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Imagine a darker age when students had to use the archaic pen and the notebook — a tool some may remember as the descendant of the scroll before it was made obsolete — and had to use “cassettes” in a “tape player” to listen to music they actually paid for. While these times have passed, it was a difficult era in which to be a student.

While things haven’t really changed to the point where pen and paper are considered obsolete tools (heck, I have an entire cardboard box devoted to notepads), things definitely have changed. If you look around a lecture hall now, you’re likely to see at least half the students tapping away on laptops (whether they’re taking notes or hanging out on Facebook is another story) or fiddling with a phone or PDA. Technology has become an integral part of getting the most out of education. To that end, here are ten gadgets we here at Lifehack thought were pretty cool and practical for students.

1. Acer Aspire One

The Acer Aspire One is the functional netbook that recently demantled the EeePC as the top seller in its market. This laptop has a 1.6Ghz processor and can fit a maximum of 1.5Gb RAM. It’s certainly no video editor or gaming machine, but it is small and has a lasting battery. Since the thing has to sit on those tiny, all-too-knockable lecture hall desks and last for several classes at a time, this machine — and many like it — are excellent choices for students.

2. Macbook Pro

It would be silly to mention a netbook and leave out a more powerful laptop, especially when many students are working areas that require some considerable grunt — multimedia and graphics, video, and audio might demand something like the Macbook Pro. This is a variable depending on your university or college, but from what I’ve seen most institutions dealing with these areas are running OS X and that makes the Macbook Pro a great choice. It’s got the grunt, it’s portable enough without making big sacrifices, and most importantly, it will be compatible with anything a Mac-based department throws at you. Also, solid aluminum enclosures look awesome.

3. Fujifilm FinePix S1000

Cameras are inherently useful. Take images of whiteboards and anything else you might want to remember later. For instance, in an audio engineering class, I took 30 or 40 pictures of various recommended microphone setups as they were demonstrated, and still have them for reference should I ever forget how an upright piano or trombone is done. The Fujifilm FinePix S1000 is a good choice because it’s a fairly affordable device, and can still capture the quality you’ll want for solid reference later on at 10 megapixels and 12x optical zoom.

4. iPhone

I had to grapple with this one a little. It might seem like trend-following, and I didn’t want to be too biased to Apple — but after almost ten years using Windows Mobile, I couldn’t recommend it to anyone and still feel good in the morning. The iPhone is an excellent phone and PDA and comes in handy when you’d least expect it, especially once it’s fitted with the right apps. I’ve got task lists, notes from conversations, a library’s worth of good sci-fi books, even a piano, WordPress and a guitar tuner on the thing. Excellent for capturing the many bits of information you’ll need to capture throughout each day without lugging out a laptop. Oh, and it has Facebook too, if you’re so inclined.

5. Alarm Clock

You will sleep through an exam one day, or at least sleep through the bus that takes you there. It won’t be a fun day. Make sure you’ve got an alarm clock before you learn your lesson the hard way. Since bacon is so great, I recommend this alarm clock, but as it’s not on the market you might just want to go shopping and see which one at Kmart is the loudest.

6. C-Pen

The C-Pen book scanner is a great investment, both of money and time. It’s a great investment of your time because, since you’ll be reading your course books anyway, it takes no extra effort to use the pen scanner at the same time. Then when you need to get a quote from the book twenty minutes before the paper is due, you can search the text on your computer instead of wasting time looking manually, and simply copy and paste the quote. You’ll also have digital copies of your texts for years to come.

7. MP3 Player with Voice Recorder

If you get a bad cramp trying to take notes as fast as your instructors speak, stop grimacing and get one of these devices. An MP3 player with a built-in voice recorder will allow you to sit back, record the lecture and focus on listening instead of keeping up, with the added bonus of providing musical entertainment when you’re not in a lecture. The Creative Zen Mosaic is an affordable option.

8. Flash Drive

Flash drives don’t provide a whole lot of space, but they are useful in a pinch. You never know when you’ll need to whip one out and grab something from a friend’s laptop. You can also load a flash drive up with portable apps so you have access to Firefox, OpenOffice and other handy tools no matter where you are. And while you’re at it, there’s no harm in going for one of the smallest flash drives available just for fun — but don’t lose it!

9. Multifunction Printer

Despite the rapid changes in the way technology is used on-campus, sometimes you still need to hand in an assignment on paper. Chances are, that’ll be the day when the library printer is broken. Don’t risk anything and make sure you have a multifunction printer at home. Since the price of multifunctions has dropped so low, you may as well grab one instead of a somewhat cheaper single-purpose printer, since a scanner and (decreasingly) fax machine can often come in handy as well. HP makes some good devices that don’t cost much.

10. LaCie Rugged Hard Disk

Flash drives are useful, but as I said, they don’t offer much in the way of space. I always like to take a good external hard drive with me; just as much as you might need to grab a large file while you’re out, one of your own might come in just as handy for someone else. Furthermore, if you don’t have some sort of drive to back up your assignments on to, you’re asking for serious trouble. The LaCie Rugged Hard Disk isn’t very expensive and allows you considerable space and maximum safety. Try dropping this thing and see what happens.

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