12 got-to-have gadgets for today’s student

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Long gone are the days when a college student had only to worry about bringing a stereo and a mini-fridge to the dorm room. In these uber-connected days, students want cell phones, personal data assistants, gaming systems and laptops, and their demands are sometimes even stiffer than those of high-powered business executives.

“Students need things to collapse into a small area — that’s a handy feature for business people, but not a requirement,” explains CNET section editor Tom Merritt.

For 2005, the overall trend is toward multifunctional devices. “Music players have more calendaring functions and voice recorders, and PDAs (personal organizers) are packing in the ability to play MP3s (music files),” Merritt says. “Hybridization is hitting home with the college market.”

While outfitting a student with high-tech gadgets today costs almost as much as tuition, there are some devices worth the price. We’ve picked a few that merit a closer look.

PowerBook ($1,499)
The Apple laptop computer is an old favorite, but there’s good reason for its continued popularity: It’s light, powerful and well-designed. The new Tiger operating system is user-friendly and has clever features to make every project more efficient. A substantial hard drive means that students can store all of their papers, projects, music, games and e-mails with plenty of room to spare. And it’s already configured for easy, wireless Internet access. The PowerBook comes with your choice of 12-, 14- and 17-inch monitors. Another big bonus: As a Macintosh, it’s less susceptible to viruses than its counterparts.

IBM ThinkPad X41 ($2,399)
The sophisticated, feature-packed ThinkPad is a lightweight, highly functional laptop computer, appropriate for even the most technologically savvy student. Users can expect excellent performance from the ThinkPad, which is quick, powerful and has plenty of storage capacity. Another perk: It has an exceptional keyboard for a computer that is so slim. Its nearly indestructible shell ensures mishaps don’t render it useless, and a fingerprint-reader guarantees that no one but the intended user has access.

iPod ($299)
The trendy, ubiquitous music player is slickly designed and extremely easy to use. It’s also a cinch to use with the popular iTunes music downloading service. But more than that, the player can be used to download audio books, radio programs and other audio programs to help with language classes. With an optional recorder, the high-achieving student can record lectures for future listening. The 20-gigabyte model includes a color screen and allows owners to store 5,000 songs or 8,000 photos. Other features include a calendar, an alarm and games.

iAudio X5 portable multimedia player ($299)
Though iPods have hoarded the attention for music players, the iAudio X5 packs more features into its player for the same price. Its 20-gigabyte capacity holds 5,000 tunes and also includes an FM radio as well radio and voice recording — perfect for taping a lecture in class. Not limited to music, the player can also play videos and students will appreciate the 14-hour battery life.

WinBook PowerSpec MCE 410 ($999)

Space is at a premium for students who live in dorms, and the WinBook PowerSpec MCE 410 addresses this issue by doubling as an entertainment system. In addition to performing typical desktop computing duties, the system allows users to play and record TV shows, play videos, digital music and the radio.

T-Mobile Sidekick II phone ($299)
This do-it-all cell phone allows students to stay connected at all times. The system features a large color screen, calendar, and messaging and Internet tools. The QWERTY keyboard makes typing messages a snap. Users can also receive e-mail, take pictures with its flash camera, and talk hands-free. While most phones require a one- or two-year commitment, cash-poor students don’t have to lock into an expensive contract.

Dell Axim x50V ($450)
Keeping up with a full slate of classes, activities and extracurricular activities can be daunting without a good organizer. As cell phones integrate more calendar functions and bigger screens into their packages, it may be that personal organizers will head the way of the dinosaur, but the Dell Axim is a top-notch option for those wanting only a PDA. Users can store schedules, addresses and phone numbers, and set alarms to ensure never missing an appointment. It’s also got plenty of other bells and whistles, including a 3.7-inch screen, a wireless-ready system for connecting to the Internet, and 80-megabyte storage. The unit can also play music and DVDs.

Sony PlayStation Portable ($249)
Not every minute in college can be devoted to classes and studying, and the Sony PSP is the got-to-have gadget for portable gaming. From “MVP Baseball” to “Spider-Man 2,” users are treated to jaw-dropping graphics on its 4.3-inch display. Built-in stereo speakers provide good sound for games and for the digital music player. Users can also download favorite movies and TV shows to watch when a TV isn’t nearby. And its compact size, weighing in at just over half a pound, makes it easy to stash in a backpack or jacket pocket.

iRobot Roomba ($329)
For whatever the Roomba may lack in practicality, it makes up for in cleverness. You may never get a college student to use a vacuum cleaner, but the Roomba doesn’t require more than a touch of a button to clean any space. Not only does the intelligent cleaner avoid stairs, clean along walls, and sense dirtier areas, it even returns itself to its home base to recharge. If only it were so adept at calculus.

Sanyo EM-Z21000GS microwave oven ($130)
Students can’t count on the cafeteria to be open 24 hours a day for late-night study breaks, but this Sanyo microwave can pop a bag of popcorn, toast a bagel and for the more ambitious cook, grill a chicken breast. The multifunction unit, which allows users to forgo a toaster, has a turntable and a 0.8 cubic-foot interior, which is plenty for typical student-cooking requirements.

HP OfficeJet 5510 all-in-one printer, fax, scanner, copier ($185)
This device is perfect for printing out papers and resumes, scanning photos from the last spring-break trip and copying journal articles for that next research project. The inkjet printer can print up to 17 pages a minute and is compatible with both PCs and Macs.

Personal Web camera ($50 to $150)
What better gadget for the homesick — or lovesick — college student than a personal camera to attach to a laptop computer to stay in touch with the folks back home? These inexpensive devices are great for video phone calls and some can even be used as detachable digital cameras. For Windows users, the Logitech QuickCam for Notebooks Pro produces a sharp image even in low light, has exceptional focusing ability and comes with editing software. Prices range from $75 to $105. MacIntosh users should consider the Apple iSight personal Web cam, which is somewhat pricier than its Windows counterparts at $150.