Back-to-school tech guide 2010

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

Hear that groaning? That's the sound of college students all over the country putting away their bathing suits and sunscreen and packing up their books and bags for another year of school.

As we do at this time every year, we've selected 10 highly useful gadgets -- along with some great Web apps and smartphone apps for iPhone and Android devices -- that will help get you through another year. Whether you're a student yourself or a relative looking for a going-away gift, you'll find something here to ease the transition to the vicissitudes of life on campus. Of course, these devices don't have to be used on a college campus -- 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 $200, portability's a good thing and appearance counts.

Most of our 2009 recommendations are still valid too. For instance, we have yet to find a better digital recorder than the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen. Rather than repeat ourselves, we would encourage you to check them out again and visit the vendors' Web sites to see if there are new or upgraded models this year.

Related story: Once all this tech gear is at school, students need to protect it. See "Tips for on-campus technology protection."

Logitech Wireless Presenter R400
Logitech Wireless Presenter R400

Presentation remote

Sooner or later in your college career, you're likely to find yourself in front of a room giving a presentation -- even high school students these days have to demonstrate their mastery of PowerPoint or Keynote. 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 $49.99, 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 auditorium.

Kensington SlimBlade Presenter Media Mouse
Kensington SlimBlade Presenter Media Mouse

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 ($79.99), 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.

Targus Multimedia Presentation Remote
Targus Multimedia Presentation Remote

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 ($69.99), 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 (99 cents). Keynote Remote does not work with Microsoft's PowerPoint presentation software.

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