Back to School Tech Guide 2013

Jul 16, 2013
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Heading back to school can be a stressful time, but getting up to speed with your technology choices needn't cause you sleepless nights. SlashGear has picked out the key technology to get you up and running when you're headed back to your dorm room, including options for the student on a tighter budget. Read on for our run-down on what should be in your bag, on your ears, and helping you avoid the dreaded "freshman 15".

Laptops

No student's bag is right without a laptop inside, and there's a huge range to choose from depending on what size screen you want and how much you might move around.

At the small end of the scale there's the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13, a 13.3-inch ultrabook running Windows 8 with an unusual hinge that allows it to convert between a notebook and a tablet. The distinctive form-factor makes it great for those moving regularly between desks but wanting to keep working as they go. It's priced from $879.99.

Those wanting a bigger display while still keeping touch will probably find the Samsung ATIV Book 8 fits the bill, from $1,199.99. Running Windows 8 on a fast Core i7, and including standalone graphics, it's a powerhouse upgrade to the ATIV Book 6 that so impressed us, and still manages to be portable despite games - as well as homework - looking great on its Full HD display.

Meanwhile, there's long battery life to be had on Apple's MacBook Air, with the 13-inch model lasting more than 12 hours in our testing. It's priced from $1,099 for the 13-inch, though lacks a touchscreen.

Tablets

Gaming, taking notes in class, quickly checking your email and schedule, and reading through textbooks: there are plenty of reasons to have a tablet to hand.

Microsoft's own Surface RT is well made and has a great 10.6-inch screen, and with a recent price cut to $349 it's very competitive. Windows 8 makes its most compact play so far on the Acer Iconia W3, the world's first 8.1-inch tablet running Microsoft's OS, priced from $349.99. Both can be fitted with optional keyboards for easier text entry.

Apple's iPad mini offers the familiar interface of the iPhone in a compact, 7.9-inch form factor, priced from $329.99. It also offers an LTE version, from $459.99, both with access to Apple's App Store.

Android is the other OS in the room, and the $379.99 Galaxy Note 8.0 stands out with its stylus for easy note-taking.

If you can't quite give up your easy text entry, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S - the 11.6-inch version of the Yoga 13 above - arguably offers the best of both worlds. Windows 8 on a convertible that can be quickly flipped between easily-carried tablet and notebook modes, it starts at $729.99.

Phones

Staying connected is key, especially when you're juggling deadlines, study groups, and a busy social life. Today's smartphones take work and play in their stride.

Nokia's Lumia 928, from $99.99 on Verizon Wireless, runs Windows Phone 8 and pairs it with an excellent 8-megapixel PureView camera with a proper Xenon flash, making it one of our top picks for 4G handsets. If you're on a budget, T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 521 keeps the 4G but brings the price down to $29.99 on contract or an impressive $149.99 without service.

In Android, the HTC One (from $99.99 with a new agreement) and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active (from $199.99) are our current favorites. The HTC One offers excellent low-light performance with its UltraPixel camera, while the Galaxy S4 Active offers waterproofing without the usual size compromise.

Apple's iPhone 5, from $199.99 with a new agreement, remains a capable choice. It has a good range of applications and is likely to get a new lease of life when iOS 7 arrives this fall.

Accessories

Whether you're working in the library, burning the midnight oil without disturbing your roommate, or just want to check out the latest YouTube sensation while waiting for the bus, a pair of great headphones is a must. Logitech's G430 are a relative bargain at $79.99, delivering great audio quality that belies the pricing, and while they're billed as gaming headphones the microphone makes them ideal for Skype calls home, too.

Parrot's ZIK Bluetooth headphones are more expensive, at $399.99, but they're beautifully made, sound great, and have the convenience of going cable-free. Should you have a phone with NFC, you can even pair them up simply by tapping them together.

If you're keen to avoid the "freshman 15", a fitness tracker could be the right way to do it. Fitbit's Flex ($99.99) connects wirelessly to your smartphone and gives you regular updates on how much you're walking, while Jawbone's UP ($129.99) is more expensive but also tracks sleep patterns.

Got any good suggestions for what every student should be headed back to the classroom with? Let us know in the comments!

  • The SlashGear Back to School tech guide is brought to you in association with Best Buy

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