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Helpful electronics for college students

Sales tax holiday

The back-to-school sales tax holiday is Friday to Sunday. For a list of items, go to and click on "list of taxable and tax-exempt items."

Electronics have become necessities for students heading to college, but it's easy to spend too much or buy overly elaborate or redundant gadgets. And some that used to be essential aren't even needed anymore. Here's what to shell out for and how to save on electronics for your student.


Gone are the days when parents had to lug a desktop computer to their child's dorm — or when students could, gasp, rely on their schools' computer labs and bring nothing high-tech at all.

"The laptop is at the top of everybody's list, and they're getting cheaper than ever," says Andrew Eisner, director of content at, a consumer electronics review and shopping site. "You can get a lot of laptop for about 500 bucks."

Indeed, a fully serviceable PC laptop will run about $500, while a Mac laptop from Apple with similar capabilities will cost $1,000 or more.

Netbooks, which run $200 to $300 and are streamlined versions of laptops with a bit less functionality, are definitely the budget option. But they have sharply declined in popularity with the advent of tablets.

Your student probably thinks a tablet would be cool, but it's hardly a necessity, particularly if she or he has a fairly new laptop. And it's still a significant expense: Apple Inc.'s iPad2 starts at $499; other popular tablets include Motorola Xoom, which costs $800 (or $600 if the buyer agrees to a two-year data contract with Verizon Wireless) and the $500 Samsung Galaxy.

E-book readers

E-book readers themselves simply aren't necessary because e-book software is free, and it will work on your PC, smartphone, laptop or tablet.

That said, e-book readers like the Nook from Barnes & Noble, the Kindle from Amazon and other devices can offer some conveniences, including having a much longer battery life and being lighter and smaller than laptops. Some also are smaller than tablets. The Kindle starts at $114 with ads and $139 without; other versions that can connect to 3G networks run up to $379. The NookColor is $249, while a black-and-white, Wi-Fi-only version is $139. Other e-book readers cost about the same.


Many students already have a smartphone, which can be helpful educational tools, says Jim Barry, spokesman for the trade group the Consumer Electronics Association.

"They have alarm clocks, dictionary apps, apps for flash cards," and many other uses, he says. "You could go back to school with a laptop and a smartphone and you would probably be really covered."

And they're getting less expensive. Parents footing smartphone bills will want to consider prepaid data plans, which can wind up costing less than a monthly individual contract. Virgin Mobile, Sprint, T-Mobile and others offer prepaid plans that work out to only $30 or $35 a month for unlimited talk, text and data, about half the monthly fee for a contract, as long as you buy the phone, according to Alex Goldfayn, a consumer electronics marketing consultant.


Many teachers and professors now accept assignments by e-mail; some even require electronic submission to facilitate plagiarism checks. And most campuses have black-and-white printers that students can use for free or very low cost. So students can likely make do without printers of their own.

But it is still a good idea to bring one — particularly because many can be had for cheap. A combination printer, scanner and fax runs about $100.

Other gadgets to consider

At about $1 or $2 per gigabyte, a USB "flash" drive can make it easy to carry files and data back and forth to class or to a printer.

To back up data and critical information, you may want to buy an external hard drive, which costs $50 to $100, or pay a monthly fee for a cloud service to keep important information backed up.

Also, most teens will want to listen to music stored on their computers or iPods, making speakers a consideration. iPod docks and room-size speakers both start around $30 but can run to hundreds of dollars.

Sales tax holiday

This year's back-to-school sales tax holiday is Friday to Sunday. For a list of what's tax exempt, go to

Helpful electronics for college students 08/10/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 4:30am]
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