Whether it’s a new take on an old-school device (an internet-connected typewriter) or an old-school learning method made new (taking handwritten notes on an iPad), we’ve got our annual list of back-to-school tech items, covering kids and adults from kindergarten to college.
Fitbit Ace 2
WHAT IT DOES This kid-friendly version of the seemingly ubiquitous fitness tracker comes in bright Play Doh-colored hues and a rubbery, childproof silicone body. It's recommended for ages 6 or older, and among the default settings is a “goal” to reach the CDC-recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity. Kids can share step-tracking info with family and friends via the Fitbit app.
BUY $69.95; fitbit.com
Amazon Echo Show 5
WHAT IT DOES Another tech guide, another Amazon Echo product. This one is the latest in the line of Echo Show products, albeit at a much friendlier price. The device comes with a 5.5-inch screen and front-facing camera, allowing users to make video calls to other screen-equipped Echo devices (such as calls between empty-nest parents and homesick college freshmen). It can also play videos or music and can respond to voice commands via “Alexa” prompts.
BUY $89.99; amazon.com
Apple Powerbeats Pro
WHAT IT DOES Apple-branded products are rarely inexpensive, and these Bluetooth wireless earbuds are no exception. But they might be the thing to tune out ambient noises in rowdy dorms. Unlike the more simplistic-looking AirPods, Powerbeats have hooks that clip around your ear and sit deeper in your ear canal for a reportedly more secure fit. Their charging case is larger than that of the AirPods, but Powerbeats can last a whole day on a single charge.
BUY $249.95; apple.com
Polaroid Mint Camera
WHAT IT DOES Smartphones don’t come with instant printers, so, until then, there’s a niche for novelty cameras that also spit out photos. One of the latest is the Polaroid Mint, a camera that measures about the size of a large smartphone. Load the 2-inch-by-3-inch paper, turn it on, pick a color or frame option, shoot the photo and print. The camera uses a rechargeable battery and can print as many as 40 photos when fully charged.
BUY Around $100; polaroid.com
Relay cell phone alternative
WHAT IT DOES Many parents of preteens and younger want the ability to reach their kids via cell phone but without the trappings that come with iPhones and the like. The palm-sized Relay uses push-to-talk tech like a walkie-talkie but works via cellular networks, allowing up to cross-country communication. It’s audio-only and can communicate with other Relay devices or to a smart phone equipped with the Relay app. It even has a GPS locator for tracking.
BUY $49.99, plus $9.99/month service; relaygo.com
Freewrite Smart Typewriter
WHAT IT DOES It’s a typewriter for the Internet Age. Like an old-school cell phone that can only make calls, the Freewrite harkens back to a distraction-free time when a keyboard was used only for writing. The device uses a high-contrast screen and electronic ink to resemble paper whether inside or outdoors. The battery is said to last weeks, and documents can be saved locally on the device or backed up to popular cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Evernote.
BUY $549; getfreewrite.com
WHAT IT DOES Wonder Workshop, the maker of Dash, promises a fully charged robot that’s can be programmed right out of the box. App-based tutorials get kids started on programming the device, which has multiple sensors to respond to voice commands or coded instructions to sing, draw or move around. Multiple apps mean the robot’s complexity can grow along with the child.
BUY $149.99; makewonder.com
HP Chromebook x2
WHAT IT DOES Some will insist on staying within Apple’s or Microsoft’s ecosystems, but Chromebooks, which run Google’s operating system, have their perks, including better affordability. This Chromebook comes with a touchscreen display that supports the included stylus and can detach from the keyboard, which is also included. The laptop has a rear- and front-facing camera and can last up to 10-12 hours on a fully charged battery.
BUY $499.99; hp.com
Google Nest Hub
WHAT IT DOES Digital home hubs can control smart home devices, respond to voice commands and play back videos if equipped with a screen, which this Google device has. The 7-inch touchscreen works well with Google-owned or you can use it play music. Homesick college students can also use it as a digital picture frame. It has no camera, so it can’t make video calls. If you’re privacy-conscious, then perhaps that’s a bonus.
BUY $129; store.google.com
Lifx A19 Wi-Fi Smart Bulb
WHAT IT DOES Light your dorm room to reflect your mood with this smart bulb, which can replicate any of 16 million colors. Using an app from a mobile device, you can dim, brighten or automate the bulb to simulate a gradual sunrise in the morning or sunset at bedtime – or, you know, just use it to turn out the light without having to get out of that warm, comfy bed in winter.
BUY $59.99; lifx.com