Back to school gadget guide

Digital Trends

Treat your favorite student with tech to make life easier this school year with our back to school gadget guide.

Despite what the thermometer might make you believe, the end of summer is quickly approaching. And that means it’s time to start gearing up for the new school year. What better way to return to the student in your life to the classroom than with some sweet gadgets tucked into their backpack? And we’re not talking graphing calculators. We’ve hunted down some of the best back-to-school technology 2011 has to offer, from e-readers and notebooks to essential accessories, and there’s something for every budget.

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Amazon Kindle 6-inch Wi-Fi/3G
($139)

There is no shortage of e-readers these days, but you’ll still be hard-pressed to find one better for students than the Amazon Kindle 3. In addition to features like a built-in dictionary, easy PDF highlighting, and page numbers that correspond with print editions, Amazon now offers the ability to rent textbooks, straight to the device, at a fraction of what they cost to buy in print. (This is also available through any device that runs the Kindle mobile app.) We recommend the 6-inch W-Fi/3G version, which comes with free 3G service, and is the best value. If money isn’t an issue, however, go all out with the Kindle DX, which sports a 9.7-inch screen that will make long study sessions easier on the eyes.

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Spotify Premium
($120 annually)

Nothing helps tedious schooling go down more smoothly than some sweet tunes — which is what makes Spotify Internet music streaming a must-have for students. Recently launched in the United States, Spotify allows subscribers to listen to any song in its 15 million title-strong catalog, as well personal music collections, anytime, anywhere. For $9.99 per month, or about $120 per year, Spotify members can access the service either through their computer, or through the Spotify mobile app, which is available for iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone and Palm operating systems. The best perk: users can set up songs to play in offline mode, without the need for a wireless or Wi-Fi connection. Realistically, Spotify can provide all the music the student in your life could ever want. Spotify also offers a $4.99 monthly plan and free open plan, but Premium makes the most sense for students with mobile phones.

MacBook Air 11.6-inch 64GB model
($999)

A good laptop is essential for today’s student to stay on top, both in class and out. Fortunately, there are now devices to fit nearly every budget. But if you want to get the epitome of style, form and functionality, the new MacBook Air is absolutely the way to go. Measuring a mere 0.7-inches thick and weighing under 3 pounds, the new Airs are just as portable and twice as fast as last year’s models. For $999, you can get the 11.6-inch version, with 64GB of flash storage, the zippy 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 2GB of RAM. A backlit keyboard comes standard, as does the new OS X Lion 10.7 Mac operating system.

STM Jet laptop backpack
($79.99)

Students are constantly on the move, so it’s important for them to have a bag that accommodates their mobile, high-tech lifestyle. The Jet backpack from STM includes a dizzying array of useful pockets, for everything from cables and external drives to keys and cell phones. The Jet’s internal padded laptop pocket is raised off the bottom of the pack, which protects the device from cracking when the bag is haphazardly dropped on the ground. STM has also included an integrated pocket made specifically for tablets or e-readers, which is lined with soft brushed nylex material to protect the screen. Extra-plush shoulder straps help ease heavy loads, and they have an easy-access iPod or smartphone pocket to make listening to music or answering an incoming call while on the go a breeze. The Jet comes in either medium ($79.99) for laptops that measure 15 inches or smaller, or large ($84.99), for laptops up to 17 inches.

Panasonic Nanotech ES8103s
($80 to $100)

Like it or not, students must look their best to do their best. And to do that, most of them have to shave, in one way or another. Fortunately, there’s the Panasonic Nanotech ES8103s wet-dry razor to the rescue. One of Consumer Reports’ top five best electric razors, the Nanotech ES8103s has a pivoting head, a fast 13,000rpm linear motor for extra-smooth shaves, and a “Turbo” cleaning mode. And at only $80 to $100 — less than half the price of comparable models — this razor will have users saving money simply because they will no longer have to purchase criminally expensive blades for regular their razors.

Roku 2 XS
($99.99)

When it’s time to unwind after a long day of classes, the Roku 2 XS provides all the digital entertainment anyone could ever want. Measuring a minuscule 3.3 x 3.3-inches, the Roku 2 XS delivers access to over 300 Internet channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus. It can play video up to 1080p resolution, has built-in Wi-Fi, and can play music, videos and photos off of a USB drive. To top it all off, the Roku 2 XS also comes pre-loaded with Angry Birds, and a complimentary gaming controller. Basically, the Roku 2 XS is the only entertainment system your student will need.

Toshiba Thrive tablet 8GB model
($430)

We’ll be the first to admit the Toshiba Thrive is neither the lightest, thinnest nor most powerful tablet on the market. It is, however, one of the most user-friendly. With the Android 3.1 Honeycomb OS running the show, and the 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor providing the power, Toshiba’s 10.1-inch Thrive can do anything you’ll likely throw at it — including highly useful apps that can record lectures, take notes and play games. Thrive conveniently comes loaded with full-sized USB and HDMI ports — rare specs on a tablet — a 1280×800 resolution high-definition screen, two cameras, and an SD card slot to expand the 8GB internal storage to whatever your heart’s desire. To top it all off, the Thrive also has an easily replaceable battery, which can run for seven to nine hours, and a swappable back plate that comes in a variety of colors, allowing your student to stand out from the crowd.

Canon Pixma MX410 printer
($80 to $100)

There’s nothing worse than to be already late for class, and still need to go to the library to print out a now-due research paper. Avoid that needless hassle with the Canon Pixma MX410 ink jet printer, which can print, fax or scan in a matter of seconds. Built-in Wi-Fi allows users to print from anywhere within range. And when used in conjunction with the Canon mobile app, users can print wirelessly, straight from their iPhone, iPod touch or Android device.

LaCie Rugged Mini external hard drive
($99)

These days, school work exists in a digital format as much or more often than it does on paper. To manage the workload, a solid external hard drive has become an essential tool for any student (or anyone else, for that matter). Built to last, the LaCie Rugged Mini is small enough to fit in a back pocket, but strong enough to survive drops from 1.2 meters, rain and other minor dampness and (of course) sitting on it — it can support up to 1 ton of weight. A USB 3.0 connection allows for transfer speeds that are about four times faster than USB 2.0 (which is also supported). The Rugged Mini starts at $99 for the 500GB model, and goes up to $149 for the 1TB version.

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