Tech tools for
By Mark Saltzman
NOT LONG AGO, a pocket calculator was all the gadgetry a student required. But today, high-tech tools
such as an Internet-connected computer are a necessity rather than a luxury. And handheld devices, PC
peripherals and clever software packages can help students gain an edge—or at least have a little fun to offset the rigors of academic life.
Here are a few must-have gadgets for a successful
It all starts with a computer. Small, lightweight
and wireless, a notebook (laptop) computer is ideal
because students can carry it to and from the classroom, lecture hall or library. Most have integrated
Wi-Fi connectivity, which means you can surf the Net
wirelessly at high speeds in a “hot spot,” such as at
school, home, a café, public library or airport. Look
for a dual-core processor for fast speeds and smoother
multitasking, a long-lasting battery, integrated DVD
burner and multiple USB ports.
Laptop-toting students need to protect their
investment, but the good news is that it needn’t be a
daunting (or expensive) endeavor. For example,
Kensington’s award-winning locks can serve as a visible deterrent to a would-be thief; a steel cable is connected to a small security slot on the laptop, usually at
the side or back, and tethered to a large or heavy
object, such as a desk at the library.
Another option is Lojack, a software and service
program that will contact the security center with a
stolen laptop’s whereabouts the moment it is connected to the Internet. Subscriptions are available on
an annual basis.
Wireless mice, keyboards
The latest computer mice and keyboards are
completely wireless, allowing a stressed-out student to
kick back in a chair to make homework a more comfortable experience. Most of these keyboards now
offer a number of “hot keys” with one-touch access to
the Web, e-mail, instant-messaging programs and volume control for your favorite tunes.
Music players, USB drives
Nothing beats listening to your favorite songs
while not in class. But another reason why music players are ideal for students is because most players with
hard drives and flash memory can also store data—
such as Word and Excel files, PowerPoint presentations,
important e-mail and offline Web pages—so you can
easily transport data from one PC to another.
Some MP3 players also let you record lectures
with a built-in microphone.
External hard drives
An external hard drive is critical to back up
your schoolwork and other important files. These
paperback-size devices simply plug into a computer’s USB port. The good news is prices have
dropped considerably while capacity is on the
rise. It’s not expensive to buy a 500 GB external
drive that can store about 440 days’ worth of
MP3 music or millions of documents.
Digital pens and scanners
Students who still prefer to take
notes during class instead of typing into
a laptop or tapping a PDA screen can
have the best of both worlds. High-tech
digital pens capture your handwriting and
drawings and store them directly onto your
computer. The handwritten notes can be transcribed into text. Another high-tech pen acts like a
highlighter, scanning selected text into the computer.
A printer is a necessity for essays and book reports
or to archive research from the Web. But an all-in-one
product that can print, scan and copy (and sometimes
fax) is a great way to save space and money. Some
models include integrated Wi-Fi to wirelessly join a
dorm room’s network (so multiple computers can
print within range) or Bluetooth wireless technology
to print photos from a camera phone.
Why pay for long-distance conversations when
you can chat free over the Internet—and with video?
Kids away at college can stay in touch with an affordable Web camera (“webcam”), offering smooth
video quality, built-in microphone and the ability to
snap still photos.
A compact stereo system can be placed just about
anywhere you want to enjoy your tunes without ear
buds, and it will likely recharge your portable player in
the process. A few speaker docks can be used while on
the go, such as at the park or beach, if they offer
optional battery power. Make sure the speaker dock
you buy fits your MP3 player. C
electronics or computers
you purchased at
Costco? Send them to:
The Costco Connection
P.O. Box 34088
Seattle, WA 98124-1088
Or fax to (425) 313-6718,
or e-mail to
in the subject line. Marc
will answer selected ques-
tions in this column. We
regret that unpublished
questions cannot be
The Costco Connection
Costco carries laptops and accessories, printers and
other high-tech tools for students mentioned here
in the warehouses and online at costco.com. Many
electronics at Costco are backed by free technical
support through Costco Concierge services.
a leading high-tech
reporter, contributes to
more than three dozen
prominent publications, appears on radio
and TV, and is the
author of 14 books.