Back to School Gear Guide: What We Wish We Had Known!

Back to School Gear Guide: What We Wish We Had Known!

Campbell Faulkner
Aug 10, 2010

Back-to-school time means a whole new year, all new classes, and likely some new tech gear in our backpacks (we're attending grad school right now). For new or returning students the plethora of items marketed for back-to-school can make it a task to discern between the truly useful and items better spent on pizza money. We've put together our personal tech recommendations below to help equip yourself or someone you're sending off to school...

Quick Tips:

  • Don't overbuy computers
  • Make your desk as ergonomic as possible
  • Always backup

Computer: A computer is now as standard issue as textbooks, notebooks and hoodies on college campuses, but determining which one to purchase can be a daunting task. The best course of action is to look online at manufacturer sites for the best deals (check if the campus computer shop can meet or beat the prices with an academic discount). Remember, no matter which computer you ultimately purchase, consider your realistic needs rather than buying the most expensive computer with bells and whistles you don't require (and no, StarCraft II frame rates should not be a determinant). Laptops offer portability at the cost of durability, so a desktop model could be a better option when considering longterm use and cost, since laptops are priced at a premium compared to equally specced out desktop machines.

The Apple MacBook is the ubiquitous Mac seen on college campuses for a good reason: it's cheap, simple and dementedly rugged. We recommend the Macbook because it combines the best value for performance, and realistically, students mostly use their computers to write papers and Facebook these days, and the Macbook can fulfill the role capably.

Extra Computer Power Adapter: better safe than sorry. Keep one in the dorm or in your apartment and another in your laptop bag, especially if you tend to do a lot of work outside of your room.

External Monitor: We wish we had considered this during our undergraduate years! Most students hunch over their desks and contort themselves to type on tiny keyboards and stare at screens set too low, an ergonomic no-no. College students already do enough damage to their bodies during...ahem...recreational activities and by staying up too late. Do not add RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) to the list of injurious behaviors in college. We recommend the Dell ST2210 LCD monitor because of the balance of features, price and screen size.

Keyboard and Mouse: A keyboard and mouse can make a huge difference when banging away for hours and enable you to work more quickly. The Apple Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad are both recommended for their sleek looks and ease of use. The Logitech Wave Cordless mouse and keyboard are also excellent if you need a more ergonomic keyboard.

Laptop Stand: This is an excellent addition to any desk set up, and a stand helps raise the laptop to the proper viewing height and frees up space on your desk. We recommend the Rain Design M-Stand for its sturdy construction and beautiful aluminum curves that complement almost any laptop design.

External Hard-Drive: As outlined in our recent back to school software guide, backing up your data is a must. A solid back-up drive is insurance you won't lose those precious school papers, music files and library of photos many of us keep on our machines. We suggest something small and durable, such as the Western Digital Passport hard drive.

Computer Sleeve: We have found over the years that computer specific bags and cases never work as well as designed, letting us down in either functionality or protection. The Incase neoprene computer sleeve offers additional protection when partnered with a purse, backpack, tote, or messenger bag. Think of it as a bit of additional insurance if you accidentally drop or bump your machine while getting from one class to another.

Printer: Nearly everyone suggests getting an all-in-one inkjet printer. DON'T. These printers are ludicrously expensive because of the cost of replacement ink for and produce slow, ugly documents (at least the cheaper models we've tested). A better route is a simple laser printer which offer fast printing, longer lasting toner use, and offer the cheapest per page cost. We suggest the Samsung ML 1665 for its cheap price, and even cheaper toner, a capable printer for the student who has to churn out papers regularly.

USB Thumb Drive: They're plentiful, cheap and come in a variety of storage sizes. Keep a couple around, just in case.

Surge Protecter: Many college students aren't lucky enough to be housed in brand spankin' new dorms. We've lived in dorms built in the 1950's with inadequate wiring, and we've discovered a surge protector is a must to protect your computer and other electric bits from becoming fried. The Belkin Conceal surge protector does a capable job of not only protecting your computer equipment from getting baked, but also neatly hides away all the wires. The added benefit is that you are less likely to bend and break electrical plugs behind your desk and cause devices to short out (trust us, we've seen it happen).

Apple iPod Touch: The iPod Touch is highly recommended for a simple reason: it's a PDA, iPod and mini portable computer, all in one. The Touch offers the best combination of portable email, music, and calendaring in a portable form factor and at a reasonable price for any student out there. We know innumerable students who carry these every day just for email and Facebook usage instead of lugging their computers around thanks to campus-wide wi-fi connectivity. On some campuses, they are even required.

Headphones: Living with someone else is often a shock for the new college student; it certainly was for us. One thing that preserved our sanity was a solid pair of headphones. Pick up a pair that offers a noise canceling feature or deep canal phones to block out your roommates music, snoring, or whatever else that may hinder you from getting your study on. We personally recommend the Shure SE 110 headphones for their noise blocking ability and hi-fi sound reproduction.

Alarm Clock: Many students now rely upon their cell phones to take up the slack in the morning waking department. We still suggest using an alarm clock, since you're unlikely to lose it during $2 beer night at the local bars as is often the case with cell phones. The iHome IP97BR is an excellent model that can double as a mini stereo in your dorm and will help insure you don't miss your midterm.

School Bag: An old backpack from high school served us well for years, until we discovered the joys of an extremely high quality messenger bag. This style upgrade also worked better for long days at school ergonomically and offered a greater amount of pockets for all our school supplies. The Timbuk2 Command messenger bag is the bag we use on a daily basis and comes highly recommended.

Coffee Maker: It's no secret caffeine is an extremely important component of college life; often, it's all that stands between you and failing a midterm. We suggest the Keruig Mini brewer for its flexibility and dorm safe design. Many colleges do not allow anything with hot plates, including coffee makers, thus the internal heating system of the Keriug makes it safe for even the most persnickety residence life department. The additional flexibility of the cartridge to switch between coffee, tea, and hot cocoa makes it a winner in our book.

Bottom Line: This list is by no means exhaustive, utterly price conscious, or perfect. We constructed this list of recommendations based upon our own recent and current experience in school. Feel free to note any additional tech gear or appliances that made your time in school a better one below!

(Top image: Flickr member obscuredcelery licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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