This is a complicated time to be a student starting the school year, and to be a parent trying to make sure your son or daughter has the right hardware and software. Here are some ideas provided by schools and manufacturers for students arriving at college.
MacBook Air 13 128 GB model: $1,299
Thin, light and sexy. What more could a college student ask for? The new MacBook Air goes to the front of the class in both looks and efficiency. You already know the sleek aluminum unibody style and great curves, but now, measuring a mere 0.7-inches thick and weighing under 3 pounds, the new Airs run even faster and longer than before.
For $999, you can get the 11.6-inch version, with 64GB of flash storage, the 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 2GB of RAM.
The 13.3-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299 with a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5, 128GB of flash storage and 4GB of RAM. A backlit keyboard comes standard, as does the new OS X Lion Mac operating system. Both sizes come with two USB 2.0 ports and a Thunderbolt connection. The 13.3-inch model has an SD card reader as well.
The flash memory is great for students who are constantly opening and closing their laptops, dragging them from one class to another. No need to power down or turn completely off. Simply resume and your Mac's fast standby abilities will open to right where you left off, almost instantaneously. Pre-loaded iLife apps let you manage your digital life, including movies, music and photos.
Apple's back to school special gives you $100 to spend in the Mac app store or iTunes when you buy a new Mac for college before September 20th.
HP Pavilion dv6 (Starts at $599)
For windows-loving laptop fans, invest in something that will last a few years. A bargain isn't a great deal if it stops working after a year or two. You can find a great mid-range laptop like the HP Pavilion dv6 starting from $599. They feature the latest Intel 2nd generation Core processors, which do all the heavy work for you; like speeding up your system when it needs a little extra performance, and balancing energy needs to prolong battery life.
Since so many students enjoy watching movies and TV on their laptops, the 15.6" high-definition LED display does great double duty as a TV and gaming monitor, and helps to save space in a crowded dorm room. Beats Audio with built-in quad speakers and extra amps makes this a complete entertainment laptop.
For a little extra security, use the SimplePass fingerprint reader so you don't have to remember all your passwords, and so others can't get in without your permission. An HD webcam will make parents happy…no excuses not to call home.
Microsoft has a back to school special for students who think they might have a little free time on their hands at school. You can get a 4GB Microsoft Xbox 360 for free with the purchase of an HP PC with the new Intel Core Processers.
Tablets aren't a necessity, but they sure are proving themselves useful on campus. They're ultraportable, turn on instantly, and are perfect for today's wired campuses. With Wi-Fi access readily available, students can leave the laptop in the dorm and bring their tablet to class or the library. They won't replace a laptop, but can enhance it, as they're great for media consumption, like reading textbooks, watching videos, and of course, looking up the latest ESPN scores.
Some people prefer typing on a full keyboard and for that, there are accessories such as the Logitech Tablet Keyboard (http://www.logitech.com/en-us/tablet-accessories/for-ipad/devices/8214) which is a combination keyboard and stand. The keyboard connects via Bluetooth to your iPad, or iPhone, and the cover acts as an adjustable stand. Others like the Kensington KeyFolio Pro Performance Keyboard Case for iPad 2 (http://us.kensington.com/html/17939.html) are built-in to a folio case that protects your tablet.
There have been quite a few challengers to the iPad 2 this year, but it still reigns supreme as head of the class. Starting at $499, it has a 9.7-inch screen and comes in 16-64 GB configurations. The apps you install are really what it's all about, and Apple wins that contest hands down.
The closest competitor is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, also starting at $499 for 16GB-64 GB configurations. The Galaxy Tab runs on the Android operating system, specifically Android 3.1 Honeycomb which was built specifically for tablets, not just a phone OS re-done for a tablet.
Joby Gorillamobile ORI for iPad2: $60
Inspired by Origami, designed for comfort. A little difficult to figure out at first, the Joby is a Swiss army knife of iPad stands. The different configurations allow for adjustable heights and viewing angles, great for watching a video or typing a term paper.
IHome IDM15 Rechargeable Portable Stereo Bluetooth Speakers With Speakerphone: $99
Students who live in dorms know real estate is key, so when big sound can come from small speakers, it's a good thing. The iHome portable stereo speakers are great for dorm life because they're compact, portable, and deliver great sound. They can play audio from an iPad, iPhone, computer, or any other mp3 device with a 3.5mm audio jack. Since they're connected via Bluetooth, music is wirelessly streamed to the speakers while you still have use of your device. In fact, if your phone rings while connected, you can simply answer and take the call using the speaker's built-in mic. The travel case folds back to form a stand for your device when it's in use.
Microsoft Touch Mouse for Windows 7: $99
Microsoft's first multi-touch device designed for Windows 7 lets you flick, swipe and scroll just like those Mac users you've been envying. Once you figure out what all the gesture inputs are, you'll find yourself flicking and clicking and communicating with your PC at top speed. Touch Mouse also features Blue Track technology which means you can track on virtually any surface, like your lap, your bed, your jeans.
Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Studio Series Artist Edition: $29.99
Mice shouldn't be boring. Here's a wireless mouse with a little artistic flair to it. Made for mobility with great battery life. Six designs to choose from.
HTC Status Cellphone: $49.99 with 2-year contract
AT&T is calling the HTC Status Phone the "Facebook phone" because of the dedicated key that brings up Facebook whenever you tap it. And, knowing kids, that will be a lot. It allows for instant sharing of pictures, videos or websites. It has a capacitive touchscreen with pinch-to-zoom capabilities, as well as BlackBerry style keys to let the texting fingers fly. It runs on the Android operating system, and sports a 5MP camera with flash.
Sony RDP-M5iP Compact Speaker Dock For iPod or iPhone With Remote Commander: $89
If you're more of a dock person, Sony's RDP-M5iP is compact and portable, and has a convenient grab handle so you can take it with you when the party changes location. Dock your iPod or iPhone and the music will play for up to 10 hours on a set of 4 AAA batteries.
For those who like to conduct the music from across the room, a wireless remote control is included. Like other speaker docks, your iPod or iPhone charges while docked to keep your battery topped off, and there's also an auxiliary audio input to connect other digital music players.
Logitech Touch Lapdesk N600: $69.99
This is no ordinary lap pad. It has a secret. Slide out the hidden panel and you'll find a 5-inch multitouch trackpad, complete with volume and browser buttons. Simply plug the Logitech's tiny receiver into your laptop's USB port and start navigating. Talk about space saving! It also protects your legs from laptop heat using Logitech's heat shield material.
Belkin Pivot Plug Surge Protector: $45
The problem with many tech gadgets is they come with those big chunky plugs that make it difficult to plug them into the all-important surge protector. Sometimes you have to skip over two or three outlets to accommodate the large size. The Belkin Pivot Plug Surge Protector has rotating outlets, so they can be used with a variety of plug sizes. Perfect for computers, printers, and everywhere you need a little more room for those large AC adapter blocks.
Belkin N600 DB Wireless Dual-Band N+ Router: $80
If you're living with a bunch of other people, sharing an Internet connection, you'll need a wireless router. Belkin's MultiBeam Antenna technology has maximum coverage, while minimizing dead spots. This makes it easier to connect from virtually anywhere in the house. It's also great for video streaming and gaming. The router has a USB port for wireless printing or easy media sharing.
If there's a whole lot of gaming going on and maybe an Internet TV, you might want to bump up to the Linksys E3200 High Performance Dual-Band N Router ($150). It offers speeds of up to 300 + 300 Mbps for smoother and faster HD video streaming, file transfers, and wireless gaming. Setup is easy with just 3 steps and when friends come over, no need to hand over the keys to the network. You can create a separate, password protected network for guests.
BlueAnt Embrace Stereo Headphones: $199
These are pricey for over-the-ear headphones but they're incredibly comfortable, sound great, and do double duty. The Embrace is a wired stereo headset that comes with a cable with integrated mic and controls for iOS devices. That means you can listen to music and make or take calls without having to take your device out of your bag. Sounds great for multi-tasking students. The integrated in-line remote control and microphone is designed for iPod, iPhone or iPad, but BlueAnt also supplies an adapter, which expands support for the microphone and remote to other devices.
Backing up your files and data is as important as brushing your teeth every day. You do brush, don't you? Equally as important to a mobile student is having access to those files wherever they are, not just on an external hard drive on the desk.
Think cloud. Sugar Sync lets you select which files you want to back up in real time, and gives you access to them in the library, in the coffee shop, or in your classroom. In fact, if you made a recent change to a paper you don't like, you can even access a previous version of that file.
You can also share select files publicly if you're working on a group project. There are other cloud-based storage options, like DropBox, but Sugar Sync gives you the option of continuously syncing multiple files. Backing up has to be a no-brainer or no one will do it. A 5GB account is free, above that you pay. There are free apps for SmartPhones.
One last thing: software. Check with school before you buy an Office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.). They're expensive, and many schools include them in the technology fee you pay. They may give it to you free or at a much reduced price once you arrive.
Also, make sure your antivirus software is up to date and running. Norton and Trend Micro make software that protects you on a wireless network as well, great for students logging on and off to free wi-fi wherever they go. AVG offers free antivirus protection, you can download it here: http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage