Illustration showing doodles in a notebook to represent various tech gear.

Whether your kids will be distance learning, heading back to the classroom, or moving into a dorm in the next few weeks, one thing’s for sure: It’s not too soon for back-to-school shopping.

Retailers are starting on their annual sales pushes early this year. Not all the deals outlined below are being called back-to-school promotions, but retailers are highlighting traditional academic staples such as laptops, along with technology that’s particularly important for households where students are working from home, including headphones and wireless routers

We expect many more offers in the coming weeks, and Consumer Reports will be sifting through them for the best deals on products that have stood up to our rigorous lab tests. 

Laptops and Tablets

Acer Nitro 5 Laptop

    If your kid is into gaming, consider the Acer Nitro. It’s one of the best laptops of 2020, with impressive specs for a machine at this price, including a dedicated Nvidia graphics card, an Intel Core i5 processor, and plenty of memory and storage. It’s a little heavy, but that’s no surprise, given the 17.3-inch screen. For anyone accustomed to sitting at a desk, cranking out assignments (yes, with some gaming breaks in between), this is a solid option. And it’s made more attractive by Best Buy’s almost $90 discount. 

     

    CR’s test results: Acer Nitro 5 AN517-51-56YW laptop

    Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch

      The new MacBook Pro isn’t cheap, but it combines raw power with a sleek package and an improved keyboard for students who need more oomph than the MacBook Air offers. The model we tested had 12 gigabytes of memory; this one has 16GB. The result is strong performance in a device fully capable of handling the most demanding tasks. The 13-inch model is also on sale at
      Best Buy, starting at $1,700, which is $200 less than usual.

       

      CR’s test results: Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch laptop

      Lenovo Yoga Laptop

        This laptop has good core specs for a midrange computer—an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and a 256GB solid state drive. It will purr along easily while performing most tasks, and it’s convenient to use on the go. It weighs an easy-to-tote 3 pounds and provides plenty of battery life, and the 2-in-1 convertible design lets you prop it up in tent mode or use it like a tablet.

         

        CR’s test results: Lenovo Yoga C740-14 laptop

        LG Gram 14 Laptop

          The LG Gram practically defines thin-and-light design. The 14-inch version weighs a feathery 2.2 pounds—you almost want to hold it down if the wind kicks up. Better yet, it logged 19.5 hours’ worth of battery life in our web-browsing tests. (For video watching, the figure is closer to 9 hours.) Amazon has the best price right now, but you’ll find discounts elsewhere, too.

           

          CR’s test results: LG Gram 14 (2020) laptop

          Microsoft Surface Pro 7

            With fast processing speeds and a convenient touch screen, the Surface Pro 7 does very well in our tests, and the 256-gigabyte model with 8GB of RAM is about $250 cheaper at Amazon than at other retailers. Keep in mind that the keyboard, which detaches so that you can use the touch screen as a tablet, costs an additional $130.

             

            CR’s test results: Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (Core i5) laptop

            Samsung Galaxy Chromebook

              This is a Chromebook with 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 school day.

               

              CR’s test results: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook

              Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Tablet

                This sale price is available to all members of the My Best Buy rewards program, which is free to join. The tablet features a relatively large 10.5-inch screen, an ample 128 gigabytes of storage space, and a solid battery life of 8 to 11 hours, depending on how much time you spend watching movies on that big screen. The 256GB version is also on sale—for $600—for those who like downloading lots of movies.

                 

                CR’s test results: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 tablet

                Headphones and Speakers

                Apple AirPods Pro

                  The AirPods Pro are as much as $20 off at various retailers. They reduce unwanted distractions with active noise cancellation and provide interchangeable ear insert tips. The sound quality should satisfy even critical listeners of music and movie soundtracks.

                   

                  CR’s test results: Apple AirPods Pro earphones

                  Apple HomePod Smart Speaker

                    If you’re all about Apple, the HomePod is an enticing option, but it rarely goes on sale. Right now, though, the smart speaker is available at $100 off. It works seamlessly with the Apple Music streaming service, with full voice command integration. And our testers give the device solid grades for sound quality, though it doesn’t quite match up to the very best smart speakers on the market.

                     

                    CR’s test results: Apple HomePod smart speaker

                    Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

                      Trying to do schoolwork at home can be tough, especially for a student who doesn’t have a separate room. But a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can make it easier to focus. The Bose 700 model that launched last summer is a great option, especially with a $60 discount. (The soapstone white version is nearly $100 off.) The headphones earn high marks from CR, performing similarly to the popular Bose QuietComfort 35 II, but they add touch controls and a slight improvement to call quality.

                       

                      CR’s test results: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 headphones

                      Google Home Mini Smart Speaker

                        The Mini is an inexpensive way to access Google Assistant, especially now that it's selling for $20 less than usual at Office Depot. Though the tiny speaker is fine for spoken content—news, weather reports, etc.—our testers report that it’s not ideal for listening to music. But pair the Home Mini with a better-sounding speaker and, just like that, both have smart-speaker functionality.

                         

                        CR’s test results: Google Home Mini smart speaker

                        Jabra Elite 65t True Wireless Headphones

                          As with the Apple AirPods, this sports-oriented model has a true wireless design, which means the earpieces are completely untethered from each other and your phone. The headphones deliver high-quality audio and come with convenient features, including a quick-charge function that extends your battery by 1.5 hours after only 15 minutes, according to Jabra. The advertised battery life of up to 5 hours falls in the midrange for true wireless models.

                           

                          CR’s test results: Jabra Elite 65t headphones

                          Microsoft Surface Noise-Canceling Headphones

                            These headphones usually sell for about $100 less than comparable options from Sony and Bose, but they’re an additional $57 off at Best Buy right now. According to our testers, this model is great for listening to music and watching movies, which means you can transition from work to relaxation with ease.

                             

                            CR’s test results: Microsoft Surface headphones

                            Monoprice BT-300ANC Noise-Canceling Headphones

                              If you’re looking for noise-canceling headphones on a budget, this is a terrific option. These headphones don’t have the latest features—like a monitor mode or adjustable noise cancellation—but they deliver where it counts: above-average sound quality and fantastic sound-blocking abilities. They feature integrated controls for calls, volume, and playback, and the ear cups fold in and swivel flat for easy storage and transport. According to Monoprice, the battery will run for 8 hours between charges with both Bluetooth and noise cancellation turned on.

                               

                              CR’s test results: Monoprice BT-300ANC wireless noise-canceling headphones

                              Wireless Routers

                              eero Mesh Wireless Router

                                This three-unit mesh router system delivers the same basic performance as the more expensive Pro model for around half the price—and here you get an additional $50 off. As with the Pro version, this one supports automatic firmware updates (good for security) and provides easy setup via a smartphone app.


                                CR’s test results:
                                 Eero Home WiFi (2nd generation)

                                Netgear Nighthawk Wireless Router

                                  This model is well-suited to midsized homes in need of reliable wireless internet for the upcoming school year. In addition to solid performance, the router delivers the protection of automatic firmware updates and is easy to set up via a smartphone app. 

                                   

                                  CR’s test results: Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 (R7000) wireless router

                                  TVs and Home Theater

                                  Insignia 32-Inch Fire TV Smart TV

                                    This TV is the perfect size for a dorm room, and it won’t break the bank. The 32-inch model from Insignia—Best Buy’s house brand—provides satisfying picture quality. It uses the Amazon Fire TV smart TV platform to provide access to lots of streaming services.

                                     

                                    CR’s test results: Insignia NS-32DF310NA19 32-inch smart TV

                                    LG 60-Inch 4K Smart TV

                                      Yes, a 60-inch TV may seem extravagant for a college apartment, but look at that price. LG’s entry-level 4K set from 2019 does well in terms of overall picture quality, though it can’t deliver a compelling HDR, or high dynamic range, experience. (When done well, HDR can produce enhanced contrast and a more realistic picture.) The viewing angle is somewhat limited, too, meaning you need to sit right in front of the set to get the best picture. But those seem like quibbles for a $450 big-screen TV. 

                                       

                                      CR’s test results: LG 60UM6900PUA 60-inch 4K smart TV

                                      Polk Audio Command Sound Bar

                                        A sound bar is a quick and easy way to enhance your TV-watching experience, and this model is good for music and movie soundtrack playback. It has built-in Bluetooth, supports Amazon’s Alexa, and is now available at $100 off the original price. It’s currently out of stock at B&H Photo, but you can order it at the sale price if you’re willing to wait a little longer for shipping.

                                         

                                        CR’s test results: Polk Audio Command Bar sound bar

                                         

                                        For more home theater bargains, take a look at our article on the week’s best electronics deals.