What tech to have in backpack- back-to-school questions answered by Windows Central editors

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Last week we asked the Windows Central community to give us their most pressing back-to-school tech questions, and now we’re answering them in the forums! We’ve got a wide range of experts across the Mobile Nations family, so we’ve tapped all of our sites to weigh in on questions about phones, tablets, laptops, and everything in between. Let’s see what’s on the minds of students and parents…

Tawaka. D asks:

How much tech should I carry in my backpack? Like sometimes I carry my laptop, its charger, my headphones, my power bank, and my phone charger and it seems like it’s a bit much. I always have at least my phone and my charger on me. Should I stop carrying my laptop and maybe just use my phone or get a tablet?

News Writer Sean Endicott answers:

Hey Tawaka. D,

I think how much tech you carry in your bag really depends on what you’re studying and how often you’re on the move. When I was in school I wanted to carry as little as possible. I try to travel as light as I can while still having everything that I could reasonably need. I also try to avoid carrying two devices that do the same thing. When I studied at university I just used a small 2-in-1 to take notes and watch Netflix and other videos. If I went back to school now I’d grab a Surface Go because it’s light, small, and can handle my studying needs which don’t require a lot of power.

Jason recently did this piece comparing the Surface Go and iPad for students.

Getting a laptop may be the obvious choice for back-to-school shopping but what about peripherals? What’s a great, durable mouse that won’t break when thrown in the backpack for traveling? Are there any keyboards that will outperform the laptop keys and still be portable?

Staff Writer Cale Hunt answers:

Hi Norman H.

This is a great question. Laptop touchpads are very convenient, but when I truly want to get productive I turn to a wireless mouse. I personally use a Logitech MX Ergo trackball mouse because of how often I use a mouse, but it’s not exactly what I’d call portable.

Logitech also makes the MX Master 2S that’s a standard form, and it’s been our top overall pick for a while now, at least when it comes to wireless options. For something more compact and better for use on just about any surface, there is the Logitech MX Anywhere 2S with long battery life and relatively durable design.

As for a keyboard, it really depends on what laptop you’re using. It might be tough to beat, say, a ThinkPad keyboard, but it really comes down to personal preference. If you’re going to carry a separate keyboard around with your laptop, check out the Logitech K380. It’s affordable, it’s compact, and it’s comfortable. For more options, have a look at our roundup of the best wireless keyboard available now.

What are some of the best “back to school” discounts and deals on laptops? I heard about Apple having a deal on Mac Books, but what about a Windows PC or Chromebook? What is my best bet a Mac, a PC or a Chromebook?

News Editor Dan Thorp-Lancaster answers:

Hey Richard C.

Wading through the glut of back-to-school deals can definitely be a little overwhelming. Every manufacturer is going to vying for your hard-eaned dollars with sales, whether it be Dell, HP, Lenovo, or Apple.

One way to whittle things down is to think hard about what you’re going to use the laptop for. Will it just be web browsing and writing papers? Or will you want a little bit of extra power to play some games in your downtime? This can make a huge difference in the price you’ll pay.

PCs are generally a good bet if you want a machine that will work with most tasks. Dell, HP, and Lenovo are all holding some excellent sales across their whole ranges right now.

HP’s Spectre x360 is a great option for a portable laptop experience with plenty of power, but it can get a bit pricey. Lenovo’s Yoga C630 2-in-1 has probably one of the biggest discounts you’ll see right now and it’s a great portable machine with LTE and excellent battery life.

If gaming is in the cards, HP’s Omen range is full of solid desktops and laptops at upwards of $300 off. Just be prepared to pay a little more for the extra horsepower.

As for whether to go with a Chromebook or Mac, each has its pros and cons. Neither will be good for gaming, but they’re viable options for most school work. If you’re already invested in Apple’s ecosystem, then a Mac can be a great choice. But it’s worth noting that the discounts you’ll see for Macs typically won’t be nearly as great as those you’ll see for PCs.

One the other end of things, Chromebooks are typically very cheap and uncomplicated. However, a Chromebook is essentially just a gateway to the internet; i there are any apps PC or Mac apps that your school requires you to use, then you might find yourself in a pickle with a Chromebook. Still, it’s hard to turn down something like HP’s Chromebook 11A for $260.

Given the options, I’d still go with a PC if I were headed back to school today, but it’s worth weighing the pros and cons of each for your specific needs.

My daughter will need a laptop for school this year. I have looked at inexpensive Windows notebooks, and also Chromebooks. Can a Chromebook compete with a Windows laptop in a classroom environment? If so, which is the best to get?

Executive Editor Daniel Rubino answers:

Choosing between a Chromebook and PC is always a challenge and a lot of it comes down to (1) What the school’s IT department implements and supports (2) personal choice (if even given one).

The pros of Chromebooks are easy manageability – both by parents and schools – and, ironically, the lack of “real” apps and games.

The downside to Chromebooks is for the price, you could get a “real” PC, which not only can do more, it may better prepare the child for life after school (most colleges and businesses run on Windows, not ChromeOS).

For a PC laptop the cons are the susceptibility to viruses (although this has been greatly reduced since Windows 10 has built-in AV protection (Windows Defender) that is really good).

Many school PC laptops are also Windows 10 in S mode, which restricts installation of apps to the Microsoft Store ensuring they are virus and malware free. No more “downloading random apps” from the internet.

Microsoft has also been bullish on pen/inking and touchscreen support, whereas ChromeOS is still behind in this regard. This is important for things like OneNote, which makes judicious use of inking including problem solving math equations, which is very nifty.

Finally, regarding what are the best laptops for grade school we have a nice guide on that, which is probably a good place to start. One laptop that is not on that list that I personally like is the Lenovo 300e for $300. It’s built tough, has a pen, is a convertible, and it runs Windows 10 in S Mode.

Hope that helps!

What’s the best way to organize laptops, lights, chargers, and extension chords around a small desk? There’s not a lot of space at the dorm desk and it’s hard trying to find a set up that keeps my wires all organized and completely accessible (for easy of taking the wires/chargers out of the room and then putting it back)

Managing Editor Al Sacco answers:

Hey Jennifer P.

What you’re describing is a common issue, not only for students but for any office worker, really. I call it “cable chaos.” Thankfully, there are plenty of easy and affordable ways to create order out of that madness.

Some of the easiest ways are with cable clips, which attach to your desk or surface and basically gather a bunch of cords together. A couple good options are OHill Cable Management Clips ($7 for 16 of them at Amazon) or GWHOLE Cable Clips ($8 for 100 at Amazon). They provide a very basic way of bunching together multiple cords to clear up space.

A “cable box” like Baskis’s Cable Management Organizer ($18 for two on Amazon) is also a good option that’s maybe a bit more versatile. You just run your wires through one end and out the other, and it keeps them all together. But it can be picked up and moved around, unlike some fixed cable clips.

Those ought to help but if you’re looking for more options, check out our recent roundup of related cable management accessories.

Students have a hard enough time stressing out about classes. Let’s save them the hassle of figuring out which tools to invest in. Take a gander at the questions here, and if you don’t find what you’re looking for, drop a reply in the forums and our editors will pile in with their thoughts!

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