As ‘70s rocker Alice Cooper once famously sang “no more pencils, no more books.” OK, so we’re not quite paperless – yet – but it’s true school has changed quite a bit over the past few years.
Digital tools are now responsible for jotting down notes during the class, researching material online and creating multimedia presentations instead of highlights on the chalkboard.
Here’s a look at a few worthy “back-to-school” tech picks.
A portable and affordable laptop is probably the most important tool a student can use throughout the school year -- and for all ages and subjects. The Toshiba Satellite C50t-A ($599.99) is a sleek Windows 8 machine offering a lot of bang for not a lot of buck. This includes a 15.6-inch touchscreen to use your fingertips to flick, tap and pinch through content. Other features include a 3rd-gen Intel Core i3 processor, USB 3.0 and HDMI ports, 4GB of system memory, 500GB hard drive and DVD burner.
If you prefer an Apple computer instead, the latest MacBook Airs start at $999 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for the 13-incher. Despite its mere 0.68-inch frame, this 2.38-pound machine boasts a fast Core i5 processor, faster flash storage than its predecessor (up to 256GB for the 11-inch model) and up to 8GB of system memory. Along with two USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt port and SDXC memory card slot on the 13-inch model, the MacBook Air also houses an integrated 720p HD webcam for FaceTime or Skype calls. Also, those who buy a Mac for college will get a $100 App Store gift card.
If you can’t decide between a laptop and a tablet, you can have it all with the Microsoft Surface Pro (from $899.99). Perfect for on-the-go students, this 10.6-inch touchscreen tablet is ideal for when you want to use your fingertips (or bundled stylus pen) or use it like a svelte laptop with the optional keyboard cover for typing away on keys. Students might just take the 64GB tablet to class to take notes or record lectures while back in the dorm room the physical keyboard accessory is used to type up the essay.
Student who already have a reliable computer with physical keyboard might just want a companion device to take with them to class, the library or study sessions at a local café. Especially if you’re on a tight budget you’ll appreciate the latest Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 tablets, from $199.99 for the 7-inch model. Also available in 8- and 10-inches, these tablets are powered by a 1.2 dual-core processor, Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) operating system and 8-gigabytes of internal storage. Other features of these 9.9mm-thin tablets: a 1024x600 HD screen, 3-megapixel camera and full access to the Google Play store and its more than 800,000 apps.
The Livescribe Sky wifi smartpen ($180) “remembers” everything it writes or hears when used with special paper with teeny dots on it (Starter Notebook included). Students can write notes during class and record audio, and then with a push of a button, wirelessly send all of it to a free Evernote account – accessible on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Coming soon is an app that will transcribe your handwritten notes into digital text. This product marries “old school” note-taking with the benefits of digital, online.
There’s nothing worse than when you’re on the go and all the gadgets you rely on run out of juice. This is why it’s key for students to keep an external power solution in their backpack, such as the MyCharge Peak 6000 ($80). This compact, portable charger has enough battery power -- a 6000mAh battery – that can power up a typical smartphone about four times. Dual USB slots and Apple iOS connector (30-pin) means you can charge up multiple gadgets at the same time, plus an integrated AC prong lets you plug it into a wall socket when needed.
Students tight on money or space can benefit from a Wi-Fi-enabled multifunction printer that lets you print, scan and copy, with ease. The Epson Expression Home XP-410 Small-in-One ($80), for example, doesn’t even need a PC at all as it features a built-in card slots and a 2.5-inch LCD touchscreen to see what you’re doing. This compact black machine also offers mobile printing capabilities, therefore students can print documents or photos via email from a smartphone, tablet or laptop – even when they’re in the library, lecture hall or while walking around campus -- and the print job will be done before they even walk in the door.
Microsoft's Wedge Touch Mouse ($70) is a compact – and we mean compact at just 2.39 x 2.11 inches -- and wireless Bluetooth mouse that offers fluid, four-way touch scrolling in every direction -- making it ideal for navigating through Windows 8's new home screen and its “live tiles.” BlueTrack technology means this unique-looking wedge-shaped mouse tracks on virtually any surface. To preserve battery, the Wedge Touch Mouse automatically shuts down when your computer or tablet is turned off.
A reliable hard drive is critical to back up and protect a student’s important files. WD's My Passport Edge (from $79 for 500GB) is a portable drive that delivers fast USB 3.0 speeds, an auto backup feature, password protection and hardware encryption. Available for PC or Mac, My Passport Edge is small, thin and rugged, and doesn't require AC power — whatever the computer provides through the USB connection is sufficient enough. As a safeguard, also take advantage of free cloud storage services, like SkyDrive.
Want to add some boom to your dorm room? iHome Audio has recently launched three different Bluetooth-enabled speakers to stream music, podcasts or audiobooks from a nearby Bluetooth device. In particular, the iHome iBT16 Cube ($43), iBT24 ($76) and iBT4 ($100) all have a rubberized finish and are available in multiple colors, plus they all house an integrated rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. The top-of-the-line speaker, iBT4, offers the most wattage, FM radio with presets, and swivel handle for added portability.