What’s on top of the school supply list this year? It isn’t T-shirts and tennis shoes. It’s the other T, for mobile tech.
Kids as young as elementary age are looking for smartphone upgrades, while the college set is sussing out the explosion in tablets, said Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting and research firm Customer Growth Partners in New Canaan, Conn.
“The single most important thing is the acceleration of technology for back to school. Kids don’t get excited about a new lunch box these days, or a new backpack. Cool means technology,” he said.
Back-to-school tech also means tablets. Once hallowed Apple ground, iPad 2 competitors are everywhere. Apple is still the big kid, but Android technology is in pursuit.
Microsoft slashed the price of its Surface RT tablet by $150 in July as it fights to increase its tiny share of the booming tablet market. The cut brings the price of the Surface RT with 32 gigabytes of memory to $349 without a cover, which also acts as a keyboard. Including a cover with a touch-sensitive keyboard, the device comes to $449. The Surface has a 10.1-inch screen measured diagonally.
In addition to the iPad 2, tech analyst Andrea Smith suggests the 10-inch Toshiba Thrive (starting at $430) for back to school. It runs on Android, has two USB ports and an SD card reader. The new TouchPad (starting at $500) by Hewlett-Packard, runs on webOS, has a 9.7-inch screen and touts easy multitasking among open apps.
For analyst Natali Morris, iPad 2 (starting at $500) “really is the only tablet on the market that kids are coveting,” though she added that some Android technology is good for note-taking and syncing.
Tablets are cool, but are they practical for actual schoolwork? That might have everything to do with the popularity of bluetooth-enabled keyboard add-ons, including the new one Smith and Morris like from Logitech, with a case that easily turns into a tablet stand. Toshiba has a keyboard, too, also sold separately.
Morris’ picks for student laptops: MacBook Air with an 11- or 13-inch screen (starting at $1,000 and $1,300, respectively). They weigh as little as 2.3 pounds and boot up in about five seconds, she said. Those features are good for students moving from class to class.
Going head to head with MacBook Air for PC-prone students is the sleek new Samsung Series 9 (starting at $1,650), Morris said. It’s light, boots Windows in 20 seconds and offers 160-degree viewing for group work.
While not as powerful or versatile as tablets and laptops, high functionality — like highlighting and touchscreens — are coming to e-readers. “All of the features are out now or in the process of coming out,” Johnson said.
The Amazon Kindle is an e-book readers that comes in a series designed and marketed by Amazon.com. Users can shop for, download, browse and read e-books, magazines, newspapers and other digital media with the device.
The new Nook ($139) from Barnes & Noble has a six-inch touchscreen and crisp, clear print for reading in bright light. It also has received praise for long battery life.
MORE COOL FROM THE SUPPLY LIST
Post-It Flag Pen
This highlighter-pen combo comes with room for 50 color-coordinated flags on a shirt clip. You can find it at various stores that sell office supplies. It’s sold solo ($3.99 on Amazon.com) and in a three-pack ($7.55 on Amazon.com).
Crayola DryErase Crayons
An alternative to white-board markers, these dry-erase crayons ($5.04 on Amazon.com) come with an eraser mitt.
Azuna 3D Notebooks
Azuna 3D technology adds a new dimension to notebook covers (one-subject notebook $2.99, only at Staples).