2013 Back to School Gift Guide

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School will be starting again soon, which can only mean that it’s time to give the affected love ones in your life the tools they’ll need to survive another year in the jungle of academia, which we usually call back to school gifts. Of those students, perhaps none are facing a less enviable position than those entering their first year of college. Though those four (or five, or six) years will inevitably be some of the best of their lives, they are entering a whole new world that will initially scare and bewilder them.

Here are some gadgets and gear that no student should be without this school year.

Google Chromecast

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Fresh from our friends at Google comes what is destined to be one of the best gadgets of the year: the Chromecast. If you missed my write-up on it over at Gadget Teaser, the Chromecast allows you to stream certain popular programs from your PC and mobile devices (including Youtube and Netflix) to your TV wirelessly, with just the press of a button. Essentially, this turns your current TV into a smart TV with almost no set-up, and at a fraction of the cost. Simply put, everyone is going to want this, as evidenced by the significant waiting time it can take to get one.

Satechi 10-Port USB 3.0 Hub

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With gadgets now such a big part of our daily lives, most people don’t have enough vacant outlets in their home to plug them all into, which is where the Satechi 10-Port USB 3.0 Hub really comes in handy. As its name suggests, the hub features nine SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports and a 2.1A charging port on the side that’s strong enough to charge an iPad or comparable tablet. It’s compatible with a wide range of devices – including digital cameras, printers, external hard drives, keyboards, flash drives and smartphones – and can either be plugged into your PC or Mac, or directly into a wall outlet with the included power adapter. The USB ports are divided into sets of three, with separate on/off switches and blue indicator lights to let you know which ones are in use, and the hub itself doesn’t take up too much room on your desk (which is especially important for college students living in a dorm environment), providing a versatile and clutter-free solution to charging.

Satechi Smart LED Desk Lamp

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This is by far one of the sleekiest, coolest desk lamps we’ve ever tested, and it also happens to be incredibly eco-friendly and energy efficient, boasting a lifespan of over 40,000 hours and consuming only 1/8 the power of an incandescent light and 1/2 the power of a fluorescent light. The lamp is operated completely by touch control, with four different brightness modes – Reading, Study, Relaxation and Bedtime – each with varying ranges of color temperature, and a timer function that automatically turns off the lamp after one hour to help conserve energy. Additionally, you can further fine-tune each mode using the brightness up/down controls, and even charge a USB device simultaneously using the port in the back. Satechi’s Smart LED Desk Lamp also boasts a flexible, multi-pivot positioning system that allows you to adjust the height, angle and direction of the lamp to your specific needs. It’s a little costly at $100, but at that price, you won’t find many other desk lamps that reproduce natural light quite like this.

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SLAPPA M.A.S.K. Jedi Mind Trix Backpack Review

Just the Stats:

* Height – 20.5”

* Width – 14.0”

Depth – 12” to 14”

Made of 1680D Military Grade Ballistics Nylon that is puncture and waterproof

Customizable/interchangeable faces

A seemingly infinite amount of pockets and storage space

MSRP $139.00

In case you couldn’t gather from some of our previous reviews, the fine folks at SLAPPA have managed to win fans on this site with their high quality bags, gear and cases over the years. Now, since I’ve been using one backpack or another since my days of arranging 16-player “Halo” LAN parties in high school, when I found out that it would be my turn to review SLAPPA’s newest line of backpack, I was excited, but also curious. After all, I’ve been going through backpacks of various makes for years now, and while some have admittedly held up and performed better than others, I’ve never owned one that generates such prolific levels of praise, like the SLAPPA models seem to. I just couldn’t imagine how a simple backpack could be such a big deal. It’s appropriate, then, that this new line of backpack is called the M.A.S.K. Jedi Mind Trix, because this wasn’t the backpack I was looking for, or expecting.

No, what I got was something else entirely. To call this stylishly designed bundle that contains a mini galaxy of storage options a backpack doesn’t conjure the necessary image that you need to fully appreciate it. In fact, calling it a backpack almost insults the efforts of other, lesser manufacturers that sell a product called a backpack, because despite their well intentioned efforts, they have no way to compete with the Jedi Mind Trix.

What makes it so great? Well, first you have to start with the storage capacity. I loaded this thing up with my PlayStation 3, my laptop, all the cords and controllers for both, two bottles of water, my sunglasses, my copy of “Broom of the System,” a notebook, pens, my iPod, a set of DJ headphones, and a light jacket held by the Jedi Mind Trix’s new exterior carry straps. When I was done, I swear that the backpack laughed at me. There was still an inconceivable amount of free space left that I couldn’t imagine uses for. Even better, when I put the backpack on, I immediately found out why there is a price jump from the standard packs I had used over the years, and this one. Thanks to the design of the M.A.S.K., neither myself nor the backpack suffered from any strain due to the weight. Not only were my shoulders supported comfortably by the cushioned straps, but the padded SLAPPA logo on the back actually worked to ease my burden. Thanks to the incredible level of internal cushioning, I also took additional comfort in knowing that everything I had just put into the backpack was equally protected as well.

Besides the practical features, the SLAPPA models are also known for their incredible style, and this one is no exception. It features the same customizable face, linings and graphics options as the other models in the M.A.S.K. line, and in many respects reminds me of the wide range of customization options available for the Alienware line of computers. What I mean is, it uses its sense of style not as an excuse to raise the price point, but rather as a natural extension, or warning even, to the superior product that lies underneath.

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