Introducing Engadget’s 2021 back-to-school gift guide!

We know you may not be ready to go back to school just yet — but being prepared for the inevitable return can’t hurt. In between beach days and summer barbecues, it’s worth starting to think about all the things you’ll need for the new school year, because no one enjoys scrambling for supplies at the last minute.

We hope our annual back-to-school gift guide can help students everywhere figure out what they need well before they return to campus in the fall. Since tech is kind of our thing, we have a number of laptop recommendations suitable for all kinds of students (and all budgets) along with picks for dorm room essentials, studying supplies and helpful gadgets that come in under $50. And for those of you with little ones, our staffers share their favorite educational toys for kids in case you want to add something new to your repertoire.

We know going back to school this year is going to feel different; it may even make you feel anxious for various reasons. But we hope our product recommendations can ease at least one source of stress. Figuring out which tools you need to be your best academic self, and which gadgets you want to invest in to make your time at school easier (and maybe a bit more fun).

  

The best student discounts we found for 2021

They say your college years are the best of your life. But they tend to leave out the part where you’re scrounging every dollar for textbooks, food and (if you’re lucky) the occasional weekend outing with friends. Money is tight when you’re a student, and that financial stress can be compounded by the reality of having to stay on top of your studies.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s student discounts. Many companies offer their products and services for less to those struggling through lectures, writing research papers and studying for finals. We’ve compiled a list of the best deals you can get on useful services, along with some things you’ll enjoy in your down time. Just keep in mind that most of these offers require you to prove your status as a student either by signing up with your .edu email address or providing some form of student identification.

Shopping

Amazon Prime Student

If you’re not piggybacking off of your parents’ Amazon Prime account, you can have the subscription for less while you’re in school. College students can get Prime Student for $6.50 per month or $60 per year, and it includes the same perks as a standard Prime membership including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery in select areas, and access to the entire Prime Video library. Amazon also currently offers a six-month free trial, so you’ll pay even less during your first year.

Buy Prime Student at Amazon - $60 a year

Best Buy

While it doesn’t offer a specific student discount, Best Buy has Student Deals that you can sign up to receive. Aside from proving your student status, the only requirement is for you to be a My Best Buy member; that program is free to enroll in. We actually recommend that most people sign up for My Best Buy because some items, especially during site-wide sales, will be even cheaper for members. All student deals will appear in the Member Offers page in your account.

Sign up for Student Deals at Best Buy

Apple

Apple offers some deals to students and educators. This year in particular, Apple is throwing in a free pair of AirPods when you buy select Macs or iPads for college. You’ll get AirPods with the regular wired charging case free, or you can upgrade to AirPods with the wireless charging case for $40 more. Alternatively, you can get the AirPods Pro for $90 more. Apple knows how popular AirPods are and it clearly wants to sweeten the deal for students who have been thinking about getting a new computer before heading off to college.

The AirPods promotion also includes Apple education pricing on Macs and iPads. There isn’t a flat percentage rate across all products; the discounts are device dependent. For example, right now students can get a new MacBook Air M1 starting at $899, which is $100 less than the normal starting price (Amazon's matching this price, too). The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts off $100 cheaper and the new iPad Pros start at $749, or $50 cheaper than usual. These are decent savings if you must have a brand new Apple product, but those with tighter budgets should also consider Apple’s refurb program.

Shop Apple’s back-to-school promos

Samsung

Samsung offers up to 10 percent off most of its products to students and educators. The brand also has some decent offers like a "speed and storage" bundle that includes two Samsung drives for under $300. We’d recommend stretching that 10 percent discount as much as possible by using it on big-ticket items like a Samsung laptop or a Galaxy smartphone if you need one. Otherwise, Samsung has solid accessories like the Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Shop Samsung’s back-to-school promos

Microsoft

Microsoft also provides students and educators with up to 10 percent off its gadgets, including the already affordable Surface Go 2 and the Surface Headphones 2. And Microsoft’s online store doesn’t only sell Surface devices: You can also find Windows PCs from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others there at discounted prices.

Shop Microsoft’s back-to-school promos

Streaming

Spotify

Spotify Premium’s student plan gives you a lot for only $5 per month. Besides access to millions of songs, it also includes Hulu’s ad-supported plan and Showtime’s ad-free service. You’d spend roughly $27 a month if you paid for all three separately at their full prices, making this student offer one of the best you can get.

Buy Spotify Premium Student - $5 a month

Pandora

Pandora also offers students its Premium membership for $5 per month. Pandora’s offering doesn’t include any additional services, but you do get an ad-free experience, personalized music, unlimited skips and unlimited offline play.

Buy Pandora Premium Student- $5 a month

Apple Music

Apple also slashes 50 percent off its Apple Music subscription for students, bringing it down to $5 per month. The offer is available for up to 48 months so you can enjoy the rate for the entirety of your college experience. What’s more, the company bundles Apple TV+ in this student offer, so you can watch Apple originals like The Morning Show and See.

Buy Apple Music Student membership - $5 a month

Tidal

Tidal provides student discounts on both of its streaming services: Premium and Hi-Fi. Premium drops to $5 per month, down from $10, while Hi-Fi costs $10 per month, down from $20. This year, the company is offering a three-month free trial of either of its services to any new user through the end of August. Tidal is still often overshadowed by Spotify and Apple Music, but these discounts are a good way to give it a try without spending too much money.

Buy Tidal Student starting at $10 a month

Hulu

College students can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported plan for only $2 per month. That’s $4 less than the normal price and a great deal considering all of the content that Hulu has to offer (think The Handmaid’s Tale, Grey’s Anatomy, Rick & Morty and more). Yes, you have to deal with commercials, but it’s a small price to pay to binge-watch shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, which can provide a much-needed laugh when you’re drowning in coursework.

Buy Hulu (ad-supported) - $2 a month

YouTube

If you’re already spending a lot of time watching YouTube, you may have a better experience with YouTube Premium. The Student plan knocks nearly 50 percent off the price so you’ll pay $7 per month for ad-free video viewing, background play, video downloads and access to YouTube Premium Music. The latter is YouTube’s attempt at a Spotify/Apple Music competitor, but it has a long way to go before it can really hold a candle to those services. However, if you listen to most of your music via YouTube already, Premium could be your one-stop-shop for music and video streaming.

Buy YouTube Premium Student - $7 a month

Headspace

Being a student is stressful even in the best of times, but now it’s even more difficult to concentrate and find peace. Headspace is just one of many meditation and mindfulness apps available that can help with that, but it stands apart with a great student discount: $10 for the entire year, or $60 less than a normal annual membership. In addition to a large library of meditation lessons and routines to follow, Headspace recently added SleepCasts, a collection of soothing voices reading bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, as well as “mindful” workout routines.

Buy Headspace Student plan - $10 a year

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

You’re probably using Adobe products if you’re studying anything to do with digital art or design. Adobe CC is the industry standard in this space but the entire suite of programs is quite expensive at $53 per month. Thankfully, Adobe has education pricing for students that drops the entire creative suite to $20 per month for the first year. That includes the big programs like Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC along with Lightroom CC, Premiere Pro CC, Adobe XD and more.

After your first year, the monthly cost increases to $30 per month. While not ideal, it’s still more affordable for students than it is for industry professionals. If you’re not tied to Adobe programs, you might also consider Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher apps from Serif ($50 each for the Mac or Windows versions), which compete with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Buy Adobe CC - $20 a month

Ableton Live

Regardless of whether you’re studying music production, students can get 40 percent off Ableton Live Standard or Suite for as long as they are enrolled full-time. That brings Live 11 Standard down to $269 and Suite down to $449 — great discounts on some of the best music software available right now.

Buy Ableton Live starting at $269

Microsoft 365

Many students have to use Microsoft 365 tools on a regular basis. If your college or university doesn’t provide you with an account, you can still get Microsoft 365 for free by taking advantage of the company’s student and educator discount. This gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams free of charge, which is a great deal considering an annual subscription costs $100.

Get Microsoft 365

Ulysses

Spending all day and night writing papers is even more frustrating when you don’t have all your writing organized in one place. Ulysses is a popular writing app for mac/iOS that can be used for note taking as well as thesis writing, with features like auto-save and auto-backup, word-count writing goals, markup, plain text support and DropBox integration. Normally, Ulysses costs $40 per year but students can get it for only $11 every six months, or $22 per year. There isn’t a direct alternative for Windows users, but you do have options including Scrivener (a one-time student price of $41.65), IA Writer (a $20 one-time price) and FocusWriter (free and open-source).

Buy Ulysses - $22 a year

Evernote

Evernote can be an indispensable tool if you like to keep all of your thoughts in one place — everything from class notes to web clippings to to-do lists. Students can get half off one year of Evernote Premium, which brings the price down to $4 per month or $48 for the year. Premium is the way to go if you’re investing in Evernote because it syncs your notes across unlimited devices, gives you offline access, lets you annotate PDFs and search saved documents.

Buy Evernote Premium (1 year) - $4 a month

Squarespace Student plan

Whether you’re itching to get a jump-start on your portfolio or just want an online space for to show off your work, Squarespace is a good option as it gives students a 50 percent discount on any of its annual plans. The most affordable option will cost $72 for the year, which is half the normal yearly price of $144. Squarespace is one of many website builders out there, but it’s particularly popular with creative professionals. Its customizable templates make it easy to build a website and make it look exactly how you want it. Plus, you can upgrade down the line to add things like website analytics, custom JavaScript and CSS and e-commerce.

Buy Squarespace starting at $72 a year

News

It’s always been important to keep up with the news, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Yes, it’s daunting sometimes and we don’t expect (or encourage) you to inhale every breaking-news headline as it’s published. However, it’s crucial to know what’s going on in the country and the world as a whole. Here are some reputable news organizations that offer student discounts on their monthly or annual subscription plans.

The Atlantic: Starts at $25 per year for digital-only access.

The New York Times: $4 every four weeks for a base subscription.

The Washington Post: $5 every four weeks for digital-only access.

The Wall Street Journal: Starting at $4 per month for the Student Digital Pack.

Get up to 25 courses on how to code in different languages

Learning to program isn’t a straightforward process, and it certainly can’t be mastered overnight. There are multiple different coding languages, each of which has its own use cases. From data science to game design, the applications and types of programming in use today are as varied as the ways you can study them.

So how should one go about studying programming? A great way to test the waters is by learning a few languages and practicing your knowledge with hands-on projects, which you can showcase in a portfolio. The 2021 Ultimate Learn to Code Training will help you get started, and you can get three courses right now for free.

The 2021 Learn to Code Training comes gives you the chance to choose from bundles with three, five, ten, fifteen or twenty-five courses. The base version features three one-hour courses on CSS, JavaScript and HTML packed with 52 lectures. These beginner-friendly lessons will cover the foundational skills you need to start writing your own lines of code. Once you have the basics down, you’re free to explore the rest of the bundles depending on the kinds of programs you’re interested in creating.

For instance, the five-course option focuses on game design with an emphasis on Python and creating games in Unity. Not only will you get an introduction to artificial intelligence and machine learning with Python, but you’ll also put your skills to the test by creating your own Legend of Zelda and Portal clones.

The 10- and 15-course bundles focus on app and web design. In the ten-course bundle, you’ll learn how Java is used in web and Android development. The lessons also cover data analysis and machine learning. Meanwhile, the 15-course bundle offers several of the same courses as the previous selection. However, it also includes courses that lean more heavily toward data science using R and Matplotlib.

Finally, the 25-course bundle pulls together every class in the previous bundles. With lifetime access to all classes and materials, you can study everything at your own pace and use your newfound knowledge to make your own interesting programs, practice toward mastery and eventually land a professional programming job of your own.

You can get each version of The 2021 Ultimate Learn to Code Training on sale now, with bundles containing three courses (free), five ($3), 10 ($8), 15 ($10) and 25 courses (for $15).

Prices subject to change.

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This first ever nature preserve in Hong Kong brings the beauty of biodiversity to the concrete jungle!

If you live in a city, nature might sometimes feel further away than it really is – and when you don’t have a car to take you up the coast to the mountains in a matter of hours, that distance feels even longer. Different institutions like museums and zoos are capable of taking us out of that urban haze for the moment, but soon enough, their icy exteriors, contemporary layout, and revolving doors spit us out onto the sidewalks, reminding us that our city ‘jungles’ still mostly consist of concrete. In Hong Kong, however, a nature preserve, built by LAAB Architects and PLandscape cozies up and beneath skyscrapers to change the urbanite’s relationship with nature.

LAAB Architects and PLandscape have teamed up to create The Nature Discovery Park, a rooftop nature conservatory that takes an educational approach to provide city dwellers with a much-needed escape to nature and lessons for younger generations in preserving their own city’s biodiversity. In order to embrace open-air facilities like restaurants and learning centers, the Nature Discovery Park is situated on the roof of Hong Kong’s harbor cultural center K11 MUSEA. Adaptive to unpredictable weather and air quality, the park’s main greenhouse utilizes telescopic sliding glass doors to facilitate naturally ventilated, alfresco learning experiences. The structure’s frame is constructed from steel and aluminum, while the interior attributes its furnishings to wood that was harvested from sustainably managed forests. The nature preserve’s own gardens are dotted and sprawling with plant boxes of Hong Kong’s prevalent biodiversity. Teeming with sweeping branches and long-leafed bushes that seem to overflow onto the grass walkways, guests of The Nature Discovery Park can follow the curated landscape, learning about the city’s natural life along the way. Finding its center between luscious greenery and butterfly gardens, the prefabricated greenhouse was installed on-site to avoid wasteful construction practices and keeps a hydroponic nursery, providing a no-soil means for horticulture.

The main keep of the nature preserve is also home to a farm-to-table dining experience and herbarium museum that showcases Hong Kong’s rich array of natural biodiversity and plant life native to its Victoria Harbor shores. The Nature Discovery Park is Hong Kong’s first biodiversity museum and sustainability-themed education park, offering workshops, tours, and interactive experiences related to both the vibrancy and diversity of Hong Kong’s ecological presence. Much Like The High Line in New York City, Nature Discovery Park’s gardens are curated and maintained to fit their city’s environment and allow guests to physically immerse themselves with the surrounding natural abundance.

Designer: LAAB Architects x PLandscape

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