You’ve secured your student loan, you’ve paid your tuition, and you’ve purchased your textbooks…yup, it’s time to go back to school. In the past, it may have been enough to load up on lined paper and a fresh pack of pens, but today’s classroom is entirely different. You need to equip yourself with the right gadgets to support your learning experience, but your back to school gadget budget isn’t exactly huge. That’s okay.
There’s definitely something to be said about scouring eBay and Craigslist for some good used deals, but if you’d prefer to buy something brand new, you have options too. Here are just a few products that you may consider as part of your affordable back to school shopping list for gadgets and technology.
Smartphone: Nokia Lumia 520/521
We all need a phone these days and those so-called “feature phones” don’t really cut the mustard anymore. Smartphones are the name of the game, not only for keeping up with your classmates on Facebook, but also for researching on the web, collaborating on projects, taking impromptu pictures, and managing your finances on-the-go. Conventional wisdom may lead you to Android or iOS, but the Nokia Lumia 520 with AT&T (the T-Mobile version is the 521) is one of the best bargains out there. At just $99.99 without a contract, you actually get a really decent entry-level Windows Phone 8 smartphone that’ll do everything you need it to do. And since it’s off-contract, you can take the prepaid route to save a few bucks each month. If you prefer the Android environment, the Google Nexus 4 is a good bet or, if you’re willing to sign a contract, the Samsung Galaxy S III is only $9.98 on contract. Realistically, you don’t need the S4, after all.
Tablet: Google Nexus 7 FHD
Let’s get one thing clear: you probably don’t need a tablet. Between your smartphone and your computer, most of your mobile computing needs are covered, but it sure is nice to have a tablet too. For that, one of the best options available today is the new Nexus 7 (2013). It’s thinner, lighter, and faster than its predecessor and the 7-inch display has an even better than 1080p display. The 16GB model is $229, while the 32GB version is $279. If you have a smaller budget, the Asus MeMO Pad HD 7 at $149 is a decent choice too, but it won’t be as fast and it has a decidedly lower resolution. Apple fans should consider the iPad Mini ($329) instead of the larger Retina iPad.
Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook
You’re going to encounter lots of different opinions here, but for the active student on-the-go, a thin-and-light laptop is probably a better choice than a dorm-bound desktop PC. I find the 13.3-inch size is particularly appropriate, as would be the case with the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 touchscreen Ultrabook. It gets a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB hard drive for under $600. If you’re willing to go a touch bigger, a little slower, and refurbished, the 14-inch HP Envy 4-1015DX can be had for $440. If you’d rather go much bigger, the desktop-replacing 17-inch Asus X75A-DS31 with a Core i3 processor sells for $399.
eReader: Kindle Paperwhite (With Special Offers)
There are an increasing number of textbooks that are being offered in digital format, making eReaders more of a gadget worth considering for students. This is especially true for English literature majors. You could read on your notebook or tablet, but that can cause a lot of eye strain with extended sessions. Instead, an eReader like the Kindle Paperwhite ($119) offers a glare-free screen and multi-week battery. You can remove the special offers for $20, if you’d like. Tapping into the Kindle store is pretty big, but the Kobo store is growing too. For that ecosystem, I recommend the Kobo Glo at $129.99. It’s compact, comfortable and stylish to boot.
Image credit: Phil Roeder / Flickr