Back to school: essential design kit for the new term

It’s time to do up your sneakers, brush your teeth and get back to design school. And we’ve rounded up the best tech, gadgets and productivity tools that will help you get through the toughest of assignments. 

From bags to cameras, laptops to printers; welcome to our back to school equipment guide. No talking at the back!

Bluesmart S2 laptop bag

This laptop bag comes with a built-in charger

Let’s face it, you’re going to need a decent laptop bag to be carting your MacBook or Surface (or whatever you go for) to and from your place of design education. And the Bluesmart S2, whilst pricey at 200 Euros, is pretty damn good. 

Why? Well, for a start it has built-in Bluetooth tracking – so if you misplace it, just pull out your phone and you’ll be able to see its location. What’s more, if you’ve lost your phone, there’s a button in the bag that rings your blower so you can find it with ease. 

And, let’s not forget that it comes with a removable battery (which takes 2.5 hours to charge) that enables you to juice your gadgets on the go. All this tech and it looks the part.

Samsung Galaxy Note8

The Note8 sports a 6.3-inch ‘Infinity Display’

If you want to make lecture notes but don’t want to lug around an iPad or use a laptop, the Note8 could be the perfect phablet. Its excellent S Pen enables you to scribble and sketch away on the incredible 6.3-inch ‘Infinity Display’ (which is basically an edge-to-edge screen with very little bezel), making notes, annotations and even doodling in Photoshop Express if the lecture takes a downward turn.

When you get home, plug it into the DeX station (free when you buy a Note8) attached to your monitor and it becomes a powerful desktop PC. It’s an incredible smartphone and, unlike the Note 7, it probably won’t explode in your pocket.

If you're umming and aahing about whether to go for the Galaxy or hold out for the new iPhone, you'll find everything you need to know about the iPhone 8 here

Dell XPS 13

This compact, touchscreen laptop won't weigh your bag down

The XPS 13 is a super-compact touchscreen laptop with a stunning 13.3-inch edge-to-edge display. Powerful enough to run your Creative Cloud apps on when plugged into a monitor on your desk (the base model has 8GB RAM, a Core i5 CPU and a 256GB SSD) and portable enough to throw in a bag and take just about anywhere, it really is a fantastic choice for design students.

BeoPlay E8 headphones

Intuitive touch controls enable you to change tracks or take calls

Completely wireless earphones are the new thing, and the ever-stylish B&O Play has just got in on the act, releasing the uber-cool E8s. Slot them in your ears, pair with your phone and you’re away. 

Transparency Mode enables you to let in some of the noise from the real world, while the companion app lets you fine-tune your sound. Want to change tracks or take calls? Just use the intuitive touch controls. Oh, and you’ll get four hours of play before you need to put them back in the charging case. 

This kind of quality comes at a price though – the B&O Play E8s will set you back somewhere in the region of £259.

Epson Expression Photo XP-960

Illustrators and graphic designers will need a good quality printer

Although we do most things digitally nowadays and it could be tempting to soft proof everything, if your course is based around illustration or graphic design, you’re going to need a high-quality, yet good value printer for hard proofs. 

Check out the Epson Expression Photo XP-960, which offers A3 photo printing and enables you scan and copy up to A4. A touchscreen makes it simple to use, and of course you can print wirelessly. And it gives highly professional results. Our colleagues over at Techradar gave it five stars – check out the review here.

Sonos PLAY:3

The Sonos speakers are small but pack a punch

You’re not gonna be able to work without music, right? The Sonos PLAY:3 is a small speaker that packs a real punch. With Spotify Connect, Apple Music, Amazon Music and more services all integrated (and of course you can stream your own music library using the excellent Sonos app) you’ll never be without a banging tune – whether on your desk or moved into the living room for a party. 

Don’t like it? Return it before 100 days for a full refund, no questions asked. Want to spend a little less or have smaller digs? Check out the slightly cheaper PLAY:1.

IKEA JYSSEN wireless charger

A little DIY and you can add a wireless charging port to any desk

We love IKEA’s range of wireless charging lamps, but the idea of being able to turn any piece of furniture into a wireless phone charging dock is ace – just find a cool (and cheap!) desk in a bric-a-brac or charity shop, then using the £4.50 FIXA saw set you can pop the JYSSEN wireless charger in it – meaning as long as you have a Qi-enabled phone (if you don’t you can buy an adapter case from IKEA) you’ll be able to pop it on and charge without any wires.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 

This retro-style camera packs in plenty of high-end features

You’ll undoubtedly need a camera for your creative studies – even though smartphone snappers are incredibly good nowadays they can’t compare to the control you get with an interchangeable lens system. One of our favourite CSC cameras is the Olympus OM-D E-M10. 

Sporting retro styling with an all-metal body but packing a load of high-end features (such as 4K timelapse, a tiltable 3-inch touchscreen and the ability to remotely trigger the shutter via your smartphone, for instance), you can pick up a kit including the body and 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses for a bargainous price. 

Dell S24 18HN 

This monitor gives you a lot of screen real estate for its size

You may live on your laptop during the day, but when you need to really get into a project you’re going to need a bigger display. You’re obviously not going to have a lot of space to play with, so we reckon a 24-inch model will be more than big enough. 

The Dell S24 18HN is a great option for students (and will pair nicely with the XP3 13), its InfinityEdge Display having virtually no bezel – and thus saving space whilst giving you a load of screen real estate. It’s not 4K, but for the price you do get a very good Full HD (1920x1080 pixels) monitor.

Wacom Intuos

The Intuos range of pen tablets is superb

A graphics tablet is pretty much a necessity nowadays – even if it’s just to avoid RSI. There’s no denying a stylus will give you a much more intuitive and natural working environment, and the Intuos range of pen tablets is superb. They come in a number of different sizes – and for different applications (such as drawing, photo-editing and 3D). So pick the one that agrees with your discipline and budget.

Logitech Craft keyboard

A built-in dial gives you extra control over your Creative Cloud programmes

Yes, we know it’s a lot to spend on a keyboard, but if that student loan is burning a hole in your pocket you’ll get something really special with this new Logitech number. Like the Microsoft Surface Dial, the ‘Creative Input Dial’ built into this keyboard enables you to adjust brightness in Photoshop, change stroke weight in Illustrator, zoom in in InDesign and more – all with a twist (after you’ve installed Logitech’s extensions that is). 

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