We look at some of the hardware and software that can make a difference to a student's life at college
Going to university can be difficult, what with the change in scene and the demands of academic life. We are going to examine some technology that can help people get through it.
The PC brigade
A smartphone will allow email and simple web access but for serious work, a desktop or laptop PC with a keyboard is a must.
A tablet computer will be portable but working on it will be a pain and for those on technical courses the required programs may not be available.
Desktop computers are still good value. You get more performance for your money than with a laptop but the desktop PC isn’t portable.
Small ‘netbook’ laptops (£250 or less) are less powerful than bigger models, but are fine for word processing, particularly when used with a separate keyboard and mouse.
Larger laptops are more powerful and good for watching video and DVDs. Those who need to run specialist software may need a more expensive PC with a large screen, but these aren’t as portable. Thin, light and powerful PCs are available, such as the Samsung Series 9, but cost around £1,000.
Most students spend the majority of their computing time glued to the keyboard, so ensure you invest in one that stands up to the rigours, has good, well-spaced keys with a pleasant action, and which isn’t flimsy.
Laptop users can buy an external monitor into which they plug the PC when at home. This can be quite thin so it doesn’t take much space and may even double as a TV or a screen for a games console.
A small voice recorder can be handy, but typing up notes can be a chore – alternatively many phones, tablets and even laptops can be used to record lectures. See below for how to do this using Onenote or Evernote.
For printing, a good-value multi-function device (which includes a scanner) should have low costs for replacement ink, which show ink value. A laser printer is often better value but cheaper laser models don’t print in colour, or print photographs well.
If funds don’t stretch to a new PC, consider an older one running Linux. This free operating system works well on older PCs. You won’t be able to run the same programs as Windows PC users but many equivalents are available free, and if you’re on a technical course you may find that Linux is better suited to the course.
There are some great deals for students on Windows and Microsoft Office, the standard software for word processing and other ‘office’ tasks. Adobe, Corel and other software companies also offer discounts. Otherwise, consider the free Libre Office, which will read and write Microsoft Office documents. Google Docs is available to anyone with a Google account.
Microsoft Office Home and Student also includes Onenote, a notetaking program. It’s great for lectures and talks, including audio. Similarly, Livescribe Echo is a ‘smart pen’ that records audio and writing (£160).
Those who have trouble organising work might find time-management software helps. The free Klok Personal Time Tracker shows what you’ve been working on, while Task Coach keeps your to-do list in order. Evernote can be great for clipping items to read and work on later, and mind-mapping software can help you master a project. Mind Manager is cheap for students.
Students are sometimes the equivalent of family technical support, so if you need to provide support from afar, Teamviewer allows you to connect to and control a remote PC. And for more general communication, Skype is great for audio and video chat (most laptops, smartphones and tablets have cameras for video). Both are free.
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