What’s the best laptop, monitor, power-bank or noise-cancelling headphones for a college student? Or rather, what’s the best you can get at a reasonable price in a cost-of-living crisis? We pick eight decent options for the freshers of 2022.
For something basic that’s adequately powered, this is about the best you’ll get around the €500 mark. The 14-inch HP laptop covers all the bases pretty well, with some features that are now hard to find on many laptops.
This includes a memory card slot and a choice of both USB-A (the older type) and USB-C (newer type) ports, as well as a full-size HDMI port. Getting an Intel i5 processor and 8GB of Ram, a combination which is fine for everything but gaming or intensive graphics usage such as video-editing, at this price is a very decent deal.
Where you might notice the compromise is in the screen, which is a fairly basic resolution and isn’t as bright (250 nits) as more expensive models. The webcam is fairly basic, too. And the casing feels a little plasticky. But for the money, it’s pretty good.
While the brand new MacBook Air M2 is arguably the best all-round laptop you can get (see my recent review on Independent.ie) the 13.3-inch M1 model is almost as good and costs €300 less.
For a student, it has some killer features that are hard to match.
These include the best battery life on the market (a solid 10 to 18 hours, depending on activity), great power, a great keyboard, good speakers and a very good screen. It’s nice and light, too, as well as being very thin.
Furthermore, because iPhones are unusually popular among the under-25s, there’s a big ecosystem benefit where calls and texts can be handed off and shared between devices, and content such as photos and videos can easily be Airdropped. This should last for years.
Noise-cancelling headphones can be incredibly useful for helping to study, whether it’s in an irritatingly noisy library or a student dorm room with ultrathin walls.
There really is a huge number to choose from. Whereas the gold standard – for the combination of noise-cancellation and audio quality – is Sony’s WH1000-XM4, these still cost from €289 upwards, which might be hard to justify on a student budget.
In general, decent noise-cancelling headphones start at about €80 or €90. Overall, I think that Sony’s CH710N set (€120 from multiple outlets) is probably the best all-round pair as a mix of quality and price. Irish brand OneSonic also has a very decent, affordable pair (BB-HD1, €99 from OneSonic.com).
If you want to go down the buds route, you’ll have to pay a fair whack to get anywhere near the effectiveness of the overhead models. The best package is probably Huawei’s Freebuds Pro 2 (€199 from different retailers). There are cheaper noise-cancelling buds models, but they’re not nearly as good.
A good monitor not only allows you to plug your laptop in for a bigger, more productive screen, but doubles as a decent TV in student digs. Samsung’s Odyssey is a very nice choice for a number of reasons.
The screen quality itself is excellent and it has all the relevant ports for your gadgets. It’s also pretty good as a gaming display, with a fairly high refresh rate (165Hz) and the ability to swivel the screen into a portrait (vertical) position. 27 inches is a sweet spot in terms of size, too: not too big that it will overwhelm a desk, but easily big enough to either work on multiple web pages at once or simply watch Netflix from the student bed, several feet away.
Spending a long day in lectures or the library without access to a power outlet? Despite recent improvements in the battery reserves of smartphones and some laptops, a power bank is still one of those accessories that’s hard to live without.
A basic 10,000mAh model (from around €20 up) is fine for phones and tablets, but you’ll need something a bit more substantive for a laptop. These aren’t cheap, but Omnicharge’s Omni Mobile is a good option.
With a 25,600mAh reserve, it has more than enough to recharge a typical 13-inch laptop with enough left to refill a full-size smartphone from empty. It also has multiple ports to charge different things on the go, including the ability to wireless charge a phone.
A good portable speaker can come in handy in umpteen ways. Paired with any basic smartphone, tablet or laptop, it’s as good a hifi as any the student’s parents might have had in college 25 to 30 years ago.
It can also serve as a decent speaker to a laptop, PC or monitor, whose speakers are often dire when you want to catch a movie on Netflix.
In general, a good portable speaker should be small but have powerful, outsized audio prowess.
It should also be wireless (unlike the smart speakers from Amazon and Google), have excellent rechargeable battery life and be able to take a few knocks.
In that context, JBL’s Charge 5 is one of the best in the category at the moment. A bonus is that it’s also splashproof and can, itself, be used as a backup power reserve for your phone.
If access to sockets is an issue, multi-port chargers are very useful. But most of them are very slow and only offer one type of port, either the older USB-A port or the newer USB-C ones.
This one gives a very decent charging rate and also offers two of each kind of port, so you can use cables you get in new phones as well as those you’ve had for a while.
(€40 to €60)
If you’re in digs or student accommodation and have a telly or a monitor, the best way of turning it into an occasional TV is by plugging in one of Google’s Chromecasts or Amazon’s Fire Sticks.
Assuming your large screen has an HDMI port (and it almost certainly will), these will work off your local wifi signal to give you access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Paramount Plus and a whole lot of other platforms.
Pricing depends on whether you get one with its own remote control or not.