This month, the class of 2012 will cross the stage, snag that piece of paper, and head out into the wild to set the world on fire. To help these new graduates get ready for what's in store for them, loved ones across the country will be outfitting them with all sorts of gear and gifts to ease the transition.
There are definitely a few things that can come in handy as these newly minted members of the workforce prepare to meet their future. If you have a new college grad in your life, consider one of these great graduation gifts.
A grown-up's briefcase/laptop bag
Booq Cobra Brief, $255
When school ends, so will the days of ratty messenger bags held together by duct tape. After all, a grad who's ready to take on the world should look the part, and nothing says "a professional has entered the building" than a really good bag. The Booq Cobra Brief fits the bill nicely. It's not the same tired briefcase carted around by Dad; it's got enough metal and rugged straps to keep it looking fresh, but with plenty of padding and pockets to secure laptops (15-17-inch Mac, 15-16.4-inch PC) and other gear. Not too hipsterish, but not too bland, it's understated yet stylish to keep the wearer looking sharp and confident.
Headphones for the commute and more
Headphones are a must in today's work world. (What better to drown out a noisy train or cubicle mate's relentless chatter?) And when it comes to personal audio, it's tough to beat the Klipsch Image S4. If I were a high-priced set of headphones, I'd be looking at the S4 and thinking, "Where do you get off, being so good and costing so little? You're making the rest of us look bad." Indeed — there are competitors that cost much more, but still can't beat the sound quality. It also comes with a storage box and cleaning tool, which turns this simple item into something of a gift package. Sweet. (Addendum: Of course, some high-priced items are worth every penny, and the $499.99 Shure SE535 Sound Isolating Earphones is one of them. Crazy good clarity, excellent bass, rich sound and tight noise isolation meets high comfort, in-line volume adjustment and even an airplane adapter. If you're rich and the new grad is an audiophile, I urge you to consider this. It will put you on the "giftee's" cool list forever.)
Digital camera for capturing those first, tentative steps into adulthood
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, $349.99
The first work computer. The first paycheck. The first corporate boardroom takeover. Awwww — those moments are precious, and must be chronicled, no? And the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is up to the task. As a compact megazoom, it has a lot of features packed in, such as a wide and long zoom lens, fantastic image stabilization and great photo and vid quality for a shooter of this class. But what makes it really great are all the shooting modes — it suits a range of photogs, from hobbyist to advanced user.
Robotic housekeeper, anyone?
It might seem strange to put a Roomba on here, but frankly, I don't know anyone who couldn't use one of these iRobots. And let's face it: Students aren't known for their housekeeping. (Why would they be? After dozens of keggers amid the crates — er, "furniture" — who'd even bother anymore?) So while a newly former college kid might be stoked about becoming a "real adult now," s/he probably isn't too jazzed about mopping or vacuuming a grownup's apartment. Enter the iRobot. When I reviewed the iRobot 780 vacuum ($599.99) and Scooba 390 floor washer ($499.99), I was honestly wowed with their cleaning prowess. Which one to choose? Obviously, go with whichever type of flooring covers the majority of the apartment. Believe me, the recipient is going to be thrilled. Now those plans for world domination can continue without distraction.
Digital subscriptions — the gift that keeps on giving
Even fired-up ingenues destined for greatness need to relax once in a while. Netflix and Hulu Plus are great ways to let them unwind and catch a show, wherever they are. If s/he's a shopaholic as well, then a year's subscription to Amazon Prime — complete with free two-day shipping and streaming content — will definitely be welcome. And far-flung graduates leaving town for a cool, new opportunity might appreciate a Skype Premium subscription, which would keep them connected to loved ones via video chat with groups of friends or family, as well as unlimited calling to a user-specified country.
A word about major tech purchases
A major tech purchase, like a computer or mobile gadget, is always a great choice of gift. Choosing one, however, can be a difficult proposition.
So how do you know which laptop or desktop make the best gift? Well, duh — it's the one that's spec'ed out! Seriously, technology moves so fast that going with middling specs, while more affordable, could wind up just saddling the recipient with a rig that'll be outdated fairly soon. That might not be a big deal for grads with light to medium tech demands, but if s/he is a budding video editor or musician, for example, that just may not cut it.
Smartphones are also a popular category for gift-giving occasions. And if you have a good handle on the recipient's favorite platform or carrier, that's a great way to go. Any Android fan should be thrilled to get a HTC One S, HTC One X, Motorola Droid Razr Maxx or Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Obviously, when it comes to iOS, there's only one current model: The iPhone 4S. (Note, however, that the bevy of iPhone 5 rumors suggest that this year's model will be a big departure from status quo, meaning this gift will be out of date fairly quickly.) For Windows Phone, the Lumia 900 gives the slick Metro UI a gorgeous frame to work within.
There are two more categories worth considering: ultrabooks and tablets. Ultrabooks make a great secondary computer, thanks to its portability and increasingly powerful performance. In fact, some users even use them as their primary laptop. (Picks: MacBook Air 13-inch with i7 or HP Folio 13.)
When it comes to tablets, there are three ruling the roost right now: The third-generation iPad, Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime and Amazon's Kindle Fire. All three are solid choices for different reasons: The Apple App Store offers a huge selection, which is a big reason why the iPad has maintained its huge popularity. The Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is a good choice for an Android aficionado who wants a device that can do double duty as a tablet and a near-laptop, thanks to its dock keyboard. Then there's the Kindle Fire, a compact 7-incher backed by the powerhouse retailer and digital content purveyor Amazon.
Of course, you could go with the best of most worlds: The Frankenstein of phone and tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Note. Yes, it looks enormous when it's held up to the face. But with one device, it effectively eradicates the need for a separate smartphone and tablet. If the grad in your life dislikes clutter (or carting around multiple gadgets), this strange 5.5-inch, stylus-packing "phablet" could be a solid option. It would certainly be a headturner.
Have you got a new graduate you're buying for? If so, what are you planning on giving? Or are you the one leaving those hallowed halls now? (Congrats!) What, then, is on your graduation-gift wish list?
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