Stories & Features

Back-to-school, back-to-work fall gear guide

Image of couple riding electric scooters
The fall brings new ways of working and learning, including ways to get there by electric power.

Tools for thriving in the 'new normal' – in class, the office, or at home

Just how much you'll be working and/or studying from home this fall will depend a lot on our ability here in B.C. to continue the fight against the spread of COVID-19, and on the battle plans our schools and employers come up with. But for most of us, nothing will be close to normal.

It all calls for some adjustments in our approach to work and study, including how we commute. We've put together a quick list of gear and technologies that might make you more comfortable, safe, and productive.

Image of the Rock N Roll face mask from MAKE Vancouver
The Rock N Roll face mask is one of the kid-sized designs from MAKE Vancouver.

Get yourself a made-in-Canada face mask

Now that the science has sorted out that face masks can help stop the spread of the coronavirus, it's a good idea to wear them wherever you can't practice social distancing. Schools will require the use of masks by students in certain areas and situations, and they're required on public transit in B.C. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control suggests you should wear one whenever indoors, including when you're getting a haircut or visiting someone.

You can show your support for local businesses by wearing a made-in-Canada mask. Some are stylish, some are big on practicality, and others come with the ability to insert a filter. Among the options out there are 18 Waits, AtelierGrandi, Andrea Wong, Londre, Make and KSLAM.

Did you know? Masks must be designed to fully cover the nose and mouth.

Image of a smartphone and Mophie Power Bank
The Mophie Power Bank packs a lot of charging power in a small package.

Extra power for your smartphone

Portable backup power is all the rage, and you don't have to spend a ton of money to get dependable charge while on the go. The Mophie 10000mAh Power Bank is among a variety of big sellers, will cost you about $50 ,and provides backup for your phone for up to 48 hours. On a recent fishing trip where electricity was absent, the Mophie charged three smartphones from dead, with power to spare.

Did you know? A recent test showed that wireless smartphone chargers are largely inefficient, using an average of 47% more electricity than a charger that plugs in.

Image of the Plantronics 5200 headset
The Plantronics 5200 headset offers Bluetooth connectivity and noise-cancelling for an improved remote-working experience.

Headphones and headsets for work and play

The rush to set up the home office or bedroom for work or study at the start of the pandemic led to shortages of some of the most popular headsets and headphones on the market. In some cases, resellers were hawking them for two or three times their original price. That gouging seems to be largely over, and some great headsets and headphones are now widely available.

If you don't need stereo sound, the mono Plantronics Voyager 5200 carries the badge of approval online tech reviewer CNET, while the VXI BlueParrott 202720 B250-XT is a well-regarded budget option. If you're a Bose fan, the QuietComfort 35 II over-ear headphone is a nice splurge, while you can get the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 600 for less than $150.

Did you know? In addition to the better sound quality, noise-cancelling headphones are actually easier on your ears. Without the noise-cancelling feature, you may crank the volume up to overcome the ambient noise around you, potentially damaging your ears.

Image of the Rize Blade electrically-assisted bicycle
The designed-in-Vancouver Rize Blade is a retro-style model with an electric range between 65 and 100 km and a before-tax price of $1,999. It also features a long banana seat and foot pegs to allow for a second rider.

Electric transport

They're everywhere. Cars, bikes, scooters, skateboards and hoverboards, powered by clean renewable electricity (at least in B.C.)., are becoming a viable option for commuters. And as many of us are reluctant to use public transit during the pandemic, we may start to see more.

Even with a lofty price of nearly $4,000, the Specialized Turbo Vlado 3.0 e-bike is selling out in a lot of places. But it's a great pick for the serious commuter, with the power to get you places quickly and a lockable battery that's easily removable for charging. Even harder to find, and at half the price, is the Propella 7-speed, while a cargo bike to watch is the similarly priced RadRunner 1. And if you want to go local, Vancouver-based Rize offers an array of bikes ranging from foldable minis to city bikes and off-roaders.

For teens 14 and up, an electric scooter such as the Razor E Prime can handle a short commute to school, while style-conscious adults can fork out the big bucks for the sleek and foldable Unagi Model One.

Not to be forgotten, there's a growing variety of electric car options, including the new crossover SUV, the Kia Niro EV with a range of up to 385 km.

Did you know? The Province of B.C. offers rebates of $1,050 toward the purchase of any new e-bike for those who trade in a vehicle to scrap under the Scrap-it program. And B.C. has introduced a one-year pilot project with rebates of up to $1,700 for business owners purchasing cargo e-bikes (to a maximum of five per business).

Image of the ASUS Chromebook Flip
Look to the ASUS Chromebook Flip for a device that works in four modes: laptop, tablet, fold-up and standing.

Laptops for portability and remote work/study

For the on-the-go student, the best blend of usability and portability can usually be found in a quality laptop between 12.5 and 14 inches. Look for at least eight hours of battery life, and consider a 2-in-1 laptop you can bend back or detach for use as a tablet.

And then it's down to the platform: Chrome, Windows or Mac. Chromebooks are popular with kids and students, while the advantage of Windows laptops and MacBooks are their functionality. If you have less than $1,000 to spend, options include the 14-inch ASUS Chromebook Flip or the Lenovo IdeaPad, but do your homework and check the specs on battery life and the quality of the display.

Once you cross the $1,000 threshold, you can afford to get more picky about platform, power, and screen size. For Mac users, the 13-inch MacBook Air is about as affordable as it gets, while the Dell XPS 13-inch offers power and a battery life of up to 12 hours at a variety of price points.

Did you know? ENERGY STAR® certified laptops use 25 to 40% less power than conventional models, with systems required to sleep within 30 minutes or less of user inactivity.

Image of Herman Miller Sayle office chairs
Spending a lot of time working from home? Consider treating yourself to the Herman Miller Sayle office chair (pictured here) or a variety of lesser-priced but comfortable and ergonomic options.

You're going to need a good chair

As much as some kids (and adults) seem to be able to get it done with a laptop while sitting in bed, the value of a good, adjustable chair is obvious. You'll be more comfortable and productive, and you'll reduce the chance that your neck or wrists will rebel after a few days of hard work. Start by exploring office ergonomics at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety site.

Try not to cheap out, as what seemed like a good chair can fall apart or be a pain in the butt (what happened to that seat padding?) in a matter of months. Also try to get the right size, as a chair with a big throne-like back doesn't work if you're 5-foot-4, while another no-no is a chair that cuts you off at the knees.

On a budget? The Ikea ÖRFJÄLL swivel chair is adjustable and comes in two colours (white and grey), while the AmazonBasics low-back computer task office desk chair is a popular option that comes in black, blue, green, and red. A slight step up gets you more padding and lumbar support in the likes of the BestMassage mid back mesh ergonomic computer desk office chair.

If you've been lucky enough to spend your days in a Herman Miller chair and want to take that comfort home, consider the pricey but ultra-cool Sayle Chair. For half the price, you can get the well-reviewed Modway Articulate office chair, in grey, blue or bright green.

Did you know? A chair becomes ergonomic only when it suits your size, your particular workstation, and the tasks you're performing. So while there are many deals online, the best research is trying chairs in-store.