Jonathan Takiff: Go back to school with cool gadgets

Gumdrop's Drop Tech Series Case.
Gumdrop's Drop Tech Series Case.

Screen protectors, speaker systems & more round out the fall lineup

Posted: August 31, 2011

School bells are chiming again. Is your student ready with cool tech tools to help get the job done?

BUY A VIDEO GAME SYSTEM, GET A FREE COMPUTER: OK, so maybe I have this current offer (as advertised on TV!) backward. But one might argue that Xbox 360 game systems are more appealing to students than a new Windows PC laptop. Here's how the deal works. Buy a student a Windows 7 laptop priced at $699 or more at participating retailers and get a free Xbox 360 console. The latter, a basic, $199 model with 4GB flash drive, is good for more than playing games, ya know. It also streams movies and TV shows (Netflix, Hulu Plus), sure to make the bearer popular in the dorm. Don't need an Xbox? Some retailers sub a 10 percent discount on the laptop.

SAVE A SCREEN: Take it from me - you're crazy to send a young 'un off with one of those sleek tablet computers or e-readers unless it's secured in a protective wraparound case. Same goes for a smartphone. Last week, I accidentally dropped a naked Samsung Galaxy tablet face down. Though equipped with one of those vaunted Corning Gorilla Glass face plates, the screen cracked like a cheap lightbulb.

The ribbed, rubbery Drop Tech Series of cases from Gumdrop (about $60) look ready for combat. There's even a "Military Edition" model. Or check out DODOcase and Twelve South BookBook Leather Sleeves ($60 and $70 from smalldog.com). Here, the tablet stashes inside a stealth package resembling a hardback book. Nobody will steal that!

OR MAYBE THEY WILL? Have you bought a new textbook lately? Prices are staggering. But if the student only needs a book for a few weeks or chapters, Amazon offers a "rent it" download option on the Kindle e-reader, with participation by some (though hardly all) text publishers.

A Kindle can be had for as little as $114 with Wi-Fi, $139 with 3G connectivity, while textbook rentals start at $30 (for 60 days). Also, public domain classics are downloadable for free to e-readers, while many libraries now loan electronic editions of newer titles.

SONOS TO YOUR EARS: I still have the recurring nightmare of being in college on the eve of a final exam when I haven't cracked the course book or been to class in weeks. Ugh!

Here's a better dream I'm hoping to substitute. I and my student apartment mates each invest in a spiffy new Sonos Play:3 - a super-sounding, all-in-one, $299 Internet streaming media player/amplifier/speaker system. We plant 'em in our respective bedrooms and common living space. Just one of us makes a hardwired connection from the Play:3 (or a $50 accessory Sonos Bridge) to a router and signs up for one of the monthly, all-you-can-enjoy music services (Napster, Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, Wolfgang's Vault, Sirius/XM Internet Radio, etc.) offered through Sonos for $5-$10 a month.

Now each of our Play:3s can wirelessly "share" that entertainment account (and lots more free Internet radio). We can establish a "party" mode (same tunes booming out of every Play:3). Or we can select individual music on each unit, using a free Sonos remote control application loaded onto our iPhone, iPad or Android device.

Way cool. Details at www.sonos.com.

FUZZ PATROL: When I went off to college, dad's parting gift was a Panasonic electric razor, a really good idea; electrics are kinder to young skin than blades. Plus, you don't need a sink to shave - saving time and stress in the dorm and also, if you get lucky, at a sleepover.

But how about the complaint that electric razors don't shave nearly as close as a blade? That was then. Today the distance between is much, um, closer, especially with high-end electrics such as the Panasonic ES-LA63-S (about $140) or the Philips Norelco SensoTouch 3d 1250x and fancier 1290x ($165-$250). Multiple layers of moving foils and underlying blades attack on flexi-heads that cling to facial curves.

In my test, both razors did an excellent job of stubble removal from ear to chin, though the Philips worked the neck area better, shaving closer with less skin burn. Both deliver a couple of weeks of shaves on a single battery charge and also work "wet" with water and shaving cream, if you wanna.

MORE SOUND ADVICE: Lousy at taking notes? With its excellent stereo microphones and logical button layout, the Zoom H1 Handy Recorder ($99) captures lectures and interview sessions wonderfully. And in high resolution WAV mode, it also makes a dandy recorder of your practice sessions, music students.

Today, nothing says "leave me alone I'm studying" (or, "I'm cool") like a serious set of headphones. The Audio Technica ATH-A900 (about $180) boasts prograde aluminum earcups, high-end speaker drivers and a unique 3D Wing Support structure - stabilizers that float below the headband, balancing weight and reducing pressure around ears.

MORE MUSTS: Trying to make do with just a tablet computer and no laptop? Writing becomes way easier on a wireless (Bluetooth) Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad ($69.99). The keys are full size, while the device's travel case doubles as a tablet stand.

If toting a laptop plus an external mouse, how are you protecting the latter? Smartfish makes a handy dandy Mouse Pad Travel Pouch ($15) that zips up around the little bugger, then opens into a full-size mouse pad.

The good folks at Griffin make scores of smart accessories. Their TechSafe Cable Lock System ($30) secures laptops, notebooks or netbooks against theft. Griffin's PowerBlock Reserve is a small wall charger for iPhone or iPads with a "quick 1 amp charge" function. Plus, it features a magnetically attached (!) backup battery that you pull off quickly and plug into your iProduct when needed. $50 at the Apple store.


Jonathan Takiff's Gizmo Guy blog has more news and reviews on high tech gadgets and entertainment. Tune in and turn on here.

 

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