Skip the navigation

Back-to-school tech guide 2010

By Jake Widman
August 18, 2010 06:00 AM ET
Optoma PK100 Pico Pocket Projector
Optoma PK100 Pico Pocket Projector

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 (listed at $159.99, but often available for less). Measuring just 2 in. by 4 in. and weighing only 4 oz. (with battery), the DLP-based PK100 can project an image from 10 inches 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 ($39.99) lets you attach an iPod or iPhone via the dock and includes a spare battery.

Laptop cooler

Targus Lap Chill Mat laptop cooler
Targus Lap Chill Mat 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 ($39.99), 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.

Next gadget: Seagate GoFlex TV HD media player

7 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 with ads, $1.99 without) 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 99 cents; FactBook is free with ads or $2.99 without.
  • Online capture-and-organize 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 math lifting to your smartphone, which, with the right app, can even draw graphs. On the iPhone, we like Gabor Nagy's Graphing Calculator ($1.99), 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.


Our Commenting Policies