20 must-have back to school, college gadgets and gifts

It's the time of year when the next generation of college students is gearing up to go -- and there's plenty on the market for improving study and brightening up a dorm room.
1 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

A laptop lock

There's nothing more terrifying as the prospect of leaving your laptop on the library table for a minute or two to return and find it has vanished. A quick and cheap solution which will prove invaluable for students is a security cable for laptops. Ruban's $8.99 notebook lock is a cable which runs up to 6.2 foot and will keep your laptop firmly where it is unless someone knows your four-digit code.


2 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Kill A Watt

Being a student across the West these days generally isn't cheap. It's not just tuition costs and books -- bills can also hit them hard. To find out what devices are causing electricity bills to rise, consider a device designed to monitor usage. The $23.99 Kill A Watt monitor, for example, counts consumption by the hour and can be used to calculate electrical usage over days, weeks, months or a year.

P3 International

3 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Google Chromecast streaming device

The $29.99 Google Chromecast is a budget-friendly dongle used to stream media from mobile devices to standard displays. Once plugged into an HDMI port, the Chromecast app or extension can be used to stream media including YouTube videos, Netflix, Deezer and, naturally, Google Play content.


4 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

A budget Samsung tablet

Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet range can be snapped up for a student discount if you have cash to spare, but a cheaper alternative which will still serve students well is the $149.99 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. The 7-inch model runs on Android KitKat and comes equipped with a 1.3MP front camera and 3.0MP back camera, a 1280 x 800 pixel display and 1.5GB RAM. It's a small, light device with a fair amount of power, and will set up students well who wish to use note-taking apps, stream media or read e-books on their device.


5 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Olympus dictaphone

A dictaphone is one of those devices at college students don't realize they need until after the fact. A good dictaphone can be left at the front of a lecture hall and can act as a backup for note-taking across a full academic career, and so makes a useful gift before term starts. A model i'd recommend as a user myself is the Olympus VN-7200, a small but sturdy device able to put up with knocks and bumps when slung in a bag and battery life which seems to go on forever. The sound is clear and crisper than what you may expect from only $32, making this a strong choice for a college gift.


6 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

A powerful graphing calculator

While not necessary for every type of degree course, the sciences and mathematics crowd will generally appreciate a graphical calculator. As a gift they are not cheap -- but will no doubt be a valuable asset during study. The Texas Instruments T1-84 graphing calculator, available for $149.99, comes with a number of preloaded applications, business functions and is capable of both one and two-variable statistical analysis. In total, up to 10 graphing functions can be saved in order to analyze multiple equations at the same time -- a must for maths majors.

Best Buy

7 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Turn note taking digital

With the expansion of mobile technology, a student's life can be made easier by pairing up note-taking with apps which help organize each lecture or seminar session. A gift you may consider for your student is an Evernote subscription and an Echo livescribe pen for $133. When paired together with a tablet or Echo notepad, the app and pen can be used to record written and audio notes, as well as sync notes to multiple devices. The setup is popular due to its easy functionality and reliability.


8 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

WD My Passport external hard drive

An external hard drive is a valuable resource for today's students, acting as a way to backup essays and projects in case of PC breakdowns -- a student's worst nightmare.

Externals have continued to drop in price over the past decade, and you can now pick up a 1TB portable model from Western Digital for only $69.99.


9 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air laptop model from Apple is a common sight in today's lecture halls. Ranging in entry-level prices depending on screen size from $899 to $999, the MacBook Air line is powered by Intel Core processors, is thin but sturdy enough to throw into a backpack, and is able to stay active for over 10 hours on a single charge with light use.


10 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Lenovo laptops

If your student isn't a fan of the Apple range, Lenovo's G50-80 laptop -- currently on offer for educational use -- could be a better option. Running on the Microsoft Windows 8.1 OS, the laptop starts at $299 and comes with a 15.6" HD LED display, 4GB memory, an Intel Celeron 3205U Processor and 500GB hard drive, which is enough to get any student started.


11 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Playbulb dorm decoration

Dorm rooms can look depressingly empty and cold when you first walk into them. A fun range of gifts to brighten up these rooms is the Playbulb lighting range -- a set of battery and standard lightbulb-connected lighting systems controllable through smartphone applications.

Once installed and linked up to the Playbulb X app, users can change the lighting colors to a range of LED-based hues, as well as set effects including candle flickers, rainbows and pulses (for the occasional party). The Playbulb Candle is $19.99 US or £19.99 UK, and Playbulb Rainbow is $39.99 US or £39.99 UK.


12 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Learn a language

A gift for your student doesn't have to be related to hardware or gadgets. In today's competitive marketplace and global industries, learning a second language can give those entering the workforce a competitive edge -- and so immersive language programs such as the Rosetta Stone can prove an invaluable way to learn quickly.

It's not cheap -- subscriptions can reach hundreds of dollars but is effective. I myself have used the program for Spanish and Japanese in the past, and still retain a fair grasp on both.

The program uses immersion tactics including image association and speaking practice to give students a strong grasp of a language, whether it be French, Spanish, Japanese or Chinese.

Rosetta Stone

13 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

A high-tech backpack

Today's students are often loaded down with mobile gadgets, and running out of juice can prove to be a nuisance.

The $169.99 Energi+ backpack is a high-tech backpack large enough to fit in a laptop, notebook and other college items, while also being equipped with a 4.2A battery which can charge microUSB devices -- such as Android smartphones -- up to four times a go. The backpack also includes a cable tidy, laptop poucb and trolley pocket.


14 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Kindle Paperwhite

The $119 Kindle Paperwhite, developed by Amazon, is a key component for those reading for a degree.

While a tablet can do the trick well enough when it comes to reading e-books, the Paperwhite's advantage is lightness and a 300dpi display with inbuilt lighting and e-ink technology to reduce glare when reading outside. The battery life is good and it is sure to make your student's life easier.


15 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Portable Jawbone speakers

While pricey for a small speaker system, Jawbone's £109.99 mini Jambox is a stylish addition for any college dorm room. Available in nine colors, the Jambox is compatible with both iOS and Android mobile devices for music streaming.


16 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Ventev sync 2-in-1 cables

To keep down on wire clutter when students use multiple devices from different brands, consider purchasing charge cables such as Ventev's $29.99 sync cable. A single 3.3 feet cable contains both a micro-USB and Apple Lightning connector, so tablets and smartphones using either standard can be charged or connected to PCs on the go.


17 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Trinity Hyperion in-ear earphones

Every student could do with a decent set of earphones for work and play -- and Trinity's budget Hyperion product is both lightweight and stylish.

The aluminium casing looks expensive and more stylish than many plastic earphone sets on the market. For £30, the audio quality is far more powerful than I would normally expect in this price range, and the ear pieces themselves mould well to your ear and are comfortable. The braided cable is also a nice touch.

Trinity Audio Engineering

18 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

A wireless printer

Printing essays and draft-upon-draft is a necessary part of college life, but a wireless printer hooked up in a dorm room can make the process easier. The price of such printers has decreased in recent years, and now you can pick up printers capable of wireless printing, scanning, and the sending of documents from PCs to mobile devices relatively cheaply. One such product, HP's Envy 4500 series, is worth a mention at only £45.


19 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

An essential: A USB flash drive

Going for only $29.99, the PNY Turbo USB flash drive offers students 128GB' worth of storage to back up essential data and college work.


20 of 20 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

An alarm clock which makes a statement

The Nixie Ramos alarm clock may be far from the cheapest clock on the market, but it certainly makes a statement -- and ensures your student will have no way to use the "I slept through my alarm clock" excuse.

The $399.99 Nixie Ramos clock, beautifully set in walnut for a retro look, forces the user to get out of bed and punch in a code to turn the alarm off. A wireless 'Defuse' panel placed elsewhere -- away from a bedside table -- will make the user force the morning or be faced with a barrage of sound.


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