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What back-to-school tech should you buy?

The Wirecutter Editor in Chief Jacqui Cheng chimes in on the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask.

Universities Anticipate High Numbers Of Students Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For many students, "back to school" also means back to the mall, or Walmart, or Amazon, to load up on gear for the new year. But what’s worth the money, and what’s just going to take up space in your backpack?

On the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode have some answers! They’re joined by The Wirecutter Editor in Chief Jacqui Cheng, who said the three most important items for a college student are: A good, lightweight laptop; battery packs; and exercise headphones.

"We'd recommend ultrabooks for most people because they’re both thin and durable," Cheng said of laptops, highlighting the Dell XPS13 line and the 13-inch MacBook Air. "If you’re going to have this as a tool that you’re carrying around with you all over the place, you don’t want to kill your shoulders. But you do want to make sure it can run your stuff."

She acknowledged, however, that tech is not always the answer. Paper and pencil still work perfectly fine for many students, and some gadgets that may appeal to students — such as Wi-Fi extenders — are a risky purchase.

"I don’t think that that will help in a shitty Wi-Fi dorm situation because, probably, you don’t have control over the original Wi-Fi network to begin with," Cheng said. "A product like AmpliFi is meant for someone like a homeowner, where you do have control over the network."

On the new podcast, the trio also answered questions from our readers and listeners about tablets vs. laptops, Chromebooks vs. cheap laptops and why we’re still using books at all.

Thank you to everyone who sent in their questions about back-to-school tech. Still have questions we didn’t get to? Or have another tech topic on your mind? You can tweet any questions, comments and complaints to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed. You can also email your questions to, in case Twitter isn’t your thing.

Be sure to follow @LaurenGoode, @KaraSwisher and @Recode to be alerted when we're looking for questions about a specific topic.

If you like this show, you should also check out our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And finally, Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events such as the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara and Lauren. Tune in next Friday for another episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask!

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