Dec 22, 2023

Best Back

Looking for savings on tech gear for class? All of these products come at a discount and perform well in CR's labs.

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With kids around the country quietly gearing up to go back to school, now is a good time to shop for the items they’ll need to have a successful year. And if those items include a laptop, desktop, printer, or wireless router, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’re already tracking deals on those items and more. As savvy shoppers know, no matter how big the discount, it helps to know you’re getting a quality product. So we’ve combed through the latest listings in search of models that rate well in Consumer Reports’ rigorous tests. We’ll be keeping an eye on things in the weeks ahead, so feel free to check back for more ways to save.

• Laptops• Printers• Wireless Routers

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Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch (2020, M1)

Thin, light, and powerful, this MacBook Air model—unveiled in 2020—offers a compelling combination of performance and battery life. Instead of using an Intel chip, as all Apple computers had done since 2006, it’s powered by an M1 processor developed by Apple itself. In our tests, the processor performed with admirable speed, placing the laptop in the august company of devices powered by Intel Core i7 processors. It also improved the model’s efficiency, resulting in less drag on the battery and an impressive 10.75 hours of web browsing per charge. The latest model features an even better M2 chip but costs $1,099 to start.

MSI Creator M16

While the MSI brand is often associated with PC gaming, laptops in the Creator series are aimed at budding content creators looking to quickly edit and publish audio and video projects. And to do that, you need the sort of specs on offer here: an Intel Core i7 processor, 32 gigabytes of memory, and 1 terabyte of solid-state storage. There’s even an Nvidia RTX 4060 graphics card—you know, for when you’re done with homework and want to play a game or two.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 (256GB)

If you need a highly portable laptop that slips easily into a bag without weighing you down, you might consider this 12.4-inch notebook from Microsoft. It has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid-state storage. And, given that “Go” is part of the name, you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s quite light (2.5 pounds) and has a battery that can deliver 11 hours’ worth of web browsing.

Apple Mac Mini (M2, 8Core, 256GB, 8GB)

This latest version of Apple’s well-known compact desktop has the company’s homegrown M2 processor, 8 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of solid-state storage. It doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card.

The model we reviewed had an 8-core chip instead of 10. Our testers note strong performance for typical tasks, like web browsing and office productivity apps. Coupled with Apple’s high marks in our predicted reliability and user satisfaction surveys, this makes the Mac Mini M2 a good choice, especially if you’re already used to working inside the Apple ecosystem. Just note that the model doesn’t come with a mouse, keyboard, or display, so you’ll have to supply your own.

HP LaserJet M209dwe

Black-and-white laser printers don’t get enough love from everyday shoppers. A machine like the HP LaserJet M209dwe can be far cheaper to operate than nearly any inkjet while spewing out very sharp, clear text at impressive speeds. This is a bare-bones machine. It prints only in black and white. It’s pretty inept at producing graphics, and it lacks the ability to copy or scan documents. Oh, and about that 6-month deal on cartridges: You’ll need to set up an HP account and maintain the printer’s internet access. (Note that the printer accepts only HP toner cartridges.) If you’re okay with all of that, the HP LaserJet M209dwe can be a good deal. What it does, it does extremely well, while consuming a modest corner of a desk—and an even smaller slice of a household budget.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+ (5G, 128GB)

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+ is a workhorse, earning a spot among the top non-Apple tablets CR has tested. It’s a great option if you want a tablet with a large 12.4-inch screen. It does have a shorter battery life than most, at just 7.3 hours for web browsing. It also has expandable storage with a built-in micro SD reader, and it gets high scores for performance, convenience, and versatility.

TP-Link AX5400 (Archer AX73)

This is a good deal on a wireless router that does quite well in our ratings. It’s not a mesh router, but if a single-unit router is sufficient to envelop your home in WiFi, this one should do a good job. Our testers note high speeds (technically referred to as “throughput”) across near, medium, and far distances, as well as useful features like automatic firmware updating (which helps keep you and your data safe) and the ability to manage everything from a smartphone app.

TP-Link Deco X90 AX6600 (2-Pack)

Deco is TP-Link’s line of mesh routers, which use multiple units (here, two) working together to spread WiFi far and wide throughout your home. This model scores well in our ratings. Speeds across a range of distances are fast, and extra features like automatic firmware updating and smartphone-based management are appreciated by our testers. There are even a generous four built-in Ethernet ports for connecting devices like video game consoles.

Google AC1200 (GA02434-US) 3-pack

It’s hard to argue with a solid wireless router that costs less than $150, which is what the Google WiFi is going for right now. It scores highly across most of our tests and has features like automatic firmware updating and smartphone-based management. There are also two built-in Ethernet ports.

Nicholas De Leon

Nicholas De Leon is a senior reporter for Consumer Reports, covering laptops, wireless routers, tablets, and more. He has been at CR since 2017. He previously covered tech for Vice, News Corp, and TechCrunch. He lives in Tucson, Ariz. Follow him on Twitter for all things tech and soccer @nicholasadeleon.

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