The Verge Back to School Guide 2014

Going back to school isn’t what it used to be. It’s actually way, way better. Gone are the days of book-laden backpacks, anemic campus coffee, and laptops that take longer to boot up than it takes for you to roll out of bed. This is the future, kids. And if you want to be a student of the future, you need to be smarter, faster, and more aggressively caffeinated than ever before. Not sure how? That’s where The Verge's Back to School Guide comes in: we’re here to arm you with the tools — from gadgets and apps to coffeemakers and notebooks — that we’ve ranked first-in-class for the pupil of tomorrow. And by tomorrow, we seriously mean like, tomorrow. Didn’t you check your school calendar?

Jessica Calvanico

PhD Student at UC Santa Cruz

Though Jessica Calvanico, 28, has been out of school for five years, this fall she returns to class. In September, she relocates from New York to California, where she’ll pursue a PhD in feminist studies from UC Santa Cruz. Despite not being a recent student, she's remained familiar with the classroom, teaching undergrad students the past few years. She’s got her study and relaxation rituals down pat: coffee and “listening to the same song on repeat” for the former, and a good comic book or graphic novel for the latter. She swears by paper note-taking, but relies on tools like recorders, microphones, and her iPad to conduct the fieldwork that’s a key part of her research.

Our Product

1. Tables tiles / drink coasters

By nature coasters are kinda old maidish but it's nice to not have stains. So update your shit and stay ringwear free.

$12 at Areaware

2. Muji notebooks

Muji's notebooks are colorful, slick, and affordable enough to buy en masse. Write, draw, and scrawl with abandon.

$3.95 at Muji

3. NQ Cuisinart CPK 17 hot kettle

Whether for tea or ramen, the Cadillac of cordless kettles will have you piping hot in an instant. Hot dog! (We mean the phrase: This does not cook hot dogs. Unless you boil them.)

$99.95 at Cuisinart

4. Mazama Coffee Set

While you’re shut in and stooped over your last term paper, soothe yourself with a warm beverage in Mazama's classic mugs. Ahhhhhhhhhhh (that's what you will say when you drink from this).

$80 at Mazama

5. Beats Studio Wireless

Screaming roommates? Noisy dorm? Use these headphones to block out the noise and jam deep house or white noise. Get into the zone.

$379.95 at Beats

6. CableBox

Cable clutter ruins an otherwise orderly room. CableBox is a simple solution that hides your power strip and excess cable lengths.

$29.95 at Bluelounge

7. 'Through the Woods' by Emily Carroll

Beloved webcomic writer Emily Carroll tackles print with her spooky new book. Perfect if you are a little bit of a nerd, a little bit of a weirdo, and need a break from studying.

$17.19 at Amazon

8. Grady's cold brew

This high-voltage ice coffee concentrate is infused with chickory for a hint of sweetness. Guaranteed to kickstart the most lethargic of early mornings.

$15 at Grady's

9. Anker USB charger

USB ports are the new power outlets — for gadgets, at least. No plug no problem! USB now stands for universal special buddy.

$25.99 at Amazon

10. Belkin car charger

So you can text and drive! Just kidding, don't do that. So you can charge your phone on the way to class.

$23.09 at Amazon

11. S'well bottle

A super cool reusable bottle that keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, S'well also donates a portion of its profits to the charity WaterAid.

$25 at S'well

12. Cuyana Canvas weekender bag

For serious work days or casual weekend trips you need an excellent big-ass bag. This is it.

$120 at Cuyana

13. Sunpocket sunglasses

Sunglasses are good for the sun but also for going to class hungover. It's ok! It happens! You're young! Have fun! If you're at least 21 years of age!

$93 at Sunpocket

14. Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Black

Instagram is cool but filters are lame but sometimes you need to look better. Real-life problem, meet real-world solution: an actual camera.

$199.99 at Best Buy

15. Amazon Fire TV

You’ve already got Amazon Prime free shipping, may as well take advantage of the free movies too. Hook up a Fire TV then start streaming. Not our fault if you stay up too late binge-watching and nod off in class, though.

$99 at Amazon

16. Acer c720 Chromebook

If you live and breathe Google Docs, this one’s for you. Also nice if you are a broke student — aka a student. Acer’s C720 is an inexpensive laptop that’s perfect for writing, editing, and reading online.

$299 at Acer

17. Mophie 2322 Power Reserve Rechargeable Battery

It never hurts to have a backup plan but it does to have no power. Keep the tiny Mophie Power Reserve in your bag to charge your iPhone in a pinch.

$49.95 at Mophie

Yoni Stokar

Grad Student at York College,  CUNY

Yoni Stokar’s schedule is what coffee was made for. Stokar, 26, is pursuing a graduate degree in occupational therapy, and juggles an internship and band practice alongside an academic load crammed with research seminars and advanced theory classes. Not surprisingly, he relies on “caffeine, caffeine, caffeine” to get through the semester (which makes sense, given that his go-to study tactic is to, he says, “procrastinate and then pull all-nighters”). Stokar leans on gadgets to give him an edge (he takes notes on his Macbook and reviews them on his iPad) and when he’s got some spare time, he relaxes with music, rollerblading, yoga, and a good stiff drink.

Our Product

1. MacBook Air sleeve

Save your MacBook from gross scratches with this swaggy little case from Byrd & Belle.

$56 at byrd & belle

2. Lexon Maizy calculator

It's probably a good idea to learn math, but if you want to spell "boob" in numbers you're gonna need a calculator.

$16 at Lexon USA

3. Lunchskins reusable sandwich and snack bags

Brown bag, schmrown bag. You eat lunch out of a bag with a lobster on it if you wanna sit at the cool kids' table.

$8.95 at Lunchskins

4. MOS organization system

Sleek, stylish, and a little bit sci-fi, the MOS keeps charging cables tidy and your place looking pretty damn cutting edge.

$39.99 at Sewell

5. Logitech Ultrathin

Okay, so the other stuff we said was cool? We lied. This is rad because it's practical! It's a tiny keyboard for your iPad. All of a sudden it's like you have a new computer.

$99.99 at Logitech

6. EAB pocket knife

This compact blade is the perfect all-purpose tool for wherever the school day takes you (perhaps a place where you have to cut stuff). It also doubles as a money clip for when you get rich.

$14 at Gerber

7. Slingshot Coffee

They bring coffee to your door. It's insane. It's like you made it yourself except it tastes really good.

$17 at Slingshot Coffee

8. Normal 3D-printed earbuds

3D-printed custom earbuds are basically the definition of why technology rules. Listening to music is also cool. Or podcasts, if you're into that sort of thing.

$199 at Normal

9. Rode Ixy stereo mic

Record your class, record notes for poems, record your dreams in the middle of the night, record the birds when you take a hike. Plug this mic into your phone and you're a total pro.

$149 at Amazon

10. Aeropress

Rev up for a busy day with a better cup of coffee. The classic Aeropress yields rich, flavorful joe in less than a minute. It's for, like, when you are medium lazy but have high standards.

$22.65 at Amazon

11. Pebble Steel

The best and most stylist smartwatch for the best and most stylish student. You know: you.

$249 at Pebble

12. Sonos Play:1

The Sonos Play:1 is a big party in a small package (wink!). Stream music from your phone to a single, powerful speaker for nonstop jam after jam.

$199 at Sonos

13. MacBook Air

Honestly this computer is just great. Super slim, super fast. It rules.

$899 at Apple

14. Rdio subscription

Listen to whatever you want, whenever you want, with Rdio’s simple interface and superb song selection. Better than Spotify. Just saying.

$10 at Rdio

Rasheeda Phillips

Massage Therapy Student at the Swedish Institute

When Rasheeda Phillips graduates, she’ll no doubt be a crucial resource to help de-stress the students of tomorrow. That’s because Phillips, 28, attends the Swedish Institute of Health Sciences, where she’s pursuing a degree in massage therapy. Phillips’ program is a combination of class time (including a notoriously tough neurology seminar) and hands-on therapy work. To ace exams, Phillips relies on handwritten notes and anatomy apps, and she unwinds after long, hard days by “stuffing my face,” streaming some Netflix, and sipping on a soothing glass of wine.

Our Product

1. LG G3

Watch really high-quality Netflix streams on your phone when you have to pull the covers up to avoid your roommate fooling around with a jock: the LG G3 has an incredible Quad HD display and tons of power to back it all up.

$99 at Amazon

2. Hand & Body Lotion

Whether your hands are cramped from massaging clients or typing non-stop, treat them to Kiehl's soothing, delightfully scented lotion.

$26 at Kiehl's

3. Wine preservers

Toss the cork and keep wine fresh by vacuum sealing it and keeping tabs on the temperature.

$9.99 at Brookstone

4. APV X Valentich Bags Pack 03

Massage therapists have a lot of tools of the trade; maybe you do too. The APV X Valentich bag is cool, comfortable, waterproof, and has plenty of room.

$300 at APV

5. "Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s creator returns with a graphic novel about 20-somethings trying to get their shit together. It’s smart, funny, and visually stunning.

$15 at Amazon

6. Blue Apron subscription

Blue Apron is for the lazy foodie in all of us. Pay up and enjoy delivered boxes of fresh ingredients and simple recipes.

$9.99 at Blue Apron

7. Vituri wine aerator

Wine on a student's budget? Make it taste like a million bucks with Vinturi's aerator, which does the job of a decanter in mere seconds.

$39.95 at Vinturi

8. UE Mini Boom

Among our favorite portable speakers, the UE Mini Boom is the best sound you'll get in a device that fits in your purse or pocket.

$99.99 at Logitech

9. Tonx coffee subscription

Tonx offers subscription plans for the most extreme coffee addicts. Start the morning with coffee brewed from great beans delivered right to your door.

$19 at Tonx

10. Classic Slippers

Slippers as dynamic as you are. The heels flip up if you're heading out, or down if you're cozying up with Snow Crash on the couch, as you should be.

$67 at Mahabis

11. SanDisk Ultra USB 3.0

The best way to carry huge files remains the humble flash drive: SanDisk's Ultra USB 3.0 is our pick for a reliable one with plenty of space.

$69.99 at SanDisk

12. Google Chromecast

Save money and still watch whatever you want. The Chromecast is a basic streaming device (a dongle, in fact) but it gets the job done.

$35 at Google

13. Microsoft OneNote

Dump your thoughts, sketches, and the rest of your brain into Microsoft's OneNote however you want. Access it all from the cloud, on apps for all your devices.

$69.99 at Microsoft

14. Nature's Way EfaGold Coconut Oil Dietary Supplement

You may as well be efficient with your purchases: coconut oil is a must-have for cooking but it's also an excellent DIY moisturizer.

$13.09 at Nature's Way

15. Embassy pen

Do you want classmates to wonder whether you’re holding a pen or a spy tool? Of course you do. Then the Embassy Tactical Pen is the writing tool for you.

$55 at Best Made

Sam Clarke

Undergrad at School of Visual Arts

An avid shooter, 20-year-old Sam Clarke attends New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he’s working towards a bachelor of fine arts in photography. He sometimes goes old school, shooting film, and has similar study habits, using a classic pen and pad to take notes during his classes. He says school is a process that starts strong at the beginning of the semester but "dissipates" by the end (hey, we've been there). Clarke's also committed to packing "very light" for his trek from Brooklyn to school in Manhattan every day: he carries little more than a selection of pens and pencils and his hard drive.

Our Product

1. iPhone 5S

The iPhone 5S is the most well-rounded phone you can buy, except that it’s more like a rectangle. Added bonus: awesome camera.

$199 at Apple

2. Jim Golden prints

Ever wish you could just press rewind on your life? Now you sort of can, with Jim Golden's retro prints of floppy disks, DynaTAC cellphones, and typewriters.

$150 at Jim Golden Studio

3. Uniqlo slippers

It's been a long day and your feet are disgusting. So slip into something comfortable with these soft and simple Uniqlo slippers.

$12.9 at Uniqlo

4. Fujifilm's instant camera

You're in your prime — looks-wise, it's all downhill from here. So take a picture while you've got a face worth ogling, with Fujifilm's Instax Mini 90 instant camera.

$149.45 at Amazon

5. Interiors architectural diagrams

Sad you can't live inside that hotel from The Shining? Pretend you do with these prints from Interiors, which recreate the architectural designs from your favorite TV shows and movies.

$17 at Interiors

6. Fujifilm X100s

Taking pictures is fun, but it's a bummer when they turn out looking like crap. Good news: with this camera, that is far less likely to happen.

$1299 at Fujifilm

7. Pijonbox

Like a care package from mom and dad, except you won't want to throw half of it away. These carefully curated boxes are stuffed with food, health products, and other goodies.

$23 at Pijonbox

8. Pop Corn Cable Turtle

Pretend to be more organized than you actually are with these discrete shells that keep your charging cables tucked away and tidy.

$4.99 at

9. Seagate Backup Plus 3TB Desktop Drive

How much space is 3TB? We can personally attest that it's enough space for all your files, plus a ton of porn.

$199.99 at Seagate

10. Uni-ball gel ink Signo pen

Gel pens used to be cool, then they got lame, but if you use them again we can turn that around. Bonus points for being more fun than a highlighter.

$15 at Amazon

11. Lamy fountain

When it comes to taking notes the OG way, don't skimp. This limited-edition fountain pen is a comfortable and stylish alternative to your basic Bic.

$37 at Lamy USA

12. Tile

You're young! You're wild! Sometimes you get drunk and lose your keys. Stick a Tile to them and that hungover city-wide search gets hella easier.

$19.95 at Tile

13. Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips

She loves me, she loves me not. Adjust the mood from "romantic" to "we're totally just studying" in a snap with Hue Lightstrips and their accompanying app.

$89.95 at Apple

14. Google Drive storage

Imagine living on a cloud? The next-coolest thing is putting your entire life inside one, which you can do with extra Google Drive storage.

$1.99 at Google

15. Evernote subscription

Never forget anything with an Evernote Premium subscription. This app holds notes, photos, and that crumpled napkin you scribbled that cutie's number on.

$5 at Evernote

16. Mophie Space Pack

A triple threat just like Beyonce, the Mophie Space Pack is part case, part battery pack, part extra storage.

$149.95 at Mophie

17. Nocs NS2 v2

Face it, you're too poor to buy actual decorations for your apartment. Let these colorful, stylin' speakers do double-duty instead.

$399.95 at NOCS


Photo - David Brandon Geeting

Photo Editor - David Fish

Art Director - James Chae

Prop Stylist - Priscilla Jeong

Designer - Uy Tieu

Developer - KK Rebecca Lai

Editorial leads - Matthew Schnipper, Thomas Houston, and Katie Drummond