Smartest Buys for Students
August is a pivotal month for back-to-school shopping. By month's end, thousands of students will have made their way back to class, albeit begrudgingly. That means parents and students alike have from now until the end of August to make final purchases on everything from new laptops to dorm-friendly TVs. Fortunately, August is also a great month for sales. Back-to-school deals will appear in droves, accompanied by summer clearance sales and even a few early Labor Day sales. Moreover, many states will observe tax holidays in August, which means you'll be able to buy school supplies — and in some cases, computers — sans sales tax. Here are the best devices and the best sales for all of your back-to-school needs.
Best Laptop: Samsung Chromebook 3
From elementary school to college, the Samsung Chromebook 3 is suited for all types of students. Small, but sturdy, the laptop gives students quick and seamless access to Google's host of services such as Gmail, Docs, and more. It also has a spill-resistant keyboard that can protect it from the accidental splash of coffee or soda. Under the hood you'll find a 1.6GHz N3060 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 16GB eMMC.
Best Service: Prime Student
Amazon Prime Student offers access to free shipping and all the perks of Prime membership at half the cost of Amazon's traditional Prime membership. Even though Amazon bumped the price to $59/year (or $6.49/month), students can sign up for a free six-month trial. Moreover, Prime Student members get exclusive deals and discounts that even traditional Prime members can't access. Through August 26, multiple Amazon devices are also up to $100 off as part of Amazon's back-to-school sale. If that isn't enough incentive, Prime Student members also get 20 percent off video game preorders. Game on!
Apple Back-to-School Discount: Free Beats
The Apple Store's annual Back-to-School sale is in full swing. The sale takes up to $200 off select Mac purchases and adds a complimentary pair of Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones with your purchase. However, depending on your needs, we recommend that you keep a close eye on Best Buy's Apple sales. While they're not offering free headphones, they frequently undercut Apple's sale prices by $200 or more, which might be more valuable than a free pair of Beats. For instance, Best Buy has the base MacBook Air on sale for $899.99. Students with a valid .edu e-mail can save an extra $150 and get the MacBook Air for $749.99. There are no free headphones, but it's $100 cheaper than Apple's student price.
Best Smartphone: Moto G6
The Moto G6 is our top pick for budget smartphones. It runs on GSM and CDMA networks, so you can use it on any major carrier. You also get a colorful 5.7-inch display, dual rear cameras, a fingerprint sensor with gesture support and solid performance from the Snapdragon 450 processor. You don't get NFC for mobile payments, but that's a reasonable trade-off.
Best 4K HDTV: TCL 49-inch 4K Roku Smart TV
The TCL Roku 49S405 is a budget TV that delivers solid quality despite its entry-level price. The 49-inch 4K TV offers high-dynamic range (HDR) support, decent sound and Roku's excellent smart-TV platform, so you won't have to worry about buying a separate streaming device. The $359.99 Editors' Choice TV is currently priced at $319.99, but we've seen it selling for less on major holidays. (It was recently as low as $269 on Prime Day.) Alternatively, you can get the smaller Toshiba 43-inch 4K Fire TV Edition with HDR, which costs $299.99.
Best Surge Protector: Belkin Power-Strip
It may not be the most glorious back-to-school purchase, but a reliable surge protector can keep your devices from getting fried during an electrical storm. We like this 12-outlet protector because it offers 12 well-spaced plugs along with an 8-foot cord that makes the protector suitable for any room setup.
Best Phone Plan: T-Mobile Family Plan
In case its aggressive Family plans don't grab your attention, T-Mobile is also offering a BOGO sale on various iPhones including the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. (A $700 maximum credit applies). Simply purchase both phones on T-Mobile's Equipment Installment Plan (EIP), trade-in an eligible phone, and complete the online rebate form to receive your prepaid MasterCard. Keep in mind that the BOGO offer maxes out at $700, so if you purchase an iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X, you'll only get a $700 max credit on your prepaid MasterCard. It's still a solid offer if you and a family member can make use of two phones.
Best Bluetooth Speaker: Anker SoundCore 2
These days, there's no shortage of Bluetooth speakers. However, the Anker SoundCore 2 remains our top pick thanks to its affordable price, 24-hour battery life and water-resistant design. The top-rated speaker also delivers well-balanced bass, treble and midtones, whether you're listening to music from your room or relaxing with friends on campus.
Best Coffee-Maker: Keurig single-serve K-cup coffee maker
No class should start without a cup of joe, and this single-serve coffee maker can brew 6-, 8- and 10-ounce cups of your favorite morning beverage. The machine automatically shuts off 2 hours after your last brew — a useful feature for the forgetful college student — and at just over 8 inches wide, it's perfect for tiny kitchens and dorm rooms. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors, including red, black and turquoise. Walmart's price is $11 less than Amazon's for the same machine.
Best Budget Tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8
The Fire 7 may be the least-expensive tablet in Amazon's arsenal, but when it comes to real-world performance, the Fire HD 8 is our pick. Unlike the Fire 7, which features a 7-inch, 1024 x 600 (171 ppi)-resolution LCD, the Fire HD 8 offers a larger and sharper 1280 x 800-resolution display, which makes all the difference when you're watching video and reading content. This tablet also packs 50 percent more RAM than the Fire 7, which makes for snappier performance. This deal includes Amazon's new Show Mode Charging Dock, which lets you dock your tablet and provides a full-screen Alexa experience.
Stores with the Best Student Discounts
Being a college student has its perks. Sure, you have to sit through seemingly countless hours of physics class, but when you're shopping, many stores bend over backward to get your attention. T-Mobile, Best Buy, Lenovo, B&H Photo Video, Spotify, and Dell are just a handful of the tech stores that offer student discounts when you provide a valid edu-based email account. The discounts can range from a few hundred dollars off to free $100 gift cards. In the case of Spotify, students get Spotify Premium (normally $9.99/month) and Hulu's Basic Plan (normally $7.99/month) for just $4.99/month.