10 Must-Have Products for the Savvy College Student

Gadget Pile

You’re off to school. You’re going to be facing many new challenges. What you don’t need is to be wasting lots of time and energy. You need to get things done quickly and efficiently. For that, you’ll need the assortment of products listed here. All of these products are electronic. We live in an electronic-digital age, and highly effective students make the most of the opportunities such products provide.

As you go through this list, you’ll find some overlap. For instance, your cell phone / SmartPhone can serve as a camera. So too, your laptop computer can play DVDs and Blu-ray. In our experience, it’s best to have dedicated units for each of the main tasks and sources of information you’ll be facing as a student. All-purpose electronics that are advertised as “doing everything” often don’t do anything particularly well. By contrast, we’ve found dedicated electronics get the job done, are easier to use, and less liable to bugs and break-downs.

Here, then, is our list of 10 must-have products:

1. Laptop Computer

LaptopIn the number one position, of course, is a computer. You’ll definitely need a computer and we recommend a laptop. Desktop computers are bulky, have multiple components, and break down more easily. Moreover, given how fast and powerful laptaps have become, you really don’t need a desktop computer unless you’re going to be doing intensive work with graphics or sound (in which case you should be able to find such computers made available to you on campus). Laptops, by contrast, give you everything to meet your computing needs in one neat package. Although Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba make good laptops, we recommend Asus, which gives you more computing power for the buck and doesn’t saddle your machine with as much extraneous software when you buy it. What, no Mac, you say? Although we like Macs, especially for audio and video editing, we think that for an entry-level machine you are best going with a PC. PCs tend to be more compatible with academic environments and have much more educational software written for them. When you buy a laptop, be sure to get one with a good processor and lots of memory. Also be sure to get some good virus protection — we recommend Kaspersky. Here’s the laptop we recommend (it’s got an i5 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, and a 500 gig hard drive — and it’s quite reasonably priced given how much you get):

Asus A52F-XE2 15.6-Inch Versatile Entertainment Laptop

2. SmartPhone / Cell Phone

cell phoneYou most likely already have a cell phone. In fact, you may be wondering why we didn’t put a cell phone first on this list. As it is, you’ll be able to borrow someone’s cell phone in a pinch. But borrowing someone’s computer to do your school work tends to be more difficult. Your computer is going to be “command central” for all your course work. A good cell phone will help you here, but cannot replace your computer. That said, for mobility, keeping up with what’s going on, and as a backup for some of what your computer does (for example, email), a good cell phone / SmartPhone will be indispensable. We recommend the latest line of Google Droid phones that work on a 4G network. They’re fast. They do all the basic stuff that cell phones are supposed to do. They’ve got plenty of cool apps. They don’t saddle you with a lot of the proprietary restrictions and costs that Apple has on its phones. Finally, the latest phones have powerful Internet connections and provide WiFi hubs, so if your school’s Internet goes down or you’re in a place without Internet, your phone can connect your laptop to the web. Here’s the cell phone we recommend:

HTC Evo Shift 4G

3. eReader

eReaderPaper-and-ink books are not likely disappear any time soon. Even so, their role is going to keep diminishing in coming years. Moreover, most other print media (newspapers, journals, magazines) are going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, many school libraries no longer subscribe to print versions of academic journals. This means that you’ll be reading more and more on your laptop and other electronic media delivery systems. Electronic readers (eReaders) are becoming the delivery system of choice. They’re highly portable (more so than laptops), are light and small, have long battery lives, and typically use e-ink (electronic ink) that’s readable even in bright sunlight (unlike laptops and unlike Apple’s iPad). The reader we prefer is the Amazon Kindle. In addition to supporting many many books and publications, and in addition to allowing automatic transfers of many different electronic formats (for example, pdf files are easily transferred to the Kindle), it also has a wonderful text-to-speech feature. The electronic voice is not as good as a real voice, but it’s pretty good, giving not just accurate pronunciation of words but also preserving cadences. With a Kindle, you may never buy an audio book again. We recommend the Kindle DX, whose larger size and memory capacity provide everything you’ll need in an eReader:

High-End Kindle

Lower-End Kindle

4. Printer

PrinterPrinters are no longer as necessary as they once were. Lots of printers are widely available on campus or from neighbors. Moreover, we just don’t need as much paper as we once did. Email has cut down massively on the amount of mail that the post offfice delivers. Many books and documents are now available electronically. Many school assignments now need to be submitted electronically. Indeed, some courses now advertise themselves as being “paperless.” That said, you will find teachers who still want assignments handed in with traditional “ink on paper” or “hardcopy.” Especially for term papers, teachers like to grade papers by marking them with a red pen or pencil. All that to say, you will be having to print off some of your assignments. But can’t you just do that on someone else’s printer. In most cases, you can. But imagine it’s the morning of that the big assignment is due. The printer you ordinarily borrow is down. Or, if it’s not down, there’s a big line waiting to use it. You’ll find that having your own printer will relieve a lot of stress the times you really need it. Moreover, you’ll find it convenient simply to have the printer around to print things off at your convenience rather than having to hunt down a printer elsewhere. We recommend two types printers, one that simply prints and is portable; the other that also does scanning, fax, and photocopies. Either one will serve your needs:

Portable Printer

Full-Service Printer

5. Voice Recorder

recorderYou may be attending a dynamite lecture. You may be wanting to record great thoughts that are coming to you faster than you can write down. You may want to do a podcast, sharing your deep thoughts with Cyberspace. You may be listening to a classic comedy routine by your roommate and want to preserve it for posterity. In all such cases and more, you’ll want a dedicated voice recorder. These have come down drastically in price. They’re now entirely digital, so you can easily transfer everything you record to your computer. Cell phones often don’t offer voice recorders, partly because of legal ramifications. Check with your state’s laws. In some states, you are permitted to record what other people are saying, whether in person or by phone, as long you are party to the conversation. In other states, you need to get consent. In any case, you’ll find that with a voice recorder, you’ll be able capture moments that years down the line you’ll be glad you didn’t miss. Here’ the voice recorder we recommend. It will handle all your voice recording needs and even some music:

Sony ICD UX200 Digital Recorder

6. Camera

CameraCell phones have cameras, but even with high megapixel counts, their picture quality tends to be only fair and their camera features (zoom, red-eye control, shutter speed, etc.) tend to be strictly limited or non-existent. Sure, use your cell-phone camera when that’s the only camera you have, but if you want pictures you can be proud of — if you’re going to be at a special occasion where the pictures you take are ones you’ll want your kids and grandkids to enjoy — use a dedicated camera. Digital cameras now exceed the traditional film cameras in picture quality. The best type of camera you can get is a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. This will give you professional quality pictures (of course, it will help to know something about photography). Unlike ordinary digital cameras, these allow you to take pictures much faster (click-click-click) and get sharp focus each time. Of course, a DLSR camera may be more camera than you need. In that case, go with a conventional digital camera. Here are two DSLR cameras we recommend (we like Nikon) as well as a a conventional one:

Nikon D5000 12.3 MP DX Digital SLR Camera

Nikon D3000 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera

Sony DSC-W330 14.1MP Digital Camera

7. Portable DVD/Blu-ray Player

Portable Video Disk PlayerVideo is increasingly becoming part of the educational experience. You may be taking a course online and have to view lectures or documentaries on DVD or Blu-ray. You may be doing some self-study with materials from The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com), which has many wonderful courses on DVD. In such cases it will help you enormously to have a portable DVD/Blu-ray player. These small devices work very well and allow you to cut through a lot of the security and red tape that laptop and desktop computers encounter when they have to use third-party software to read DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Also, if you have to take notes on the videos that you’re viewing, it will help to be viewing on a device separate from your computer. DVDs still tend to dominate the market, especially in education, but Blu-ray discs are fast gaining support (Blu-ray supersedes DVD, having much greater storage capacity). If price is not so big an issue, we recommend getting a portable Blu-ray player (which will also play DVDs). Otherwise, we recommend getting a portable DVD player:

Portable Blu-ray Player

Portable DVD Player

8. iPod or iPad

iPadYes, your cell phone has an mp3 player and that’s a feature that works well on these devices. And yes, Apple tends to be quite proprietary about its products, keeping a tight rein on all the applications, music, and peripherals that work with them (Apple doesn’t seem to know the meaning of “third party”). That said, Apple has been a key innovator in the electronics business, so you should have an Apple product if only to know what your classmates are using and doing. Sure, you can get an iPhone that also serves as an iPod. But this we regard as an expensive option and one that, in our view, unduly limits your use of cell phone providers. On the plus side, whatever Apple does, it tends to do well. Moreover, iPods and iPads work well across computing environments (whether you get a PC or Mac). The Apple Store that services the iPod and iPad offers lots of neat educational products. You’ll want to have at least one of these devices in your academic arsenal:



9. Video Camera

Video CameraVideos are able to capture moments in ways that snap shots with ordinary cameras cannot. If you value memories with family and friends, if you want to commemorate key moments in your educational experinece, you’ll want a video camera. But what about education itself? How can a video camera enhance your educational experience? Are video cameras really a must-have product for the savvy student? We believe that they are. Making your own videos is becoming more and more popular, not just for YouTube but also as part of the education experience (video contests on academic subjects are becoming increasingly widespread). The digital/electronic culture is a visual culture. People these days tend to learn less from books and reading and more from visuals. What has classically been called “the rhetorical task,” where you try to persuade people to accept some idea or act in some way, is increasingly driven not by words and argument but by enticing visuals. You don’t need to be a professional film-maker to appreciate this point. Even an amateur with a video camera can affect people in ways that written media cannot. Video cameras are now entirely digital, dispensing with tapes and going entirely with flash and hard drives, so you can move the videos you make easily to a computer for editing. Here’s the video camera we recommend:

Panasonic HDC-HS60 Hi-Def Camcorder

10. Pen Tablet

Pen TabletIn this digital age, we tend to push a lot of buttons on machines. We ourselves, however, are not machines. We are organisms, and button-pushing, after a while, can feel quite unnatural. It’s therefore important to have some interfaces with the digital world that preserve our non-linear, analogue humanity. When we learn to write, for instance, we don’t learn at a keyboard but by putting pencil to paper and tracing out first block letters and then cursive letters. A pen tablet allows this experience of writing, scribbling, and drawing to be transferred to the computer, thus providing an organic link between (wo)man and machine. Talk of “organic links” may sound warm and fuzzy, but once you start using a pen tablet, you’ll see that it connects you with digital environments in ways you hadn’t expected. Tablet laptops were something of a rage five years ago, but the screens weren’t very good and, as often happens when you ask too much of a device, they didn’t do anything particularly well. By getting a pen tablet as a peripheral to your computer, on the other hand, you’ll be able to get the full value out of the tablet as well as your laptop. Here’s is the pen tablet we recommend:

Bamboo Pen Tablet

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