It’s that time of year again, and parents are scrambling to organize everything for their college bound son or daughter. You spent the entire summer getting all the paper work completed to send your child off to their first year of college. Financial aid is done, enrollment is done, you got all the books they need for their classes. You bought them a iPad, laptop, smartphone, and coffeemaker and think you have all the basics covered, and you do. In this article, I’m going to go through a few gadgets that are not a necessity, but will make your child’s first year of college a bit easier.
Solar Back Pack
One of the drawbacks of living in the electronic age is that everything needs power. Your time sitting out on the lawn studying is limited to how long the batteries in your devices last. To combat this, I am recommending a solar backpack with a massive built in battery pack. The SolarGoPack has a huge 12,000 mAh lithium ion battery built into the backpack. To put this size in to perspective, your average smartphone battery is under 2000 mAh. It also has a 5-watt solar panel to recharge any juice you pull from that battery. It’s made from a waterproof ballistic nylon that is almost indestructible so you don’t have to worry about durability. Whether you forgot to charge your tablet the night before, or you just want to enjoy more time sitting out in the sun studying, the SolarGoPack has you covered. It’s not cheap though and will set you back around $190.
This handy little gadget is great for inside the classroom. It makes taking notes, and recording a lecture a snap. It syncs any notes you have written, and any lectures you have recorded to an 4GB memory Livescribe smartpen can hold thousand of notes, and up to 400 hours of audio. Combine that with the Evernote Livescribe plan, and you have 4.5 GB of total storage space. All this doesn’t come cheap, if you want the 4GB pen with Evernote, and WiFi capability, it will cost you around $180.
I know that most universities have printers that are accessible to students, but it’s a pain in the rump to use them. Personally I suggest a low cost black and white laser printer for the dorm room. I know what you are thinking, “Inkjet printers are cheaper, and print in color”, but let me explain why you should get a laser printer. First they aren’t as expensive as you think. You can pick up a solid laser printer up for under $80 when on sale, and they usually come with a 600-800 page “starter toner”, while a Inkjet printer may be $40, it will have a “starter cartridge” that you will be lucky to get 100 pages out of. Even though laser printers are just as cost effective to buy, they are cheaper per printed page than an inkjet printer. You can buy 2600 page toners for around $40, where a 1000 page black high yield inkjet cartridge will cost around $30-$35. In my experience laser printers are also more reliable, as you don’t have to worry about the ink drying out, and are vastly superior in printed pages per minute. The one advantage I will give to the Inkjet printer is it prints in color. However, the majority of your printing will be in black and white. For those few jobs you need printed in color, you can send the job down to the student copy center. Overall, I still think the best printer for a new college student is a cheap laser printer.
Battery Pack Charger
Here is a cheaper alternative to the sweet backpack with huge battery pack I told you about at the beginning of this article. A battery pack charger would be good for someone who just wants extra juice to allow them to stay away from the plug longer, or the person who already has a nice backpack and doesn’t care about the solar panel recharging option. A battery pack is WAY cheaper than a solar backpack, and you can pick the size battery pack that best fits your needs. How much cheaper you ask? Well you can pick up a 2 port 13,000 mAh battery pack for under $50. That is around 7-8 charges for your iPhone, or 1-2 charges for your iPad. You also don’t need the backpack to carry them around. The 13,000 mAh one I mentioned about is only 5”x3”x.9” and weighs in just under 11oz. For the student that can’t get back to the dorm to recharge their devices a lot, battery pack chargers can be a lifesaver in the classroom. And at a price of $30-$50 they are cheap enough for anyone to give as a gift as well.
Lets take a break from the classroom, studying and homework. It’s time to talk about entertainment! Being in college is costly and your college bound student won’t have a ton of money for entertainment. That is where the Roku comes in. The Roku 3 allows you to stream over 750 channels, along with connecting and streaming movies from your favorite movie services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime). Yea, but what about music? Roku 3 can do that too. It will stream from all the big music services, including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Cloud Plays, Rdio, etc. Many of the music services have a free versions that will toss in an advertisement every now and then, but it’s not as bad as local broadcast radio stations, and you get to customize what you want to listen to. If you don’t like what is on any of the channels, you can play music from your tablet, or smartphone. The one feature I think makes it an ideal college dorm gadget is the remote. If you want to watch a movie, and your roommate is about to hit the hay, you can plug a set of headphones into the remote and it plays the sound through the remote, and into your headphones, so you don’t disturb them. Toss in a one year subscription to Neflix or Hulu as a graduation gift, and there should be plenty of content available to keep anyone entertained. You can pick the Roku 3 up for around $90.
This gadget just hit the market, and is sure to be a hit with college kids. Rather than buying a Roku, Xbox, or Blu-Ray player to watch or listen to your favorite media content you can use the Chromecast. It’s easy to use and is cross platform, which means you can use it with both Android, iOS, along with the Chrome browser on Mac and Windows computers. This gadget is about 2-inches long, and plugs into the HDMI port of your TV. It allows you to wirelessly push video and music from a variety of devices to your TV. It works with Google Play Movies & TV, YouTube, Netflix, Google Music, with support for additional services like Pandora in the near future. When you plug it into your TVs HDMI port, it automatically pushes your TV to the correct input, so you don’t have to worry about find out which one it is on. You can also control and chose content right from your tablet or smartphone, or both. It will sync between multiple devices at the same time. I.E. you could start the content from your smartphone, and then when you sit down to watch you could pick up your tablet and pause, rewind, etc. Lastly, the device will also allow “screen mirroring”, which basically means what ever you have up currently on your Chrome browser will also appear on your TV (photos, music, video, etc.). This may allow you to steam content from Hulu, and TV sources, which in the past have been blocked from devices. Overall, it’s very lightweight, versatile and with a price tag of only $35 is cheap to boot! If you want one, order it now. Rumor mill is they are on a one month back order already!
You are correct in thinking that this isn’t a “cool” electronic gadget, but it’s still one of the most important things you can buy for the first year college student. You just paid good money for all the electronics, and gadgets you feel they will need, but now you need a way to protect them (and any wallets, credit cards, or gift cards as well). While no safe will give you 100% security, any time you can deceive or slow down someone that wants to steal your stuff, makes you less of a target. You don’t need a fancy biometric safe, you just need something to deter a would-be thief. It has to be big enough to get a few things into, but small enough to put in a concealed spot. The Sentry 0.8 cu. ft. one fits the bill. With a interior space of 13-3/32″H x 16-11/32″W x 19-5/16″D, you can pretty much get most stuff into it, and at 87 lbs, no one is just going to walk away with it, without effort. With a price of around $90, it’s not going to break the bank.
FatWallet Asks the Experts
Thomas Frank from College Info Geek suggests these gadgets:
- A good pair of headphones is a quality investment for college. Whether it’s your roommate, a party next door, or a really loud group in the library, there’s always going to be something you’ll want to drown out. My favorite headphones are the incredibly bass-heavy Sony XB500. If these aren’t your style, check out this headphone guide for more budget-conscious picks.
- If you already have a smartphone or tablet, a bluetooth keyboard is perfect accessory. With it, you can type your notes in class without bringing your laptop. The single-focus nature of mobile operating systems also encourages you to stay on task instead of getting distracted.
- You’ve probably already got a laptop either bought or picked out, but don’t forget about some less-common uses for it. With the Kindle app, you can actually rent digital versions of a lot of your textbooks for much less than the print editions. You can also most likely borrow movies from your school’s library and use your laptop as a TV if you don’t want to lug a real one to school.
There you have it! Our list of gadgets that will make your college bound kids freshmen year a whole lot more pleasant. If you have any suggestions for other gadgets that college freshmen should have, feel free to list them in the comment section below! Thanks for reading my ramblings! 🙂 Bryan~
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