Back to School 2013: What to buy a new college student

Summary:It's that time of year again -- but what tools, gadgets and apps are useful or necessary for starting college?

back to school student guide 2013 technology gifts laptop smartphone budget

You're preparing to pack your son or daughter off to college in the coming months.

The offer has been accepted, packing is nearly there, and you're hoping with baited breath that student loans arrive on time. While you wait, you might be drawing up lists of items that your student has to take with them -- from the can opener to spare saucepans and notebooks. But what about technology?

One of the main drawbacks of starting college or entering your second and third years is affording technology which students either want -- or need. It is now often expected that students possess certain items, such as a personal computer and mobile phone, but other items -- including speakers, headphones and MP3 players -- are generally on the 'wish' lists. 

With so many options on the market, many a technophobe parent has problems working out what is necessary and what's not, despite what their child tells them. But it isn't just about a computer and alarm clock anymore -- your purchase decisions may also now include applications and ebooks. While not tangible, there are many apps suitable for a range of mobile device operating systems that can keep freshmen on track with schedules, budgets and to-do lists. Buying ebooks can further cut the cost of college, and can be read on an ereader or tablet.  

To give you some pointers, here is a roundup of products, applications and tips to better prepare you and your student for the back to school season. 

Back to school gadgets:

Laptops and tablets:

Laptops and more recently tablets are now a common sight in many universities. More convenient than lugging around heavy textbooks and now often a requirement when many lecturers insist on typed and emailed essays, unless a student enjoys the prospect of spending the best part of the semester waiting in line to use a library PC, bringing one of their own is a good idea. 

While Apple's Mac range and tablets including the iPad, Nexus and Surface are all used in education, there are plenty of deals worth hunting out in the back to school season from a range of PC suppliers. 

Current deals: Apple | Lenovo | Dell | Microsoft | Hewlett-Packard | Sony | Asus 

It is worth remembering, however, that sometimes upgrading an older laptop can save you money. For example, boosting the memory of a computer will allow a PC or laptop to handle more tasks simultaneously, run faster, extend a system's life and use more sophisticated software.  

Smartphones

back to school student guide 2013 technology gifts laptop smartphone budget

Your teenager may want the latest smartphone, a coveted iPhone or the equivalent from Samsung, but when budgets are tight there are plenty of options under the $300-400 mark -- some free, and some no more than $100. The main four carriers in the United States -- T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint -- often offer smartphone contracts with a subsidy or the option to pay for devices outright. 

If you're looking into entry-level contracts, the gallery below details reasonably-priced smartphones now available. 

Back to school smartphones under $100

What else?

Going beyond staple smartphones and personal computers, if you have some spare cash, there are frankly cool tech gifts for your student available -- from projected wireless keyboards to mini mobile printers for mobile devices. 

If gaming devices, high-spec laptops, media streaming and tablets are up your alley, check out:

Back to school: Must-have college gadgets

On a budget?

If you're looking for less expensive options, or perhaps you're a family member looking to give a student a few useful gifts, there are many options out there -- and a lot of products that are extremely useful for study. An alarm clock that runs away from you, unusual USB sticks and reasonably priced external hard drives are only some gifts that can be part of a college survival package.

Want some ideas? Check out Back to school: Student gifts, essentials for under $50

Applications

Mobile applications are a useful, cheap -- and often free -- way to help students organize themselves amidst newly-found freedom and study commitments. Whether you download note takers, schedule keepers, a research finder or a subway map, an alternative way to kick-start your student's further education could be a pack of useful apps. 

The collections below are suitable for both Android-based and iOS devices. Most of the applications featured are free, but some can be upgraded to premium versions or may cost a few dollars to download. 

Related:

Back to School:

On ZDNet:

Topics: Education, Android, Apple, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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