Back to school in style
School is almost here, which means it’s time to make sure your favorite Mac-using student has the right gear. Here are some of our favorite computing essentials, from keyboards to covers, stands to speakers, and headphones to hubs.
All of the items highlighted here stand out from the competition in performance, value, or both. And keep in mind that the prices listed here are the manufacturers' suggested retail prices—you’ll be able to find most of the items for considerably less, which is good news for student budgets.
Keyboard covers from Moshi and KB Covers
Who doesn’t eat while using their computer? Or type with less-than-sterile fingertips? If you want to keep crumbs, dust, and other detritus from gunking up your MacBook’s insides, Moshi’s $25 ClearGuard keyboard cover (shown here) does the trick with minimal distraction. The superthin (0.1 mm), transparent, durable film is custom-designed for each MacBook keyboard and barely affects key response.
Another good option is one of the many covers from KB Covers ($25 to $30). Though not as thin as the ClearGuard, KB Covers' offerings are available in various colors and designs, including versions that feature keyboard shortcuts for popular apps.
Unlike most protective screen films, iVisors are composed of stiff material that adheres only to the edges of the screen. This translates into quick-and-easy installation and no screen bubbles. Moshi uses a special adhesive that enables you to remove, wash, and reapply the iVisor as needed.
Griffin Technology Elevator and Logitech K760
Laptops are convenient, but when you’re back at your desk, a laptop stand and an external keyboard can make using your laptop a lot more comfortable. Griffin Technology’s $40 Elevator is a solid laptop stand with a budget price, while Logitech's $80 Wireless Solar Keyboard K760 offers great, Mac-focused keys in a compact package.
Ambient light charges the keyboard’s battery; and best of all, the K760 can link (via Bluetooth) with up to three devices, so you can use it with your iPad and iPhone, as well. (Logitech’s $100 Easy-Switch Keyboard forgoes solar charging in favor of backlit keys.)
A handy stand
Planning on using an external keyboard with your iPad? You’ll need either a case that can prop up your tablet or a dedicated stand. You can find plenty of great iPad stands on the market, but you’ll pay a premium for most of them.
If you don’t insist on seeing “for iPad” printed on the box, some smart shopping will get you a solid stand for cheap. I'm talking about book stands: They’ve been around for centuries, and you can find a nice, simple model like the one shown here for around $5. Best of all, a book stand will also come in handy when you need to prop open a—gasp—real book.
Satechi Bluetooth Wireless Smart Keypad
Every student needs, at a minimum, a basic calculator. If you’d like one that also pairs with your Mac to give you the numeric keypad your compact keyboard lacks, Satechi's Mac-matching, $35 Bluetooth Wireless Smart Keypad fits the bill.
Pair this keypad with your Mac, and a single button toggles it between being a stand-alone calculator and functioning as a Bluetooth numeric keypad. In calculator mode, a clever Send button lets you paste your calculation results into your Mac with a single press. (The keypad also pairs with an iPad or iPhone for intensive number-entering sessions on the go.)
Satechi USB hubs
Chances are, your desk will play host to more than a few USB accessories—which means that to avoid the hassle of frequent cable-swapping, you’ll need a USB hub. Satechi offers a couple good choices here. The $28 Premium 4 Port Aluminum USB Hub sports a compact, Mac-matching, aluminum body; four bus-powered USB 2.0 ports; and a conveniently short USB cable.
The $55 7 Port USB 3.0 Premium Aluminum Hub (available with black or white trim) uses a similar Mac-matching, aluminum-body design, but it offers seven USB 3.0 ports, all powered using the included AC adapter.
Sony MDR-V6 and MDR-7506
Every student needs a good set of headphones, preferably a closed, over-ear model that keeps external noise out and your music in. Sony’s $100 MDR-V6 studio monitor headphones (pictured; frequently available for roughly $70 at street prices) and $130 MDR-7506 (available on Amazon for around $78) fit the bill at a budget-friendly price.
Each of these almost-identical models offers studio-quality audio in an extremely rugged package designed to handle everyday abuse. The earpieces fold in for easier packing, and the cushiony earpads and headband let you enjoy hours-long sessions in the library. We have some that are more than a decade old and still going strong.
Brookstone Big Blue Studio and Live
Finding good, versatile speakers on a budget is tough, but Brookstone’s surprising Big Blue Studio and Big Blue Live (upper left and lower right, $160 and $100, respectively) are just that. Each offers wired and Bluetooth connectivity—so you can use it with your iPad, iPhone, iPod, or Mac—in a glossy black or white, desk-ready package.
The Live includes a rechargeable battery and is small enough to toss into your bag for portable use. The larger Studio runs off AC power and offers bigger sound thanks to 30 watts of power. (Go with the Studio unless you absolutely need portability.)
High Sierra Swerve Laptop Backpack
If you’re truly on a student budget, High Sierra's $40 Swerve Laptop Backpack offers lots of storage—including room for both a laptop and an iPad, plus several textbooks—at a nice price.
Amenities include elastic-suspension shoulder straps, side compression straps, dual water-bottle pouches, and pockets galore. In fact, given its budget-friendly price, the biggest knock on this bag is that it might be too big: With 2400 cubic inches of storage, think of your back before loading it up.
Tom Bihn Synapse 25
If your bank balance can handle it, consider springing for the combination of a great all-around backpack and a separate laptop sleeve. Few backpacks can beat Tom Bihn’s $170 Synapse 25, the larger sibling of the excellent Synapse 19. Though it's a bit pricey for most students, the Synapse 25 will last for years and it’s as versatile as backpacks come, thanks to the array of well-designed pockets and pouches, including a center-mounted (for balance) exterior compartment that’s large enough to hold a 1-liter water bottle.
A pouch on the inside is perfect for stashing a laptop or iPad in a protective sleeve; and you can also attach up to two of the company’s Cache With Rails sleeves to special loops on the inside of the bag. Then, when you have to go through airport security, you can quickly slide your encased laptop and/or iPad out of the bag without detaching from it. The backpack does all this without screaming, "Laptop inside!"
Be.ez LA Robe sleeves
Speaking of sleeves, your options are nearly limitless. But we're fans of Be.ez's LA Robe series (price varies by size and design). Available for all MacBook sizes, as well as in versions for iPads and other tablets, each LA Robe sleeve is made of low-resilience polyurethane (LRPu) material—better known as lightweight memory foam—for impressive protection that adds only a few ounces to your bag.
Printed jersey fabric covers the exterior of each sleeve, and Be.ez offers dozens of designs, from basic to fashionable. Best of all, a visit to Amazon.com lets you browse a nice selection of LA Robe models priced as low as $10 each.
Master Lock DialSpeed
Locking up your gear on campus? Combination padlocks are a hassle, but who wants to carry around (and possibly lose) a key? Master Lock’s $40 DialSpeed padlock gives you the no-key convenience of a combination lock without the tedious “two rotations to the right until you get to 37, then left past 37 until you get to 4...”
The DialSpeed instead uses a directional keypad. Your combination consist of a pattern of 4 to 12 directional presses—for example, left-up-up-down-right-left. (Letters and numbers next to each button let you create a code that spells, for example, “jordan23”.) An account on MasterLockVault.com gives you access to your master code and allows you to store multiple codes. Just resist the urge to use the Konami Code.