It's that time of the year again. No, not autumn (although look outside...): it's time to go back to school.
For those of us who have graduated and cast off our scholarly years, we've got nothing more than the same old 9-to-5 grind to look forward to. But for students, especially those heading off to university, a new year offers up new opportunities to learn, to grow, and to find what really drives you in life. And to get drunk.
Also, it's a pretty great opportunity to load up on some fresh gadgets, since you'll want all the tech you need to make the most of this great time in your life. Need some pointers on what to take with you to uni? Here's a look at some (mostly) affordable devices and accessories to help you get ready for school.
Beyerdynamic Byron in-ear headphones (£44)
Still rocking an old pair of ratty earbuds? They're tried and true, sure, but the start of a new school year is the ideal time to upgrade to a fresh set – you'll need them for walking to class and motivating you during those epic study sessions in the library.
Beyerdynamic's Byron in-ear headphones find the sweet spot between strong quality and a reasonable price, and they're our favourite sub-£50 earbuds right now. They produce excellent sound for the money, plus the three-button remote works well across iPhones and Android devices alike.
Lindy BNX-60 Bluetooth headphones (£80)
Earbuds might be great for when you're out and about, but you might also need something a bit fuller to block outside noise – like when everyone else in your student digs is partying while you complete that last-minute essay (which you've known about for months), or when your flatmate is doing something on the other side of the very thin walls.
Fortunately, you don't have to spend a bundle: Lindy's BNX-60 headphones are wireless and feature active noise cancelling, keeping out quite a bit of the outside world while you listen. They're not Bose-quality on either the playback or noise-cancelling fronts, but they're a far sight better than you'd expect for just £80.
Amazon Echo Dot (£50)
Even if you're living in a dorm or a shared flat with other students, you can still have a smart home without spending too much cash. Amazon's Echo Dot crams its Alexa voice assistant into a much smaller package than the standard Echo, saving you a load of cash in the process.
Simply talk to Alexa and she can take notes, queue up music, pull up useful facts, order an Uber, and control an array of other connected devices in your space – like lights and locks. The Echo Dot's speaker isn't great, but that's a fair trade-off given how cheap it is compared to the full-fledged Echo - and you can easily hook it up to an external speaker via its 3.5mm output or Bluetooth.
Google Chromecast (£30)
If you're sharing a TV with a flatmate this school year, then you might be looking for an easy way to fling all of your streaming content on to the larger screen. Google's Chromecast is not only easy to use, but also nimble: it's a little dongle that you plug into the HDMI port on your TV and then into a power outlet, and control with your phone.
And even better, it's super cheap at just £30 and is well supported by apps on both Android and iOS. It's perfectly pocketable, too, so you can switch it between screens or bring it to a friend's place with ease.
Nintendo Switch (£279)
On the other hand, if you won't have a TV handy for this school year or want access to some serious gaming without packing a large console system, then check out the Nintendo Switch. After the underwhelming Wii U, it's a welcome return to form for the legendary gaming giant.
The Switch works in both handheld and TV-connected console modes, giving you effectively the same experience all the while – and it already has the brilliant The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, plus the strong Splatoon 2, Arms, and plenty more to play. It's the priciest thing on this list, but increasingly worth it with each big new game debut. Shame it's still a bit hard to find right now, though.
Amazon Fire 7 (£50)
The Switch is a pricey buy, so if you're looking for a solid-sized screen to power games, apps, web browsing, and streaming media without spending a bundle, then consider Amazon's Fire 7. Past low-end Amazon tablets haven't been all that great, but for £50, this handheld is startlingly solid.
Look, it's not a top-end tablet: you'd do better with an iPad in almost every imaginable way, but for the price, the Amazon Fire 7 will more than do the trick for Netflix and mobile games, plus it packs in voice assistant Alexa for connected home control, opening up apps, and finding info on the web.
Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (£33)
Here's something a bit more functional for your studies: Microsoft's Bluetooth keyboard is ultra-portable, since it folds in half and can easily tuck into a small bag or maybe even a pocket. And since it's universal, you can use it in all kinds of scenarios.
Want to type out quick notes during a lecture? Just pair it with your smartphone or tablet and you can keep up with the pace of the talk – and it'll connect to your computer, of course, if you want to use it back in your halls or anywhere else. The price is right for this versatile, go-anywhere keyboard.
Evecase Convertible Briefcase/Backpack (£20)
If you'd rather haul your laptop to the classroom, or carry it around to the library or café, then you'll need a notebook bag that's comfortable, versatile, well protected, and at least moderately stylish. And this Evecase bag seems to do the trick on all counts.
It features water-resistant nylon on the outside, and open it up and it has enough room for most 17-inch laptops (or smaller), as well as extra pockets for accessories, pens, and more. It can also convert forms between a messenger bag and a proper backpack, giving you style options to boot.
Belkin Portable Notebook Cushdesk (£17)
Expecting epic study sessions that last late into the night? You might be inclined to sit in bed or on a couch for those extensive periods of time, rather than your desk, but a warm laptop can make your legs feel rather hot and sweaty after a while.
Belkin has a solution: its Cushdesk lap cushions provide a barrier between the computer and your lap, while also keeping the notebook firmly in place on the surface. And it's reasonably thin in profile, meaning it won't feel like you're just popping a giant bed pillow beneath.
Ikea Varv table lamp base ($70)
In need of a desk lamp for your uni living space? You'll want something functional, of course – and Ikea's lamp does more than just shine a light on your studies. It also has a built-in wireless charging pad right on the base, letting you pop a compatible Qi-charging phone on for a top up. Just provide your own lampshade.
If you don't have a Samsung Galaxy S8 or another wireless-charging device, the Varv also has a USB port front and centre for wired charging. And it's also worth noting: Apple's new iPhone 8 is rumoured to have wireless charging, so you might be planning ahead with this lamp. (Or not. No promises!)
Jam Heavy Metal (£75)
Something with the name "Jam Heavy Metal" doesn't really sound like a premium product, but this portable Bluetooth speaker proved us wrong: it's our pick for the best such device you can find under £100, and it even looks nice, with a very minimal, understated aesthetic.
Strong sound for the price makes this an ideal pickup on the cheap, and you can use it to fuel your next uni party – wherever it is, really. It's not water resistant and can't charge your phone during use, so it lacks perks. But if you want something affordable with a nice kick, it'll do.
Anker Power Bank Astro E1 battery (£13)
Lastly, it's always important to carry protection… in case your phone's battery runs out, of course. And even if your phone has a bulging battery cell inside, it's easy to burn through a charge with a full day of texting, shooting videos, and playing mind-numbing mobile games.
Grab a cheap battery pack, then. Anker's Astro E1 holds a 5200mAh charge, which is enough to refill most empty phone batteries at least one full time, and the company has much larger packs that can hold several charges. They're not that much more money, but they're larger too; this one is perfectly pocket-sized. Just make sure to carry a charging cable, too.