So you decided to start the school year right by getting your tween a Kindle Fire and your teenager a Chromebook. Good for you. Unfortunately, you’re not done. You will need to get even more gear to make this stuff truly useful, and you’ll need to shop carefully to avoid breaking the bank. Here are some affordable essentials.
Computer backpack. If they’re going to haul a laptop or tablet to class, you’ll want a backpack with padded pockets that protect expensive electronics from the damage a tween or teen can inflict. You have plenty of options, ranging from Solo’s $50 Urban backpack to ECBC’s $120 Thor, will many stops in between.
Portable storage. A USB thumb drive makes it easy for your young scholar to shuttle copies of his digital work from school to home, and vice versa. (It’s also an easy place to store quick backups of important files from their mobile machines.) A basic drive like Sandisk’s 8GB Cruzer U lists for $20 (and usually costs a fraction of that at retail). Kingston’s 8GB DataTraveler Locker+, which uses encryption to protect files in case the drive is lost or stolen, costs just a few dollars more.
Backup charger. You give your kid a phone so she can text you when she needs a ride home. But it’s always dead because she used up the battery texting her friends. Avoid this fate (and yet another fight) by getting her a portable charger like the $50 MyCharge Jolt2000M, which offers 9 hours of battery life in a package that clips to her backpack, or the cigarette-lighter-sized Anker Second Generation Astro ($30), to ensure she’s never out of juice.
Voice recorder. Mobile apps like Smart Voice Recorder (Android) or Supernote (iOS) let your young scholars record lectures and other materials on their smart phones. Another awesome tool is the $150 Livescribe 3, a digital pen that records audio as you take handwritten notes on specially formatted paper. The coolest part? You can play back the recording from any point just by tapping on the appropriate written note on the page.
Printer/Scanner. Even in the digital age, some teachers still require homework to be delivered on dead trees. You’ll also need to make copies of school forms and your young prodigy’s artwork so you can share it with the grandfolks. A $150 multifunction device like Epson’s Workforce WF-3520 or the Brother MFC J870DW can do double (or triple) duty, combining a printer, scanner, copy machine and more in a box small enough to fit on a desk.
Cables. Lose your cables, and you can forget about charging or syncing those mobile devices. Skip this headache by supplying your kids with the $29 NomadKey, which attaches to a keychain and comes with a Lightning or micro-USB connector for attaching virtually any mobile device. Kero sells a similar product with a flexible 3-inch cable for $15 to $25.
Backup service. The modern version of ‘The dog ate my homework’ is ‘My computer died and nuked all my work.’ Cut that excuse off at the knees by setting up automated cloud-based backup. For example, Code 42’s CrashPlan is a super simple service that works backs up your Mac or Windows PC with a couple of clicks; plans start at $4 a month.