With the end of summer quickly approaching, it’s time for the kids to pack away their bathing suits and dust off their backpacks. So what’s the back to school trend for 2011? These days the buzz isn’t about slap bracelets or Pokémon. Kids today are itching for the newest gadgets and mobile technology. The question is, do they need it and how much? And can you afford it? Here’s our breakdown for the value-seeking parent:
Beginning in middle school, many math classes actually require calculators. Teachers will generally recommend scientific calculators like the Texas Instruments TI-30X, which has more functions than traditional calculators, but isn’t as advanced as the calculators used in high school and college. These scientific calculators generally cost about $20, though they can be found cheaper online and on sale. However, if you think your child won’t lose it, consider investing in a graphing calculator now. Graphing calculators are powerful devices capable of executing complex calculations, and while they’re not cheap – fancier versions can easily run over $100 – they will be required for high school math. One good choice is the Texas Instruments TI-83+, a durable, economical graphing calculator that can serve your child all the way through the SATs and college.
Not every student needs a laptop, but if you’re tired of your children using your computer to write their essays, consider purchasing a laptop. Many high schools allow their students to take notes on computers and encourage the use of technology for educational purposes. Starting at $449, the Dell Inspiron 15 is an affordable laptop option for your young scholar. Despite its modest price tag, this laptop doesn’t lack for features. Your child will love to watch movies on the 15.6" HD LED display and video-chat on its integrated webcam (after the homework is done, of course). With 3 GB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive, and a CD/DVD burner, the Inspiron 15 can accommodate a serious music library, and still have ample space for those all-important essays and projects.
If your student is constantly on the go, try a light-weight netbook like the Toshiba mini NB505. With 1 GB of memory, a 250 GB hard drive and more than 8 hours of battery life, this Toshiba mini offers quality features at an affordable price. With its sleek lines and multiple color options, the NB505 looks far more costly than its $299 price tag. Keep in mind that while netbooks are great for taking notes in class or surfing the web, they’re not designed to handle serious multitasking or demanding games.
Since the iPad first took the tech industry by storm in 2010, the tablet market has exploded with competition. All the major manufacturers are trying to get a slice of the pie. Still, for the time being, nothing beats Apple’s iPad 2 on its striking design, ease of use, and vast app selection. It boasts two cameras, easy video calling, and a gorgeous LED display. Starting at $499, The iPad 2 is only 0.34 inches wide and weighs only one and a third pounds.
While the iPad 2 offers the most complete package, it doesn’t come cheap and it also doesn't play Flash. Those seeking a more economical option might consider the Dell Streak 7. At $299 – or $199 with a two year service plan – the Streak 7 is priced well below the competition. With its seven inch screen, the Streak 7 is smaller and more portable than the iPad 2. The Streak 7 offers dual cameras, video chatting, the Android 2.2 platform and compatibility with T-mobiles’s new 4G network. Remember, if these products are for your kids, you’ll want to invest in a durable case to protect against drops and spills.
If your student truly needs to stay connected all the time, a smartphone is the way to go. The LG Optimus T (available on T-mobile) may not be the most advanced Android phone, but you can’t beat its price: free – with the standard 2-year contract. With its slim design, large touch screen and Google applications, the Optimus T holds its own against the most advanced phones available. While it isn’t 4G capable, the Optimus T features a media player, FM radio, 3.2 megapixel camera, voice command and GPS navigation. This is a one-of-a-kind Android deal.