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2014 Back to School Gift Guide


The new school year will be starting soon (and it likely already has for some people), which means that it’s time to get those students in your life the tools they’ll need in order to survive the next nine months. No, we’re not talking about boring stuff like pencils and notebooks, but rather the cool gadgets and gear that will make dorm life a little more enjoyable. Here are some great gift ideas that no student should be without.

For Your Room:

Grace Digital Primo Wi-Fi Internet Radio Streamer


Internet radio has become all the rage these days, and although you can listen to a lot of stuff on your computer or smartphone, we really dig this wireless music receiver from Grace Digital, which delivers access to over 50,000 stations, podcasts and on-demand content from all over the world with a user-friendly interface. Whether you’re listening to local stations, shows from other countries or cultivated playlists on Pandora, the Primo has everything you could possibly want… except for an integrated speaker, which is a little weird considering that one was included on previous models. With that said, it does make the device more compact, and there’s an AC power jack for headphones and an RCA line out to connect to your personal sound system. The unit itself is also smartly designed, with a 3.5-inch color LCD screen that makes finding what you want a breeze – from dedicated icons for Pandora, iHeartRadio and SiriusXM, to the ability to search for stations by categories like location and genre – as well as eight one-button presets (with the option to store 100 additional stations) and thumbs up/down and skip functionality for Pandora users. Heck, you can even view the weather or use it as an alarm clock, making the Grace Digital Primo the perfect addition to any work desk.

Roku 3


If you’ve never heard of Roku, chances are that you’re living under a rock, because much like how TiVo spearheaded the DVR explosion, Roku has been at the forefront of the streaming media movement since its little black box debuted in 2008. In those six years, Roku has quickly become one of the best and most popular devices on the market, with the Roku 3 serving as the premium model in the company’s line of set-top boxes. One of the biggest reasons why the brand has continued to prosper is just how easy their products are to use, and the Roku 3 improves that experience with a processor that’s five times faster and an extended wireless range to ensure you have the best possible connection when accessing the 1,000-plus entertainment channels like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and Pandora. And if you already own a Roku, now’s the time to upgrade, because the Roku 3 comes fully loaded with 1080p video, dual-band wireless, an Ethernet port and a USB port to stream your music, movies and photos. The included remote also comes equipped with a headphone jack and headphones for private listening, so you won’t have to worry about disturbing your roommate’s studying with episodes of “Orange is the New Black.”

D-Link Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera


Monitor and protect what matters most in your dorm room with this pan-and-tilt camera (available at RadioShack that offers around-the-clock surveillance from a variety of angles. The infrared-cut filter automatically sharpens images during the day and uses IR LEDs for enhanced night vision up to 15 feet, so you’ll never miss a thing, especially when connected to your mobile device using the free-to-download D-Link app. Though it would have been nice if they had included the option to record and upload video to a server, the camera does have some other nice features, including 4x digital zoom, a built-in microphone with good sound quality, and a Wi-Fi extender to increase wireless coverage for adding more cameras, like when you finally move out of the dorms into a big house on campus. We also love the fact that it has sound and motion detection that will notify you via automatic email alerts whenever it’s set off, although if you have roommates, that could prove to be more annoying than helpful.

Frigidaire Freestanding Compact Refrigerator


Some students are lucky enough to have a mini fridge provided to them by their university, but for those that don’t, it’s really a must-have appliance for any dorm room, and this Frigidaire model (available at Lowe’s) not only looks great, but gives you good value for your money. In addition to offering 4.5 cubic feet of storage space and a separate, full-width freezer compartment, the mini fridge also provides: 2 SpaceWise glass shelves that adjust easily to create more space for taller items; a fixed can dispense rack for keeping (ahem) cold beverages in a convenient area on the door; a Store-More crisper drawer to keep fruits and veggies fresh; and three door shelves for optimal organization. And for those worried about roommates raiding their fridge for a late-night pick-me-up, it even includes a lock with a pop-out key that automatically ejects after locking the door. We’d like to think it would never come to that, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when dealing with those hard-to-find snacks that mom and dad shipped to you in your monthly care package.

For Your Phone:

Sol Republic DECK Wireless Speaker


We’ve tested a lot of wireless speakers over the past few years and the Sol Republic DECK is one of our favorites, both in design and functionality. Powered by R2 Sound Engines that deliver bigger sound than expected from such a compact speaker, the DECK also features 360-degree sound that projects at every angle (so everyone gets the same experience no matter where they are in the room) and has a 300-foot wireless range that allows you to take your smartphone on the go without the music cutting out. Planning on chilling out in your campus quad? No problem. Just hit the Outdoor Mode button for a boost in sound, or daisy chain multiple DECKs together for larger gatherings. The DECK also comes with Stereo Out/In jacks and doubles as a speakerphone, but the coolest feature is Heist Mode, which lets up to five people pair their mobile device to a single DECK and take turns controlling the music like a game of musical DJs, complete with colored lights that indicate when someone else has assumed command.

Kodak PIXPRO SL10 16MP Smart Lens Camera


Smartphone cameras are useful for snapping quick photos, but for those that want higher quality pictures without having to carry around an additional camera, the Kodak PIXPRO SL10 (available at RadioShack is a cool accessory that attaches to your device using flip-out grip clips that expand to fit most smartphones. Boasting a 16-megapixel BSi CMOS sensor, 10x optical zoom and 28mm wide-angle lens, the SL10 allows you to capture crisp photos and 1080p HD video, and includes features like Optical Image Stabilization and Continuous Shot Burst Mode to ensure you never miss a moment. The camera connects to your iOS or Android device via Wi-Fi and NFC and uses a free, downloadable app that turns your phone’s screen into a viewfinder and lets you control all functions. Though it’s not without its flaws (the most notable being the brief delay when taking a picture through the app versus using the button on the actual camera), the KODAK PIXPRO SL10 provides a less bulky alternative for photography buffs that don’t want to be forced to choose between quality and convenience.

For Your Car:

Automatic Smart Driving Assistant


Whether you’re a super-busy soccer mom or a penny-pinching college student, we all want to get the most out of our cars, and the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant can help you become a more economical driver for less than $100. The easy-to-install device plugs right into your car’s data port and links to your phone via Bluetooth, offering you immediate feedback on things like rough braking, speeding (10 MPH over the limit) and rapid acceleration, all of which can guzzle gas faster than normal. At the end of each week, the paired mobile app assigns you a Drive Score designed to help you improve, and you can even look back through your Trip Timeline to see the actual MPGs and net gas cost for each trip. But what makes the Automatic especially cool are the added features beyond those meant to help break bad driving habits. The Crash Alert feature detects when you’re in a serious accident, alerting 911 and sending a text message to loved ones; the Engine Health feature lets you know why the “Check Engine” light is on and allows you to clear it without going to a mechanic; and since the device is connected to your car, you’ll always know where you parked. Granted, you have to keep the app open at all times to benefit from these features, but that’s a minor annoyance for such a valuable tool.

Cobra JumPack


There are plenty of options out there for charging your mobile devices on the go, but the Cobra JumPack is unique in that it not only recharges smartphones, tablets and other electronics with a USB port, but can also jump start your car using the included cables. With a starting current of 200A and a peak current of 400A, the Cobra JumPack has enough power to jump start most cars multiple times on a single charge, which means that you don’t have to worry about waiting around for AAA or begging some complete stranger to help you out the old fashioned way. The portable power pack also contains a 7,500 mAh battery for charging mobile devices and a built-in LED flashlight with a strobe and SOS function for emergency situations. The Cobra JumPack is a little more expensive than your typical power bank, but then again, there’s nothing typical about this device, and the extra cost is worth it for the added peace of mind.