Best Back-to-School Sales on Laptops, Headphones, and More
Save now on tech essentials to start the school year right
Whether you or your children are heading back to the classroom or a dorm room, you can find savings on plenty of items you may need for school.
Back-to-school sales come and go, so you’ll want to be strategic about when you shop. And keep in mind that availability and deals on products such as laptops and tablets this year are not as plentiful, because microchip shortages have caused lower retailer inventory levels. This is also creating increased shipping times, so pay close attention to delivery estimates when ordering online.
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Acer 11.6-Inch Chromebook Spin
This is a 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook, which means the 11.6-inch display can be bent behind the keyboard via a 360-degree hinge and used like a tablet. You’ll find entry-level specs here, including an Intel Celeron processor, 4 gigabytes of memory, and 32GB of storage.
CR’s test results: Acer 11 CP311-1HN-C2DV computer
Samsung 12.2-Inch Chromebook Plus V2
This 12.2-inch, 2-in-1 convertible Chromebook has an Intel Celeron processor and 4 gigabytes of memory. The prices listed above are different because Walmart's sale is for the model with a 32GB hard drive, while Amazon's model has 64GB—but you can easily expand memory with a microSD card. Our testers had no major problems with the model, though they did note that the battery life (as little as 5 hours on a single charge) could be better.
CR’s test results: Samsung Chromebook Plus V2 computer
Samsung 13.3-Inch Galaxy Chromebook
This Chromebook has specs you’d expect to find on a more traditional laptop: an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and a spacious 256GB solid-state drive. That makes it fast and versatile, especially when you factor in the touch-screen display. The battery life is a modest 7 hours, though, so the model may be best suited for someone who is fine with being tethered to a charging cable for at least part of the day.
CR’s test results: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook
Laptops and Computers
Acer 14-Inch Swift 3 Laptop
This midrange laptop comes equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid state storage. We reviewed a model with an i5 processor and came away largely impressed. One interesting note: The laptop supports WiFi 6, which may come in handy if you upgrade your router.
Acer 15.6-Inch Aspire 5 Laptop
This entry-level, 15.6-inch Windows laptop has an AMD Ryzen 3 processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of solid-state storage. We reviewed a model with an Intel processor and had no major complaints beyond the limited storage capacity. But for everyday tasks like browsing the web, editing office documents, and conducting video calls, this is a decent pick.
Apple 13-Inch MacBook Air Laptop (Latest Model)
The latest MacBook Air offers strong performance in a highly portable package. This is the base model, which has 8 gigabytes of memory and 256GB of solid state storage. It uses Apple’s new M1 processor, delivering not only fast performance but also up to 12.5 hours of battery life on a charge. The laptop weighs less than 3 pounds.
CR’s test results: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch laptop
Apple Mac Mini Computer
The Mini is the least expensive way to buy a Mac, but don’t expect to find a mouse, keyboard, or display in the box. You’ll have to buy your own. This sale price applies to the 256-gigabyte model featuring Apple’s M1 processor, and if you want more storage, the 512GB version is on sale for $800 at Amazon, down from $900.
CR’s test results: Apple Mac Mini M1 Chip computer
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Laptop
This laptop has solid specs: an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid state storage. And according to our testers, the high-resolution 4K display produces accurate colors, making it a nice choice for those who enjoy streaming movies on the go.
CR’s test results: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 13-inch laptop
Apple iPad Air (64GB WiFi-Only) Tablet
If you simply want to watch Netflix and read e-books, this high-powered tablet might be overkill, but it’s a good choice if you play demanding games and regularly edit video. The display is big and bright, and the color is accurate. The device weighs 1 pound on the dot. The battery lasted just 7.7 hours in our web-browsing test, though. That’s not impressive for a tablet, but it’s just about the only knock here. The model we tested features WiFi and 4G connectivity. By contrast, the one we list here is WiFi-only. The sale price may vary by color.
CR’s test results: Apple iPad Air (4G, 64GB) 2020 tablet
Apple AirPods Pro True Wireless Earphones
The AirPods Pro deliver sound quality that’s more than sufficient for critical listeners of music and movie soundtracks. They also offer active noise cancellation to muffle outside sound and interchangeable ear insert tips, abandoning the one-size-fits-all earbud design of other AirPod models.
CR’s test results: Apple AirPods Pro
Beats by Dre Beats Studio3 Wireless Headphones
These headphones deliver above-average sound and superb noise cancellation. At the usual price, they typically don’t make our lists of top picks because there are cheaper models that perform just as well or better. At $150 off, though, the Studio3 is definitely worth the cost of entry.
CR’s test results: Beats by Dre Beats Studio3 wireless headphones
Sony WF-SP800N Wireless Earphones
This massively discounted model is a good deal if you’re looking for noise-canceling true wireless headphones. The SP800N gets a decent rating for sound-blocking and audio quality, and it has a handy monitor mode that lets you listen in on your environment when you don’t want to cancel outside sound.
CR’s test results: Sony WF-SP800N true wireless headphones
For more discounts: Best Deals on Headphones Right Now
Corsair Void RGB Elite Gaming Headset
This Bluetooth headset has a claimed battery life of up to 15 hours. It features 3D Audio Advantage technology for Playstation consoles and Windows Sonic surround sound tech for Xbox consoles. On-ear controls let you adjust the game and chat volume independently and apply preset settings for bass, treble, and voice chat. According to one participant in a recent CR headset study, the SuperHuman Hearing setting is helpful for detecting footsteps and other subtle sounds. You mute the mic by flipping it upward. The headset is compatible with Nintendo Switch; PS 5, PS 4, and PS 4 Pro; Windows 10 PCs; and XBox Series X/S and Xbox One, but you have to choose the correct model for your computer or console.
SteelSeries Arctis 7 Gaming Headset
This 2.47GHz wireless model has DTS Headphone:X v2.0 surround sound technology and a claimed battery life of 24 hours. On-ear controls let you adjust the volume, mute the mic, and tweak the balance between game and chat audio. The mic retracts into an ear cup when you don't need it. One user in our study mentioned that the headset comes with software that allows you to put more emphasis on footsteps or fire. Another admired the ski-goggle-style headband that keeps the plastic headband off your head. The manufacturer also includes a 3.5mm audio cord for wired use with mobile devices. The headset is compatible with Mac and PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS. (The PS 4 does not support the surround sound feature.)
Netgear Orbi Mesh Router System
This three-unit system performs well in our tests, earning a spot on our best wireless router list despite relying on the slightly older WiFi 5 standard. It doesn’t rate quite as high as other models when it comes to speed at midrange and far distances.
But there’s a lot to like here, including the best price we’ve seen in months. The model also features an easy app-based setup, a single built-in Ethernet port, and automatic firmware updates, which protect you from hackers, malware, and other security threats.
CR’s test results: Netgear Orbi AC1200 (three-pack) wireless router
Sony 55-Inch 4K Google TV
This is an entry-level 4K set with decent, if unexceptional, overall picture quality, plus not-so-hot HDR. Earlier this year, Sony moved from the Android smart TV system to Google TV, which has a main interface that helps you find shows and movies easier. The set’s price has fallen a decent amount since it was introduced.
CR’s test results: Sony KD55X80J TV
TCL 32-Inch 720p Roku Smart TV
Those looking for a smaller, low-priced smart TV might want to consider this model, even though the picture quality is only decent. Thanks to the Roku TV smart TV platform, the set is easy to use and has access to lots of content.
CR’s test result: TCL 32S335 TV
Bluetooth and Smart Speakers
Amazon Echo Dot Smart Speaker (4th Gen.)
The Dot is the cheapest way to enter the Amazon smart speaker ecosystem. Despite its low price and small size, it’s powered by Amazon's cloud servers, so it offers the same smart speaker functionality as its far more expensive brethren. With stronger bass and more extended trebles, the sound quality on the latest globe-shaped model is improved over previous versions, too. Just don’t expect to get much volume, except in a very small room.
CR's test results: Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) smart speaker
Amazon Echo Show 5 (1st Gen.)
This speaker isn’t going to wow you with music playback, according to our testers. But if you just want a smart speaker with a screen that won’t break the bank, the Show 5 is a great option. The 5-inch display also makes the device much smaller than its counterparts, the Echo Show 8 and Show 10. This is the price for the first-generation Show 5. The 2021 model is on sale for $55 at Amazon and Best Buy.
CR’s test results: Amazon Echo Show 5 smart speaker
JBL Xtreme 2 Bluetooth Speaker
The Xtreme 2 is large and heavy for a portable speaker, but the sound quality is admirable. The model delivers strong bass—maybe a bit too strong for some—and enough volume to fill a large room. Features include an internal power bank that can charge other devices, and JBL says the Xtreme 2 is water-resistant to 3 meters, a claim CR didn’t test. This sale price is only available for the camouflage model. The green and red models are both on sale for $220.
CR’s test results: JBL Xtreme 2 wireless and Bluetooth speaker
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse
This model has been on sale for a few weeks, and Amazon’s price has fallen a few bucks in that time. It looks a bit more like a traditional mouse than some other ergonomic options. The shape and exaggerated thumb rest help to reduce forearm stress but do little to relieve wrist strain. The device has five programmable buttons and a dedicated Windows Start button, making it better for PC users than Mac users. The Microsoft Sculpt is designed specifically for right-handed users.
Samsung 9W Wireless Charging Pad
This charging pad is one of the best wireless chargers CR has tested. It's relatively compact and has a built-in cooling fan for faster charging. The round status indicator changes color when the device is fully charged. But it takes up to 30 seconds to alert you if the device is positioned incorrectly on the charging pad, and that can be a nuisance if you already walked away and didn’t notice. Without much hassle, you can replace the 4-foot-long standard micro USB power cable that comes the charger and use a longer one.
Miroir HD Pro Projector M220
This super-portable mini projector—about the size of a paperback book, among the smallest of the models CR tested—offers hassle-free operation and the ability to project fairly big and satisfyingly bright images at 720p resolution.
The built-in battery has a claimed run time of about 2 hours. The model doesn't come with a remote control, but it does have the usual HDMI and USB ports, plus a USB-C video input, which lets you connect newer Apple devices without needing an HDMI cable. There's also a second USB-C port you can use to charge devices. This is one of the more expensive models CR evaluated, but the on-page coupon at Amazon provides a nice discount.
Calphalon Drip Coffee Maker
This Calphalon brewer is one of the best-rated drip coffee makers in CR’s tests, with top marks for brew performance and convenience. And right now it’s more than 50 percent off its usual $160 price at two retailers. It’s worth noting that it makes up to 10 cups at a time, which is fewer than many models. But it has no problem brewing a full pot using a filter filled almost to the top with grounds—a tough test for many coffee makers.
CR’s test results: Calphalon Special Brew BVCLDCG1 coffee maker
Keurig K-Café Special Edition Pod Coffee Maker
Single-serve coffee gets a major upgrade with this Keurig machine. It has a built-in milk frother, so you can make cappuccinos and lattes at home. CR’s tests show that the K-Café is consistent when it comes to brew size and temperature, but it does take a bit longer than other models to heat up the first cup. In our owner satisfaction survey, Keurig ranked among the top brands for satisfaction but fell in the middle of the pack for reliability.
CR’s test results: Keurig K-Café Special Edition Coffee, Latte & Cappuccino Maker K84
Keurig K-Elite Pod Coffee Maker
In our tests this pod brewer was a bit slow to start, but it brews repeat cups quickly and consistently. It’s also packed with features, including a removable reservoir, a height-adjustable drip tray, programming, auto-shutoff, a strong brew mode, an iced brew mode, and the ability to dispense hot water for tea and other noncoffee beverages. If you’re a Keurig coffee drinker and you’re in the market for a new machine, this brewer won’t disappoint.
CR’s test results: Keurig K-Elite K90 coffee maker
Vacuums and Robotic Vacuums
Bissell Pet Hair Eraser Stick Vacuum
This basic corded Bissell vacuum lives up to its name by acing CR’s pet-hair tests. But it struggles to contain fine dust particles, earning a Poor rating on our clean-emissions test. A sizable dustbin cuts down on the number of trips you make to the trash can. The 27-foot power cord is a bit shorter than the standard 30 feet but long enough that you probably won’t have to keep changing outlets as you move around the house. At a little more than 9 pounds, this vacuum is on the heavier side for a stick vac.
CR’s test results: Bissell Pet Hair Eraser stick vacuum
Ecovacs Deebot 711 Robotic Vacuum
The Deebot 711 makes a great choice if you have mostly hardwood floors—it excelled in CR’s hardwood tests—and don’t want to spend too much. However, if your home is carpeted, especially if you have pets, this is not the best choice, as its test scores in these categories are middling and lackluster. The Deebot 711 can be controlled via a smartphone app, giving you an easier way to start a cleaning cycle.
CR’s test results: Ecovacs Deebot 711 robotic vacuum
Eufy RoboVac 11S Robotic Vacuum
The Eufy RoboVac 11s cleans carpet well in our tests and leaves very little pet hair. It does even better on bare floors. Though it’s not the most efficient cleaner—testers note that it sometimes scatters debris—it eventually gets the job done, operates quietly, and has a cliff sensor, so it won’t tumble down stairs. This robotic vacuum isn’t WiFi-enabled and can’t be used with a smartphone app. It typically sells for around $230, but thanks to a small discount and an on-page coupon, you can get it for around $60 off right now.
CR’s test results: Eufy RoboVac 11S robotic vacuum