CNET Top 5
Back to school productsEssential tech gear for the well-equipped student.
It's back to schooltime, folks, the end of summer and freedom but also a great excuse to go buy some new tech toys. I'm Brian Cooley with the Top Five Back to School tech categories for 2011. Number 5: A new car or something for yours. The first thing students do before using their back to school gear is getting back to school. And if that means you need new wheels, the hot car on campus this year is the brand new Fiat 500 especially in the Cabriolet form. Simple, cheap and its cookie styling is making friends everywhere. However, the more sophisticated but somewhat less hip Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Elantra are also really good picks and all are quite affordable. If instead you're limping off to school in that old Beater at least level the odds you'll actually get there with a set of Michelin's Smart Jumper Cables. Yeah, you can't connect them wrong. And we really like the Jabra Freeway Bluetooth speaker phone to help keep the campus police from issuing their next distracted driving ticket to you. Number 4: A camera or camcorder. Now, students today will take most of their pictures without a camera. No, they're not using Peyote. They're using their phone. But here are 3 cameras that earn a place in a camera phone world. First off, the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. It's our favorite DSLR for the student. It simply takes great still and video images and it's more than up to advanced photo classes and it costs under a grand. So you won't feel quite so bad when you spill a beer on it. There's the Olympus EPL-2, a great camera for the kid who needs to take serious photos but doesn't want all the bulk and baggage of a DSLR. You see, it's got the body of a compact but uses interchangeable lenses like a big camera. And for the genius who has more SAT aptitude than manual dexterity, please consider the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 which was built to be dropped and drowned and still shoot great pics and it's got a funky style too. Number 3: Audio and video gear. After a long day of classes, homework and sexting, students need a break. For a TV, we're loving the Samsung UN-46D6400. It does 2D and 3D playback with outstanding quality. Lots of connected features built in, though no Amazon video. And it's an LED Edge-Lit set. So it's so thin you'll swear it's going to cut you if you go to move it. A little stiff around 1200 bucks but it should last way beyond graduation, it better. And speakers and dorm rooms go together like loud music and neighbor complaints. So set them up right with the Energy Take Classic 5.1 surround sounds speaker, a CNET Editor's Choice. This 400-dollar system is the best affordable speaker reg we've ever reviewed. And if you want to bring down the cost of kicking back a big notch, just go for the Roku XDS Streaming Set-Top box. 100 bucks and you're hooked up with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Pandora, the CNET Channel and many more. And it plugs into just about any TV you already own. Number 2: Laptops, tablets and eReaders. They all get lumped together by a lot of consumers. And if you walk around schools these days, you'll see so many Mac Books you'll think they're an admission requirement. So let's talk about something else. We really like the Toshiba Portege R835-P56X. It comes in around 800 bucks. It has a powerful CPU, nearly all-day battery life and specs that make a serious computer not a netbook. Staying on the contrary tip, let's leave the market-dominating iPad 2 aside for a moment and point out our favorite competitor to it, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. So much like an iPad 2 that Apple is suing Samsung over it; always a good sign. It's sleek, thin and light and it runs the red hot Android Honeycomb operating system and it convincingly answers the question, is there anything else but an iPad? Samsung says yes. Also consider an eReader for electronic textbooks. The Amazon Kindle just launched a brand new textbook rental store catching up with Barnes & Nobles Nook in that area. You might save a ton of money getting school books this way. And while we like both devices, you can basically steal a Kindle that has a few ads built into it for like 114 bucks; gotta like that. Now on to our number one Back to School Gear category. Let me set it up this way. If you've gotta make a Sophie's choice between a laptop and a smartphone, the smartphone stays with mama. You can always borrow computers on campus but you gotta have your own phone. Now, the iPhone 4 is the obvious choice. But be aware a new iPhone is expected right around the top of the school year. So be wary of buying a 4 until the dust settles. For a great Android phone, we love the Samsung Nexus 4G. Fast 4G network ability but check in to the cost and availability of that first. It's got a brilliant huge display. Fast, clean implementation of Android and really good call quality. So, when they call and say, "I think I need some money." It won't sound like, "I can't believe I drank that many." That's a little scary. For younger students, consider the Samsung Gravity T. It's all about texting and messaging. Has a real slide-out keyboard, good multimedia, and it has really sleek touchscreen interface. Okay, for all of our Back to School Picks, there are many more beyond these. Head over to backtoschool.cnet.com. and for more Top Fives like this, its topfive.cnet.com. I'm Brian Cooley. Thanks for watching. Good luck in school.