It's almost that time again. It may feel like summer just started, but before you know it, you'll be ditching your bathing suit for jeans and a backpack. That also means you'll be shopping for new back-to-school gear, which can be a challenge when you have to squeeze your entire life into half of a 12 x 19-foot dorm room. But while there are certain gadgets that are essential for making it through the semester, others just aren't worth the money and space they'll occupy. Here are seven devices you can forgo this back-to-school season.
Having your own printer in your dorm room may be convenient, but it isn't necessary. Sure, you can snag a wireless all-in-one for as little as $100, but online programs are decreasing the need for hard-copy assignments. Students can submit papers and assignments to their professors electronically via services such as Blackboard and Moodle, and professors can edit documents or add feedback to send back to the student. That doesn't mean you won't need to print documents occasionally, but the printers in your school's libraries or labs should do the trick.
Depending on how much space you need, USB drives can come as cheap as $10 for 16GB or as pricey as more than $100 for 128GB, but free online services offer compelling alternatives. Between Mega, SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and SugarSync, there are plenty of options for backing up and storing all your important files. Photo enthusiasts would be well advised to take advantage of Flickr's spacious 1TB of free storage, which rolled out with the photo-sharing service's redesign in May.
If you weren't able to snag your parents' old television or can't afford a TV for both your bedroom and the common area, don't fret. Signing up for a Netflix account for $7.99 a month (or using your parents' account for free) provides access to a massive library of movies and TV shows that you can watch on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Hulu Plus (also $7.99 per month) lets you watch hit TV shows on all of your devices. Amazon Prime Instant Video also offers an array of TV and movie choices for viewing via computer, tablet and smartphone. If you don't feel like coughing up the cash for one of these services, you can browse a smaller library of content through free streaming sites such as Crackle or Project Free TV.
More: 10 Best TV Apps
There's definitely a place for desktop PCs — but that place definitely isn't your dorm room. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but the shift toward mobile computing among students is more evident now than ever. At the most basic level, desktop computers aren't practical for working in a living situation with limited space, and can't be transported easily between classes, or to the library or other areas of campus. Even sleek, all-in-one PCs are less attractive than a laptop that you can use to take notes and do work away from your dorm. Students are also gravitating toward tablets like the iPad, for which there are many optional keyboard cases available. In addition, Microsoft is heavily promoting two-in-one Windows 8 hybrids that double as notebooks and tablets; these hybrids include the Surface Pro, Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s and ASUS Transformer Book. On a tighter budget? Check out the upcoming Android-powered HP SlateBook X2, which will cost $499 with its keyboard.
Voice recorders can be crucial for saving lectures and research interviews, but if you own a smartphone, you won't need a dedicated recording device. Basic 2GB digital voice recorders can cost between $30 and $100, but there are several free recording apps. Smart Voice Recorder, for example, records content and allows users to easily share clips via email, WhatsApp and Dropbox. The app also performs voice recording in the background, so you can use other apps or turn off your display to save battery power while recording.
This generation of smartphones has undoubtedly seen an upgrade in camera quality, with 13-MP sensors quickly becoming the norm. A smartphone can't compete with a DSLR and wouldn't suffice for a photography course. However, if you're looking for a simple point-and-shoot to snap and share photos, your smartphone will definitely do the trick. Plus, newer smartphones come with robust built-in photo-editing and sharing features that you won't find on basic digital cameras, such as the ability to add sound to your images, create GIFs and shoot using both the front and rear cameras at the same time.
Save some space in your dorm and leave an AC plug open for other gadgets. Many smartphone apps come with more robust features than your standard alarm. For example, Sleep Time for iOS is one of several apps that detect your movements while you're sleeping to determine what phase of sleep you're in. As a result, the app prompts your phone to wake you at exactly the right moment, and also comes with an Instant Heart Rate meter to measure your pulse when you awaken. Granted, alarm clocks can come as cheap as $10 to $20, but that's still more than you'd be paying for an app like Sleep Time, which costs $1.99.
More: 25 Best iPhone 5 Apps