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Dorm Gear: What Gadgets to Get, Skip or Hold Off On

Higher education costs more than ever these days. According to The College Board, public four-year colleges charge an average of $7,605 per year in tuition for in-state students, and $11,990 for out-of-state students. But that’s nothing compared to private nonprofit four-year colleges: On average, they charge $27,293 per year. That doesn’t even include stuff like room, board or school supplies.

After that punch to the wallet, cost is likely a big factor in prepping for back to school. So is space, for that matter. Even if you have all the tech you could want, how would you stuff it all inside a teensy weensy dorm room?

There’s a lot to tempt you and your spending dollars, so be judicious about what you buy or bring with you to school. And peruse this list of recommendations for what to get, what to skip and what should wait.

USB Thumb drive – GET! They are inexpensive and supremely handy — particularly when you want to share large files with someone on the spot. Plus, depending on your setup, you might even be able to put a bootable OS on this, making it ridiculously handy to have around.

Printer – HOLD OFF. Printers aren’t very expensive — everyone knows it’s the ink that gets you — but they can be space hogs in a small living environment. So find out if your roommate already has one and see if you can split the cost of ink to share it. If not (or if it’s a horrible model), you can pick one up after you get there and assess your space. (And if you do, go for a wireless or ePrint model. The fewer cables cluttering your space, the better.)

Camera – GET, but only if… you’re studying for a photography or film career, or fancy yourself an amateur Ansel Adams. Otherwise, if you’re on a budget, stick with your mobile phone cam — it’s the one you’ll probably wind up using the most anyway. And think of it this way — no dedicated camera, no chance of leaving it behind it at a crazy kegger. (Photo geeks, however, may want to take a look at Mike Perlman’s camera picks and tips for back-to-school!)

Audio system – HOLD OFF. If we’re talking about a smallish boombox, dock or other speaker accessory, then pack that puppy. If not, then wait — you’ll want to check out your new digs first, and see if you have the space for your beast of a multi-unit surround sound setup. And don’t forget to check in with your new roommate. You might find that he has one to share that beats the pants off yours.

External Hard Drive – GET! Whether you use it for backing up your computer or simply as extended storage, this is a must, especially if you’re running around with a laptop. You can’t exactly share one with your roommate — well, you could, but that would be weird and kind of awkward when you accidentally stumble on those risqúe pics of his girlfriend. Given that external HDD prices have been falling, there’s little reason to wait.

Tablet – GET, but only if… you can comfortably afford it. It’s handy, portable and fun, and you’ll find a million uses for it. But despite all that, it’s still not an essential academia tool yet, at least not for most students. (That goes double if you already have a smartphone.) So if you can’t afford one yet, take heart and start saving those pennies.

Smartphone – GET! You will use a smartphone like crazy, whether to connect with study group pals, find your way around an unfamiliar campus, hook up with the T.A. after class or check library hours, not to mention recording lectures or snapping pics of the chalkboard. There are a million ways this will help you at school — and I’d even say that not having one might actually hurt you academically. In other words, this is the argument to use if a parent scoffs at the idea.

TV – SKIP. Thanks to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes rentals, not to mention other streaming websites, people in school and beyond have cut the cord. Given that, is a dedicated TV necessary? Well, maybe if you’re a hardcore console gamer, or you already have a flat screen with a small foot print and HDMI out. Multitaskers in a tight space are good, and if this can perform double duty as a drool-worthy display for your laptop as well, then that is fantastic. But if you’re mulling over a new one, it can cost a pretty penny, which is an expense that may not be necessary if you go for the more budget-conscious option of a good computer monitor instead.

Gaming console – HOLD OFF. If you or your roommate are packing a television, or if you’ve got a big screen display, computer and TV tuner, then it would be a no-brainer to bring your PlayStation or Xbox. Not only can you let off some steam by squashing your new live-in best friend in virtual battle, but it can also act as a DVD or Blu-ray player depending on which you have, not to mention streaming entertainment center. But as a new purchase, it may not be worth it just to bring to college. After all, you’ll have your computer for PC or streaming games. And you might be too busy anyway, what with classes and rush parties, to even power it up more than a few times. So you may want to wait to see if you’ll miss it before investing in a console — and its eco-system of accessories and game titles.

Headphones/earbuds – GET! You’ll see me wax poetic about ear gear more than once before our Back-to-School editorials conclude. The reasons why are simple: It can help you tune out noise, tune in lecture recordings or music, and indulge in Minecraft or World of Warcraft at 3 am, when the roomie’s asleep. Decent headphones or earbuds are as critical as textbooks, since this one item can make all the difference to your college experience, so get the best set you can afford.

 

I’ve got even more news that could make a big difference to your prep list: TechnoBuffalo will be holding some epic new Back to School giveaways that will cover four different categories of the gadgets mentioned above! So keep your eyes peeled (and like us on our Facebook page) for word on when the party starts. Details coming soon!


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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