These days students need more than text books and a new PE kit when they head back to school, college or university for a new year of education. Brand-new computers, peripherals and gadgets are a must-have too.

We've selected 9 essential products - along with some great web apps and smartphone apps for iPhone and Android - that will help get you through another year. Whether you're a student yourself or a relative looking to give a going-away gift, you'll find something here to ease the transition back to life on campus. Of course, these devices don't have to be used by students only - gadget lovers might find something useful for the office or road as well.

We focused on gadgets with an educational purpose, though we also included a few digital aids for college life in general. Our other criteria are that a device can't cost more than £150, portability's a good thing and appearance counts.

Presentation remote

Sooner or later in your school career, you're likely to find yourself in front of a room giving a presentation. To help it go smoothly, equip yourself with a presentation remote that lets you control your slides without leashing you to your computer. The three we like all have laser pointers, because what's the use of being able to walk around if you have to keep going over to the screen to point at something?

We like the look and feel of the Logitech Wireless Presenter R400. At £29.99, it has the basic forward and back buttons you need to step through your slides; the fact that the buttons are big and deep-set should make them easy to find in a darkened room.

A little more spend buys you not just forward and back buttons but the ability to control your cursor remotely and run any multimedia elements your presentation might include. The Kensington SlimBlade Presenter Media Mouse (£49.99.99), for example, is just a regular laser mouse with a scroll ball when resting on a table. Turn it over, though, and on the underside there are play/pause, skip track, and volume control buttons for multimedia. Slide the switch to presenter mode, and those same buttons now start and stop your presentation, advance through the slides and activate the laser pointer.

You can use the SlimBlade to control your computer's cursor during a presentation, but you have to put it on a surface like any other mouse. The Targus Multimedia Presentation Remote (£29.99), on the other hand, lets you play 'air mouse', moving your cursor from where you stand. In addition to the standard presentation control buttons, it also has a volume control. One nice touch: The USB receiver dongle nestles in the unit's battery compartment, making it harder to lose.

Note: If you make presentations using Keynote on a Mac, you can use your iPhone or iPod Touch to control presentations with Apple's Keynote Remote app (59p). Keynote Remote does not work with Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software.

NEXT PAGE: Multidevice charger

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

Multidevice charger

Everybody knows the pain of trying to find room in a power outlet for another mobile device charger, and when you have to share an outlet with roommates, the struggle gets even worse. What you need is a multi-unit charging device that can handle your phone, MP3 player, portable game system and so on while taking up only one plug.

A good choice is Callpod's Chargepod, a sort of power strip in its own right. With the proper cable adaptors, it can charge up to six devices at once while letting you stash your wall warts in the closet.

The Chargepod is available for £39.99 with the central unit, a travel case and three adaptors (mini USB, micro USB, and iPod/iPhone) plus a voucher for one more adaptor. The company claims that the unit will support more than 3,000 devices (though not a laptop or other 'large electronic devices') - check to make sure yours are on the list.

Slicker but more expensive is the Powermat. With the Powermat, you don't even need to plug your devices into the charger: You just lay them on the mat. (The mat has to be plugged into the wall, of course.)

The Home and Office Mat and the Portable Mat (which comes with a travel case) each cost £69.99 and can accommodate up to three devices at once. The truly pricey part, though, are the receiver cases you have to add to your devices to enable them to charge wirelessly. Those are available only for iPhones/iPods, BlackBerries and the Nintendo DS, and they cost £29.99 and up.

If you have a device for which there's no case (or don't want to spring for a case), you can use the Powercube receiver, a universal charger that sits on the Powermat and comes with both the mat models mentioned above. You plug your device into the Powercube using one of the eight included adaptor tips, from mini and micro USB to iPods and iPhones (additional tips are available at extra cost - £9.99 upwards).

Of course, if you're planning on using wired adaptors, you might want to just get a Chargepod.

NEXT PAGE: Docking station

  1. The gadgets student won't be able to do without
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

Docking station

Student housing isn't known for its spaciousness, and you'll often find yourself working at a small, cluttered desk. Toshiba's Dynadock V docking station (£84.99) eliminates some of that clutter and makes it easy to disconnect your laptop when you need to take it somewhere and reconnect it when you get back.

Sort of like a USB hub on steroids, the Dynadock connects to just about any laptop through a USB cable and provides four other USB ports, including one that stays on for charging portable devices even if the computer's asleep. But USB ports aren't the only connections the Dynadock provides. It also has a 10/100 Ethernet port, a microphone jack and a speaker/headphone jack. So you can leave all your peripherals, even your router, attached to the Dynadock and reconnect your laptop with a single cable.

On top of that, it comes with a built-in DisplayLink graphics card, which can support an external monitor at up to 1920x1080 resolution. That means you could get up to three screens going: the built-in laptop screen, an external monitor attached to the laptop and a third one attached to the Dynadock.

Note: the Dynadock officially supports laptops running Windows 7 (32 or 64bit), Vista SP1 (32 or 64bit) and XP SP2/SP3 (32bit). Mac users can download the DisplayLink driver from the vendor's site, but certain features might not work properly.

Mini-projector

Most of your presentations will be from your laptop, connected to projectors supplied by the school. But sometimes you just want to show a smaller group - whether a seminar or a group of friends - a slide show or a video without making them crowd around a computer.

For that, you can connect your digital video camera, iPod or iPhone to a personal portable projector like the Optoma PK100 Pico Pocket Projector (£199). Measuring just 2x4 in. and weighing only 4 oz (with battery), the DLP-based PK100 can project an image from 10in to 8.5 feet away at a size up to 59 inches.

The thing to know, though, is that it doesn't attach to your computer. It has a 2.5mm composite video/stereo jack and comes with a cable that connects to the standard yellow-red-white jacks from devices such as digital video cameras. An optional iPod connector kit lets you attach an iPod or iPhone via the dock and includes a spare battery.

NEXT PAGE: Laptop cooler

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps for students

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

Laptop cooler

Keeping your laptop from overheating is an important way to protect your most valuable (and expensive) academic tool, and that's where laptop coolers come in. We like the Targus Lap Chill Mat  (£19.99), which is thoughtfully constructed of cushiony neoprene with built-in rubber stops to hold your laptop. The wedge design lets you orient your computer the way you like. (Targus' photos show the laptop angled toward the user, but ergonomics experts would probably recommend angling it away.)

The Lap Chill Mat's two fans blow your laptop's excess heat out the side; another advantage of the open wedge design is that it gives the hot air someplace to go. Just make sure you get the Lap Chill Mat and not the plain-old Chill Mat, which is not as cushy and won't feel as comfortable in your lap.

Stored media player

You no doubt have hard drives filled with media of various sorts - music, movies, photos - but you don't always want to access them through your computer. It's nice to be able to watch your videos on a real TV or listen to your music through a decent stereo without running wires or dragging your laptop over to where the entertainment system is.

That's the purpose of the Seagate GoFlex TV HD media player (£99.99). It attaches to your TV and stereo (it works with an HDMI cable, as well as composite and component video) and lets you play anything on a USB storage device, controlling it with a remote through menus on the TV. Options include media on a hard drive, photos on a digital camera or video on a camcorder.

The TV HD is part of Seagate's newish GoFlex line of storage devices and has a built-in slot for one of the line's ultraportable drives. You can also add a Wi-Fi adaptor (£39.99) that enables you to stream media from your computer or the internet. With the adaptor, for example, you can watch YouTube on your TV.

NEXT PAGE: On-the-go hot spot

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps for students

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

On-the-go hot spot

Just a few years ago, finding a Wi-Fi signal could be a challenge, and there was a strong market for devices that could point you to one. Now, though, Wi-Fi hotspots are everywhere - you can get them for under £10 with built-in flashlights (tip: the flashlight won't help you find the Wi-Fi signal), or on key rings.

But when you find yourself out of hot-spot range and need internet access, what do you do? If you have a mobile phone with a 3G data plan, you can bring a mobile hot spot with you. What's more, you can share it with your friends.

Vodafone and Three both offer these palm-sized devices that lets you connect up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices at the same time. The devices are available as part of a mobile broadband package that also offers a dongle and data allowance of between 1 and 3GB per month. Prices range from £15 to £25 per month.

On the other hand, if you already have a mobile broadband dongle for your laptop (either ExpressCard or USB) plus a data plan, you can share that signal by plugging it into a Cradlepoint CTR500 Mobile Broadband Travel Router (£149.99). It accepts ExpressCard modems but requires an external power source. Both can be used with a wall or car adaptor and support up to 16 simultaneous users within a range of up to 150 feet.

All of these products include password protection with WEP/WPA/WPA2 encryption and are compatible with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi devices.

Digital photo frame

There are a lot of digital photo frames out there, so what makes the Kodak Pulse (£99.99) special? The fact that it's internet- and Wi-Fi-enabled and has its own email address. That means you can transfer photos to it from your computer wirelessly and send new photos to it from your mobile phone as soon as you take them. In addition, the Pulse has a USB port and two card slots for more standard ways of adding images.

Better, the connectivity options mean you can get photos from family and friends without having to do anything. You can also link the Pulse to your friends' Facebook profiles and receive new photos they upload. A digital photo frame that surprises you with new pictures - that's pretty special.

E-book reader

We're quite taken with Amazon's third-generation Kindle - not least because of its new price point. The new 6in Kindle comes in at a relatively modest £109 (£149.99 with 3G in addition to Wi-Fi), an amount conceivably within a student's budget.

We don't really need to explain the benefits of an e-reader: it gives you the ability to carry thousands of books in an 190x123x8.5mm, 241g package. The new model is easier to hold and use than the old one, and the display is brighter and crisper.

One alternative to a dedicated e-reader would, of course, be an Apple iPad; the several excellent e-book apps available make it a decent e-reader on top of its wireless web abilities. At £429 and up - way up - the iPad is definitely outside the range of our student budget. But we've noticed that the people who want an iPad want an iPad regardless. Who are we to stop them?

NEXT PAGE: Five indispensable web apps for students

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps for students

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

Five indispensable web apps for students

Web-based applications have three advantages that make them perfect for students: they're cheap or free, they're accessible from any computer, and they enable collaboration in a way that's clumsy or impossible with desktop apps. We've rounded up some of the best free web apps to support students in their work.

(We didn't bother with general run-your-life apps like Ta-da List, productivity suites like Google Docs or storage/sync tools like Dropbox. They would certainly be of great help to students, but not especially to students.)

BibMe
These days, a research paper might quote a website, a book, a film and a newspaper. Getting the bibliographic citations in the right format is the last thing you need to be spending time on when you're trying to finish a paper that's due the next day. Let BibMe take care of that. You just pick the type of source (book, magazine, website, etc) and enter the title, author, ISBN number, URL, director or whatever into the search field, and BibMe will likely find your particular reference. (If not, there's a manual-entry mode as well.) Review and correct the information, click Add To My Bibliography and watch the list of properly formatted citations grow.

Diigo
Diigo is a browser add-on that supports web research by letting you bookmark, highlight and annotate web pages. It's available as a toolbar for Firefox, Flock and Internet Explorer, an extension for Chrome and a bookmarklet for Safari and other browsers. Your notes are saved in your own personal Diigo library, so you can access them from any computer. Diigo also lets you archive entire web pages, saving them in both HTML and screenshot formats. You can add tags to bookmarks and saved pages to make them easy to find later, and make your library public or share it with a particular group.

NoteMesh
What student hasn't asked to borrow a classmate's lecture notes? NoteMesh makes that a simple process by providing a class-oriented wiki to which students can contribute, edit and comment on notes. Each course gets its own wiki page, and registered users can add, remove or change content as they wish, basically creating a custom Wikipedia entry for that class. And like Wikipedia, NoteMesh maintains a history of changes to a class notes page, so any problems can be corrected.

SparkNotes
Owned since 2001 by Barnes & Noble, SparkNotes can be described as a sort of online CliffsNotes. The idea is to help students through the rough patches when the usual resources aren't enough. The notes on literature cover everything from Angela's Ashes to Watership Down, in addition to the expected classics. There are also notes for films, chemistry, history, math and most other standard subjects.
The site's only real drawback is a ridiculously cluttered Flash- and ad-heavy interface. But once you hack your way through the visual underbrush to the actual notes, the information is solid. Just be forewarned: Professors are on to SparkNotes, so make sure you use it for assistance rather than wholesale copy-and-pasting.

Writeboard
Writeboard, from 37signals, the people responsible for Ta-da List and the information-sharing site Backpack http://backpackit.com/ , provides an online environment for brainstorming or collaborative writing - a virtual whiteboard, if you will. The site lets you create a basic text box with its own URL and invite others to work on it with you. Writeboard keeps track of who changed what and lets you compare two versions or revert to a previous copy. And that's pretty much it: a simple idea, well executed.

NEXT PAGE: 7 great smartphone apps for students

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps for students

Looking for a student's going-away gift or shopping for yourself? These highly useful gadgets and apps will ease the transition back to education.

Seven great smartphone apps for students

Students are often on the move, and their need for information resources and educational tools goes with them. Here we've collected seven great smartphone apps in five categories. (A couple of categories list separate iPhone and Android apps because a cross-platform app isn't available.)

Dictionary and thesaurus
The top dictionary and thesaurus site on the web, Dictionary.com, is also available in a portable version for iOS and Android. The iPhone version (free) claims nearly a million definitions and 90,000 synonyms and antonyms, and it works offline; the Android version (free), which requires an internet connection, claims more than 325,000 definitions and 300,000 synonyms and antonyms. We think that'll be more than enough in either case.

World reference
Quick, how many people live in Cambodia? What's the Italian national anthem? Answering questions like that will be no problem with Urbian's FactBook for Android devices or jDictionary Mobile's The World Factbook 2010 for the iPhone. Both rely heavily on data from the CIA World Factbook, packaging it nicely for mobile consumption. The iPhone version costs 59p; FactBook is free with ads.

Online capture-and-organise tool
Can you remember everything? Of course you can't, so let Evernote do it for you. Anything you can capture on your phone, or any other computing device, for that matter - photos, audio or text - can be uploaded to Evernote and tagged for easy searching later. You can sync your notes with the Evernote application on your PC or Mac and access notes created on your computer. Evernote is free on both Android and iPhone platforms, just as it is for PCs and Macs.

Scientific calculator
These days, you can leave the heavy maths lifting to your smartphone, which, with the right app, can even draw graphs. On the iPhone, we like Gabor Nagy's Graphing Calculator (£1.19), a full scientific calculator with trigonometric (and other) functions. It can create beautiful graphs, including polar graphs. You can take a screenshot of the graph and e-mail it to yourself for access off the phone. For Android, try the free, open-source Arity scientific calculator, which supports complex numbers and user-defined functions.

Textbook deal-finder
These previous apps will put lots of information on your smartphone, but you're still going to need books - good, old-fashioned paper (meaning expensive) books. SnapTell (free for both iPhone and Android) lets you use your phone to take a photo of a book (or DVD, CD or video game) and get ratings, descriptions and links to online stores. You can capture either the book's bar code or its cover, and SnapTell will be able to identify it. To find the cheapest source for your assigned reading, SnapTell is the way to go.

See also: Students' laptop and software buying guide

  1. Essential student gadgets
  2. Multidevice charger
  3. Docking station
  4. Laptop cooler
  5. On-the-go hot spot
  6. Five web apps for students
  7. Seven great smartphone apps for students