High-tech gadgets for savvy students' dorm rooms

ByMarc Saltzman, Special for USA TODAY
August 29, 2012, 9:11 AM

— -- Yep, it's that time again. While students might be rolling their eyes, 'tis the season for heading off to school for another year of higher learning.

Kids might bemoan the end of summer, but at least there are some cool back-to-school gadgets to get excited about — including high-tech devices to keep you organized, productive and entertained while in your dorm room.

The basics

Laptops, ultrabooks and tablets are ideal for toting between classes, but students in search of a stationary computer for their dorm room might opt for an "all-in-one" model. You get a powerful computer built into the back of a big, wide and flat screen. This frees up valuable space on your desk or floor.

The HP Envy 23 All-in-One (starting at $949.99), for example, houses a stunning 23-inch edge-to-edge glass high-definition display and is powered by a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of system memory (RAM) and 1 terabyte hard drive to store all your digital stuff.

Designed for both schoolwork and entertainment, this Windows 7 PC — upgradeable to Windows 8 in late October — ships with a wireless keyboard, mouse and remote to control all your media from across the room. A DVD player comes standard, but the computer can be ordered with a Blu-ray disc player and TV tuner.

Mac users, on the other hand, might opt for the sleek iMac (starting at $1,199), Apple's next-generation all-in-one desktop with a 21.5-inch screen. It is also available in a 27-inch model, which starts at $1,699.

Powered by the new OS X Mountain Lion platform, the iMacs now feature a quad-core processor and faster graphics capabilities, multiple USB ports and a Thunderbolt port to attach accessories, and a FaceTime HD camera for high-quality video calling.

Speaking of all-in-ones, students in a small dorm room could benefit from a multifunction printer capable of printing, scanning and copying — and wirelessly, too, from any smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. The Epson Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One ($69.99) can print nearly nine pages per minute (black) or 4.5 pages in color (from 4 x 6 photos to 8.5 x 11-inch documents) — from any Wi-Fi-enabled Windows or Mac, Apple iPad or iPhone (via AirPrint) or Android device with a free Epson app. With the Epson Connect feature, students can also e-mail documents and photos outside of the dorm room to the XP-400, so the print job is ready for when they return.

This small all-in-one also has a 2.5-inch color LCD touchscreen, 100-sheet input tray and memory card reader.

The downside to all these gadgets is finding enough AC outlets in a wall and keeping all the cables uncluttered. Enter Quirky's Pivot Power ($29.99), a cleverly flexible power strip you can contort to fit the space it's in and adjust for those bulky AC adapters, too.

Designed to work in the U.S. and Canada, the Pivot Power fits up to six items at one time, offers surge protection for your devices and has a 6-foot cord with a flathead plug for the wall.

The extras

While less of a necessity, there are many other gadgets that can make dorm life easier.

An ideal accessory to any touchscreen device, such as a smartphone or tablet, is a wireless keyboard to make long-form typing a lot more comfortable. The Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard ($79.95), for example, is an ultra-slim and lightweight Bluetooth keyboard for a number of devices. The buttons on the full-sized keyboard have a good spring to them, plus there are extra media buttons and hotkeys that can also help you get more done in less time.

A durable cover that protects the keyboard (when not in use) doubles as a flexible stand that props up your smartphone or tablet — be it an iOS, Android, Windows or BlackBerry device. When you're done, simply snap the cover back onto the keyboard and it will automatically power it down to toss back in your bag or backpack.

Microsoft also has a comfortable Wedge Touch Mouse ($69.95) that can wirelessly pair with any Bluetooth computer — without needing a transceiver to be snapped into a USB port.

Music lovers, on the other hand, should consider a good speaker system to add some boom to their room. Designed for laptops and desktops, the Logitech Z523 ($99.99) is a 2.1-channel speaker system (including a 6.5-inch subwoofer) that delivers 40 watts of total power. While you can use your computer to adjust volume, convenient on-speaker controls include power, volume and amount of bass, plus there's extra jacks for a portable devices and headphones.

Or you might opt for a wireless speaker you can take around the room with you. Despite its small size (2.8 x 2.8 x 2.5-inches), HMDX's Jam Wireless Portable Speaker ($49.99) will no doubt impress your ears with its loud and clear sound. Available in multiple "flavors" (colors), this small speaker wirelessly pairs with a nearby smartphone or tablet, so you can hear your music up to 30 feet away.

Any smartphone platform or model will work with the Jam speaker, as long as it's Bluetooth-enabled. Included in the jar-shaped packaging is a small cable to charge up the device via a computer's USB port; battery life tops four hours on a single charge. A mini (3.5mm) headphone jack is also on the unit for non-Bluetooth devices.

While pricier, also consider Jawbone's stylish Jambox ($199.99) or Big Jambox ($299.99) rechargeable speakers with wireless sound — including an integrated microphone to chat if a call comes in.

Headphones are also a great idea for students who want to enjoy their music, movies or games undisturbed — and there's no shortage of excellent products on the market.

If you've got the budget, the ParrotZik headphones ($399.95) are packed with compelling features. They're a comfortable, powerful, well-balanced and clear-sounding pair of over-the-ear headphones, plus they use Bluetooth technology to wirelessly pair with your nearby computer, tablet or smartphone, and they employ active noise-canceling technology to dampen ambient noise around you.

In the extra cool department, the Zik headphones have a touch-sensitive panel on the right earcup for you to swipe up, down, left and right to control volume and song selection. Slide the headphones off and your music automatically pauses — and resumes when you put them back on. You can also use the headphones to place or accept a call via your smartphone.

If budget is an issue, a great bang-for-your-buck option is the Grado Prestige Series SR-60i ($79.99), a pair of padded headphones that sound great and fold down flat for traveling.

Other excellent dorm room accoutrements include a video game system (especially Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3) to blow off steam after exams; a versatile Internet media player, such as Roku or Apple TV, to connect to a television; and perhaps a mini fridge for "cold ones" while studying, relaxing or socializing.

The luxuries

Let's face facts: A student doesn't have the time, energy or interest to clean their room. So why not have a robot do all the dirty work for you?

The iRobot Roomba 630 ($349.99) is one of those vacuum cleaning robots that can go about your dorm room (or home) and suck up dirt, crumbs and pet hair off carpet, hardwood, tile or laminate. Simply plug in the iRobot to charge it up and when you leave for class, turn it on and let it navigate around your space to do its job.

As the most affordable of all Roomba products, the 630 chooses from dozens of decisions more than 60 times per second to clean efficiently, whether it's to go over an area again, tuck into areas not easy to clean (under beds, couches) or hug walls and counters as it makes its way around the premises.

If you're having trouble getting up for class, perhaps all you need is a smarter alarm clock?

Cruel and cool at the same time, the Clocky ($39) — when it goes off — rolls off your night table and quickly moves around with its large, rubber wheels and durable body. The only way you can turn off its loud alarm is to find where the Clocky rolled, such as under the bed or across the room. By the time you do this, you're awake and ready for the day. At least you can set this mobile alarm clock to snooze once before it takes off on you. The Clocky is available in multiple colors.

Finally, ThinkGeek.com's 3 in 1 Breakfast Station ($49.99) is ideal for small spaces. It offers a toaster, frying pan and two-cup coffee maker in a space measuring just 15.5 x 8 x 9 inches (about the size of a typical toaster oven). Students are used to multitasking on a computer, but now they can fry up some bacon, sausage or eggs, while toasting a bagel and brewing some java — all at the same time.