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Yousif Shami

Writer

What tech should you get? Here’s a run-down of the best gadgets on the market.

As the chaotic jungle that is university life is on the verge of recommencing, most of us will want to be equipped with the best headphones, smartwatches and laptops. But if you’re not sure what to get, we’ve got you covered with last year’s round-up of the top gadgets out there for students today. This list covers our top picks so far for every category.  

Laptops

Buying any laptop is a big decision: most of us use one for years before buying another, and there has never been so much choice, which is great of course but it also means drifting through dozens of machines in a sea of potential purchases before finding your perfect campus companion. Even for the tech-savvy, it’s not ideal. So, whether you're a STEM student needing a powerful, easy-to-upgrade machine, or just looking to show-off in the library, there's something here for every budget, student and subject.

Top pick:

Surprise, surprise, Apple's MacBook Pro (2019) takes the cake, and for good reason. Despite the slight price bump, needless touch bar and losing the ports we’d all grown to love, there's just no denying the combination of specs and style in this compact, backpack-friendly form. It can handle just about any task from essay writing and photo/video editing to coding and graphic design, coupled with its fantastic display, ergonomic design and light, sturdy body, the MacBook Pro has it all. Most will want to stick to the 13-inch model; with an Intel Core i5 processor with a base speed of 1.4GHz and a 3.9GHz Boost peak, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a beautiful 2,560 x 1,600-pixel screen. Those planning to use their Mac for more creative work, or an unparalleled Netflix experience, might consider the 15-inch variant with a larger screen, quicker processors, dedicated AMD graphics and slightly higher retina resolution; so, while it's larger and heavier, it’s also a more capable workhorse. Find out more here.

Pros: Tons of power; tons of pixels; unmatched design. 

Cons: Bloody expensive.

Best budget laptop:

Budget laptops used to be flimsy, slow machines that could barely handle downloading lecture slides, but that’s not the case these days and the Acer Aspire 3 is a prime example of that. It’s powered by Intel’s latest processors, an eighth-generation Core i3 chip that’s got two cores and solid speeds, and it’s paired with 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD. Not record-breaking specs, but the current-gen CPU and the SSD allow for complete responsiveness for web-browsing, checking emails and Office applications – everyday tasks this system is designed for. And as far as value for money is concerned, what more could you want: full HD screen, good ergonomics, crisp keyboard and trackpad, quality exterior and Core i5 and i7 upgrade options available. The speakers are a bit small and battery life isn’t the best, but it’ll get you through lectures with ease. While it’s a plain-looking machine, it’s still very good for casual gaming, TV streaming or movie watching. This is a solid option for very slim budgets. Find out more here.

Pros: Solid options; extremely low price; decent screen and keyboard. 

Cons: Underwhelming design; mediocre battery life.

Best two-in-one:

Hybrid machines tend to be thought of as expensive, lightweight luxury items – after all, they balance the best of laptop and tablet worlds – which makes it all the more surprising that the HP Pavilion x360 starts at just £449. Yet despite the price, the Pavilion looks smart. The metallic silver finish, a speaker grill above a decent keyboard and, as it says on the tin, it can be used in both laptop and tablet modes. The hinge is strong and smooth, allowing for conventional laptop use, flipped into tablet mode or in "tent" mode for Full HD media viewing. It’s pretty hefty for a hybrid, weighing 1.59kg and is 20mm thick, but it’s hardly a surprise given the price and impressive build quality. Most variants can handle several key tasks. It’ll easily run web browsers and Office applications without issues and handle media playback and casual games which, for the typical hybrid user, is more than enough. For extra grunt, pricier models are available with Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs, alongside more RAM and extra SSDs. It’s an excellent option if you’re after a machine that offers the best of both worlds. Find out more here.

Pros: Tablet and laptop modes; full HD screen; slick design. 

Cons: Entry-level specs; a little heavy.

Best gaming laptop:

Having been updated from the previous version, the MSI GE75 Raider 9SF ticks just about every box when it comes to gaming: a new Intel 9th generation processor, the updated Core i7-9750H alongside six mighty cores and a peak speed of 4.5GHz, 144Hz screen joined by a 240Hz variant... It’ll basically mow down any game and work all applications. The powerful RTX 2070 chip and 8GB of memory means it’ll play everything from esports titles to chess at triple-figure framerates, enabling output to widescreen panels, 1440p displays and VR headsets. Surprisingly, it doesn’t make much noise, and possesses punchy speakers, a luminous SteelSeries RGB LED keyboard, slim screen bezels, USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports and brushed metal with eye-catching red accents. At 2.64kg and 28mm thick, this machine is chunky and quite pricey but that’s to be expected with this level of power and is, nonetheless, a superb gaming all-rounder. Find out more here.

Pros: Fantastic performance; flashy keyboard; surprisingly quiet. 

Cons: Weighty; mediocre battery life.

Headphones

Bose used to set the standard for headphones until Sony stole its crown and set the benchmark over the last few years and when it comes to wireless and noise-cancelling headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM3s are the cream of the crop. Building on the previous version, the sound is now incredibly immersive and detailed, creating a deeper listen with perfectly judged bass, and they do a better job at drowning out the outside world. Sony has switched to USB-C to enable fast charging, and battery life stands at a fantastic 30 hours, with 10 minutes of charge now adding five hours of use, compared to just an hour on the outgoing model. Bluetooth pairing is swift, and the built-in Amazon Alexa voice assistant only serves to sweeten an already painfully sweet deal making these worth every penny. Find out more here.

Pros: Incredible sound and noise-cancelling; fast charging; long battery life.

Cons: Slightly large for some.

Fitness trackers

If you don't have a fitness tracker, the Fitbit Alta HR is a great place to start. Designed to look more like jewellery than a tracker, it’s available in six different colourways and, unlike a smartwatch, the battery lasts a whole week on a single charge. Behind the stylish exterior, it tracks steps, calories burned, heart rate, personalised hourly mini goals and even how long you’re in different stages of sleep (ie light, deep and REM). Plus, automatic activity tracking and smartphone notifications means you’ll know exactly how many pounds you’ve lost taking the stairs to the tenth floor of the library. The only downside is it's not waterproof, which they’ve rectified in the newer, lighter, but more expensive Fitbit Inspire HR. Find out more here.

Pros: Stylish; great battery life; flexible and comfortable. 

Cons: Not waterproof.

Smartphones

With so much competition in the smartphone sphere, the Huawei P30 Pro is easily the best overall smartphone today. The main highlight is the superb set of cameras it houses, with 8MP 5 x optical zoom lens offering 10x and even 50x zoom (though we wouldn't recommend going beyond 10x) and 16MP 16mm equivalent ultra-wide-angle camera with autofocus used for macro shots. The main 40MP "SuperSpectrum" camera takes incredibly detailed, clear images in just about any light conditions and they’ve even thrown in a ToF depth sensor for bokeh portraits and AR found only on the dearer Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. Otherwise, with the Kirin 980 processor running the show, day-to-day performance, battery life of at least a day of heavy usage, and high-end features like the in-display fingerprint sensor are superb too. Luxe aluminium and glass design, with an all-screen front, means it also looks and feels the part. Apart from slight camera weaknesses, primarily it’s overexposure, there's not much else to complain about. Find out more here.

Pros: Unrivalled camera; great performance; amazing battery life. 

Cons: Not the highest resolution screen.

Portable speaker

The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 is genuinely lightyears ahead of all other Bluetooth speakers. Perfectly balanced sound quality, features and value make it better than any of its rivals, with the ability to stereo pair, tag team with other UE speakers (not that you’d need to) and an impressive 20-hour battery life. Its cylindrical design with power controls delivers punchy 360-degree sound, which eliminates the sweet spot and gives a room-filling sound that’s the same no matter which dingy corner of your Murano flat you decide to put it in. The so-called '"magic button" at the top handles playback with a series of taps, or you can simply load up a favourite playlist via the UE App. The bold fabric coating is available in 15 different designs and colours, but don’t let the material deceive you – it’s literally water, dust and drop-proof. Need we say more? Find out more here.

Pros: Great battery life; waterproof; punchy sound.

Cons: Weighty.



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