These Back-To-School Tech Gifts Are College Kid-Approved

2 weeks ago 7
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I'm a father of five and a grandfather of two. My kids range in age from 21 to 29, so the last several years have seen plenty of college drop-offs, first apartment setups and back-to-school supply grabs. I'm also a full-time digital nomad, which means I work remotely while traveling in order to see the world. 

Since I'm often only catching up with my children on Zoom or FaceTime, I miss out on those day-to-day IRL moments when a parent overhears small talk or notices what items the kids are using and leaving around the house. Fortunately for me, my kids are all tech nerds like I am, and they're happy to tell me what gear is most helpful in their lives as they navigate early adulthood. 

If you're looking for a small (or splurge) gift for the young adult in your life as back-to-school season approaches, these tech gifts have been winners for both me and my family.

Airfly/CNET

Working as a digital nomad means spending a lot of time on airplanes. One experience I haven't enjoyed on a plane is using wired headphones for the entertainment system.

Since purchasing an AirFly Bluetooth adapter, I haven't looked back. This Bluetooth wireless audio transmitter and receiver works with AirPods or wireless headphones. You plug the gadget into an airplane's or train's entertainment center, allowing you to pair your wireless device. It creates a Bluetooth connection anywhere there's a regular headphone jack.

Your graduate will most likely want to travel at some point (or better yet, travel with you!), so this is a gift they'll enjoy.

Lori Grunin/CNET

When it comes to my children, 3 out of 5 prefer an Apple laptop. I've purchased a 14-inch MacBook Pro, a 15-inch MacBook Air and a 16-inch MacBook Pro. 

My 22-year-old daughter likes the 14-inch MacBook Pro, shown here, because it's the happy medium of the three devices. She codes, but because she travels, she doesn't want a bigger screen. My 24-year-old son prefers the 16-inch MacBook Pro because he does both coding and graphics work, so he wanted a bigger screen. And my 21-year-old daughter likes the 15-inch MacBook Air because the screen is big but the laptop is light.

JBL/CNET

Even though I travel with headphones, I often use a Bluetooth speaker when watching shows and listening to music. I like the JBL Flip 5 portable Bluetooth speaker because it's small enough to fit in my travel bag and it's easy to use.

This is a middle-of-the-road speaker in terms of price. The audio quality is good enough for me, and the product is both durable and waterproof.

Alienware/CNET

Two of my kids are gamers, so they prefer PCs over Apple computers. For them, I've purchased the Alienware x16 R2 gaming laptop. They both love this laptop because it's fast, has an impressive Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card and has a good refresh rate for gaming.

As I've learned from personal experience, if you surprise your child who loves gaming with an Alienware laptop, you'll get major parenting points.

Bose/CNET

Battery Life Rated up to 20 hoursNoise Canceling Yes (ANC)Multipoint YesHeadphone Type Over-ear wireless headphonesWater-Resistant No IP rating

Curiously, when dad was buying, all my kids opted for over-the-ear headphones instead of earbuds.

I've liked the Bose Headphones 700 for travel, and as it turns out, my kids love them, too. The sound is great, they fit comfortably over the ears and they're wireless. Some of my college-age children are Apple heads whereas others prefer Android, but they call a truce and come together for their mutual love of Bose.

Read our Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 review.

Apple/CNET

I'm an Apple user, so the Apple MagSafe portable charger is a natural fit for my iPhone 15 Pro Max, and it's small enough and light enough to fit in my pocket. I've purchased Apple's MagSafe chargers for three of my kids; they appreciate the ability to keep their phone charged by just setting their phone down, rather than having to search for cords all the time.

Numi Prasarn/CNET

A tablet makes a great gift because it's a device that can handle most of the work of a laptop but in a mobile way. I personally use my iPad on flights and in hotels, as it's much easier to handle than my laptop. All five of my adult kids prefer Apple products when it comes to tablets, mainly for note-taking or streaming shows in a comfortable place.

Tablets have come a long way in terms of speed, screen clarity and the powerful processors built into them. I can now do business tasks on my iPad on the go, which is more convenient than pulling out my laptop.

Anker/CNET

I've purchased this Bluetooth speaker for myself and some of my kids because it's inexpensive but still nice. This mobile speaker is great to use while watching movies in hotels and Airbnbs (and let's not forget blasting my favorite Taylor Swift songs).

My kids enjoy this nicely priced speaker as well, and they say it's a gift they actually use, which is always a plus.

Read our Anker SoundCore 2 review.

Anker/CNET

To power my gadgets on the go, mobile energy is essential. There's not always an outlet available when traveling on planes, trains and buses, or in a ride-hailing car. Anker's MagGo power bank is my go-to mobile power supply for my travels.

Fortunately, my kids agree. They like the Anker MagGo because it's portable and not overly clunky. Being able to power gadgets while at school, work or on the go is a gift your older kids will appreciate.

Bose/CNET

Some of my kids want top-notch audio quality in an external speaker, so it's back to Bose we go. They told me they like this Bose Bluetooth speaker because it's small, yet mighty in its audio output. The speaker can work the room for a party but also can fit into a backpack or carry-on easily.

Tech gifts are a win-win

Tech gifts are an easy way to treat your kids to a higher quality of life when they don't quite have the salary yet to do that for themselves. They'll appreciate it, and you'll appreciate getting them a gift they actually want and will use. You can't go wrong with any of these gifts as you send your young adult off on their next adventure.

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