A lot of people thought we would be past this by now, but unfortunately, we aren’t, which means millions of students nationwide are now being forced to switch to remote learning for the upcoming academic year. To compound the situation, because many schools’ plans weren’t decided until the last minute, students and parents haven’t had much time to prepare, which has resulted in a serious shortage of essential education tech, especially for items like laptops and webcams.
However, in an effort to remove some of the confusion out of choosing the right tech for your child, we’ve put together a short list of the best remote learning gadgets you can buy that are actually in stock and available for purchase, grouped into three different price ranges (budget, affordable and premium) to best suit your budget. So while we can’t help kids with their homework, here’s hoping these suggestions will at least give them the tools they need to get it done.
The Best Budget Accessories and Laptops under $500
The budget laptop segment has been one of the most hardest hit categories, with a huge number of Chromebooks including our usual top pick—the Asus Chromebook Flip C434—being currently sold out, with little info on when it might be available again.
Thankfully, Dell’s Chromebook 11 3100 2-in-1 is still available, and in our big Chromebook Battlemodo last year, it offered the best battery life out of any of the machines we tested, while also sporting a nifty 2-in-1 design. And with prices starting at just just $370, it’s one of the cheapest Chromebooks you can buy that’s still in stock. The one main downside, is that with a screen that’s just 11.6-inches, it’s a bit on the small side, especially for older middle or high school students. (Note: You can get a standard clamshell Chromebook 11 for even less, with prices starting at just $250.)
Alternatively, if you want something slightly bigger while still staying under budget, check out Samsung’s Chromebook Plus V2, which starts at $480 and features a faster Intel Core m3 CPU, a similar 2-in-1 design, and even comes with an included stylus, which gives your kid another option when it comes to taking notes. And with a 12.2-inch touchscreen, it’s display is slightly larger too.
Finally, if you prefer something that’s even more portable, you might also want to consider the Surface Go 2 or the Samsung Tab S6 Lite, because while both systems are technically tablets, you can add-on detachable keyboards for less than $100, keeping the total price of both systems under $500. The Surface Go 2 is also one of the nicest Windows-based systems in this price range, while the Tab S6 Lite has one of the best-looking screens on a device this cheap. Just check your school’s requirements to make sure the device you pick has the right kind of OS compatibility, as the Chromebook 11 3100 and Chromebook Plus V2 run on Google’s Chrome OS, while the Surface Go 2 runs on Windows 10 and the Tab S6 Lite comes with Android 10.
Sadly, at the moment, almost all of the cheap 15-inch Chromebooks are sold out, including things like Acer’s Chromebook 315, which is out of stock on both Acer’s store and third-party retailers like Best Buy. That said, if you’re willing to buy used, Amazon does have a handful of used Chromebook 315s available. Just know that similar to buying other used products on Amazon, you’re kind of rolling the dice when it comes to third-party merchants.
As for headphones, if you’re just looking for an inexpensive pair of wireless headphones to help cut down on distractions, it’s hard to do better than the Jabra Move, which offer a simple, lightweight design, soft over-the-ear earcups, and strong sound quality for just $50. However, to keep costs down, the Move doesn’t have a built-in mic, so you’ll need to rely on the microphone in your laptop instead.
The Best Affordable Laptops and Gear Between $500 and $1,000
If you’re willing to stray above $500 for a laptop but still want something affordable, the number of systems you can choose from quickly increases, especially if you’re looking to buy something immediately. But out of the hundreds of laptops in this price range, our top three are the Surface Laptop 3, the Pixelbook Go, and the Lenovo Yoga C740.
Starting at just $650, the Pixelbook Go is the least expensive of three, and depending on your child, you may even be eligible for a 10% discount, which would bring the total price down to just $585 plus shipping. That’s an incredible deal for one of the best Chromebooks on the market, one that also sports some of the longest battery life we’ve ever seen in a Chrome OS machine. Unfortunately, the Not Pink Pixelbook Go is out of stock at the moment, which leaves you with just basic black, and if you’re concerned about performance, it’d probably be best to upgrade to the $850 model that comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. But regardless of which one you choose, the Pixelbook Go is definitely one of the best all-around Chromebook deals on the market right now.
Meanwhile, when it comes to Windows-based laptops, the Surface Laptop 3 and the Lenovo Yoga C740 are a potent pair that should meet your needs, regardless if you just want something super sleek and simple, or if you want something a bit more flexible.
Right now, Microsoft is offering $300 off on a 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and critically a 256GB SSD, which with a discounted price of $999.99, is a perfect balance of price and performance. Annoyingly, the base 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 which normally goes for just $800 is sold out at the moment, along with every config for the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, so if you’re considering Surface Laptop, you might want to order soon. (That said, if the more affordable version of the Surface Laptop 3 sells out, the base $750 model of the Surface Pro 7 is still available, at least for now.)
Then there’s the Yoga C740, which combines Lenovo’s long-standing expertise with 360-degree 2-in-1s with solid specs, a 14-inch full HD touchscreen, a webcam that comes with a privacy shutter, a built-in fingerprint reader, and a price tag that starts at just $900. The ability for the Yoga C740 to transform into tablet and tent modes can be extremely important, especially if your child prefers taking classes or doing their homework in places other than in front of a desk. And with Lenovo’s customization tool, it’s possible to upgrade your storage, processor, or memory depending on your needs (though that will probably push the system’s price above $1,000).
For headphones, if you aren’t an iOS user looking at a pair of AirPods, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds+ are just a great set of wireless earbuds when it comes to price and performance. Not only do they have even better battery life than Samsung’s new Galaxy Buds Live (up to 11 hours on a single charge!), their tighter seal offers better passive noise canceling that should help reduce outside disturbances better too.
And if you prefer more traditional cans, you’ll also want to consider Sony’s $180 XB900N headphones, which is a streamlined version of Sony’s flagship headphones that feature a very similar design, excellent sound quality, and active noise canceling that might not be as good as Sony’s high-end cans, but still way better than practically everything else in this price range.
The Best Premium Laptops and Education Tech (Over $1,000)
OK, if you’ve got some freedom in your budget and want to get some really premium tech for learning at home, there are a few clear choices.
When it comes to laptops, you’re looking at either a MacBook Pro 13 or a Dell XPS 13. For 2020, Apple has finally ditched its terrible butterfly keyboards in favor of a new scissor-switch keys which delivers a hugely improved typing experience, while still offering the same unibody aluminum chassis as before. Our only major gripe is that to get a new 10th-gen Intel CPU, you have to upgrade to the most expensive $1,800 model. Just stay away from the MacBook Air unless that extra $300 it takes to upgrade to the MacBook Pro 3 is going to mess up your budget.
On the Windows side, the easy pick is the Dell XPS 13, which not only includes 10th-gen Intel CPUs as standard across its entire range, it also features an even sleeker design and better build than pretty much anything out there, a nearly bezel-less display, excellent battery life, and handy features like Windows Hello face login and a combo power button/fingerprint reader. And if a high school or college student wants something a bit beefier for things like video editing, the larger XPS 15 is just as good while also offering an optional Nvidia GTX 1650Ti GPU for better graphics performance.
And if for some reason you want a really nice Chromebook, there’s also Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook which features a super sleek 2-in-1 design, a stunning OLED display, and a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 chip so it won’t be lacking for performance compared to its Windows or macOS rivals.
For headphones, the two best options are Apple’s AirPods Pro, which offer active noise canceling in a slimmer, less obtrusive design than Sony’s WF-1000XM3, and super seamless connectivity to all your Apple devices. But if you just want the best noise canceling headphones on the market, Sony’s $350 WH-1000XM4 are it. Yes, they’re somewhat pricey, but their sound quality and noise-canceling performance are second to none.
What About Webcams?
When it comes to webcams, the cameras built into most modern phones and laptops have become good enough that it’s not worth shelling out for a standalone. However, if you’re someone who needs to make frequent presentations or really wants to up their video quality, the Logitech Brio Ultra HD Pro has long been the webcam of choice. Unfortunately, like so many budget laptops, a huge number of webcams including the Brio have been sold out for months. Thankfully, Logitech’s 4K Pro Magnetic webcam is very similar, offering nearly identical video capture specs but without the built-in Windows Hello IR cam and the flexible mount you get on the Brio. And if you’re ok with just full HD webcam capture, Logitech’s C922 and C920 are currently available too.