Between tuition costs, books and more, higher education can really wallop a wallet. Even high-school students living at home can feel the pinch — or rather, their parents can.
And then there's technology to consider, whether mandatory machines — such as an Internet-connected computer — or optional but highly convenient gadgets used to remain productive, in touch or entertained.
The good news is that there are relatively inexpensive gadgets and gear that won't break the bank. They might not be "best in class" products, mind you, but "best bang for your buck" tech tools.
Whether you're a cash-strapped student or a parent of one, following is a handful of worthy recommendations of less pricey picks.
At $329, the Lenovo B570 delivers decent performance at a very economical price. The 15.6-inch black laptop ships with an Intel Pentium dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM (system memory) and 320GB hard drive.
Along with its full-size keyboard for comfortable typing, the B570 includes a built-in fingerprint reader, DVD burner, webcam, three USB 2.0 ports, media card reader and HDMI port to connect to a television, monitor or projector. A copy of Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit edition) is preinstalled, upgradeable to Windows 8 this fall.
While still budget-friendly, the new Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook (from $699) is one of the new "ultrabooks" — a term coined by Intel for ultrathin and light yet powerful laptops that boot up quickly and last all day between charges. Available in multiple colors and with a brushed aluminum finish, these 14-inch Windows PCs weigh just over 4 pounds and are just 0.83-inches at the thickest point. Under the hood is a second-generation Intel Core i3 (2367M) processor, 6GB of system memory and 500GB hard drive (with 32GB of solid state drive memory, too, similar to the flash storage on your smartphone).
Students have some added incentive to purchase this laptop: they'll also get an Xbox 360 video game console included with the purchase (or other select Dell models that cost $699 and up).
Those who prefer Macs might opt for the new MacBook Air, starting at $999 for the 11-inch model and $1,199 for the 13-inch. While pricier than comparable Windows computers, the new MacBook Air models are bundled with the new OS X Mountain Lion operating system (with 200 new features and improvements over OS X Lion), along with iLife, iWork and other software.
The 11-inch MacBook Air is powered by an Intel 1.7 GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 64GB of flash storage (as opposed to a hard drive), but these specs can be bumped up for more cash; the 13-inch MacBook Air has a 1.8 GHz processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage, to start. New MacBook Air computers also include a FaceTime HD camera that allows for high-definition 720p video calling.
The new Apple iPad remains the no. 1 selling touchscreen tablet, but at $499 (and up) the price might be too steep for some.
Students who prefer a tablet with roughly the same screen size might be tempted by the Toshiba Thrive (from $339.99), a 10.1-inch Android tablet with 16GB of memory and numerous connection options along its rim — including a full-size USB port (to add a thumbdrive, external keyboard or hard drive), SD card slot (to view photos, listen to music or play videos stored on it) and HDMI output (to connect to a high-definition source, such as a HDTV).