A laptop computer

If you haven’t already started your back-to-school shopping, you still have a few more weeks to get it done. In August, you’ll find plenty of discounts for your child’s school needs.

We track the prices of the products we test, so we can tell you, month by month, what to buy on deep discount. And we’ll give you advice to help you get the best deals and the highest quality.

For more products on sale in August—and the rest of the year—check out our Calendar of Deals.

Laptops

Just about every kid these days needs either a laptop or a tablet for school. If it’s a laptop you’re after, you’ll find some good prices this time of year.

When shopping, consider how easy it is to carry the laptop around and also think about how much performance you’ll need. A student studying English, for example, may not need as much processing power as a budding videographer who needs to run video editing applications for her classes.

More on Back-to-School Shopping

Think about the screen size. Using screen size as a guide can help you find the right laptop for your needs. Laptops with larger screens tend to be heavier and less mobile, which makes them less popular with students who carry their laptops from class to class. But these laptops can also make it easier to work with multiple windows open, or to edit spreadsheets or photos.

Screens range from small (between 10 and 13 inches) to midsized (between 14 and 16 inches) to large (between 17 and 18 inches).  

Consider the “video cards” installed in the computer. They are an important feature for kids who might need to use their computer for video editing and gaming. Most computers have integrated graphics built into the main processor or motherboard. They’re less expensive than computers with discrete graphics, and are more than adequate for most school tasks. 

You can find more tips to help you decide which kind of laptop to buy in our computer buying guide.

Tablets

If you plan to buy a tablet, you’ll find that performance has improved recently, especially among lower-priced products that may be perfect for school.

Here’s what to consider if you’re going tablet shopping.   

Your child’s age. While “grown-up” tablets are fine for many older kids—and many come with parental controls and filters—there’s a growing number of tablets made specifically for younger kids. 

Price and performance. You can get a perfectly good Amazon Fire HD 8 for about $80 that is able to stream videos and kids’ games. Android kid tablets are also often less expensive than “grown-up” tablets. They are more rugged, and they come with child-oriented content. But often, kid-tablet specs—including processor speed, display quality, and screen responsiveness—lag behind those of regular tablets. 

Parental controls. Some parental controls are predetermined by the tablet maker, and some let you choose the sites you wish to have available to your child. Other controls let you block and monitor specific apps and websites. And some let you specify how much time a kid can spend playing on the tablet, or even what times of day he or she can play.

Headphones

A good set of headphones can help students block out noise, which can be useful if she is studying in a dorm. But shopping for a new set can make your head spin—there’s a wide array of styles, types, and prices.

Before making a purchase, you’ll have to consider whether to buy earphones that go into the ear canal or earbuds that rest in the bowl of the ear or studio style headphones, which fit either on the ear or over the ear.

Wireless headphones are increasingly popular, though the very best-sounding headphones still are wired models.

If you’re looking for headphones to block distracting sound, choose a noise-canceling model. These can also be safer for your kids’ hearing, because they’ll be able to play music at a lower volume.   

You’ll find more information in the headphones buying guide.

Printers

Printer prices have been coming down, but ink is expensive, adding to your long-term costs. A cheap printer, such as the HP OfficeJet 4650, which sells for around $80, may seem like a bargain. But according to our calculations, the total cost of owning that printer, including paper and ink, comes to $710 over the course of three years.

Before making a purchase take these steps to figure out which kind of printer is right:

Decide whether to buy an all-in-one or a plain printer. Plain printers have just one job: to print. All-in-one printers do more, such as scanning documents and making copies. Many all-in-ones cost little more than a plain printer, and they don’t take up much more space.  

Choose between an inkjet and a laser printer. If you typically print a combination of text, graphics, and photos, an inkjet might be best. If you need a simple printer for lots and lots of black-and-white text document, a laser printer could make the most sense.

Think about how much you’ll pay in ink costs. Printer ink may be one of the most expensive liquids you buy, especially if you consider that a lot of it never ends up on the page—printers use up ink for routine maintenance. To find out which models are most ink-efficient, check out our printer buying guide.