Things have changed since I went to high school and college. Back in the day—and I’m aging myself here—students basically needed only a Trapper Keeper, a ruler and a calculator. Today, everything is high-tech—and that goes for both high school and college kids. Here are the latest and greatest devices that will make school a breeze.
E-reader: Textbooks are notoriously heavy, and if your kid is carrying a load of them from class to class, he’s likely to get a backache. Amazon’s popular e-ink reader, the Kindle ($69 for the Wi-Fi version from Amazon), is affordable, plus Amazon has a Kindle Textbook Rental program that allows him access to his annotations even after the rental expires. (Get up to 40% off electronics at Amazon.)
Tablet: A tablet is useful for studying, browsing the Web and reading (as with the Kindle, students can read books or magazines on a tablet and download the free Kindle app if they’re not using Amazon’s tablet, the Kindle Fire). And it goes without saying that your child can also stream TV shows and movies on the device. Choose from one of the three smallest and most affordable tablets: the Kindle Fire ($159 at Amazon), iPad Mini (starting at $329 at Apple) or Nexus 7 (starting at $199 at Google Play). (Through September 6, students can get a $50 gift card on any iPad purchase at Apple.)
Acer Aspire M5-481PT laptop
Laptop: If your kid is in college or high school, she is going to need something to type all those term papers on. A basic laptop doesn’t have to be really heavy or expensive. The Netbook is basically dead, but that doesn’t mean your wallet needs to be empty. CNET recommends the Acer Aspire M5-481PT ($635 at Overstock.com) and the Samsung Chromebook ($249 at Google Play). The former is a full-fledged laptop with a Windows 8 operating system replete with a touchscreen. The latter is a stripped-down Chromebook with no hard drive (all data is created and saved on Google’s cloud). This might work if your child only needs to surf the Web, write on Google Docs and send emails, but the Chromebook won’t work for someone needing more extensive photo-editing or video-editing software. (Enjoy free shipping on orders over $50 at Overstock.com.)
Laptop lock: For college kids in particular, a laptop lock is a must. No one wants to be afraid to leave stuff unattended while making a quick trip to the library bathroom or to grab a coffee refill. A laptop lock solves this problem. Get the Kensington Combination Laptop Lock ($30.49 at Staples). It features a carbon-strengthened steel cable that can stretch to 6 feet. (Get free shipping on all purchases over $45 at Staples.)
Logitech Portable Lapdesk
Cooling pad: Despite their name, many laptops aren’t actually suitable for use on a lap. They can be heavy and get hot, especially when in use for many hours or when running memory-intensive programs. But a laptop-cooling pad will save your kid’s legs from getting scorched. Try the Logitech N315 Portable Lapdesk ($15.95 at Amazon), which is thin and light enough to tote around in a backpack or messenger bag.
USB flash drive: Remember floppy disk drives? Well, USB memory sticks serve the same purpose. They allow for the easy transport of a few files from one computer to another. Or they can merely offer a simple way to back up a file so your kid can’t use the lamest excuse in the book: “The dog ate my homework.” You can find a flash drive as big as 128GB (that’s larger than some laptop hard drives) for prices ranging from $79.99 to $150 at Best Buy. But she probably doesn’t need that much space. A 16GB flash drive should do just fine. Get the Kingston Technology DataTraveler Special Edition 16GB Flash Drive ($12.99 at Best Buy). (Get Best Buy coupons.)
External mouse: Typing and scrolling around on a laptop’s mouse pad can bring about wrist pain. A small external mouse will make those long hours much more bearable, and your kid’s wrists will thank you. Get the Logitech Optical USB Mouse ($14.99 at Newegg.com), which has an ambidextrous design offering versatility and comfort. (Get $15 off $50 or more sitewide at Newegg.com.)
Epson WorkForce WF-3520 3-in-1 Printer
Printer: Although email has been around for decades now, shockingly, many professors and teachers still prefer the good old printout. They need to mark those essays up and can’t do that as easily with an emailed document. Inevitably, your kid will procrastinate on a paper, and rather than having to make a mad dash to the nearest computer lab, he can save time by having a small, simple printer at his disposal. PC Magazine rates the Epson WorkForce WF-3520 ($149.99 at Office Depot) highly. It’s an all-in-one, which means you can scan, print and, um, fax?
External hard drive: We can’t stress this enough. Backing up your computer is a necessity. All those term papers and research notes can be lost if your kid’s computer hard drive fails. Getting a portable external hard drive like the Seagate Backup Plus Desktop Drive ($89.99 at J&R) with 1TB of storage will give you and your A-plus student some peace of mind. (Check out J&R deals.)
Scientific calculator: Math is hard, and even if your kid is a whiz at numbers, he will probably need a scientific calculator for help with the extra-complicated formulas and equations. (Don’t ask me about those; I failed everything math- and science-related). Get the Texas Instruments TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator ($99.99 at Office Depot), which has functions for finance, calculus, trigonometry, calculus, engineering and other things I will never understand. (Save with Office Depot coupons.)
Jawbone Jambox bluetooth speaker
Bluetooth speaker: Find me a teenager or college kid who doesn’t like music, and I’ll find you a deserted island for $5. The point is, neither exist. That said, nobody has the room—nor is it fair to dorm mates—to have a monster speaker system. The Jawbone Jambox ($179.99 at Jawbone) is small enough to carry around and powerful enough to pack a real punch. Simply pair it with a phone or computer via Bluetooth and play away.
Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise-canceling headphones: Whether your kid wants the silence of a library while studying in a noisy café or to tune into her music and not what her roomie is blasting, headphones like these Noise Canceling Headphones ($112.59 at Monoprice) are crucial. CNET dubs these “the poor man’s Bose QC15.” (Get Monoprice discounts.)
Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot
MiFi: Internet connections in cafes and even libraries can be spotty (usually because there are too many users squeezing juice out of the network), but a MiFi, which is essentially a portable network connection, can solve that problem in a flash. The Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot ($199.99 with month-to-month service; free with a two-year contract) can access 3G and 4G networks and gives a data-usage update on its tiny screen, so she won’t go over her plan’s limit. (Get Verizon discounts.)