The Best Back to School Gadgets For Cramped College Dorms

The Best Back to School Gadgets For Cramped College Dorms

The gear you'll need to maximize your living space when headed back to school this fall.

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Whether your campus stay involves a college’s dormitory, trying your luck at a nearby frat house or sorority, or venturing out on your own in your first apartment, odds are you’re not going to have a lot of living space if your pursuit of higher learning takes you out of town.

But that doesn’t mean you have to live like a cave-dwelling hermit without all the conveniences of modern electronics and appliances. Far from it. We’ve rounded up the best gear and equipment you’ll need to make your college years more enjoyable and more convenient, without over-crowding your living space.

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Nothing ear (1) Wireless Earbuds

Nothing ear (1) Wireless Earbuds

Nothing ear (1) wireless earbuds
Photo: Gizmodo

At some point during your college years, you’re probably going to have to buckle down and get some actual studying done, and the most effective way to do that is to tune out the world around you. Over-ear headphones with active noise cancelling are the best at blocking unwanted sounds, but spending $400 on an excellent pair of Sony WH-1000XM5s isn’t an option for a lot of students. The Nothing ear (1) wireless earbuds provide impressive sound performance and very good ANC for just $99, and if anything, they’ll make you stand out in a sea of AirPods.

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Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3

Even if your cramped quarters can only accommodate a couple of visitors at a time, you can’t have friends over without music in the background, and for its price and size, the recently announced Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3 delivers excellent sound without the footprint of a dedicated stereo. It boasts a rechargeable battery with up to 14 hours of playtime, and not only is the Wonderboom 3 completely waterproof, it also floats, so it should be able to survive almost any college misadventure.

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Kobo Sage

Kobo Sage

Kobo Sage
Photo: Gizmodo

There are lots of reasons to head back to school with a good e-reader, the least of which being you’re already going to be spending countless hours staring at glowing screens. E-Ink is much easier on the eyes when you’re reading for R&R or studying, and filling an e-reader with digital textbooks keeps what limited shelf space you’ll have free for other things. The $260 Kobo Sage isn’t the cheapest option out there, but it can be paired with a $40 stylus for annotating textbooks or simply taking notes in class, and with an eight-inch screen, it’s no where near as large or bulky as other e-note devices.

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Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook
Photo: Gizmodo

Unless you’re making money by streaming yourself playing PC games, or studying for a degree in making games, you probably don’t need a spec’d out gaming machine, and may not even need an actual laptop. Starting at $429, the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook can easily handle all your productivity tasks, from email to essay writing to video chats, but since it’s a convertible, transforming into a tablet thanks to a keyboard case that folds away, you can also use its 13-inch OLED screen for all of your media consumption needs. It’s a TV and computer all in one, and while its performance won’t blow anyone away, it’s at least budget-friendly, even if you opt for the pricier $500 option.

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The North Face Surge Backpack

The North Face Surge Backpack

One of the many, many hills I’m happy to die on is that you should skip the gadget and tech-focused backpacks for a bag from a company that knows a thing or two about outdoor activities. My favorite option, for quite a few years now, has been the various iterations of The North Face’s Surge pack. For $129, it’s built like a tank, its straps are far more comfortable than any laptop backpack I’ve ever tested, and it’s still got lots of pockets for holding various devices, including a dedicated padded laptop sleeve.

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Miyoo Mini

Miyoo Mini

Miyoo Mini
Photo: Gizmodo

The Switch Lite is the obvious choice for getting your gaming fix in without needing to make room for a big console like the PS5 or Xbox, but at $200, it’s not cheap. If you’re okay with turning on the wayback machine and enjoying the retro games of yesteryear, the $60 Miyoo Mini can effortlessly play games dating back to the original Atari up to the first PlayStation, and all the 8 and 16-bit classics in-between. It’s pocket-friendly, with excellent battery life, but does require a certain level of technical proficiency when it comes to getting games onto it and doing firmware updates.

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Black+Decker Flex Cordless Hand Vacuum

Black+Decker Flex Cordless Hand Vacuum

If college is your first time ever living away from family, there’s a harsh reality you’re going to have to face: your room isn’t going to clean itself any more. A vacuum is a must-have accessory, but you don’t have to blow several hundred dollars on a Dyson model with lasers and sensors. Black+Decker, the creator of the original Dustbuster, still makes a big lineup of handheld vacs, including the $65 cordless Flex, which includes a four-foot flexible hose that can easily reach under beds, in-between couch cushions, and everywhere else crumbs may fall.

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OXO 8-Cup Coffee Maker

OXO 8-Cup Coffee Maker

OXO 8-Cup Coffee Maker
Image: OXO

If your life isn’t already dependent on caffeine, it will be once you start college. Hitting up Starbucks every morning is a budget-buster, so a coffee maker is a solid investment, but you deserve better than a cup of joe that came from a pod. OXO’s $200 8-Cup Coffee Maker is nearly as easy to use; you just need to add ground coffee and water, and let it do its thing. The insulated carafe allows you to brew up to eight cups of coffee for an overnight cram session, but the machine can also serve up just one mug at a time if you need helping getting out of bed.

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Anker 733 Power Bank

Anker 733 Power Bank

Anker 733 Power Bank
Image: Anker

You can never have too many power outlets, and while Anker’s recently announced 733 Power Bank can turn one outlet into three USB ports, including two USB-C ports capable of delivering 65W of power each for power hungry devices like laptops, its real appeal is a built-in backup battery. The 10,000 mAh rechargeable battery is capacious enough to fully charge a couple of smartphones, also making it a useful tool to toss in your bag in the morning when you forget to charge your mobile device overnight.

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Ninebot KickScooter by Segway ES3

Ninebot KickScooter by Segway ES3

Ninebot KickScooter by Segway ES3
Image: Segway

Spending $580 on an electric scooter might seem like an unnecessary splurge for a college student, but unless you’re living right on campus, you’re going to need an affordable way to get around. Cars need someplace to park, which is an added expense, and public transit may be unreliable or simply not accessible depending on the location of a school’s campus. An electric scooter is faster than walking, and unlike a bike, doesn’t leave you sweaty when you arrive at your destination. With a top speed of 15.5 MPH, the ES3 KickScooter isn’t the fastest option out there, but its 28 mile range should get you to where you need to go with minimal effort, and it folds up so you don’t need to risk leaving it locked up outside somewhere.

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GE Double-Door Compact Refrigerator

GE Double-Door Compact Refrigerator

Even if you eat all your meals in a cafeteria, or have access to a shared kitchen, a mini fridge in your room is a must-have college accessory. The munchies can strike at all hours of the day, and a mini fridge also lets you keep a private stash of food and snacks away from hungry dormmates. Standing 33-inches tall, this $409 option from GE Appliances even manages to squeeze in separate fridge and freezer sections, letting you keep a reserve of Ben & Jerry’s as well.

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Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven

Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven

Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven
Image: Cuisinart

A hot plate is always suggested as the de facto college life meal prep tool, but if you want to branch out from ramen and Kraft Mac & Cheese, consider a toaster oven instead. You can find the Cuisinart TOB-260N1 Chef’s Convection Toaster Oven for around $300, and with 1800 watts of power, you can not only make everything from pizza (up to 13-inches in size) to a roast chicken; it also does a great job at reheating leftovers, and makes a mean slice of toast, too.

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Brother HL-L2300D Monochrome Laser Printer

Brother HL-L2300D Monochrome Laser Printer

Brother HL-L2300D Monochrome Laser Printer
Image: Brother

Despite endless predictions of a paperless office, we’re not there yet, and like it or not, a printer is still a useful accessory to have on hand. They can be frustrating, there’s no doubt about that, so we recommend skipping the fancy color options which rely on frequently changed ink carts for a laser printer instead. The $120 Brother HL-L2300D is relatively affordable, and a replacement toner cartridge will set you back as little as $40 with a promised yield of 1,200 pages. The printer can also handle double-sided duplex prints all by itself, and while it’s limited to black and white, when was the last time you actually printed out one of the photos from your smartphone’s camera roll?

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Google Nest Mini

Google Nest Mini

Google Nest Mini
Photo: Gizmodo

Earn a degree, get a job, and one day you might climb the corporate ladder high enough to earn your own personal assistant. For your college years, however, a smart speaker can be just as useful. Google Assistant can do everything from helping you with your studies, to easily setting alarm clocks when you’re too tired to fumble with buttons, to even playing soothing sounds when you’re struggling to drift off to sleep. It also gives you access to various music streaming services, and at $49, the Google Nest Mini is one the most affordable options currently available and no larger than a hockey puck.

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