15 great gadgets for the back-to-school crowd

Devices that can help you at work or play, in the classroom or the dorm

The Altec Lansing VS3251 offers five 9W satellites with 2.5-in. full-range drivers and a 25W subwoofer for $79.

The Altec Lansing VS3251 offers five 9W satellites with 2.5-in. full-range drivers and a 25W subwoofer for $79.

Easy readers

Amazon Kindle

Sony Reader

Bookeen Cybook Gen3

The Amazon Kindle (US$359) has kick-started the market for electronic book readers, also known as e-readers. The Kindle has been hailed as the next iPod, and at last it's in stock on a regular basis. The device's built-in wireless connection for downloading books, magazines and newspapers may be the killer app that puts an e-reader in every hand.

But the Kindle is not the only fish in this particular sea -- Sony's Reader (US$299.99) and the Bookeen Cybook Gen3 (US$350) don't have Kindle's wireless flash, but they do have some features that make them worth consideration. The Sony device has a dedicated music player and a JPEG viewer. It's more computer-centric -- you have to download texts to it from a PC, and Macs need not apply -- but it handles common file formats like RTF and PDF without the e-mail conversion process the Kindle requires.

The Cybook handles even more document formats natively, and it can download and use TrueType fonts and display right-to-left languages. Your chemistry textbook may not come in e-reader format yet -- but it will. Get ahead of the curve.

TV tuners on a stick

Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950Q

Elgato EyeTV Hybrid

If you're going to build your life around your laptop, then of course you're going to watch TV on it, right? And the most portable way to do that is with a USB stick TV tuner.

Hauppauge Computer Works, one of the oldest integrators of TVs and PCs, has recently come out with its updated 950Q USB tuner for US$99. The "Q" in this case means support for Clear QAM, the digital TV format that can be used for many unencrypted cable TV channels in addition to legacy NTSC analog broadcast TV signals and ATSC, the new digital over-the-air TV format. The Windows-only 950Q includes WinTV v6, Hauppauge's own TV display/recorder application that provides a Web-based program guide and records programs to your hard drive.

If you're a Mac user, Elgato's EyeTV Hybrid USB tuner stick (US$149.95) also handles NTSC, ASTC and QAM, and it includes a TV viewing app and program guide service. In addition, it uses a software encoder for recording.

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