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Back to School 2011: 'What to buy your kid for college' guide

20 bits of kit, from products, services to subscriptions, all essential to students heading back to school for the upcoming academic year.
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1 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

The Samsung NF210 (A02) could well be considered the ultimate non-MacBook student netbook. Unlike the MacBook Air, which features later in this deck, it has a matte screen so you get little glare or reflection, it sports a decent dual-core Atom processor and a smooth feeling keyboard which is a pleasure to type on.

Not only this, but it's relatively cheap compared to a fully-fledged laptop -- and definitely for the more frugal student who cannot afford a MacBook. It's light, runs for hours on the battery, and has a brilliant screen for viewing videos and text. Not only that, with wireless-n you can stream videos and download wirelessly at extremely fast speeds.

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Typical price: $350-$550
CNET rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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2 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Netflix is, without doubt, one of the most comprehensive collection of online content, from films to television episodes, available legally on the web. Since colleges and universities are cracking down heavily on internet piracy, it is better to stay on the right side of the law.

While Hulu, it's nearest competitor, is all about television, it's better for finding the more quirky in television and films, rather than the popular content of the day. Netflix works off a subscription, so you can pay less than $10 a month, or pay around $100 for the full year. Either way, it's a great compliment to the student study bedroom... for when you are not studying, of course.

Everyone needs down time, after all.

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Typical price: Varies based on subscription ($7.99-$95.88)
See also: Hands-on review: Netflix on the iPhone app

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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3 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

If you have money to spend, then the MacBook Air (11" or 13") is without doubt the ideal student netbook. Slightly larger than a conventional netbook, it runs Mac OS X Lion -- the most advanced Mac operating system to date, and will last for hours on battery. The thinnest netbook on the market, it is incredibly light -- beyond belief, in fact -- and will be the envy of others around your college kid.

In terms of specs, it's incredibly fast with a dual-core Intel i5 processor, has 4GB RAM by standard, 128GB/256GB solid state drive, Thunderbolt technology, and an LED backlit keyboard so you can even work in the dark. It's a fantastic machine, but at its price -- it's definitely an investment rather than a disposable piece of tech to last the year!

Also see: Is the next MacBook Air the perfect student laptop?

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Typical price: Starting at $999
CNET rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Also see: here for academic discounts.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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4 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

With the tech in this deck alone, the wires will be pouring out of your college kids' ears. From televisions to games consoles, PCs and portable tech, there has to be a better way of dealing with all those cables.

My personal favourite comes in form of the CableDrop -- adhesive backed cable tidies which keep cables in line, and where they should be. You may need more than one pack, however, as they will be used up very quickly. Available in a number of different colours, you may wish to buy them once you've moved into your dorm so you can match the colour with your desk.

Check out the rest of the stuff from BlueLounge too -- some of their products are so simple, but will amaze you. 

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Typical price: $9.95 plus shipping.
CNET rating: Not available.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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5 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Games consoles are tricky ones. Get the right one, and you can be making friends within minutes. Get the wrong one, and you could be the social outcast because you cannot connect to the same network as your new dorm friends.

While the two contending (and by far the best) games consoles are the Xbox 360 Elite and the PlayStation 3, it's best to wait until you get there. Sure, you could always buy the one you think is best, but it's one of those cautious purchases that you may regret once you realise you cannot play with anyone you know. Gaming is a social thing, especially at college. Bide your time and wait it out -- but a games console is a must in student halls.

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Typical price: PlayStation 3 ($299-$329) -- Xbox 360/Elite ($299-$600)
CNET rating: PlayStation 3 (4.0 out of 5.0 stars) -- Xbox 360 Elite (4.0 out of 5.0 stars)

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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6 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Without doubt the best headphones I have ever used. My friend Beth has a pair which her sister bought, and I tried them for a few hours on my iPod and was truly reluctant to give them back. I immediately bought a pair, and have never gone back. 

Sleek and sharp, the audio quality is beyond excellent. Compatible with MP3 players with a 3.5mm connector, these headphones block out ambient noise perfectly and the bass is just to die for. Light and stylish, these headphones will end up going everywhere with you.

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Typical price: Around $99
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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7 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Ergonomics are everything. Compatible with both Windows and Mac, this keyboard and mouse combination is ergonomically perfect and fits your writing style with precision. Incredibly comfortable to use, it also boasts a range of function keys to control your media and browsing habits. 

For the price, you will not find a better keyboard and mouse combination. The keys are soft to press and gentle on the joints in your fingers -- making typing out those long essays or lecture notes easier on the hands. The mouse is accurate to the pixel, making graphic design ideal for this set. 

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Typical price: $99
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars (v2)

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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8 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

An entry level DSLR, this is the ideal complement to the creative student-to-be. It looks like a professional's camera, without any of the added bluster of difficulty to use. Compact and light in weight, it's easy to grip and extremely easy to use.

Shooting at 3 frames a second, you can make near-video like streams of photographs to capture the very essence of the moment. The LCD screen is sharp and bright, and really visualises photographs well, displaying full colour content to ensure you get the best view of your snaps possible. 

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Typical price: $454-$549
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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9 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

For the cost, this is one of the cheapest printers for colour. An ideal inkjet printer for the new student, it prints colour images well but black text really prints out as "true black" -- and none of this vague, grey-ish contrasts that so many printers provide. Though it doesn't print out in photographic quality, it has an excellent balance of features for the cost. 

It also offers Wi-Fi capabilities, allowing you to print from anywhere potentially, provided you have a WEP-encrypted network. It's small and compact -- so it's ideal for the student dorm which offers often little space to manoeuvre..

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Typical price: $129-$160
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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10 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

A controversial one, for sure. I put the 3GS over the iPhone 4 for one simple reason: though it is older, and lacks a high-resolution retina display -- and doesn't have video calling or a 5-megapixel camera, it's cheaper on contract. Plus, it feels more like a phone than the iPhone 4 does. Smooth around the edges, it is far easier to hold and feels more natural in the hand. 

It will also be compatible with iOS 5, which will be around in Autumn 2011, which will include iCloud functionality and a whole wealth of new features.

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Typical price: $49-$299 with a mobile contract
CNET rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars
Also see: here for academic discounts.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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11 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Unlike other webcams, this is designed to be used with Windows Live Messenger -- still a very popular platform for younger people to connect with. As Windows Live Messenger is also compatible with Facebook chat, and also works with Facebook video calling, it is a brilliant, high-definition webcam. Records at 1080p, it is precise, accurate and beautiful to look at.

Of course, this is an optional add-on, as if you have taken to the MacBook Air as previously mentioned, then it already has a webcam installed into the lid of the case. 

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Typical price: $48-$99
CNET rating: Not available.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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12 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Like Netflix, a Spotify subscription is easy to get and simple to cancel. As music is the lifeblood of all students everywhere -- regardless of what college or university you go to, regardless of where you are in the world -- Spotify has what you are looking for.

The premium package allows you to stream an unlimited, unrestricted amount of content, and also allows you to take your playlists into "offline mode". Whether or not you are connected to your college network, you can still access your music while you are disconnected.

See also: Spotify finally launches in US: Enough to quell the masses from piracy?

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Typical price: $9.99 a month
CNET review: Available here.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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13 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

This innovative iPod docking station works with all iPod devices -- a must have device in itself (see in a later slide) for students. Available in four different colours, including one bright and vibrant orange, its two speakers and subwoofer is powerful enough to blast into the next room. Brilliant for house parties, it also comes with a mini-USB to USB cable for external connections, and a remote control.

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Typical price: £69.99
CNET rating: Not available.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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14 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

For the musically minded students, or the sort of students (like myself) who enjoy making podcasts, this microphone is a fantastic addition to the suite. USB-compatible, it is quite literally plug and play. Compatible with all operating systems, including Windows, Mac and Ubuntu, it can be used with Skype or any recording software -- such as Garage Band on Mac OS X -- to record high-definition sound.

Also included is a pivoting stand mount and a tripod desk stand. It's also compatible with many other devices, like pop filters and microphone stands for perfect adjustment.

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Typical price: $149-£140
CNET rating: Not available.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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15 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

It goes without saying, that regardless of whether you use Windows or Mac OS X, the ideal student solution to writing those essays is Microsoft Office. There are two versions available -- Office 2010 Home and Student for Windows users, and Office:mac 2011 for Mac users. Though there are many alternatives, such as OpenOffice, LibreOffice and iWork -- some cost and some are free, nothing beats the Microsoft office suite in my opinion.

Remember academic discounts, though. See the link below.

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Typical price: Office 2010 ($149.99) -- Office 2011 for Mac ($149.99)
CNET user rating: 2.5 out of 5.0 stars.
Also see: here for academic discounts.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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16 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Debating between the Nook (original) and the Nook Color, my colleagues rested with the Nook Color as the perfect e-reader for college. Though the Amazon Kindle is a brilliant e-reader, Barnes and Noble undoubtably have the largest collection of books, online content and academic reference material available. This in itself is the main reason why every student who wants to slim down their physical book stores into one consolidated, vibrantly coloured device.

The Wi-Fi enabled touch-screen e-reader has over 2 million books to download, and also has a wealth of magazines and newspapers to download on the go. Running Android 2.2, it has 8GB of internal storage for your applications, email and downloaded books. Sure, it doesn't have the appeal of an iPad, but you will get a great deal more out of it -- and for a far cheaper price.

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Typical price: $249 (with free shipping)
CNET rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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17 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

An ideal solution for recording lectures on the covert scale (just in case your lecturers decide to moan at you about intellectual property and whatnot), it also features as a digital pen for writing up your notes in digital format. Functioning as an ordinary ballpoint pen, it can also be used to record your notes electronically for easy conversion.

The audio quality is excellent, which is the main feature behind this pen. Granted, not everyone is into digitising their notes, the recorder alone is the standard feature for which I would recommend. It's also far cheaper than other digital recording devices, too.

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Typical price: $99,99-$199.99
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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18 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

Out of all the iPods, I would have to recommend the fifth-generation iPod nano. Small and compact, it boasts a tiny touch-screen display perfect for fingertips. It has a clip on the back to attach to any piece of clothing or jeans, and is compatible with FM radio, too. Works with iTunes just as every other iPod does, this tiny device displays high-resolution album art on its screen as you listen to it.

As one of the cheapest modern iPods available, you can still get all you would out of it -- except, perhaps high-definition video; the screen is really small -- as you would out of an ordinary iPod.

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Typical price: $143-$189
CNET rating: 3.5 out of 5.0 stars
Also see: here for academic discounts.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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19 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

This laptop case defies what you expect. It looks like a giant padded envelope, but is the perfect size for any ordinary sized laptop or even a netbook -- with enough room to fold over the Velcro-edge. With a red, velvetty feel to the inside, it is soft and carefully lined to protect your laptop from bumps and scrapes, scratches and the like.

One thing is for sure -- it will certainly turn heads, and many will have to look twice at this beautifully and humour-filled laptop case, with scribbles on the outside to look like a genuine envelope. It may also serve as a theft-deterrent to potential thieves, who may think twice before picking up a seemingly boring looking envelope.

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Typical price: $29.99
CNET rating: Not available.

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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20 of 20 Zack Whittaker/ZDNet

One of CNET's top picks for student GPS systems, this device is perfect for the student who drives everywhere in the urban environment. Urban campuses can be spread over vast distances, and this GPS navigation kit will get you from A to B, all the way through to Y and Z. The innovative display is crisp and simple, and the interface is easy to use and offers a number of great additional features -- from 3D streets, Google search and traffic and fuel meters.

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Typical price: $135.99
CNET rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars

For more on this gallery, visit the iGeneration column. Also, check out ZDNet's Back to School 2011 special report.

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