Uni essentials: 6 best smart gadgets every student needs

Make sure you've got all the uni essentials you need with our round-up of the best smart gadgets and appliances to get term off to a great start

Uni essentials: Couple entering a flat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On the hunt for all the uni essentials? Shopping for all the basics before you head off to uni usually involves a starter kit from Ikea – cheap pots and pans, a new duvet and pillow, a table lamp and a rug to make your new room more homely for instance – but what about those smart (we're talking tech) buys that are essential but tend to be overlooked? 

We’ve hunted down the best student tech and appliance essentials to make sure you have everything you need to eat properly, wake up in the morning, keep an eye on your valuables and more. There’s a lot to think about as you pack up and head off, so let us make things just that little bit easier in the run-up to that all-important first term.

These top six smart buys range in price from bargain items to investment pieces so there’s something for every budget. Take a look at the additional information at the end of this article too, for more advice on how to buy the best. Or head over to our The Hub, our jargon-free tech page for more product recommendations.


We love the Nest Cam (opens in new tab), as it can watch over your room while you’re out, alerting you on your phone if it detects any movement. We also rate the Amazon Kindle Oasis (opens in new tab), which comes with Audible so you can swap reading for listening whenever your eyes feel tired (or you're multi-tasking).

Read on to find out more about these models as well as the rest of our top six.

Nest came

(Image credit: Nest)

1. Nest Cam Indoor Security Camera

Keeps an eye on your room when you’re not there and sends an alert to your phone if any unusual movement is detected


Resolution: 1080p HD
Battery life: up to 6 months
Storage: 3 hour history, plus optional cloud storage (with monthly subscription)
Viewing angle: 130º diagonal
Compatible with: iOS and Android
Extras: live stream video, advanced night vision

Reasons to buy

Built in speaker allows for two way talking
Option to live stream
Advanced night vision for round-the-clock  

Reasons to avoid

Have to pay an additional monthly fee for cloud storage

When you move away from home, you want to be sure that all your personal belongings are safe, whether they’re in a halls of residence or a house share where you don’t know the other students yet or there are always different people coming and going. With a Nest Cam (opens in new tab), you get peace of mind as the camera will keep watch on your room when you’re out 24/7 live from the palm of your hand. Everything is recorded in HD video and if any odd movement is detected, the camera will send an alert to your phone.

Live stream straight to your smartphone

Designed to live stream full HD 1080p video, straight to the app on your phone, you'll never have to worry about what's going on when you're not home. Plus, you can expect to benefit from a wide-angle view, enabling you to pan out and view a large proportion of your room.

Two-way communication

If you’re at work and you want to check in with everyone at home, the Nest Cam allows you to two way communicate with the people in the room. Be that the cat, a burglar or a partner who should be doing the housework. We're joking about the latter. 

Intelligent motion sensor

With its intelligent motion sensor, this camera also sends notifications to your phone to alert you to any out-of-the-ordinary movements and a Nest Aware subscription opens up a whole host of other intelligent features, too.  

Kindle Oasis E-Reader Waterproof

(Image credit: Amazon)


Catch up on your course reading list with the all-new Kindle Oasis, which features an adjustable warm light


Screen size: 7in
Weight: 188g
Storage: 8 GB or 32 GB
Battery life: up to 6 weeks

Reasons to buy

Audible switches between reading and listening via Bluetooth speakers or headphones
e-ink technology for faster page turns
Thin and lightweight
Dedicated page turn buttons for one-handed reading
Copes with accidental drops in the tub

Reasons to avoid

Quite pricey so more of an investment item
Some still prefer the look and feel of a book

The latest Kindle Oasis tablet comes with everything the previous version did – large 7in display, waterproofing and Audible. But now it also includes an adjustable warm light so you can read with a warmer tone that can be altered depending on whether you’re reading during the day or at night burning the midnight oil. 

IPX8 rated
The all-new Kindle Oasis is protected in water immersion up to 2m of fresh water for up to 60 minutes, so no need to panic if you plan to read in the bath.

Long battery life
With this tablet you can read for weeks on just a single charge, making it ideal if you carry it with you and forget to re-charge or take a portable charger.

Storage options
It’s available with 8GB (for around £229.99) or 32GB (for around £319.99), which is enough to hold thousands of books.


(Image credit: Amazon)


Big enough to feed five for a main meal, this intelligent cooking appliance comes with automatic settings as well as an app with 300 recipes


Capacity: 1.7kg
Wattage: 1,400W
Interface: digital touch
Mixing: No

Reasons to buy

App for recipes ideas and auto cooking menus
Large 1.7kg capacity
Hands-free cooking
Low-fat and healthy
Automatic programmes
Adjustable temperature

Reasons to avoid

A bit expensive
Bit bulky for the worktop

You’ll be the most popular student on the block if you rock up to uni with this little number! The Tefal Actifry (opens in new tab) is big enough to cook for five as a main meal or eight if doing side dishes, and takes all the guesswork out of cooking thanks to its automatic programmes, stirring paddle for hands-free cooking and free My ActiFry app with over 300 recipe ideas, 150 of which are created specially for the nine intelligent cooking programmes. It’s also healthy and low-fat as it needs little or no oil.

Automatic cooking
You don’t need to be a culinary genius to use this appliance. Just add your ingredients, choose from one of nine automatic programmes and this smart health air fryer does the rest! It sets the temperature and cooking time and even knows when to stir.

Actifry app
Download the free app and gain access to over 300 recipes, half of which are designed specially for the ActiFry Genius XL’s nine intelligent cooking programmes.

Easy to clean
No-one likes washing up so you’ll be pleased to hear this appliance has dishwasher-safe, removable parts.

Amazon Echo Spot

(Image credit: Amazon)


Uses Alexa voice recognition to set your alarm in the morning as well as a huge range of other activities from playing music to giving you today’s weather forecast


Screen size: 2.5"
Camera: VGA 640 x 480
Camera controls: Microphone/Camera Off button

Reasons to buy

Small and cute
Hands-free operation
Plays music, reads the news, sets the morning alarm and more
Answers questions

Reasons to avoid

So small it may be easily lost

Echo Spot (opens in new tab) from Amazon is compact enough to fit onto any bedside table, shelf or desk and comes with a massive amount of benefits for the price. Using voice recognition you can use it to look at or hear the weather forecast, check out your shopping lists, play music, stream books, listen to Audible audiobooks as well as connect to compatible smart home devices.

Alexa voice control
Use its built-in voice recognition to watch video flash briefings, see music lyrics and weather forecasts, set the morning alarm and listen to Audible audiobooks and more.

Streaming service
Simply ask Alexa to play a song, artist or genre and see the lyrics with Amazon Music. You can also stream music and books from Apple Music, Spotify, Tunein and Audible.

Bluetooth enabled
Thanks to multi-room music, Echo Spot can be used to play music on Echo devices in other rooms, great for student parties!

See more smart (and basic) alarms in our guide to the best.

soundasleep bluetooth speaker pillow

(Image credit: Amazon )


Get your much-needed shut-eye with this nifty pillow that connects to an app on your phone, so you can listen to music, audio books or podcasts as you fall asleep


Filling: hollow fibre
Firmness: medium firm
Cover: microfibre

Reasons to buy

Helps you sleep
Comfortable and large
Sleep tracker
Prevents snoring too

Reasons to avoid

You may think the price is a lot for a pillow
Some may find it annoying after a while

We all need a good night’s sleep and while this is something a lot of students may forgo when there’s a good party on or it’s exam time, sleep is essential for our physical, mental and emotional well-being. The Soundasleep pillow will help you drift off to perfect slumber as it has a Bluetooth speaker concealed inside, which allows you to use the app to listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks or even relaxing ambient sounds as you sleep. It can also be used to monitor and manage snoring, analyse sleep patterns and has a smart alarm to wake you up.

Sleep Tracker
The app comes with a function that helps to reduce snoring with a decibel level controlled alarm that softly wakes you up should snoring reach the level you have set. It also tracks sleep patterns so you can see the difference on a daily or weekly basis.

Comfort and cosiness
As much as the tech is great, you want to be sure the pillow is comfortable to sleep on. And we can assure you it is thanks to the 100 per cent polyester hollowfibre filling and polyester microfibre outer cover.

App friendly
Compatible with thousands of apps, as well as its own, the pillow can be used with audiobooks.com, Spotify, Calm, Deezer, Headspace, BBC iPlayer, Apple Music and Amazon Alexa amongst others.

Nanoleaf light panels

(Image credit: Nanoleaf)


These funky lights act as an alarm clock, as you can set them to wake you up with a simulated sunrise


Material: plastic
Wattage: 2W
Bulb type: LED

Reasons to buy

Flexible control
No hub needed
Personal design
Huge choice of colours
Music sync
Works with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant

Reasons to avoid

May look too futuristic for some

We all know that lighting has a huge effect on our sleep patterns, so Nanoleaf Light Panels (opens in new tab) are just the thing to help keep your body clock in sync. The modular system features state-of-the-art functions such as a sunrise mode that wakes you up with a gentle simulated sunrise.

Modular panels
Create your own design to match your personal or room style and check out the Rhythm Module to watch the lights dance to your music.

Flexible control
Use the Nanoleaf app, your voice or the controller to set the scene; simply connect to WiFi for optional advanced features.

Easy installation
There’s no need to worry about dreaded drill holes in your landlord’s wall, as it’s a drill-free installation – simply use the included mounting tape.


Voice control
The best smart tech now comes with voice recognition so you can use your gadget hands-free with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri voice control. Check which of these your chosen device will work with before you buy and make sure you have good Wi-Fi coverage for best results.

Stylish design
As much as we love tech, it’s important to choose a device that you love the look of as well, so check out the colours and finishes available as well as whether it will fit in with your room scheme and lifestyle.

Handy functions
Make sure the various features and functions will suit your needs. It’s no good splashing out on an expensive piece of kit if you’ll only use one or two of its features.

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Hayley is an interiors journalist with 24 years experience who has contributed to a huge range of consumer magazines, trade titles, newspapers and blogs. She has seen so many trends come and go - and come back round again - and has spent the last few years doing up her house in Hampshire. She loves the industrial look and is still a fan of grey in all its many forms. Hayley specialises in writing about kitchens and appliances – although can cover all interiors subjects with ease. For Realhomes.com, Hayley writes about small appliances and health and beauty gadgets