MacBook Air. On top of that, Apple throws in a pair of AirPods -- which I've found useful for listening to lectures and watching course videos anytime, anywhere. 

Check out our review of the 13-inch MacBook Air. And for a much cheaper alternative, here's our review of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, which also functions as a tablet.

Lori Grunin/CNET

We've seen a horrendous lack of quality from built-in webcams on laptops these days -- and MacBooks are among the worst offenders. Whether you're on camera for classes, internships or job interviews, it's worth investing in a webcam that won't make you look like a pixelated blob. This is the most affordable option from our list of the year's best webcams. (But if you're a MacBook user and you'd rather stick with your built-in hardware, here are some tips for making that notorious 720p webcam look a little less awful on Zoom.)

Tile via Amazon

There is perhaps no easier way to derail your summer plans than by misplacing your keys, wallet, bag or devices. You can avoid this situation by crossing your fingers -- or by investing in a Tile. Tiles are small, location-enabled gadgets that you can affix to your belongings. If you lose something, you can just pull out your Apple, Android or Windows device to determine the item's whereabouts. The Tile Slim in particular is perfectly sized for a wallet.

Alternatively, check out the newly announced Apple AirTags.

Nekteck via Amazon

When your summer entails hunching over a computer, you certainly don't need neck or back pain on top of the sweltering heat. This Nekteck massager is designed to relieve tension and crank out those achy knots. It even comes with a car adapter, making traffic jams much more enjoyable. I can confirm that a massager like this is well worth the investment. I kid you not, I'm using mine as I write this -- and as a result, I am one mellow, tension-free intern at the moment.

To save $3, be sure to select the digital coupon box listed below the price. 

Lume Cube

Look, if you have to be viewed over Zoom day after day -- and, since remote work is likely to stick around post-pandemic, you probably will -- you might as well be the best-lit person on the conference call. Sturdy and adjustable, the Lume Cube is the preferred webcam light of CNET's Justin Jaffe.

To save $20, be sure to select the digital coupon box listed below the price. 

For a cheaper option, check out the similar Firbon ring light at $16.

SOULWIT via Amazon

Anyone who's spent the past year of school online can tell you that their workspace frequently devolves into a spaghetti-fied tangle of charging cords. The solution lies in this cord organizer, which cuts through the mess and lays out your cords neatly side by side. And it's not just another item to clutter up your nightstand or desk: This small bar attaches to all kinds of surfaces, from wood to glass to metal. 


When you're not hitting the books, you can catch up on all that human contact you've been missing over the past year. You can document your reunion with the real world using this affordable new Polaroid camera, which instantly prints itty-bitty snapshots of your hangouts, trips and everyday moments. For $120 and free shipping, you can purchase the starter set, which includes color film. CNET's Joshua Goldman said it best in his April review: The Polaroid Go is "an adorably small instant camera ready for summer."