Back to School Essentials for 2021 (UK)

Take a look at our overall recommendations for getting back to class!

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It’s time, boys, girls, and non-binary pals, to begin fearing the inevitable return of education. But it shouldn’t be all bad, especially if you treat yourself to some essentials. Not only are our recommendations for getting back to school perfect for a little prize for getting through the summer holidays, but also will help you out massively in the coming year. Imagine never having to use the university library PCs or never having to worry about sneaking your phone charger into a plug during class.

So join us as we bring you the top five recommendations for getting back to school, university, or whatever education you’ve decided to throw yourself into this coming year!

How we chose

We’ve chosen these products based on the best bang for your buck, without being ridiculous about it. You won’t find any massive gaming laptops or ridiculous hard drives, these all have uses at making your life better and easier while battling through your education.

There’s no point recommending you a voucher or something when we could just cut out the middle man and give you a choice of product that’s actually going to be useful during the day-to-day.

Do you really want to be carrying a fat, beefy gaming laptop between rooms?

No. No one does.

Our Recommended

Back to School Essentials for 2021 (UK)

Best Laptop
PROS

Great Battery Life

Interconnected with other Apple Products

On Par with the 13″ M1 Pro

Incredibly portable

Will be able to tackle almost any task

Apple's support for non-M1 supported programs is great

CONS

New M1 Chip Not Natively Supported by everything

16GB RAM limit

Only two Thunderbolt 4/USB C Ports, requires dongles

The MacBook Air’s 2020 revision saw a switch from Intel’s CPUs to Apple’s own silicon, bringing with it an incredible battery life and more power than any MacBook Air rightfully should have had crammed into it. Seriously, other than a singular missing core on one of the two versions, the MacBook Air is pretty much on par with the 13″ 2020 MacBook Pro.

The only real issue you might find when buying the MacBook Air M1 is that it’s currently limited to 16GB of RAM, which is only an issue if you planned on doing a massive 3D Render in the blink of an eye. For your day-to-day school work, 8GB should suffice, while 16GB and the Air is perfect for the light creative work you might do at university or in your art, graphics, or (do they still do this one?) Design and Tech class.

You would need to also invest in some dongles, as Apple is still adamant about USB-C only, but then not providing enough USB-C ports to do much of anything with.

They are Thunderbolt 4 equipped though, so if you have the cash, you can absolutely spend it on some wickedly fast storage.

If you’re worried about the shift over from Intel to the M1 and your apps might not work, Apple has been pretty good at ’emulating’ the traditional PC environment with their Rosetta 2 software, which translates how applications built on traditional PC infrastructure (x86) into the M1’s ARM infrastructure, which is slowly becoming the norm across the board. Adobe, Blackmagic, and other creative applications, as well as many productivity apps, have also begun to shift their apps to natively support M1, with massive performance boosts for the MacBook Air, being able to supply a pretty powerful creative machine at a lower cost than the competitors.

PROS

60W output for charging everything

Never be without your phone

Wireless charging

CONS

A tad pricey

Only a couple ports

I’m personally a big fan of the OmniCharge brand. They’re hugely ridiculous chargers that do a lot, while also being not entirely bulky that they become a hindrance. I’ve used the original Omni 20 previously and being able to charge phones, my Switch, and another power bank over a few hours was phenomenal.

Even with the lack of bulk, the full-fat OmniCharge products can be a bit much, but you still want the power out of them. That’s why I’m recommending the Omni Mobile, which can output a full whack of 60 watts out of the USB-C port, which is just about enough to charge a tablet, laptop, or portable console! It even has wireless charging, so you can just pop it on your desk with your phone without any cumbersome wires and get a trickle charge all day.

This is genuinely a great all-in-one charger to just have on hand, while I do prefer the bigger ones, this is the sensible choice to go with. It’ll do everything you need to and probably last a while too between charges or give you that extra boost you need towards the end of a hard day.

PROS

Won't take up a whole desk

Great typing feel

Customizable with software

Wired and no batteries

CONS

Expensive

Excessive RGB

Bloatware

The Corsair K63 is such a good keyboard. Everything from how it performs in games, but also the comfortable Cherry MX keys are just excellent for typing on. Not my first choice, but also my first choice is a £88 investment that puts looks and stuff to the side while it works on providing the best key feel.

However, the K63 is great for those with limited desk space, as the small 60% size (it’s cut off the Numpad) allows you to keep more very important stuff on your desk instead of more keyboard bits that might not be entirely useful to you.

The really nice features that in my time using the keyboard were the things that I didn’t ever think that I’d ever really use. The media controls over volume, pause, etc., are just so handy to have on hand. Corsair’s keyboards are mostly into customization and while the program can seem a little like bloatware, having the option to control what certain keys do is great for those that want macro controls without the hassle of setting that up on Windows.

Thankfully, you can turn off the RGB lighting if you so wish.

PROS

Ridiculously Fast

USB-C

Small and portable, fits into any bag

CONS

The price jumps between sizes

Might want to stock up on a couple

Samsung’s T drives (T5 and T7) are ridiculously fast, large SSD storage that you can take pretty much anywhere you want. The small form factor allows it to be slotted anywhere and everywhere, but the speeds. The speeds.

If the drive itself is like a robust sandwich, the speeds are the dipping sauce that makes it all come together. With reading speeds of 1,050MBps and write speeds of 1,000MBps, combine this with our very recommended MacBook Air and you’ve got the makings of some excellent additions to your work. Files literally leap over during transfers, while the drive itself can be bought with storage up to 2TB.

This drive is also perfect for those doing more creative work, as files will be read and written to the drive so quickly, there’ll be no time wasted. This, however, does rely on you having a more up-to-date PC or Mac with support for the full power of USB 3.2. For regular files, this makes for a great “always on you” storage device and will even plug into modern USB-C tablets if that’s more your style.

 

PROS

1080p Quality

Autofocus & Light Correction

Fits on almost any monitor or laptop

Dual Microphones

CONS

Quality won't matter on poor connections

Would still recommend a separate microphone

A tad pricey if you already have a built in webcam

Face it: the world changed and now you’ve got to do some classes from your home or student halls, you might even be a regular on Zoom calls or using Discord. So why are you still relying on your built-in webcam? Why aren’t you using the best you can get and then not only look your best but also have a high-quality 1080p camera that you can use for all occasions?

I do recommend getting a separate microphone for this still, but the dual-microphone setup on the front will be more than enough for a majority of people, bringing a clean signal into the PC with little fuzz. This webcam is the go-to for a lot of people due to the video quality it provides, it’s not over-the-top, but does its job incredibly well.

It connects to almost any laptop or desktop, with the option to set it on either the top of your monitor or flush on the desk. The clip isn’t a total grip though, so you would need enough room for it to balance on top at the same time.

The worst thing about webcams that you need to manually focus is never knowing until you’ve managed to sit back and test, but the Logitech C920 HD comes with auto-focus and built-in light correction, giving you the best image possible regardless of your current lighting situation.

Things To Consider

Our Verdict

Best Laptop

Obviously, we recommend everything in this article, but honestly, the MacBook Air with the M1 chip is just too good of a deal. A portable workhorse that not only gives you great battery life but is so well supported by Apple and developers, that some programs are just simply running better on it than older MacBooks. Combine it with any of the other options here and you’ve got yourself set for the next few years.

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Staff Writer
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PC guide
A lover of janky games, Magic the Gathering, and going down rabbit holes, Joel still finds time to goof off on the internet and trying to not find another new hobby.

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