The Verge Back to School Buying Guide

First, the bad news: summer’s over. It’s chillier out there every day, and soon you won’t have beaches, road trips, or kaiju to entertain you. It’s time to pull your jacket out of the closet and get to work.

Now the good news: You can make your own fun, you just need the right gear. So we’ve pulled together a state-of-the-art arsenal of gadgets, tools, and toys that will make the next nine months a breeze. That means a computer, sure, but the modern student’s life wouldn’t be complete without a camera, a hackable smartwatch, or a forest-ready backpack, right? We’ve gathered up the necessities and divided them into three categories: the designer, the engineer, and the artist. Whether you fall right in line with one type, or mix and match between them, we’ve got a perfect trunk of gear lined up and waiting. Making it sing is up to you.

The Designer

Designing is like solving an equation: precise, thoughtful, and all about getting it right. Designers see how all of the pieces fit together, how form and function can add up. Whether it’s subtle or outlandish, design informs everything around us. Accolades may not be important, but space to work certainly is. For the most part, a designer’s journal is a broad enough audience anyway, and for that, you don’t need much — just a clean pad of paper, a nice pen, and a quiet place to focus.


    Clean, simple, and composed. It should be an easy axiom to work with, but physical and visual clutter is a persistent enemy. There are just a few things you really need: Fujifilm’s small and versatile X-M1 camera for shooting photos around town; your MacBook Air for post-production, mocking up designs, and updating Tumblr all day long; and a sturdy bag like Jack Spade’s industrial canvas brief to tote it all around in. It’s not much, but that’ll leave plenty of room for books, accessories, and a portable hard drive to make sure you never lose a line of work.


    Are good looks and reliability too much to ask for? If something’s going to be with you 24 / 7, you shouldn't have to compromise. Between its sharp display and stoic build, the HTC One could be the perfect companion. From there, you can get some architectural feng shui going: pepper your desk with the MUJI tape dispenser’s subtle geometry, and for playing the dream-pop soundtrack to your life, add on the portable Big Jambox, which carries an unmistakable resemblance to 2001’s monolith. You’re all straight lines, basic colors, and little flair — a style so right that you’re not sure why others haven’t caught on. Same rules apply when reading an ebook or browsing the web — no unneeded gloss, just the basics.


    Others may not realize it, but you have big plans today. Every day, in fact. You’ll take your tea to go, kept warm in a metal Contigo tumbler. Your Laco watch — what could almost be a relic from World War II — will keep you in check. You’ll sit, write, relax, and when it all gets too noisy, throw on a pair of AIAIAI headphones to work deep into the night.

The engineer

It’s not easy being powerful. You want as much control as possible: everything needs to be codeable, upgradeable, and customizable. At a desk or on the move, you need access to all the world’s knowledge and enough processing power to mash it up a little. Not a lot of gear, just the right gear, so you’re not caught off guard when your low-key study break turns into a frenzied all-night hackathon. And since not all hacks are electronic, you’ll also need the necessary equipment to whittle a tent stake, brew espresso, or start a fire. You never know, right?


    None of this netbook business; you need power. You never know when you’ll need to compile a Processing script, or jump into the library’s standing Team Fortress 2 LAN party. That means a serious, quad-core beast (possibly dual-booting Ubuntu) like the Razer Blade that can handle as much rendering as you can throw at it. And as long as you need something to carry it in, we recommend the Manfrotto Active Backpack and Cinch strap so you can keep your Flickr fresh.


    You can’t spend all your time in front of a laptop. So when you’re taking a keyboard break, you’ll want a tablet with a sharp screen and a battery strong enough to withstand your impromptu Black Mirror marathons. The Nexus 10 should stand up on both counts, and the Galaxy S4 will make the perfect backup for communication and Canabalt. Of course, the stock Nexus speakers are a little anemic on their own, so you’ll also want to bring along a pair of pint-sized desktop speakers to get the appropriate bass rumble, and a pair of low-end-friendly AIAIAI headphones in case your roommates are spoiler-averse.


    First: coffee. After that: more coffee. So much coffee, in fact, that you’ll want to keep an AeroPress on your person at all times to power you through those late-night coding sessions. The Chromecast also comes in handy, in case you need to show off some blueprints on your roommate’s flatscreen — not to mention that Pebble, which you’ve hacked to vibrate whenever someone pushes an update to your Github project. Then: a third cup of coffee.

The artist

Head-down in a studio, at work on a painting, or stringing together zeroes and ones; the artist’s canvas is more varied than ever. And often, it’s not just about one piece of art, or one medium. It’s about the infinite possibilities. Film, music, Rymdkapsel. But creation doesn’t just take time and tools — it requires the right state of mind. You need to surround yourself not just with the means to express, but also a means of inspiration. Work can be a thing of beauty, and beauty is often hard work. Here’s a good place to start both.


    When it comes down to it, most of your work is moving pixels around on a screen. As a result, you’ll want a very large screen — so large you could climb into it, Poltergeist-style, if the need arose. Throw in a Wacom board for sketching out those graceful curves, and you’ve got a full artist’s studio at your disposal. For the backpack-ready equivalent, we suggest the Adonit Jot Pro stylus with a Nexus 7 tablet, which should give you roughly the same feel as a ballpoint pen on a sketch pad, without all that messy ink.


    There’s what you want, and what you need. Then there’s what you carry it all around in. That’s Herschel’s bright and stylish backpack, which looks as good on a hanger as it does chock-full of your stuff. There’s room for books, and for that 3DS for passing time between (and let’s be honest – during) classes. And Bose’s SoundLink speaker dispenses the perfect mood music anywhere, so keep a journal or two handy for whenever your newest best-idea-ever strikes. Back at your desk, it’s time to buckle down: Philippe Starck’s stunning Blade Runner hard drive is rugged and reliable for storage, and we can’t say for sure that it didn’t come from an alien mothership. And the Pen Type-A doesn’t just use your ink of choice — it doubles as a ruler for keeping your drawings sharp.


    First things first — no looking sloppy. The VOID V02 watch can give you a touch of flair, and Warby Parker’s latest glasses will keep you looking sharp for the season. And since you go where your inspiration takes you, you might as well stay prepared: you’ll want Nocs’ NS2 Air Monitors for blasting mixtapes during a party; Black + Blum’s filtering water bottle in case inspiration leads you somewhere it probably shouldn’t; a few Field Notes journals for taking down ideas; and Panasonic’s tiny powerhouse GX1 camera for your mood boards back home. You’re style and substance, and this year, you’re ready for anything.

    • Nocs NS2 Air Monitors

    • Three by Three Seattle, Peg mighties magnets

    • Warby Parker Glasses, Winston in Old Fashioned Fade

    • Field Notes

      $9.95 (three pack)
    • Panasonic Lumix GX1

    • Black + Blum Eau Good water bottle

    • Klipsch Image S4 headphones

    • VOID V02-BLMU watch

    • Belkin Mini Surge Protector with USB charger

  • Editors: Thomas Houston and David Pierce
  • Writers: Jake Kastrenakes and Russell Brandom
  • Lead designer: Scott Kellum
  • Lead engineer: Steve McKinney
  • Photographer: Michael Shane
  • Art director: James Chae
  • Wardrobe stylist: Kathryn Typaldos
  • Product stylists: Adam Parker Smith and Nathan Smith
  • Hair and makeup: Natasha Leibel
  • Photo assistant: Andrew Frasz
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