Gadgets to Learn By

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Bill Gates would be proud.

It wasnt so long ago that the first day of school used to mean showing off your new clothes. Now, playground bragging rights are determined by who has the coolest gadgets.

While some technology is just for fun, these days learning techniques rely heavily on technology. And as price points drop, its more affordable than ever to use high-tech gear to make study time more productive.

A 2008 back-to-school technology list:

Computers
Laptops have become the default choice for students of all ages. And while all things Apple are still coveted on school campuses, the new ultra mobiles, or mini-laptops, are gaining rapidly in popularity for their portability and affordability.

Most popular are the MSI Wind U100, available in black, pink or white. The Wind comes with a Windows XP or Linux-based operating system, 10-inch display, Wi-Fi and an 80GB hard drive with prices starting at $399.

The new Asus Eee PC 900 has added a multi-touch pad that allows the user to use their fingers to scroll through a window or zoom in on a screen. If this sounds familiar, its because its the same technology Apple employed on products like the iPhone. Mini-laptops with Windows XP begin at around $550.

External hard drives
A backup storage drive is becoming a necessity to store users especially young peoples — vast multi-media collections as well as to backup crucial information such as downloaded textbooks and term papers. Portable drives are more compact and powered through a computers USB port. Some, like the new Western Digital Passport Elite, come with remote access software, allowing the stored data to be accessed from any computer running the program.

USB flash drive
A necessity for anyone who needs to quickly move data from one computer to another, you can easily find 2GB drives for $10 – $15.

Graphing calculators
These specialized calculators are tools that assist in visualizing math and are usually programmable, so they can be adjusted for use as a student ages. The Texas Instruments line is popular, as is the HP 39gs, a double-screen calculator with an infrared option that allows data to be shared with other HP devices, and a USB port to transfer files to a computer.

Printers
While a basic ink jet printer may seem like a bargain, the cost of ink cartridges can add up quickly. The price of black and white laser printers has dropped considerably and is a better choice for nearly all school-related projects. Save the ink jet for the few times that something absolutely has to be printed in color. All-in-one printers that also serve as a fax and copier are commonly available for less than $100, with Canon and HP offering several models in that price range. Consider paying more for wireless network connectivity.

MP3 player
Yes, it will be used mostly for music, but students can also access over 50,000 free lessons and lectures from university professors across the country via iTunes. The coveted player of choice is the iPod Touch, which retails for $299.

Cell Phones
While the iPhone is getting all the hype, savvy-texting students know that there are far better phones for typing. Top choice for professional texters is the T-Mobile Sidekick. Other iPhone alternatives are the new LG Dare from Verizon, which features a touch screen and an impressive media player, and the Samsung Instinct from Sprint.

Other tools to consider are digital pens, which can transfer text to a computer by highlighting real hard copy. A portable recording device is always helpful for recording long lectures and downloading them to a computer. And a good set of speakers is necessary for high-quality tunes.

Technology aside, there is still one tool that outweighs all the others when it comes to learning. As 12-year-old student Carolyn Zaccaro said, Use your brain.

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