2013 Back to School Gift Guide


School will be starting again soon, which can only mean that it’s time to give the affected love ones in your life the tools they’ll need to survive another year in the jungle of academia, which we usually call back to school gifts. Of those students, perhaps none are facing a less enviable position than those entering their first year of college. Though those four (or five, or six) years will inevitably be some of the best of their lives, they are entering a whole new world that will initially scare and bewilder them.

Here are some gadgets and gear that no student should be without this school year.

Google Chromecast


Fresh from our friends at Google comes what is destined to be one of the best gadgets of the year: the Chromecast. If you missed my write-up on it over at Gadget Teaser, the Chromecast allows you to stream certain popular programs from your PC and mobile devices (including Youtube and Netflix) to your TV wirelessly, with just the press of a button. Essentially, this turns your current TV into a smart TV with almost no set-up, and at a fraction of the cost. Simply put, everyone is going to want this, as evidenced by the significant waiting time it can take to get one.

Satechi 10-Port USB 3.0 Hub


With gadgets now such a big part of our daily lives, most people don’t have enough vacant outlets in their home to plug them all into, which is where the Satechi 10-Port USB 3.0 Hub really comes in handy. As its name suggests, the hub features nine SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports and a 2.1A charging port on the side that’s strong enough to charge an iPad or comparable tablet. It’s compatible with a wide range of devices – including digital cameras, printers, external hard drives, keyboards, flash drives and smartphones – and can either be plugged into your PC or Mac, or directly into a wall outlet with the included power adapter. The USB ports are divided into sets of three, with separate on/off switches and blue indicator lights to let you know which ones are in use, and the hub itself doesn’t take up too much room on your desk (which is especially important for college students living in a dorm environment), providing a versatile and clutter-free solution to charging.

Satechi Smart LED Desk Lamp


This is by far one of the sleekiest, coolest desk lamps we’ve ever tested, and it also happens to be incredibly eco-friendly and energy efficient, boasting a lifespan of over 40,000 hours and consuming only 1/8 the power of an incandescent light and 1/2 the power of a fluorescent light. The lamp is operated completely by touch control, with four different brightness modes – Reading, Study, Relaxation and Bedtime – each with varying ranges of color temperature, and a timer function that automatically turns off the lamp after one hour to help conserve energy. Additionally, you can further fine-tune each mode using the brightness up/down controls, and even charge a USB device simultaneously using the port in the back. Satechi’s Smart LED Desk Lamp also boasts a flexible, multi-pivot positioning system that allows you to adjust the height, angle and direction of the lamp to your specific needs. It’s a little costly at $100, but at that price, you won’t find many other desk lamps that reproduce natural light quite like this.

Jac Zagoory Beta Inkless Pen


You may think that writing by hand is a dying concept, and you’re not far off, but it’s still a skill you’ll want to hone for the rest of your life, and will be using all throughout college. While smartpens like the Livescribe are pretty mind blowing, I’d actually recommend picking up a slightly more traditional, but still advanced, model like the inkless pen from Jac Zagoory designs. Using a lead-based substance, this pen will last you a lifetime, writes clearly in all manners of conditions and environments, and looks pretty badass to boot. At around $30, this is one of the best investments a student can make.

Sunpentown 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker


You may or may not know this about dorms, but essentially, the idea about is to take everything you own and put it into a space about half the size of your previous room, and then share that with another person in the same situation. Cruel? Absolutely. Help ease the burden, then, by maximizing your space and getting all of your breakfast needs in one place with the 3-1 Breakfast Maker. Featuring a small frying pan, toaster oven and the sacred coffee pot, this is basically all of your dorm room food needs (Pro tip: You can make ramen in the coffee pot) in a space just over a foot long.

Brenthaven Bags


Shopping for the right bag is a lot harder than it sounds, but if you’ve never checked out Brenthaven’s huge line of backpacks, messenger bags, sleeves and cases, you could be missing out on finding exactly what you need. We recently sampled two of the company’s more popular styles – the Collins Sleeve Plus (a sleek and stylish notebook bag perfect for the bare essentials) and the ProStyle Slim Pack (a weather-resistant backpack that has plenty of room but isn’t bulky) – and were impressed by both. Brenthaven’s award-winning range of products not only boasts reliable protection for your expensive gear, but also comes with a 100% lifetime guarantee. Additionally, each bag is designed for specific needs. Some are geared toward everyday users, some for fashion-forward businessman, and even some for backpackers, but the one thing that they all have in common is the same indisputable quality, and at a surprisingly good price too. We’ve reviewed enough bags to know a great product when we see one, and Brenthaven is the real deal.

Hyperkin Retron 3


Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the fact that we live in a day and age where it has never been more socially acceptable to be a geek. After that is done, let’s celebrate that same fact by getting down with some old school gaming courtesy of the Retron 3. Forged by the hammer of Thor (Note: Probably not true), this device allows you to play NES, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis games in their original formats, and supports both the included wireless controllers and those used for the original systems. Everyone in your building may have a fancy PlayStation blah-blah, or Xbox whatsit, but trust me when I say that for a fraction of the price, you’ll have the most impressive console, and will likely make some lifetime friends, with the Retron.

TOMS Footwear


We’ve featured TOMS in several of our past gift guides, but we simply can’t get enough of what this awesome company is doing. For those unfamiliar with the TOMS business model, for every pair of shoes that the company sells, they donate a pair of shoes or winter boots to a needy child somewhere in the world. (This also applies to their sunglasses, although in that instance, they provide prescription glasses or sight-saving surgery instead.) That in itself makes a pretty great gift, but it certainly helps that TOMS shoes are incredibly comfortable and fashionable as well. There’s a really large selection to choose from for men, women and even kids, with just about every style, color, pattern and fabric imaginable, and although their classic slip-ons are our favorites, the dressier new Brogue style is great for more formal occasions. And in the spirit of the Back to School season, it’s worth noting that the company also carries a Campus Classics line featuring popular college colorways, so you can show your school spirit wherever you go.



We’re just as lazy as the next person, so when we discovered that there was a product that ensured you’d never have to tie another pair of shoes again, we couldn’t wait to check it out. Hickies is an elastic lacing system that replaces traditional laces, allowing you to slip in and out of your shoes while keeping them snug and secure. As long as your shoes have eyelets, Hickies will work for you, and although each pack comes with enough units for one pair of shoes, those who like a looser fit could even stretch that out to two pairs – it’s completely customizable. Better yet, they’re one size fits all, so if you want to mix and match colors, you can trade your Hickies with family and friends. In fact, the wide variety of colors is part of the appeal, with everything from white and black, to more vibrant hues like pink, yellow and green. They even sell a rainbow pack for those who want to go crazy, but be prepared to get a lot of attention if you go walking around in public like that.

Back to the Roots Aqua Farm


You know what’s great? Having pets. You know what’s significantly less great? Having pets in a dorm room. The lone exception to that burden is the always versatile fish, which are made even easier, and cooler, to keep around with the Aquafarm fish tank. A half-garden, half-fish tank, this thing is pretty self-reliant, as all you have to do is feed the fish and let their droppings feed the plants, while the plants clean the water. Not only will it give you a little companionship and class up your dorm room, but it might help you pass as an eco-friendly intellectual type in front of the ladies (just hide the Retron when they’re over).

Scrubba Portable Wash Bag


There is no easy way to put this. Most of you will leave the parental nest only to discover you are much more of a manc-hild than previously anticipated. Among other things, this means your clothes will occasionally stink for want of being washed. Should this come during an emergency (date with the aforementioned lady friend perhaps?), and you find yourself dangerously low on quarters or available washing machines, then be sure you have the Scruba, as it allows you to fully wash an article of clothing without the need for electricity, in under 3 minutes. It may not be a replacement for an honest laundry cleaning schedule, but it’ll get that funk out of your favorite shirt in a pinch.