The Philadelphia Daily News back to school gadget shopping list

Daniel Sullivan (left) and Fernando Rivera connect to the Internet during move-in day at Centenary College in New Jersey last Saturday.
Daniel Sullivan (left) and Fernando Rivera connect to the Internet during move-in day at Centenary College in New Jersey last Saturday. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 29, 2012

THE back-to-school season has become so gadget-centric that it's now the second biggest selling season for electronics buying, after the year-end holidays.

"Electronics actually make up most of the $80 billion back-to-school business," Consumer Electronics Association spokesman Jim Barry said recently. "And [it] is such a far cry from the pencils and notebooks we used to consider 'school supplies' back in my day."

Tops on any list for collegiates should be a "smartphone and a notebook computer," said this longtime industry tracker. "Those are the essentials to keep in touch, get things done, with today's smartphone offering many other convenient features, like a voice recorder for capturing lectures. And notebook computers are still much more practical than a tablet, especially for higher education. If your school doesn't distribute content on [CD-ROM] discs, a lightweight MacBook Air or UltraBook PC [both lacking a CD/DVD drive] are especially good fits for students this term."

What else does the well-equipped college student need to live well and prosper? Gizmo Guy's got a bunch of suggestions.

Wake-up call

For cash-strapped students, one of the first places to cut back is on those $3 to $4 cups of coffee from (name your favorite overpriced cafe). Making your own java starts with good dark beans, freshly ground, then brewed in a polished automatic like the new Cuisinart Perfec Temp 14-Cup Programmable Coffeemaker or its slightly older sibling, the 12-cup Extreme Brew, both $100-$130. The tighter-sealed Perfec Temp brews coffee 10 degrees hotter (160-plus) and helps focus bleary eyes with its bigger, brighter backlit display. Extreme Brew serves the coffee faster, though, and to my taste buds produced a richer batch with its bigger drizzle head.

A micro oven

Also new and dandy from Cuisinart is the small-footprint, shockingly dexterous, nicely priced at $129 Cuisinart Oven Central (CBO-1000), a/k/a "the little oven that can." With its multiple nonstick 8-inch-by-8-inch pans, rack and skewers, a student can bake, roast, sauté, steam, skewer, griddle, toast, melt and defrost food for one or two people in the dorm room.

Sound-sharing

Make friends and influence others with the fine-sounding and reasonably loud-playing Etón Rukus Portable Bluetooth Sound System ($100 and $150). Both these portable speakers run on battery and AC power. The higher-priced version adds a cool solar panel that generates electricity from daylight even on a cloudy day. Rukus stirs it up both from a wire-connected device or wirelessly from a phone, tablet or computer linked via Bluetooth.

The morning after

Cleaning up party crumbs and other accumulated student crud with a big old upright or canister vacuum is literally a drag, especially for kids accustomed to having mom sweep up after them. A better solution for the newly cleaning is one of those handy-dandy lightweight cordless convertible stick vacuums ($70 and up) from the likes of Bissell, Shark, Electrolux and Dyson that stand tall but can also be pulled apart for use as a handheld vac. While priciest of the rechargeable bunch, the Dyson Digital Slim models ($299 for the 15-minute run-time DC35, $399 for the new, 20-minute-capacity and more-accessorized DC 44 Animal) are shockingly fun to use. Lightweight, lanky and super-maneuverable, the power-headed Dysons easily slide under the bed and tackle the hairiest carpets and furniture. And the flip-open bottom makes emptying a Dyson a snap, though you've gotta do it often!

Print 'n' save (your butt)

Most professors accept electronic homework submissions. Still, it never hurts to print out and edit your documents on paper.

Today's home and school printers also offer scanning and take wireless or networked cues to print stuff from a laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Taller than most, the multitasking HP LaserJet Pro M1212nf Printer is a true workhorse and economizer, with a $60 replaceable laser cartridge that prints 1,800 copies. (That's 3 cents per copy.)

Want to print excellent-looking and smudge-proof color photos as well as documents? The hyper-versatile Epson Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One Inkjet Printer delivers big for a small $99 price, though reloading a fresh set of Durabrite ink-jet cartridges (three colors plus black) is a $40 proposition. Each Epson Expression has its own email address, so multiple users can send stuff to print using Epson Connect, Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud software. No need to turn on a connected PC.

Photo opps

Digital stills and video-shooting tech in today's smartphones has gotten pretty darned good. But kids who are serious about photojournalism need a better, more flexible camera with a serious lens or three, switchable with the hot new breed of small, "mirrorless" digital cameras.

The mod-styled, Ashton Kutcher-pitched Nikon 1 J1 is also quite fashionable, available in a variety of colors (red, white, pink). More to the point is its cobra-fast autofocus, great for capturing candids and action shots, plus a nifty "Motion snapshot" mode that simultaneously nabs stills plus video, and a "Smart Photo Selector" mode that takes out the guesswork.

The standard kit (about $500 but often sold with deals) comes with a medium-range, 10-30 mm manually zoomed Nikkor lens. I also tried and preferred a more compact, sharper and brighter fixed-focal-length F2.8 lens. How do you zoom in for a close-up? Walk a little closer.


Contact Jonathan Takiff at takiffj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5960. Read his blog at philly.com/GizmoGuy.

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