Here are some useful new gadgets that could make your kid's school year better — if you don't keep and use them yourself!
Exercise your rights
Collegiates can ward off the "freshman 15" (pounds) weight gain and otherwise keep stress in check with help from a Misfit Shine, a very cool, wrist-worn activity and sleep monitor. The Shine ($99) tracks walking, running, swimming (waterproof) and sleep patterns, showing your level of activity and also the current time with a minimalist halo of lights on its otherwise blank monitor "face."
For serious details, you consult the companion "Magic Synched" iPhone app. Shine glows for six months between battery swap-outs, a far cry from clunky wearables that require daily recharging. You also can slip a circular Shine into custom socks, T-shirt pockets and alternate jewelry-style holders, including a necklace.
A laptop computer many students will encounter this fall, the super-slim $200 Acer C720 Chromebook is a bargain parents will also covet for themselves. Keeping costs and weight down, Chromebooks run strictly on Google software (but can read Microsoft Word files, PDFs, etc.) and presume that most resources (including homework assignments) will be pulled down as needed from "the cloud" (Internet). Work can be done offline, too.
A C720 starts up in seven seconds, runs 8 1 / 2hours per charge. Has a full-size keyboard, 11.6 inch HD LCD screen and Intel processor sharp and fast enough to enjoy Netflix and YouTube in down time. Also boasts a webcam, accessory ports, 16GB SSD (solid state drive) and lots more storage potential in the cloud (100 GBs free for two years, 15 GB free forever). Google's automatic updates take care of security threats.
Throwing a pricey tablet into a bookbag? Wrap that tab in a protective case. The relatively trim and inexpensive ($50 at radtech.us and Apple stores) STM Dux case for iPads has a flip-around (and power switching) cover, serious (Department of Defense grade) shock-absorbing protection and a see-through plastic backing that allows the user to insert custom artwork and "this belongs to" identification. STM offers free registration and a reward for the return of a lost tablet - or one of the brand's nice carry bags.
Given the dearth of ports on most tablets and smartphones, a user will rejoice in Kingston Technology's workaround — the MobileLite Wireless G2 media reader ($50-$60). A USB thumb drive or smart card loaded with files, pictures, music and movies can be streamed wirelessly from this mobile Wi-Fi hot spot to as many as eight tablets and phones simultaneously, for viewing and posting to social media. Conversely, you can free up a smartphone or tablet's memory by off-loading pictures, videos, etc. to a card or drive installed on a MobileLite. The device functions as a portable router, too. And when fully charged, its 4640 mAH battery can re-energize a phone two full times.
Phone ChargingFfor forgetfuls
>> Give your student a Duracell Powermat Wireless Charging Kit for his/her iPhone 5 and you'll never hear the excuse "Gee mom, I meant to call but my phone ran out of juice." This newly upgraded product ($119.95 exclusive at Apple.com) features a relatively slim, phone wrapping Power Case with built-in 2000 mAH lithium battery, plus a wireless (induction charging) Powermat upon which a user will simply "rest" the phone every night. (Hey, you gotta put it down someplace!) When the phone's internal battery runs low, press a button on the case and the aux battery kicks in.
>> Eliminate other complaints — "Mom, I lost my phone charger" or "Someone stole my phone" — with a Charger Leash. It's a charging and synchronizing USB cable with built in-alarm that goes off if you, or someone else, disconnects the phone without also pulling the charger out of the wall socket. $20-$28 at Amazon.com.
>> All work and no music makes dull kids. Wake 'em, shake 'em with G-BUZZ, a rugged portable alarm clock with decent FM radio reception and special alarm alerts (like foghorns blowing and roosters crowing) that sleepyhead can shut off by shaking the thing or hitting snooze alarm. Also delivers relaxing sounds (crickets chirping, waves crashing) for bedtime; has a rear USB port for recharging a gadget. Runs on AC or batteries. $29.99 at Walmart and Amazon.com.
>> Share the music and make a school bus friend with a Wicked Audio Divvy Y-Splitter. Works with any device that has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. What's different is that both plugged-in earphone listeners get to set their own volume level individually! $9.99 at wickedaudio.com.
>> Wirelessly (and stealthfully) blast the party music stored on your (Bluetooth-enabled) mobile device, tablet or PC to any audio receiver or powered speaker patched to a Logitech Bluetooth Audio Adaptor. In our test, this updated, ultracompact wave catcher cleanly replayed tunes 40 feet away from a music-beaming phone. $35 at accessories.us.dell.com
>> Starting from scratch? Don't have much? The palm-size, waterproof (and otherwise built-for-spills) Jabra Solemate Mini portable wireless speaker puts out surprisingly loud, good quality sound. Has NFC for fast linking to Android phones. Connects wirelessly via Bluetooth or the tuckaway cable. Best price found: $74.08 at BHphotovideo.com.