Gift Guide

MobileSyrup back-to-school Gear Guide [2020 Edition]

A tricky back-to-school season is right around the corner, so we’ve put together a list of some of our favourite tech to help people stay organized no matter if they’re working from home or from a school.

We have a couple of laptop recommendations on our list, but if you’re looking for a back-to-school computer, there are a few general things to take into account. We’ve got a great guide to teach you what to look for when computer shopping, but the most important thing is to figure out is what you need. All of that is covered in the guide, so make sure to check it out.

On the smartphone side of things, this year, we decided to recommend our favourite mid-range devices because not only are they fantastic phones, but the savings compared to flagships are nothing to scoff at either.

Beyond tech, there are a few other surprises tucked away in the gear guide, so make sure to check it out below.

  • 4K monitor

    If you know you’re going to be working from a desk a lot, it might be worth getting a monitor set up so you have more space to spread out your digital windows. MobileSyrup staff writer Brad Bennett has a few of these 27-inch LG UL550-W monitors and says they’re definitely worth getting. Not only are they huge, but they also offer 4K display resolutions and the colour accuracy is pretty fantastic for anyone thinking about taking courses related to design or art.
    It might be a little pricey, but in terms of 4K displays and colour accuracy, it’s difficult to find a better deal.

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  • Dell XPS 15

    The XPS line has consistently provided some of the best Windows 10 laptops around, and the new XPS 15 is no exception.
    If you want something a little larger and more powerful than a MacBook Air, the XPS 15 is a solid computer. The base model of the 15-inch comes with an i7 processor and a Nvidia GTX 1650 ti graphics card. This means that regardless of what you throw at this laptop, it should be able to handle it.

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  • Dorm room smart lights

    Lifx makes some pretty handy smart lights because it doesn’t rely on a hub to run. That means you can buy a single light for your dorm room lamp or some other light fixture and trust that they’re going to work out of the box. It may seem like a bit of an extravagance to some, but having the ability to dim your lights can really help you relax after a long day of classes when you want to chill and watch a movie.
    If you want to push it up a notch, you can opt for a colour changing light, but in our experience, the few times you end up changing the colours does not end up making the price worth it.

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  • External hard drive

    External hard drives are a must-have, especially for university and college students since lecture notes and recordings can take up a lot of space. Since a lot of post-secondary institutions are turning to online classes this year, external hard drives are even more of a necessity since you’ll likely be downloading a lot more documents and audio files.

    It’s also good to have an emergency backup drive since internal hard drives can crash. Having an external hard drive is great when you’re depending on your laptop for school and storing essential documents like major assignments or research projects. It’s also super lightweight, so you can take it on the go if necessary.

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  • Genki Switch dock

    The Nintendo Switch’s dock is absolutely massive. This makes it difficult to take with you on trips or between your parents’ place and dorm room. That’s where the Genki Covert Dock comes in.
    The Covert Dock looks just like a standard charging brick, but is capable of streaming the Switch, as well as any device with an HDMI display port AV output, to a monitor or television. The charger can even be used to charge other devices as well. Most importantly, the charger has been built with all of the same specs and protocols as the real Nintendo Switch charger, which means it's completely safe for the handheld.

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  • Google Pixel 4a

    Google’s latest smartphone might be the best value for a phone in Canada right now. The medium-sized handset has a stellar camera, great battery life and an impressive screen all for $479 CAD.
    For that price, you do miss out on getting a telephoto lens and wireless charging, but overall the 4a offers a great smartphone package.

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  • Lenovo Chromebook Duet

    If you know you don’t need a lot of computing power, and portability/versatility is at the top of your list, the new Lenovo Duet Chromebook is a pretty slick machine.
    It’s all packed into a 10.1-inch tablet that runs Chrome OS, which means it’s really good at morphing between being a Chromebook and being a Chrome tablet. There are a few other Chrome devices that do the same thing, but none are as good looking as the Duet, which might be the best portable Chromebook on the market. And to top it off, it only costs $400.

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  • Logiix cables

    Every year we mention the same thing on our gear guides. People never have enough cables, so stock up on some good ones that are going to last. Lately, we’ve been finding the braided options from the Canadian company Logiix sturdy. A lot of them even come with straps that allow you to roll them up neatly while you store them in your new packing cube.
    While you’re at it, the company makes pretty great power bricks of varying sizes too if you’re looking to get a smaller MacBook charger or a fast charger for your phone.

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  • Logitech 3-in-1 charger

    If you’re heading out to a post-secondary institution in September, you’re likely going to have at least some form of a desk in your bedroom. While there are tons of important things to have on your desk, a reliable wireless charger can really come in handy. This model from Logitech is capable of charging three devices at once as long as one of them is an Apple Watch. This means your phone, headphones, and smartwatch can all be charged simultaneously on this convenient little stand.

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  • MacBook Air

    Apple’s MacBook Air has always been one of the best computers for students, and this year’s model is no exception. It now starts at $1,300 in Canada and thankfully comes with Apple’s improved Magic Keyboard.
    If you already have a few Apple devices like AirPods or an iPhone, then a Mac might be the missing piece of your puzzle as you take on the upcoming school year.

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  • Moleskin Cahiers notebook

    As much as phones have replaced many things in our lives, it’s still handy to have scrap paper or notepad nearby whenever you’re studying or working on homework. The Cahier series from Moleskin is one of the best. These little books can withstand constantly being tossed in a bag or a back pocket while you walk to class.
    They even come in a pretty wide range of colours, so there should be a model that suits everyone.

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  • Nintendo Switch

    If you’re at school this fall, you’ll still need to find a little me-time and for a lot of people, there’s no better way to unwind than with video games. Since most dorm rooms are small and not every student has a TV, the Nintendo Switch is perfect. There’s even a smaller Switch Lite model for people that are more inclined to play portably.
    The range of games on the console is phenomenal. There are fun rhythm titles like the Canadian-developed Cadence of Hyrule or new age Nintendo classics like Luigi’s Mansion and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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  • Packing cubes

    If you haven’t gotten on the packing cube train yet, it’s time to climb aboard. These fabric cubes can make packing both small items like loose cables and larger items like clothes and shoes, a lot more organized. Imagine this as your adult pencil case that not only helps you stay organized, but also helps you retrieve things from your bag a lot faster.
    We’re recommending this set of three small cubes that we find great for keeping your bag organized, but once you fall in love with these, it’s hard not to go out and buy larger ones to streamline your luggage for any travel you might take this fall.

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  • UE Wonderboom 2

    It’s not a stretch to say that everyone loves music, so getting a reliable speaker to play your tunes is a worthwhile investment. The latest Winderboom from UE is one of the toughest speakers we’ve ever tested. It can withstand drops, showers and so much more, plus the sound it emits is quite surprising given its small footprint.
    If you want to step it up, the larger UE Boom 3 is a great choice, but there’s something to be said about the high value of the smaller Wonderboom 2.

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  • YNOT backpack

    Buying Canadian goods is always important, especially when the gear is also top tier. YNOT makes some of the toughest bags around, and there are quite a few models to choose from. While you are paying a premium for it, anyone that has one says that they last forever.
    Our pick is a waxed canvas AV pac, so it even has some mild water resistance to keep all of your tech dry in case it rains. If you want to step it up, you can grab the model with x pac material so it's even more weatherproof, but either way, you’re ending up with a fantastic bag.

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  • iPhone SE (2020)

    Apple’s iPhone SE (2020) is the company’s mid-range option, but in several ways it’s actually decidedly high-end. While it may only cost $599 in Canada, it features the same powerful processor as the iPhone 11. On top of that, you also get a decent camera, and several years of iOS software updates. Further, if you were disappointed Apple got rid of the classic ‘Home button’ on its newer phones, this device is also for you since it still includes the classic feature.

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