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.

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Multidevice charger

Everybody knows the pain of trying to find room on a power strip for yet 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.

Callpod Chargepod multidevice charger
Callpod Chargepod multidevice charger

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

The Chargepod is available for $49.95 with the central unit, a travel case and three adapters (mini USB, micro USB, and iPod/iPhone) plus a voucher for one more adapter; $59.95 gets the same package with a voucher for three additional adapters. 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.)

Powermat wireless charger
Powermat wireless charger

The Home and Office Mat and the Portable Mat (which comes with a travel case) each cost $99.99 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 adapter tips, from mini and micro USB to iPods and iPhones (additional tips are available at extra cost -- $6.49 to $8.49 each).

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

Docking station

Student housing, whether in the dorms or in cheap apartments, isn't known for its spaciousness, and you'll often find yourself working at a small, cluttered desk. Toshiba's Dynadock V docking station (list price $119.99, currently on sale for $79.99) 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.

Toshiba Dynadock V docking station
Toshiba Dynadock V docking station

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 1920-by-1080 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 64-bit), Vista SP1 (32- or 64-bit) and XP SP2/SP3 (32-bit). Mac users can download the DisplayLink driver from the vendor's site, but certain features might not work properly.

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