Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again: back-to-school. And while certain classics—plastic pencil boxes, black-and-white composition books, tab folders—never go out of style, 21st century students now tote tablets to kindergarten, keep track of assignments with apps and eat lunch out of smart lunch boxes. So back-to-school shopping is about way more than just a quick trip to the school supply aisle of your local drugstore. Here are a few of our favorite gadgets, devices and tools for students of all ages, from high-tech dorm cookers to digital study devices.
The Smart Backpack
As tablets are increasingly a standard item in even a grade schooler’s backpack, charging has become a concern. How can you do your math assignment on the bus when you’re down to 2 percent power? Luckily there are now several “smart” backpacks on, or entering, the market. These products come with one or more docks for charging small electronics anywhere, anytime. The most-hyped—though still in pre-order—is probably the AMPL Smart Backpack ($249), capable of charging tablets and phones. It also comes with a laptop boost battery for charging larger items. Others, like the Tylt Energi ($169) and the Co.alition Colfax ($339), are already available. Though the black and gray designs of most smart backpacks aren’t exactly kid-friendly, the backpacks will give your students one less excuse for not finishing their homework.
The Lunch Box of the Future
With its sleek, Scandinavian exterior, modular containers and magnetic cutlery, the Prepd Pack is certainly more attractive than a brown paper bag. But what’s truly cool about this brand new lunch box is the app that comes with it. It’s filled with chef-created recipes custom designed to fit in the box’s containers, each with an exportable grocery list and nutrition data. The nutrition data can be charted on the app, letting users know exactly how well they’ve been eating. Recipes can be tailored to fit individual nutrition goals, and you can share your lunches via Instagram. So if greasy cafeteria fare is bogging you down, sign up to get a Prepd Pack ($55). The lunch boxes ship in October.
The Next Generation Notebook
Sure, you make do with $1 drugstore spiral-bound notebooks, as students have been doing since time immemorial. But the Moleskine Smart Writing Set ($199) takes things a step into the future. The Bluetooth-enabled pen and special paper notebook instantly digitize whatever you write or draw, uploading your notes, equations or doodles to an app in PDF form, or translating your handwriting to text. Since evidence suggests that taking notes by hand helps you retain information better than typing, a system like this might be the best of both worlds.
The Kiddie Communicator
The market has recently exploded with wearable communication devices for kids too young for cell phones but still in need of a way for mom or dad to get in touch at a moment’s notice. The FiLIP ($149) is a watch-like wristband plus an app that lets parents track their child’s location, send them text messages or call them. Kids can also make calls, from a small number of pre-set contacts. So next time you’re going to be late for school pickup, just give Junior a quick buzz. But expect to be buzzed yourself when someone’s forgotten their science project.
21st Century Flash Cards
Back in my day, we had to walk to school in the snow AND handwrite our own flash cards. Kids today have it easy, with flash card apps like gFlashcards, which makes digital flash cards for easy, device-based studying. You can make the flash cards the “old-fashioned” way by typing into the app, or upload directly from Google docs or other documents. Students can pick the multiple choice option to have the app randomly create multiple choices from the available answers. You can also choose image-based options.
The Gourmet Dorm Cooking Device
Some dorm-mates might have refrigerators and microwaves. But how many of them can mix soup, chop salad veggies, steam fish, make sorbet, squeeze juice and heat oatmeal, all in one device. The Thermomix, a German all-in-one cooking machine that chops, stirs, heats and more, has been popular in Europe for years, but is much rarer to spot in America. Its price tag may be part of it—the basic model costs nearly $2,000.
The Planner App
There are plenty of planning and calendar apps around, but students give the myHomework app especially high ratings. The app organizes all the elements of school life—a class calendar, a homework planner, a syllabus manager. Plus, if teachers use the free Teachers.io app, students can sync with them to get automatic class updates. The basic version is free, while the ad-free upgrade is $4.99 a year. The app can also be synced across devices, making the old problem of “I forgot the assignment instructions in my locker” problem a thing of the past.