College checklist: the definitive gadget guide for students
The technology items that will give you more time to study – and how much they cost
Some gadgets can make college life much easier. Photograph: Getty
With the new college term looming, now is the time to start getting all the essentials you need to get you through the academic year – and that includes technology.
While some gadgets are essential, and others are just nice to have, most of them will make your life a little more pleasant and leave you free to do the important things – study, naturally.
We’re going to assume you have one of these.
But, if you don’t, or you are in the market for a new one – there are plenty of options out there that won’t break the bank.
The first decision is Android or iOS.
If every other device you own is linked in to Apple’s system, or you just prefer how iOS works, you are better off sticking with that.
The iPhone SE is a good option if you want to stick with Apple but don’t need the top-end model.
On the Android side of things, the Moto G is a more budget-friendly phone that doesn’t scrimp on the features, with a decent camera, for about €199.
There’s also Vodafone’s own-brand Smart Prime 7 for €130.
If you can afford to spend a little more, you can pick up the OnePlus 3 online for €400, sim-free, and shop around for the best deal in mobile plans.
College (usually) means essays and a good laptop (or tablet, but more on that later) will be worth the investment.
Assuming you don’t need any specific software, there are plenty of reasonably priced options.
At the budget end of things, you can get a Chromebook. Priced at between €190 and €350, for the standard versions made by Asus, Acer and Toshiba, the devices use Google’s own operating system and limits local storage to 16 or 32GB – giving you access to Google Drive so you store your files in the cloud instead.
It doesn’t need an internet connection all the time though, working perfectly well offline too.
Because it is Chrome OS, rather than Windows, you can’t just throw software on to it.
Thankfully, more and more software makers are offering alternatives though.
Along similar lines, but Windows-based, is the HP Stream.
Also available for under €300, the machines come in 11-inch or 13-inch screens, with 32GB of storage on board and a 100GB OneDrive account for cloud storage.
Aside from that, you can get a decent laptop that will do a decent job of most tasks, apart from the high-end graphics rendering and other resource intensive work, for around €500 to €1,000, with HP, Dell, Toshiba and others offering a range of models.
There’s also the trusty MacBook Air – the 13-inch version is the preference here but the 11-inch has the benefit of not only being a decent machine but also incredibly portable.
The basic model will set you back €1,029.
Perhaps you don’t really need a laptop, but you want something you can use to bash out the odd essay and also use for entertainment.
There are plenty of tablets out there that offer the best of both worlds, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 or the HP Spectre X2.
They’re pricey though – starting from €850.
But a regular iPad Air 2 (€479) or Android tablet, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (€420) with a decent keyboard cover and/or a bluetooth keyboard such as the Logitech Keys to Go (€80), will also do the job though.
Remember there are free versions of word processing and spreadsheet software on both iOS and Android, and they work offline too so you can work wherever and whenever you need it.
There are cheaper tablets available – sub-€250 – but it’s worth checking them out in person before you buy one, to make sure the screen is up to scratch for example.
As an alternative, there’s the iPad Pro.
It’s expensive – the 9.7 inch version will set you back €700 for the basic model – but if you don’t have any specific software needs, the iPad Pro will fulfil both entertainment and college work needs.
You’ll need a keyboard of some description if you plan on typing a lot – the onscreen keyboard is fine but, over the course of a 2,000-word essay, you’ll feel it.
It doesn’t matter what kind of smartphone you have. At some point, you’ll find yourself stuck with a low battery at a crucial moment.
Having a battery pack handy means you can just plug it in when things get dire and you’ll eke out another few hours of use.
Not all battery packs are created equal though, especially if you have a smartphone that has a higher capacity battery.
There are a few options.
You can go for a phone case with a battery built into it, such as a Mophie Juice Pack but if you plan on changing your phone any time soon, there’s a high chance that it will be obsolete and, at €100, they aren’t cheap.
The Box 6000mAh tablet battery pack will do both smartphones and tablets – obviously, it’s in the name – so, even if you have an iPhone 6s Plus, you’ll get a decent power boost out of it.
That will set you back around €50, but a cheaper option is the Trust 4000mAh power bank.
It’s half the price, but obviously means you’ll get fewer charges from it and it won’t perform quite as well with your tablet.
It’s basic good practice to have a backup of all your files somewhere other than your laptop.
Disaster can – and often do – strike at inopportune moments. And the last thing you need before a major college deadline is discovering your project has either mysteriously disappeared from your hard drive, has been corrupted or your hard drive itself is broken.
Larger external storage drives have become increasingly cheaper over the past few years, and you can easily pick up a 1TB drive for under €100.
Unless you are doing a lot of video or graphics work – that will be more than enough to keep all your important college files safe.
The cheaper alternative to this, especially if you are just doing essays and other things with smaller file sizes, is to store it in the cloud.
Both Apple and Google offer cloud storage to users of its services, and there are other options such as Dropbox or Box if you want an alternative.
There’s enough space offered by all of them free of charge to handle your essays, and it has the added advantage of being accessible from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
That’s the key thing though – having an internet connection.
One thing to keep in mind when you are deciding what option suits you best.
A budget way to get media from your Netflix account or laptop to your TV, the Chromecast could be your best bet for entertainment for the year.
At €39, the Chromecast is a bargain – and, if you have an Android tablet or phone, you can simply cast your entire tablet screen to your TV.
The HSDMI dongle can be powered via a wall plug or a USB port on your TV, and it covers everything from audio and video to games.
An alternative is Apple TV.
It’s a bit pricier but the newest version has Apple’s TV OS, which also brings games to the device.
Digitise your notes
Paper is so last century, for several reasons.
The costs add up and you have to store it somewhere.
Over the course of a college career, that can add up to a lot of notebooks and, unless your typing skills are top-notch, that will probably be the route most students go.
But there is another way: digitising your notes.
LiveScribe uses a digital pen that will take your notes, record the audio as you write and then transfer it to your iOS device.
The only drawback: you need to use it with special notepaper, but if you have access to a laser printer, you can print your own from a template on LiveScribe’s site.
If that doesn’t appeal, you can simply get a stylus for your existing tablet and use a programme such as OneNote to take notes and record audio.
If you can stretch to the iPad Pro, thus solving your tablet/laptop needs as well, invest in the Apple Pencil and an app called GoodNotes.
You can have digital notebooks, and convert your handwritten notes into text – provided your handwriting is clear enough.