Your Must-Have Back-to-School Gadgets | By Zafir Kanji

Welcome back to school everyone! Breathe the fresh air and open your hearts to the excitement of unwrapping a crisp new textbook, creasing your soft leather Moleskine and writing the first word on the fresh paper with your sharp new pencil. But what about the satisfaction of pressing the power button on a sparkling new gadget and hearing the boot up sound for the first time? What about typing your name on a new computer or jabbing a screen to display a random goofy sentence? Aren’t those satisfying to people? Absolutely, but unfortunately before you bask in the enjoyment of new toys, you’ve got to get the right one. This week is all about new. New laptops, phones, and tablets -hopefully everything you need to stuff your go-bag and prepare for the extremes of campus.


THE ESSENTIAL: A.K.A the Facebooking tweeting redditing youtubing browser

This line of laptops is what you would get if all you wanted to do was browse the millions of social networks  and news sites, while listening to a YouTube playlist, while working on your essay. These are generally (I don’t want to use the word heavy because that’s such a subjective term) perfect for the aspiring bodybuilder (just kidding). They aren’t as light or as thin as Ultra book or MacBook Airs but are generally well suited for the average student who spends more of their time interacting with real humans as opposed to entrenched in the deep dark depths of the net. If you are not interested in port forwarding, increasing your FPS in COD, Crysis or WOW, animation, digital imaging, making the most of a high resolution screen or coding the next Skynet then this may be the category to look into. Also if you understood nothing or very little from that list, consider yourself a member of this category as well.

While there are many laptops out there you should know most of them have almost identical specifications:

– An older dual-core processor

– Between 2-4GB of RAM

– Between 320-500GB of hard drive space

– A 15.6 inch screen with a low resolution like 1366×768 pixels

If these sound acceptable to you then I recommend checking out Walmart or Memory Express for some great deals. This line of laptops will generally cost you around $350-$450 and they will be made by Acer, Asus, HP, Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba (this is not exhaustive but quite encompassing).

THE STANDARD ISSUE: A.K.A Hey-nice-laptop-I’ve-got-the-same-one

These guys offer a variety of new features but are more or less the average person’s computer. They will probably play the games you like, whizz through internet sites and allow you to edit image/video files. It is a very capable line and is probably what most of you already have. These probably won’t look super sexy but have everything else you will need. I honestly don’t see a reason to lay down some cash for anything above this category unless you have very specific needs. This is the category in which we see the appearance of Apple computers, via the MacBook Air and non-Retina MacBook Pros holding up the higher end of the spectrum. This is a very wide area and the prices range from $500-$1400. You can see laptops from Samsung and Lenovo really shine in here and those are always brands I recommend. The common specifications for this category are:

– A newer quad-core processor

– 6GB+ of RAM

– 750GB – 1 TB of hard drive space

– An 11”- 17” screen with at least a 1600-900 pixel resolution

Like I mentioned before this is the type of laptop I recommend most students. Some examples include the Lenovo IdeaPad line, the Samsung Series 7, the MacBook Airs, non-Retina MacBook Pros, Dell Inspiron series, HP Dv or M series. I would also include the Ultra books in this category as their specifications are rarely stellar but they do provide a convenience for students in their size.

THE POWERHOUSE: A.K.A Kratos’ twin brother with an unquenchable need for speed through Arkham Asylum on route to Azeroth.

These bad boys are for the gamers and super high-performance enthusiasts. Unless you’re a hardcore gamer, or someone with cash to burn, I don’t recommend these often $2500+ machines to most people. You will get the top of the line everything, a state-of-the-art can of whoop ass and a gradual increase in bicep size from lugging this machine around. They will fly through internet pages faster than you can even think of what to surf next, all while playing a high definition 1080p movie, rendering a 3D animation and preparing dinner for the next week. There isn’t much to say about these other than they are a niche product and if you are looking at getting your feet wet in the world of gaming and enjoy a crisp screen from time to time, turn around and please see the Standard Issue. 

Typical specifications include:

– The top-of-the-line “Extreme” edition processor

– 12GB+ of RAM

– 1 TB of hard drive space or a couple of solid state drives in a RAID 0

– 17” screen with a 1080p resolution

If you are interested in these laptops check out Alienware, Sager, and the Asus G series.

Photograph by Jayce Van Der Linden


There isn’t a lot to say about tablets except that you have about a handful of choices.

– The iPad – hands down the most popular tablet on the market. Apple has been able to foster a community like no other and as such the applications that are available for the iPad often have no Android or Windows counterpart. If you have an Apple product already or are looking for a product that has a great developer base which includes support for major textbook manufacturers and Microsoft than this is the way to go. I highly suggest holding out however until after Apple announces their rumored iPad Mini, in case some of you might want this tablet in a smaller form factor.

– Android – when it comes to Android tablets I strongly suggest staying in the Nexus line and checking out the Nexus 7. It is Google’s first generation tablet and comes with a pure Android Jelly Bean experience. It is also $199 and allows you to enjoy movies, music, videos, Netflix, games, books, magazines and many other apps with great results.

– Microsoft Surface – Microsoft recently unveiled its new Surface tablet which will be released in October. The Surface will run the new Windows 8 and will allow users to experience a full desktop operating system on a tablet. This is really a lot like a tablet as it has USB ports, a solid state drive and a keyboard built into its case. Pricing has not been released but this is one to watch out for, if you are interested in a secondary computer or even a laptop replacement. Many of Microsoft’s partners including Lenovo, HP and Acer will be releasing their own tablets to run Windows 8, making October a very exciting month.


Like tablets there are only a few choices here. Android users, the Samsung Galaxy S III is the king of the hill right now. It comes with Jelly Bean, a 4.8” super AMOLED screen along with many Samsung improvements that actually are useful. If you prefer a more pure experience the Galaxy Nexus is the way to go. It features a vanilla Jelly Bean experience on a 4.6” super AMOLED screen, with 16GB on onboard storage, NFC capabilities, a 5 megapixel camera, a 2 mega pixel front-facing camera and a dual core processor.

For Apple lovers, I strongly suggest hanging in there for another week as Apple is going to announce the iPhone 5 on September 12. There are many rumors out and about but seeing as how there aren’t any solid facts I won’t go into them here. Anyways if you are interested, tune into Apple’s unveiling ceremony for more details.

Windows phone users, definitely hold on until October 26 when Microsoft unveils Windows Phone 8 and the phones supporting that version will go on sale. It’s important to wait because Windows 8 will not be backwards compatible with previous Windows Phones.

So really buy an Android or a flip phone if you don’t want to do that, it’s the waiting game then.

Thank you all for reading this week’s long article. I hope it helped a little in your decision making process! If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a comment and I’ll see you next week!

Photographs by Jayce Van Der Linden.

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  • Adam Gabert

    The Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Nexus don’t have the Jelly Bean 4.1 OS.