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Back to School Main ► Must-Have College Tech Gadgets & Gear
Just because it seems like mobile phones can do everything (and they pretty much can), it doesn’t mean they’re the only technology incoming college freshmen need for campus life. Here are some gadgets and gear for your must-have college technology shopping list:
Consider the specific uses and needs to determine the best laptop for college students. “Small screen touch notebooks are a great solution for everyday computing and entertainment around the dorm or apartment, or on the go from class to class,” says Scott Shutter, senior manager of product marketing for AMD in Austin, TX. “Excellent battery life and compact designs let you pick up and go with ease.” Mainstream and performance notebooks that are slightly larger and more powerful systems are ideal for students in tech-heavy majors and for gamers. “[They] combine cool features, like face login and gesture control, with all the performance you need to read a textbook online, get work done, play a game, video chat with friends and tutors, and pretty much anything else you want to do with your computer.”
It may seem like overkill to have a laptop and a tablet, but with more expensive textbooks being formatted for eReaders, you’ll pay less for the extra device than you will for all the bound books. Plus, it’s a handy portable organizer. “I have all my textbooks, take all my notes and store assignments on it,” says Brian Kearney, a PR major at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. “It has truly helped me in organizing my hectic college schedule.”
Pro Tip: Consider a 2-in-1. “Two-in-ones combine the convenience of a tablet with the productivity features of a notebook,” Shutter explains. “These light and slim devices enable [students] to take their studies, assignments, work and entertainment with them everywhere without weighing down their bags.”
This is the new must-have for tablet owners. “Active digitizers, also known as styluses, are becoming increasing beneficial for students, enabling natural note-taking on tablets and 2-in-1s,” says Peter Han, Microsoft® vice president of U.S. OEM.
There are never enough outlets in a dorm room, so power strips are indispensable. And for those times you just can’t find an outlet in the library or classroom, a portable phone charger kept in a backpack ensures there’s always power.
Things go wrong, usually in the middle of the night or right before a paper is due. Invest in an extra battery pack and power cord for laptops to be prepared.
“One of the worst things that can happen in college is when the computer crashes and everything on the computer is gone,” says Lydia Talen, an anthropology major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I always make sure to have my computer backed up just in case this happens.” Use flash drives for data that need to be accessed on the go, and an external drive or cloud storage to store backups of devices and keep important documents safe.
Speakers are crucial for listening to recorded lectures, of course, but also for talking to family and friends online, watching movies or gaming — not to mention listening to music.
Sometimes students don’t want to go to the library or study room. Other times, they don’t want to annoy their roommates. Noise-canceling headphones solve both problems. “These come in handy whenever you need to concentrate,” Kearney says. “I use [mine] when I need to clear my head or release some anxiety by listening to my favorite songs.”
Audio files can take up a lot of room on a phone or tablet, so many students use digital audio recorders to record lectures and interviews for later transcription or review. “I was actually getting carpal tunnel from so much typing,” says graduate student Rachel Kovacs. “With transcription software, I can read portions of my sources out loud, and it turns it into text in a variety of popular software applications. I can even write papers without touching the keyboard. It speeds up my work by as much as three times.”
Some campuses have great wireless networks and some don’t. And even though there’s supposed to be a network cable to enable dorm printing, it’s often missing. Bring your own just in case.
Students need some time off. Gaming is a great diversion and consoles don’t take up much room. They’re also an effective way to meet people in the dorm.
Of course, students need phones updated with the latest operating system and apps. Most professors and student groups send mobile updates about school events, and colleges send mobile alerts straight to smartphones. It’s a critical way to stay informed.
Pro Tip: Stay in touch. A smartphone is a great way to encourage communications. “Texting is the best,” says Annalise Marcus, a Ridgewood, NJ, mother with two of three kids in college. “You can check in with your child without being intrusive. Our family often does group texts so that parents and siblings, both at home and at different colleges, are all talking.”
And don’t forget to add important accessories to your must-have college tech list. Antiglare screen covers mitigate eyestrain, and screen protectors keep tablets safe from scratches. Wireless accessories, like a Bluetooth keyboard for tablets or a mouse for laptops, can help reduce repetitive strain on hands and arms.
Margot Carmichael Lester is co-author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College, and owner of The Word Factory in Carrboro, NC. She frequently teaches resume- and cover letter-writing to college students. She's a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Go, Heels!). Follow Margot on Google+.