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Gearing up for college - what you really need

Jun. 26, 2012 - 10:06AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 26, 2012 - 10:06AM  |  
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Do you really need an iPad for college? Is it better to skimp and go for a netbook, or should you invest in a top-flight laptop? Technology has become necessary for students heading to school, but it's easy to spend too much or buy overly elaborate or redundant gadgets. Our picks for getting your gear on a budget:

Laptop

You can get a fully serviceable PC laptop from a variety of makers for about $500; a Mac laptop will run you $1,000 or more. Netbooks cost $200 to $300 but have a bit less functionality (no DVD player, for instance).

An English major who plans only to type papers may be fine with a netbook, but an engineering student will need the juice a laptop provides. Film or art students likely will favor a Mac because Apple offers the best editing software.

Smartphone

These can be helpful educational tools, with alarm clocks, dictionary apps, apps for flash cards and much more. And they're getting less expensive thanks to prepaid data plans. Virgin Mobile, Sprint and T-Mobile offer prepaid plans that work out to $30 or $35 a month for unlimited talk, text and data — about half the monthly fee for a contract, as long as you buy the phone.

Printer

Many professors accept assignments by email — some even require electronic submission to facilitate plagiarism checks — and many campuses have printers that students can use, so you likely can make do without a printer of your own. But it's still a good idea to bring one, particularly because many can be had for cheap.

A combination printer, scanner and fax runs about $100.

Flash drive

At about $1 or $2 per gigabyte, a USB "flash" drive lets you easily to carry files and data back and forth to class or to a printer.

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