Back-to-school tech guide 2011

On campus or off, enhance college life with these 12 tech gadgets and accessories.

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E-book covers

You can't judge an e-book by its cover -- so let's just judge the cover. Tuff-Luv makes cases for iPads, laptops and other portable devices, but it's the company's folder-like covers for Kindle and Nook e-readers that caught our eye.

Tuff-Luv Eco-nique Natural Hemp cover
Tuff-Luv Eco-nique Natural Hemp cover for Kindle 3

We particularly like the Eco-nique covers made of hemp, both for their organic appearance and their appealing texture. Take, for example, the tastefully embroidered Eco-nique Natural Hemp Pistachio Green Case Cover For Amazon Kindle 3 ($52.99). Closed, it's a protective cover for your reader; open, it provides a document pocket for papers and a smaller windowed pocket for those scraps of paper students tend to collect with "notes to self," quick directions, or the digits of that fascinating person you met last night. A clasp holds the cover securely closed.

Tuff-Luv also features a flip-style cover for the Kindle that turns into a reading stand ($51.99) and a book-style cover for the Nook ($45.99). Other covers in other materials, including leather and vegetarian faux leather, are available for iPads, Sony Readers, and other portable devices at a range of prices.

Stop squinting

NuVue Anti-Glare Screen Protector
NuVue Anti-Glare Screen Protector for the iPad

Have you opted for an iPad instead of an e-reader? NewerTech makes a lot of iPad accessories, including plain and fancy screen protectors. Among the most useful is the NuVue Anti-Glare Screen Protector ($24.99 on the NewerTech website, less than $13 at various online retailers). Besides cutting down on glare for those sunny afternoons spent studying outside, this scratch-resistant shield also cuts down on smudges and, according to the company, improves gaming by reducing the screen's surface tension.

The peel-and-stick sheet stays on by static cling, not adhesive, making it easy to install without getting air bubbles. The Anti-Glare Screen Protector comes with a squeegee to smooth it out, a microfiber cleaning cloth and sticky sheets to remove that last bit of dust from the screen before applying.

If you want to make sure your classmates don't copy your work or read your e-mail, check out the NuVue Screen Protector with Privacy Shield ($39.99). This sheet has all the qualities of the Anti-Glare Protector (although it doesn't come with the accessories) but it also blocks the ability to see the screen from the side when it's held in portrait (vertical) orientation. It still permits viewing from any angle when the iPad is turned horizontally, though, meaning you can still share photos or presentations without difficulty.

Is that a speaker in your pocket?

Soundmatters FoxLv2 speaker system
The Soundmatters FoxLv2 speaker system

Looking at the Soundmatters FoxLv2 speaker system in all its 5.6-x-2.2-x-1.4-in. glory, you'd never expect it to sound as good as it does. But this little powerhouse can fill a dorm room or living room with full, detailed sound. The speaker moves so much air, in fact, that it comes with an anti-slip mat to make sure it doesn't vibrate itself right off your desk.

The foxLv2 contains a rechargeable battery that is rated to give up to 8 hours of music, and it can be recharged via a USB port as well as through the included AC wall adapter. (The AC adapter even comes with separate plugs for other countries' wall sockets.) The system has a 3.5mm jack (and comes with a cable) for connecting it to a computer or MP3 player; there's also an output jack for connecting it to a separate powered subwoofer, if you've got one.

That describes the basic $169 version. For $199, you get all that plus Bluetooth capability that connects the speaker to a phone automatically. This version also contains a microphone that turns the whole system into a speakerphone that will automatically switch functions if a call comes in while you're listening to music.

Clamp it down, lock it up

While laptop security cables can be thwarted by a determined thief with the right tools, it's still a good idea to use one to prevent grab-and-go thievery. Most of these cable locks are designed to be looped around something immovable, usually a fixed piece of furniture. But sometimes that's not available -- a desk, for example, might not be fastened to the floor, making it easy to slip a cable out from under the leg.

Griffin TechSafe Locking Security Clamp
Griffin's TechSafe Locking Security Clamp

The Griffin TechSafe Locking Security Clamp ($19.99) gives you something to attach your cable to when there's no immovable object handy. It works through a screw-down clamp and a ball that covers it: You screw the clamp tightly to your anchor point and thread your cable through the ball. Slide the ball up to the clamp and lock the cable to your laptop, and no one can unscrew the clamp until you release the cable.

The clamp works with any security cable, such as the Kensington model we recommended in our 2009 back-to-school guide. Currently out of stock, the TechSafe clamp should be available again by the end of August, according to a Griffin representative.

Griffin TechSafe Cable Lock
The TechSafe Cable Lock System, also from Griffin

Griffin also has a new take on the locking cable itself: the TechSafe Cable Lock System ($29.99). Rather than attaching the cable to a small hole on the side of your computer, you slide a hardened steel "LockBlade" through the hinge of the laptop. Affix the cable's 4-digit combination lock to the blade, and your laptop's secure, whether it's open or closed. (Note: The Cable Lock doesn't work with MacBook Airs.)

Another nice thing about the Griffin systems: The company will store your combination online. If you forget or misplace it (maybe it's in the pocket of your Tuff-Luv Kindle cover?), you can just log into the Griffin website to retrieve it.

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