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TMCNet:  Digital Savant: Gadget guide for students

[August 22, 2012]

Digital Savant: Gadget guide for students

Aug 22, 2012 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- Good news, parents: It's getting harder to make poor decisions for your kids you'll live to regret! I speak, unfortunately, only about decisions involving the purchase of tech goods for the new school year. (Did you think I had somehow figured out how to magically make school clothes shopping less painful Sorry.) But it's true. Buying items like laptops and even tablet computers is easier and cheaper than ever. Whether you go with Apple's line of laptops and iPads or PC and Android netbooks, ultrabooks or tablets, it's very hard to buy a product now that's not completely capable of doing what most students need, online and off. The same goes for ebook readers like Amazon's Kindle line and the Barnes & Noble Nooks. Good technology, ever-cheaper prices, few bad choices.

Got those big-ticket items lined up Here are tech products for students that can complement or enhance their laptops, tablets and other devices.

On the go: The MyCharge Summit 3000 ($80, www.mycharge.com) is a sturdy and handy power source for phones, music players, tablets and other portable devices that charge via an Apple connector, USB or micro-USB. It's part of a range of chargers from the makers of Powerbag travel products. There are MyCharge versions ranging from about $40 to $100. The Summit 3000 seems to be a good midpoint with lots of power, versatility and even voice notifications available in four languages. It plugs directly into a wall socket and, once filled up with juice, can recharge up to three devices at once.

Yes, the Internet is everywhere, but they have these things at school libraries called books and sometimes those paper volumes are still the best source for information. You could take a photo or make a photocopy to study later, or you can come equipped with an IRIScan Book 2 ($129, www.irislink.com), a lightweight, portable scanner than can grab the contents of a page and make it editable as text for later use. It doesn't even require a computer; with an adapter, its contents can go straight to an iPad or other mobile device.

Investing in a pricey laptop for a student who'll be lugging it everywhere constantly can be a little scary; protecting it with "LoJack for Laptops" (www.lojackforlaptops.com) might ease your mind a bit. The software can help track a stolen laptop, lock it down, wipe its data remotely or help the police recover the computer. It sells for $40-$60 for one year of standard or premium service or $90-$100 for three years. The premium service includes an up-to-$1,000 guarantee if a stolen laptop can't be recovered.

The safety-minded may be intrigued by iSafe ($20-$90, www.isafebags.com), a line of messenger bags and backpacks that include two 125-decibel personal alarm sirens and strobe lights meant to protect against bullies and other predators. They're available as laptop bags for adults, too.

Last year, I devoted an entire column to the Livescribe smartpen ($130-$180 for 4GB and 8GB versions). I'm still using mine and think it's a great device for any student who takes notes or who needs to record lectures or interviews. It can record audio that pairs up with handwriting on special paper. The handwritten notes can be transferred later to a computer, mobile device or online services like Google Drive or Evernote.

Dorm devices: The Keurig Mini Plus ($100, www.keurig.com) is a little coffee maker that uses those now-ubiquitous K-Cups. But it can also make tea and hot chocolate or just heat water for a late-night Ramen noodles snack. The Mini Plus model is tiny and comes in a variety of cute colors.

Quirky's Scribe ($33, www.quirky.com) is a versatile laptop or writing surface that can also hold five pens or pencils. It has a carrying handle and can be hung on a bed frame for easy storage.

I preach constantly about backing up data, and Seagate's Backup Plus Portable Drive ($109-$129, www.seagate.com) is one good way to do it. The device, which comes in a variety of colors in 500-Gigabyte to 1-Terabyte sizes, can back up photos from Flickr or Facebook with one click. It's USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt compatible, making it transfer data fast with Apple's latest generation of MacBook Pro and Air models.

And for quick, easy printing in a tight space, Epson's Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One ($100, www.epson.com) is compact and capable. It can even print directly from smart phones and tablets.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE) ___ DIGITAL SAVANT MICRO: WHAT'S A 'DOMAIN NAME' (In this space every week, we'll define a tech term, offer a timely tip or answer questions about technology from readers. Email ogallaga@statesman.com.) This week, we're going to talk about domain names, the system that allows us to type in easy-to-remember text ("facebook.com") instead of a string of numbers on the web. A few years ago, some tech pundits predicted domain names would stop mattering as we relied more and more on search engines to find what we need, but here we are, still typing many of them in manually in our desktop and mobile web browsers.

Domain names are made up of a top-level domain (.com and .org, for instance), a second-level domain (the "microsoft" in "microsoft.com,") and, sometimes, a host name like "www" at the beginning. A domain name like "iphone.apple.com," for instance, will take you a page on Apple's website devoted to the iPhone.

Web site operators register these names with companies called web registrars, which help build upon a massive database called the "Domain Name System (DNS)" that keeps track and translates all these names and their numerical equivalents. An organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is tasked with keeping the naming system in order and deciding what policies to put in place as the web continues to grow and evolve.

___ Omar L. Gallaga: ogallaga@statesman.com Read more technology news on Omar L. Gallaga's blog at austin360.com/digitalsavant.

___ (c)2012 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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