Gadgets to make you a star student this year

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      Organize and maximize. Back-to-school gadgets are all about fulfilling those plans you made over the summer to get ahead of deadlines, ace your assignments, and have a productive year. Perhaps that ambition only extends to taking better notes in class and not eating at your keyboard. It doesn’t hurt to try.

      ($24.95 to $29.95; )
      So you decided over the summer that this is your year to become a YouTube star. After all, if that super-talented and cute little Winnipeg girl can get 11 million hits, you—with your yet-to-be-discovered talent—can score maybe a fraction of that with your own self-shot video. The tag line for the XShot is a simple truth that most of us still believe doesn’t apply to us: “Because people’s arms aren’t long enough for good pictures.” This gadget is simply an extender that allows you to film yourself with a camera or iPhone. The Pocket XShot and XShot 2.0 are designed to fit most digital cameras, and special cases adapt the iPhone to the unit. The Pocket expands from 16.5 to 77.5 centimetres and the 2.0 from 22.9 to 94 centimetres. That’s enough extension to get a background view plus you with another person (on the school stage), if you think someone else is worthy of sharing the limelight.

      Tree Frog Washable Keyboard
      ($49.99; London Drugs)
      A new school year, the same vow: this year, you won’t eat while typing. It just gets too disgusting when the coating on the keyboard is multi-layered. By the end of September, however, there’s going to be messy, sticky fingers on that new laptop. Can’t throw a laptop in the dishwasher. But the Tree Frog Washable Keyboard can go in with the dirty dishes and come out clean. It’s treated with antimicrobial surface protection and the keyboard is mould- and mildew-resistant. Lucky for you, that kind of protection also applies to chocolate and nacho stains.

      HP Photosmart eStation C510a Printer
      ($399.99; Best Buy, )
      Even a year ago, the idea of remote printing seemed unnecessary. But with web-based file-hosting services like iCloud and Dropbox, a printer like the eStation C510a has become a necessity. This device allows printing and web browsing using a removable wireless touchscreen. Anything email-able is printable through HP’s ePrint program, and Apple’s AirPrint allows printing from the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The really neat part is that the printer’s wireless touchscreen is also an e-reader. The 17.8-centimetre detachable unit gives you direct access to the Barnes & Noble e-book store.

      Non-iPad tablets
      Last year, Apple dominated the field for tablets. But as you gear up to head back to class, there’s a lot more competition out there. At $399.99, HP’s 16-gigabyte TouchPad is significantly less expensive than the same-capacity iPad 2 with Wi-Fi. (Editor's note: HP discontinued the TouchPad on August 18, and the tablets have been sold off at deep discounts. The price for the 16-gigabyte model has dropped to $99.99.) The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1’s ($499.99) screen and body seem weightier than the TouchPad, which felt way too flimsy to hold comfortably. But at $499 for 16 gigabytes, the BlackBerry PlayBook outclasses both the TouchPad and the Galaxy Tab. It’s fashionable to malign Research In Motion these days, but the PlayBook deserves consideration simply because it does something better than even the iPad. With its smaller screen, it feels good to hold this tablet and there’s no danger of it slipping out of your hands. These tablets are available at Future Shop or from manufacturers’ websites.

      If not for tablets, most of us would still be toting around USB sticks. But Dropbox (free) makes sense even for desktop and laptop users. I have mine synced to a Mac, a PC, a tablet, and an iPod Touch. The service offers two gigabytes of storage for free and allows users to drop in Word files, photos, and even videos through its web-based file-hosting service. Download the software onto your laptop and install the app on your tablet or smartphone, and you have instant access to the files you use most often wherever there’s a Wi-Fi connection. Underscore Notify ($1.99), for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, is another piece of a simple system that will keep you organized throughout the school year. It’s a well-thought-out app that includes almost everything you need to take notes, from drawing diagrams on a whiteboard and recording audio directly onto a page to inserting clippings from the web. Users can export files as editable PDFs and upload them into Dropbox. There’s also a built-in calculator. Daily Notes + Todo ($4.99) is an organizational iPad app that keeps track of multiple tasks and projects. There are free calendar and to-do list apps out there, but they invariably start charging if you want to upload or save items. Daily Notes allows backing up onto Dropbox and has a Restore function. All are available through Apple’s App Store.



      Something better?

      Aug 19, 2011 at 1:42pm

      What is the something that you're claiming the Playbook does better than iPad???
      Dropbox offers TWO MEGABYTES FREE??? (try gigabytes).
      It's also rather funny that ALL of the apps you list are for Apple devices... to bad the other tablets can't compete.


      Aug 28, 2011 at 11:28am

      It's been a week. Do you think it's time to update the article to mention that the TouchPad's already been discontinued and liquidated for $99?