I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
For students who are looking forward to Borderlands 3 more than hitting the books imminently, you can send them off with some great
gear to cushion the blow. (Only to use in their spare time, of course!)
At a loss as to what will thrill them? Here are some suggestions to get you started, no matter how little -- or how much -- you want to spend.
For snatching moments between classes or on lunch break, get a portable console: the Nintendo Switch. But if they're willing to take an IOU, you may want to wait until closer to the end of September to give them a Switch Lite, which will be lighter on your wallet at $200 and lighter in their backpacks, too. The catch is they won't be able to connect to a bigger screen to play or swap out the controllers. If you do go for the original, make sure it's the new model with extended battery life.
While the app library for Oculus' new headset is small, it's the best wireless option available, perfect for remaining untangled in a small dorm room or bedroom. But it provides an immersive VR experience with great controls and full positional tracking -- requiring no phone, PC or game console -- and costs about $400, which isn't bad.
If you're paying the bills for higher education, the thought of another big outlay probably makes you shudder. The 15-inch Dell G5 is one of the best budget gaming laptops we've tested, and it starts at only about $750. Not a cheap gift, but a great value.
If your favorite student needs something bigger and more powerful -- whether for streaming games or for studying tech-intensive subjects like programming -- the 17-inch Lenovo Legion Y740 comes with some high-end components without breaking the bank. Relatively speaking.
Mobile Edge makes gaming backpacks for Alienware and Razer, but the $104 Core bag is all its own. It can hold up to 17.3-inch laptops (though superthick ones are snug), has extra padding on the straps and back keep things as comfortable as possible, and there are places for all your gaming accessories and external cables for phone or tablet charging as well as room for the day-to-day schlep-arounds. It comes in two styles: one with a molded front and another with a Velcro panel to display team badges or other patches.
Smaller accessories are welcome in a cramped dorm room or on an undersize desk; 10-keyless (TKL) keyboards that ditch the number pad are a perfect solution. The waterproof K561 uses Outemu Blue switches that are tactile, clicky and loud -- hopefully the new roommate won't care about that.
Sure, you could park your students in uncomfortable dorm furniture, but if you feel like pampering them for long days in the seat, the Titan is the most comfortable gaming chair we've parked our posteriors in -- and it can handle a linebacker-size kid, up to 6-foot-7 inches and 290 pounds.
Yes, both the PS4 and Xbox are senior citizens in game console terms. But that also means they're mature platforms with giant game libraries. The PS4 Slim delivers the base PlayStation experience in a compact wedge-shaped console that can connect to any HDTV. Get this over the Xbox for exclusives like Spider-Man, God of War, the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Bloodborne and Horizon Zero Dawn. (You could also opt for the 4K-capable PS4 Pro, but it's arguably overkill for the dorm -- especially for TVs under 55 inches.)
There are currently three versions of the Xbox One right now, but the One S is the best one to get if you're campus-bound. Xbox's current lineup of exclusives is generally not as impressive as the PS4's, but the key for this console (if you have a broadband connection) is to sign up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It's effectively a "Netflix for games" that gives you a steady stream of new and classic titles to play at any given time.
We'd recommend skipping the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, which is identical except that it doesn't have a Blu-ray drive. It's not much cheaper, and the ability to play used or borrowed disc-based games (and movies) still comes in handy. The Xbox One X is the most muscular console currently on the market, but -- again -- its 4K gaming features are probably overkill for basic campus gaming.
When you're in that demon-killing mood, you should be able to frag with the best of them. Help your favorite undergrad overcome the frustration of using mainstream game controllers. Microsoft's $100 Xbox Adaptive Controller maps all the typical controller functions to a design that requires less coordination to operate. While it works with an Xbox console, it also works with PC games.