It’s back-to-school time again! So what gadgets are you bringing to college? Here are some gadgets to consider, and maybe to keep an eye out for in stores.
Cellphone or Smartphone
The ultimate gadget is, of course, the smartphone, and the ur-example would be the iPhone. It’s changed everything since it came out in 2007, turning “programs” that required technical know-how to get running into “apps,” that anyone can tap to install. And while a few people have been having problems with the iPhone 4’s antenna, that hasn’t kept it from selling out.
“Generic-brand” iPhones are usually made running Android, an OS (or “operating system”) made by Google that duplicates most of the iPhone’s functionality. Android phones can’t run iPhone apps, but they have thousands and thousands of their own apps in the Android Market. The Android phone I was considering is the HTC Aria, an extremely well-designed phone available on AT&T in the United States. But each carrier has its own Android phones, like the Verizon Droid X.
If you can’t afford a smartphone data plan (or don’t want to switch to AT&T to get an iPhone), an iPod Touch might fit the bill. It’s like an iPhone without the phone, or the camera. And you can get one free from Apple, if you buy a new Mac for college. Just keep in mind that the cheapest, 8 GB model doesn’t just have less storage space than the others, it’s also less powerful, too.
Tablet or eBook reader
The canonical gadget in this category is another Apple device, the iPad! You can buy a 3G iPad with an AT&T data plan (in the United States), or just a regular iPad with wi-fi. They can read Kindle ebooks or “iBooks,” and they can go on the web and run iPad apps, as well as regular iPhone apps. “Generic-brand” Android iPads exist, but I don’t know of any that stand out at the moment.
If all you want is something to read books on, the Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble nook might work. They come in 3G and wi-fi models as well, but you won’t be using them to surf the ‘net much because they aren’t designed for it. Their black and white e-ink screens are designed to mimic print books, and are extremely good for just reading on. Their online bookstores aren’t compatible with each other, though, so if you ever decide to switch you’ll be leaving behind the ebooks that you bought.
Netbook or laptop
Even the iPad can’t replace a computer, although it comes close — you need a Windows PC or a Mac to sync it with, and to download updates via iTunes. The cheapest way to get a complete computer system is to buy a netbook, like the seashell Asus Eee. They’re extremely small and lightweight, but their keyboards and screens are small too, so you might get a neckache if you have to use one for a long time.
The MacBook is purportedly the most popular laptop to bring back to school, or college. Its unibody construction is durable and attractive, and its Snow Leopard operating system doesn’t get Windows viruses. MacBook Pros have aluminum instead of plastic cases, plus memory card readers and the option of getting a larger screen. They’re more expensive, though, making them less “gadgets” and more “professional equipment.”
Handheld game console
For some people, this category of gadgets is unnecessary … and for others, it’s a lifesaver! The PSP Go is favored by hardcore gamers, but I personally like the Nintendo DS, for its selection of first-party Nintendo games and its more app-like offerings. DS titles include the Personal Trainer series, like Personal Trainer: Cooking, an electronic cookbook that you can talk to in order to tell it to go to the next page. And other titles, like Personal Trainer: Walking and Pokemon SoulSilver, come with pedometers, and reward you for walking while wearing them.
Do you really need all these gadgets? It’s possible! You might be surprised how much of a difference it makes to spend just a few dollars to make something fun and easy to do. I spent hours browsing my DS’ cookbook, and it was a lot easier to bring into the kitchen than a bulky, hardcopy book. Make sure you can afford it, though, and recycle your old gadgets, either by bringing them in to be dismantled or by finding a new home for them. You may even be able to get some of these things as hand-me-downs if somebody else is doing that.
Whatever gadgets you bring back to school, I hope you have fun with them!