September is approaching fast, and with it the first day of school. You have your laptop, so you’re set, right? You’ve definitely got the big ticket item taken care of, but to make the most of it, make sure you have the extras as well. Unfortunately, not everything comes in the box … I’ve put together a list of must-have laptop accessories that will ensure your portable PC does everything you need for school, and continues to perform as expected through the school year and beyond.
You’ve got your laptop and you’re going to be taking it to school. Don’t make the mistake of just jamming it into an everyday backpack. These are designed to carry “stuff,” not delicate electronics. That poor laptop will be banging around against textbooks, lunches, drinks, pens and whatever else is in there. Drop the bag to the ground and the laptop is going to take a hit. If it’s raining, chances are everything in the backpack will get damp, if not wet. Including your laptop …
You want a protective case with plenty of padding and a backpack big enough to handle it—or a specialized laptop backpack. Otherwise, your most expensive piece of back to school tech is likely to end up scratched, dented and potentially out of service—the last thing you need with school in full swing. Don’t forget, even if a laptop is under warranty, physical damage isn’t usually covered.
It’s not just physical damage that can sideline your portable PC. Malicious software can mess things up just as effectively. An infection doesn’t just mean a laptop that’s rendered unusable and online accounts that are compromised, it can also wipe out all the data stored on the drive. Including school assignments and projects in progress … Install antivirus software to protect your laptop from infection from a virus, malware, spyware, ransomeware, trojans or any of the nasty code lurking on the internet.
A laptop lock is one of the best investments ever for laptop users who like to set up in public places, like libraries, study halls or coffee shops. Many laptops come equipped with a Security Slot designed to accommodate standard laptop locks. Bring one of these locks with you, and you can physically secure your laptop to a piece of furniture or a handy post, so you can safely leave it for a moment (instead of having to pack it up and take it with you) while you get a refill or take a quick break.
Think of it as a bike lock for your laptop.
The small screen of a laptop is perfectly fine for using in class. A small display is a more than reasonable trade-off to get the portability of a computer you can slip in a backpack. However, that small display isn’t ideal for long term use and even with larger 15-inch laptops, you may find yourself squinting after spending too much time trying to read fine text. Once you’re home, size is no longer a restriction, so you can take advantage of one of the most important ports on your laptop: video out.
As far as I’m concerned, an external monitor is one of the best and most useful accessories you can buy for any laptop. Connect the monitor to your laptop’s video output port and you instantly go from small screen to big screen. The bigger screen makes for a much more productive working environment—and it also makes watching videos or playing games a lot more immersive.
Many laptops support the option to treat the external display as a second screen. That can be an even bigger productivity win, using the laptop to display e-mail, messages or maybe the feed from a hockey game, while the real work is being done on the monitor.
An external monitor is also one of those pieces of gear that you can keep for years. When it’s time to replace your current laptop, you can use the same monitor with your next one.
Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse
I’d put this combo right up there with the external monitor in terms for must-have laptop accessories that significantly enhance productivity.
Your laptop is equipped with a built-in keyboard and trackpad. They may even be full-sized and offer backlighting. This makes a laptop ideal for use in tight quarters (like on a school desk), but just like that small display, it’s not a perfect solution when you’re working for an extended time. The all-in-one nature of the laptop isn’t always the most ergonomic when it comes to positioning the display and the keyboard. Space limitations mean the keys may be slightly smaller or more closely packed together. Some keys might be combined to save space, and they may not have the same “bounce” that a regular keyboard offers.
Add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to your laptop and when you have room to spread out a little, you’ll immediately appreciate the difference.
Now you can position the laptop so its display is optimal and put the keyboard and mouse wherever you like. You can even use them from across the room (assuming you can read what’s on the screen from that distance). You can buy a full-sized keyboard to maximize your typing speed at home, or a portable version you can slip in a backpack and take with you. With Bluetooth wireless, you don’t have to worry about cable clutter.
Combined with an external monitor, a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse let you take advantage of the portability of your laptop for use at school, while offering a near desktop experience when you get home.
Portable External Drive
Finally, a multipurpose device that’s a definite must-have for any laptop owner. A portable external hard drive is a compact storage solution that covers off multiple needs.
Laptops almost always have less storage capacity than desktop PCs, especially the ultra-compact Ultrabooks, MacBooks and 2-in1 laptops that use speedy, lower capacity SSDs. There is plenty of space for productivity software and assignments, but a big multimedia library or video game collection is likely pushing it. Having an external hard drive expands your storage options so you can amass that collection of music and video while keeping plenty of room on your laptop’s drive for those school files.
A portable external hard drive is the ultimate “sneaker-net.” There’s no faster way to get a bunch of big files from your laptop to a friend’s PC. Go with a portable model (some are battery powered or offer wireless connectivity for an even tinier form factor) and you can easily take the hard drive with you wherever you go.
An external hard drive is also the most convenient way to back up your critical data. It’s fast, it’s always available and it has plenty of capacity.
Hopefully this checklist helps you to get the most out of your laptop once classes begin. If you’re wondering what else you might have overlooked, don’t forget to check Best Buy’s back-to-school portal, a single spot where products are categorized and easy to find, and Plug-in blog contributors have their best tips for the 2018 school season.